Nearly a quarter-century into its existence, USF football still has neither a league championship trophy nor indoor practice facility to call its own.
But its dearth of hardware doesn’t connote a shortage of highlights. The Bulls have rewarded their longsuffering fans with some breathtaking on-field moments, stretching from the 20th century to the Taggart era, from South Bend to South Florida.
As the program embarks on its silver-anniversary season, we’re commemorating the occasion with a series of Bulls-centric stories, lists and timelines. To kick things off, we’ve ranked (in ascending order) the top 25 games in program history. The criteria for our list included historical significance, stakes and simple ol’ drama.
25. USF 31, Cincinnati 16
Nov. 19, 2005 (Tampa)
This victory, combined with Connecticut’s loss to Louisville two weeks later, helped the Bulls clinch the program’s first bowl berth. D’Juan Brown had a 26-yard pick-six and Andre Hall (29 carries, 101 yards) eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season as USF built a 31-7 lead en route to its sixth win of the season. On Dec. 4, the Bulls accepted an invitation to face N.C. State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., ending a frustrating run of bowl futility. The 2002 squad, a Division I-A independent that finished 9-2, had no conference tie-in and couldn’t land an invitation; while the 2004 team (7-4) finished one Division I-A triumph shy of bowl eligibility.
24. USF 24, East Carolina 7
Dec. 23, 2006 (Birmingham, Ala.)
Not exactly a mesmerizing win, but a milestone one, for sure. Seeking the program’s first postseason triumph in something called the Papajohns.com Bowl, the Bulls delivered. USF scored all of its points in the first half, while the defense provided an admirable tribute to coordinator Wally Burnham, who had flown back to Tampa to be with his ailing mother (who passed away on game day). ECU drove inside the Bulls’ 30-yard line five times in the second half but never scored. Meantime, former starting quarterback Pat Julmiste ended his career on a high note of sorts, replacing Matt Grothe (broken fibula) in the second half and totaling 112 yards.
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23. USF 38, Tulsa 30
Oct. 18, 2014 (Tulsa, Okla.)
Before overseeing his program’s radical turnaround, Willie Taggart teetered on the brink of unemployment more than once. This 60-degree Saturday was one of those occasions. Facing a 1-5 Tulsa team, USF committed two turnovers and surrendered 314 first-half yards to the Golden Hurricane en route to a 27-7 halftime deficit. But behind sophomore quarterback Mike White, the Bulls scored on five of their first six drives of the second half. Tailback Marlon Mack (130 rushing yards) started the rally with a 54-yard scoring run, and the tandem of White and receiver Andre Davis (six catches, 154 yards) ended it with three scoring connections. The comeback from the 20-point deficit remains the largest in USF history.
22. USF 45, TCU 44 (2OT)
Sept. 25, 2004 (Fort Worth, Texas)
The wildest USF finish that nobody — or at least nobody watching on TV — ever saw. After winning an NCAA-record three double-overtime games in 2003, the Bulls tacked on a fourth, forcing the extra sessions with scoring drives of 73 and 68 yards in the last four minutes. Andre Hall’s second overtime scoring run gave the Bulls a 45-38 lead, but TCU answered with Brandon Hassell’s 16-yard keeper on fourth-and-1 before things got really crazy. A bobbled snap foiled the ensuing TCU point-after try, but no one in Tampa saw it because WFTS-Channel 28 lost the satellite feed from ESPN Regional and cut to Hurricane Jeanne coverage.
21. USF 32, Nevada 31
Sept. 8, 2012 (Reno, Nev.)
What this early-season contest lacked in stakes, it atoned for with arguably the most exhilarating finish in program history. Down by 11 with 4:31 to play, the Bulls mounted an 80-yard scoring drive, capped by B.J. Daniels’ 52-yard scoring pass to Chris Dunkley, to trim their deficit to 31-26. Then, after forcing Nevada to go three plays and out, Daniels struck again, connecting with Jefferson High alumnus Andre Davis for the winning 56-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds remaining. Davis finished with 12 catches (still a single-game USF record) for 191 yards. “I saw heart and desire and competitiveness,” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “With two-and-a-half minutes to go, I heard guys on the sideline saying, ‘Keep your heads up. We’re going to win this thing.’”
