Call it March Madness with a mulligan.
A top seed can survive a flat pitching performance — or flat-out dazzling one by an underdog — in the 64-team NCAA softball tournament, which begins Friday nationwide. Generally, the double-elimination format assures the best team moves on.
From 2013-16, at least six of the top eight national seeds reached the College World Series, but that's not to suggest the surreal can't occur every now and again. Quirky hops, favorable calls and streaky bats still allow for the implausible to occasionally happen.
And USF is counting on all those factors this weekend in Gainesville.
"You've got to catch a seam," veteran Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said. "You've got to be playing at a high level and somebody else must not be."
A failure to catch that figurative seam, and USF likely is catching a charter bus back to Tampa. Though it opens play Friday in the four-team Gainesville Regional against Ohio State (34-14), the Bulls almost certainly will have to get through Florida — the nation's No. 2 overall seed — to reach a super regional.
And no team on its schedule has owned USF like the Gators.
Since its 1-0 triumph against UF in the 2012 regional title game in Gainesville, USF is 0-14 against the Gators. In early February, the Bulls were trounced 14-3 at home by UF (shortened to five innings via the mercy rule), and lost 9-0 in Gainesville on March 21.
Eleven of those 14 defeats have been by five or more runs, with four being shortened by the mercy rule.
Then again, this is a new weekend, USF has a seasoned roster (13 upperclassmen), and it has defeated elite opposition this season (3-2 win vs. No. 17 Michigan). The Bulls, seeded third in the Gainesville Regional, are more than capable of creating bracket upheaval.
They just have to do it at least twice.
"It's like the NCAA basketball tournament," Eriksen said. "You've got to get a good bounce, you've got to get an umpire's call your way. So you're just trying to put yourself in that good position."
Where/when: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, Gainesville, Friday-Sunday
Friday's games: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 USF, 5 p.m.; No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 Bethune-Cookman, 7:30
TV: Friday's games on ESPNU
Tickets: Click here for information