If the Bulls make a historic run this autumn as many project, they'll do so with a figurative sandspur -- their schedule -- lodged in their collective cleats every step of the way.
With every romp or bloated offensive box score, skeptics will counter by tossing the Bulls' feeble non-conference slate (San Jose State, Stony Brook, Illinois, Massachusetts) right back at 'em. Thanks mainly to those four games, USF's 2017 schedule ranks 103rd according to the ESPN Stats & Information folks.
If any year screamed for an FSU or Wisconsin on the schedule to give the Bulls some validity, this would be it.
But here's what some fans don't realize: Initially, that's how it was drawn up. Once upon a time, Michigan State was slated to come to Raymond James Stadium this season. So too, was Wisconsin.
The fact neither is headed this way -- at least not during the regular season -- isn't all USF's fault.
In 2006, USF announced it had signed a two-year home-and-home deal with Michigan State, with the Bulls set to host the Spartans in 2012 and play in East Lansing the following season. The road game was played in '13 (a 21-6 Sparty triumph), but when the Bulls announced a home-and-home deal with FSU in '09, the MSU home game was moved to 2017.
It later was bumped to '18. Finally, in the spring of '14 (Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan's first week on the job), MSU exercised the buyout clause in the game contract -- $250,000 -- so it could make room for a home-and-home series with Arizona State.
Similarly, USF's original deal with Wisconsin was set for a '14 game in Madison (a 27-10 Badgers win) and a '17 contest in Tampa. But when Wisconsin requested the second game be moved to '19, the Bulls had no choice but to oblige (for fear the Badgers might exercise the buyout clause).
Since then, Harlan has made a point to increase the buyouts in Bulls game contracts, making it tougher for opponents to opt out. While that stabilizes future schedules (which include Georgia Tech and Texas), it does little to help matters this fall.
The Badgers were ranked 10th in the preseason coaches poll released last week. Think of how much luster an upset of the Badgers would've added to USF's resume. Heck, even a win against MSU (coming off a 3-9 season) would've carried more cachet than a presumed romp of UMass.
If only the planets hadn't realigned.