20. USF 44, No. 21 Temple 23
Nov. 14, 2015 (Tampa)
This Friday night rout marked a pivotal moment in the Bulls’ turnaround under Willie Taggart. USF students stormed the field and dislodged the goalposts following the triumph, which clinched bowl eligibility for the first time in a half-decade. Sophomore Quinton Flowers was quintessential Flowers, totaling 320 yards and three touchdowns as the Bulls rolled to a 31-10 halftime lead. Lakewood High alumnus Rodney Adams had seven catches for 147 yards, including a 68-yard TD catch. “I would say climbing is easier than hanging on, and our guys are climbing in the right direction,” Taggart said following the Bulls’ sixth win in seven games after a 1-3 start. “This is what we thought it can be here, and again, it’s only the beginning.”
19. No. 23 USF 38, Texas Tech 34
Dec. 23, 2017 (Birmingham, Ala.)
After an excruciating end to their regular season (chronicled later on this list), the Bulls were sent — or banished — to the Birmingham Bowl for the second consecutive postseason. While all factors seemed conducive to ending 2017 with a thud, the Bulls ended with a thrill. In the final game of his fabled career, Quinton Flowers accounted for 417 yards and five touchdowns, including a 26-yard touchdown connection with Tyre McCants with 16 seconds remaining. Flowers, who arrived in Birmingham with 27 USF records, exited with seven more, including the Bulls’ career rushing yardage mark (3,672).
18. USF 31, Louisville 28 (2OT)
Oct. 4, 2003 (Tampa)
In one surreal six-game stretch in 2003 (USF’s first season in Conference USA), the Bulls played three double-overtime games. This was the first, and arguably most riveting, as USF extended its home win streak to 21 games. The Bulls forced overtime with a 14-play drive in the waning minutes, capped when de facto option quarterback Brian Fisher rolled right, froze a defender and pitched to Clenton Crossley for a 1-yard touchdown with 10 seconds to play. Linebacker Devon Davis then snagged an interception in the second OT, setting up Santiago Gramatica’s game-winning 26-yard field goal.
17. USF 46, South Carolina 39 (OT)
Dec. 29, 2016 (Birmingham, Ala.)
Less than four weeks after Willie Taggart bolted for Oregon, the Bulls headed to the Birmingham Bowl with an interim coach (T.J. Weist) and delivered arguably the most exciting postseason triumph in program history. Behind game MVP Quinton Flowers (three rushing, two passing touchdowns), USF built a 39-22 lead before the Gamecocks rallied to force overtime. On USF’s first offensive play in the extra session, Flowers — flushed from the pocket — rolled to his right and flung a 25–yard scoring strike to tight end Kano Dillon. Countryside High alumnus Mike Love forced a fumble with a sack on the ensuing USC possession to seal the triumph.
16. USF 31, Clemson 26
Dec. 31, 2010 (Charlotte, N.C.)
This Meineke Car Care Bowl triumph was USF’s fourth bowl victory but first against a BCS (or to use the modern vernacular, Power 5) program. Playing for the first time since aggravating a quad injury 34 days before, quarterback B.J. Daniels finished 20-for-27 for 189 yards as the Bulls built a 31-13 lead. Defensively, the Bulls returned a pair of picks for a combined 93 yards, which led to 10 points; and knocked Tigers quarterback Kyle Parker (broken ribs) out of the game. Afterward, USF first-year coach Skip Holtz proclaimed a Big East title as the program’s next goal. We all know how that turned out.
15. USF 14, Illinois State 13
Oct. 16, 1999 (Tampa)
Before an announced Raymond James Stadium audience of 22,054, the Bulls’ futility against ranked opposition ended in one fell shank. Redbirds kicker Jake Strader’s 24-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds remaining sailed wide left, clinching USF’s first triumph against a ranked Division I-AA foe in seven tries. The Bulls scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 50-yard drive late in the third quarter, highlighted by Marquel Blackwell’s 27-yard completion to Charlie Jackson on third-and-16. ISU drove 63 yards on its last possession, setting up Strader’s attempt. “He choked,” said USF freshman Jon Chivas, who had blocked a Strader PAT earlier in the game. “I’m sorry about it, but we needed it.”
14. USF 20, Troy State 10
Sept. 30, 2000 (Tampa)
The Bulls were transitioning to Division I-A in 2000, making them ineligible for any type of playoff or postseason game. As a result, they approached this encounter with the Trojans — ranked first in I-AA — as their national championship. Before a Raymond James Stadium crowd of 25,786, the Bulls totaled 436 yards and held Troy State to 221 en route to the program’s biggest win to that point. “Tears came out of my eyes,” linebacker Vassay Marc said. “I felt on top of the world.”
