Prior to Wednesday night’s practice on campus, as reports and rumors about USF potentially playing at Notre Dame in September began percolating, coach Jeff Scott thought it wise to brief his players.
“I knew there were certain rumors starting to get out there a little bit...and I wanted the guys to hear from me,” Scott said. “I told ‘em there’s no guarantees, but this is kind of where we’re headed right now, and it was the best practice that we’ve had of all fall camp.”
That thinly veiled reference was the closest Scott came to affirming the reports of USF traveling to South Bend for a Sept. 19 contest. Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated was the first to report the matchup Wednesday evening.
During the same chat with reporters Thursday, Scott made another conspicuous non-denial, indicating USF is close to its goal of opening the season at home Sept. 12 and playing on the road Sept. 19. Two hours later, the school announced the Bulls will face The Citadel at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 12.
The Bulldogs replace Bethune-Cookman as USF’s home opponent on that date. The Bethune-Cookman game went away when the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opted out of fall sports competition due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We’ve literally talked to somewhere between 12 and 14 schools,” Scott said. “And I would say that we probably thought we had deals done with six or seven of those, and it didn’t work out. So it’s no guarantee until everything gets worked out. But I am optimistic that we’re gonna be really proud of our September schedule.”
The Bulls’ only previous encounter with the Fighting Irish resulted in bittersweet history. USF stunned the 16th-ranked Irish, 23-20, in a stormy 2011 season opener as former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon fought for his life in a Tampa hospital. Selmon died the following day.
USF lost three of its four original non-conference games (Sept. 5 at Texas, Sept. 12 vs. Bethune-Cookman, Sept. 19 vs. Nevada) due to the lingering COVID-19 crisis. In a sobering reinforcement of the fluid nature of 2020 scheduling, Notre Dame reported Thursday that five of its football players tested positive for the coronavirus — and another six were quarantined — among 232 tests conducted this week.
The Irish didn’t practice Thursday.
The Bulls did, with the intent of opening their season three weeks from Saturday.
“I’m a big believer in playing some big-time games,” said Scott, who reported zero positive COVID-19 tests among his players and staff for the second week in a row.
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“Our players work extremely hard, and I really think they deserve an opportunity whenever the schedule allows, to be able to play on some really big, unique stages against some of the best teams in the country.”