13. USF 24, No. 7 West Virginia 19
Nov. 25, 2006 (Morgantown, W.Va.)
One could argue this win set the table for the Bulls’ 6-0 start (and brief No. 2 BCS ranking) the following season. A 21-1/2-point underdog entering Milan Puskar Stadium, USF held a Mountaineers run game averaging 330 yards to less than half that (132), and snapped West Virginia’s eight-game home win streak. The Bulls twice stopped the hosts inside the USF 5-yard line, the latter occurring when safety Danny Verpaele forced a Steve Slaton fumble inside the 1. “It’s a big win, a great win for our team, for our program,” Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said afterward. “This probably is the biggest, because you won here and it’s so hard to win here. It’s so hard to beat these guys anywhere.”
12. USF 31, UCF 14
Sept. 17, 2005 (Tampa)
Since the inception of USF’s program, the Bulls’ nuisance neighbors had been clamoring to start a geographic rivalry. So before a raucous, then-record crowd for a USF home game (45,139), the Bulls gave the Knights exactly what they asked for. Andre Hall ran for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns as USF extended the Knights’ losing streak to 17 games, longest in the nation at the time. The victory would be the first of four in a row for USF to start this series. “It was time to put up or shut up,” USF senior offensive guard Chris Carothers said. “They didn’t put up.”
11. USF 26, No. 17 Auburn 23 (OT)
Sept. 8, 2007 (Auburn, Ala.)
The initial seeds in the Bulls’ 6-0 start (culminating with a No. 2 BCS ranking) were planted on the Plains before an ESPN2 Saturday night audience. On his 21st birthday, Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe hit Jessie Hester on a 14-yard scoring pass in overtime, giving USF another landmark triumph (its first against an SEC team in five tries). Grothe accounted for 215 total yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the defense forced five turnovers. Even beleaguered kicker Delbert Alvarado, who missed three field goals, atoned with a 19-yarder with 55 seconds remaining to force overtime. Five weeks later, the Bulls were the buzz of college football.
10. USF 23, Miami 20 (OT)
Nov. 27, 2010 (Miami)
Much like their improbable conquest of FSU the season before, the Bulls knocked off another state blue-blood away from home with a rookie quarterback. Stepping in for injured veteran B.J. Daniels after halftime, walk-on freshman (and Jesuit High alumnus) Bobby Eveld led the Bulls to touchdowns on their final two drives, including a nine-play, 81-yard march to force overtime. Then, trailing 20-17 in the extra session, Eveld found Joel Miller on a 9-yard slant pass near the goal line, setting up Demetris Murray’s winning 1-yard scoring run. “If you’re going to have a dog that bites, it starts as a pup,” Bulls coach Skip Holtz said. “Today, Bobby Eveld showed he had some teeth.”
9. USF 45, Syracuse 24
Oct. 10, 2015 (Tampa)
The game that saved Willie Taggart’s job, transformed the fortunes of a foundering program and introduced the real Quinton Flowers to the world. USF limped into its homecoming game 1-3 as speculation swirled that Taggart was one defeat from being fired. But at the behest of some of Flowers’ peers, Taggart had agreed to free his sophomore quarterback from the confinements of his spread, zone-read offense. Flowers responded with improvisational flair (314 total yards, three touchdowns), beginning a surreal 28-6 stretch for USF with Flowers as starter.
8. No. 19 USF 37, No. 11 Kansas 34
Sept. 12, 2008 (Tampa)
A year after winning their first six games en route to a No. 2 BCS national ranking, the Bulls made another early-season climb, highlighted by this Friday night, national-TV thriller. In his first college game, freshman kicker Maikon Bonani nailed a 43-yard field goal as time expired to move the Bulls to 3-0. Nate Allen set up the game-winner by intercepting Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing (373 passing yards), who otherwise stood throw-to-throw with Matt Grothe (338) most of the night. To this day, scenes from only a handful of games are shown to recruits as an example of what a Bulls football home atmosphere can resemble. This contest, featuring the program’s seventh-largest home audience (58,755), is surely one of them.
7. USF 45, No. 9 Louisville 14
Sept. 24, 2005 (Tampa)
Playing their first Big East game, the Bulls turned the conference — and Cardinals — on their heads faster than you can say Bobby Petrino. USF broke out to a 21-0 second-quarter lead (thanks to a pair of Amarri Jackson scoring runs) and never looked back en route to their first victory against a ranked Division I-A team in six tries. By night’s end, Chad Simpson had returned a kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown, and the defense had sacked Louisville’s Brian Brohm four times. “This was a dream come true,” Jackson said.
6. No. 5 USF 64, UCF 12
Oct. 13, 2007 (Tampa)
This blowout represented the final step — or stomp — in USF’s surreal ascension in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings. The Knights had no answer for then-national sack leader George Selvie, who tacked on another one and forced a fumble for a unit that held UCF to 60 rushing yards on 41 carries. Offensively, Matt Grothe totaled 312 yards (including 100 on the ground) in less than three quarters, and 10 different Bulls caught at least one pass. A day after this annihilation, USF’s third win in as many contests against UCF, the Bulls were ranked No. 2 in the season’s inaugural BCS standings.
5. USF 80, Kentucky Wesleyan 3
Sept. 6, 1997 (Tampa)
More than 40 years after USF first opened its doors, and more than a half-decade after a school task force was formed to study the feasibility of adding football, a onetime pipe dream came to glorious culmination. Before a Houlihan’s Stadium crowd of 49,212, the Bulls trounced the Panthers — a Division II non-scholarship patsy — in their inaugural game, totaling 548 yards and scoring on 12 of their 16 possessions. The significance of this Saturday night can’t be understated. “Did I ever expect to see this? Never in a million years,” Diana Busciglio, who arrived at USF in 1960, told The Tampa Tribune before kickoff.
4. USF 23, No. 16 Notre Dame 20
Sept. 3, 2011 (South Bend, Ind.)
The most bittersweet victory in Bulls history. Less than 24 hours after program patriarch (and local icon) Lee Roy Selmon suffered a stroke back home in Tampa, the Bulls entered Notre Dame Stadium teeming with poignance and purpose. “Lee Roy wants us to win this game,” then-USF president Judy Genshaft said prior to kickoff. Speedster Kayvon Webster set the tone, returning an Irish fumble 96 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive. The defense never relented, even amid two rain delays totaling nearly three hours. Twice more, Notre Dame would move inside USF’s 10, only to be intercepted (first by DeDe Lattimore, then Michael Lanaris). By nightfall, the Bulls had handed the Irish only their 10th season-opening home loss in their 125-year existence. The following day, Selmon passed away at age 56.
3. No. 13 UCF 49, No. 22 USF 42
Nov. 24, 2017 (Orlando)
From the stakes to the splash plays to the seismic momentum swings, this Black Friday showdown in Orlando provided everything — except a victory for the Bulls. With the American Athletic Conference’s East Division title on the line, the No. 13 Knights and No. 22 Bulls thrust the “War on I-4” into the national consciousness, combining for 1,186 yards and numerous indelible moments. The image of burly Bulls slot receiver Tyre McCants churning into the end zone — with a Knights defender helplessly tugging his jersey — has been immortalized via gif. So too has Mike Hughes’ winning 95-yard kick return with 1:28 to play. And we remain convinced Quinton Flowers’ historic effort (605 total yards) merited the retirement of his No. 9 jersey on the spot.
2. USF 17, No. 18 FSU 7
Sept. 26, 2009 (Tallahassee)
Quite possibly the most important win, and greatest storybook moment, in USF lore. In his first collegiate start, in his hometown, Bulls freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels — stepping in for injured veteran Matt Grothe — helped engineer the school’s first win against one of the state’s “Big Three” programs (Florida, FSU, Miami). Daniels threw for two touchdowns and totaled 341 yards, while the defense forced four turnovers and sacked Christian Ponder five times. Three months later, Bobby Bowden would coach his final game for the skidding ‘Noles, but the program’s obvious decline hardly lessened the significance of the win for USF. “It wasn’t a fluke,” Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. “This was the biggest win for South Florida.”
1. No. 18 USF 21, No. 5 West Virginia 13
Sept. 28, 2007 (Tampa)
You needn’t flip far through any recent USF media guide to come across various images from this nationally televised Friday night game. In some ways, this contest — then billed as the biggest college football game in Tampa’s history — still is considered the program’s signature triumph. Before what remains the second-largest home crowd in Bulls history (67,012), USF served notice to the nation, stifling the Mountaineers’ daunting run game (their 188 yards fell far shy of their 357-yard average) for the second year in a row. Linebacker Ben Moffitt’s 26-yard pick-six in the first quarter (his first of two interceptions) remains embedded in the fan base’s collective consciousness. To this day, the victory remains the Bulls’ only win against a top-five Division I-A team. Two weeks later, USF had risen to No. 2 in the BCS rankings with a 6-0 mark.
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