It’s unmistakably a big game for the University of South Florida Bulls — maybe the biggest in the program’s 20-year history — on Saturday afternoon, when the bruised, battered, but still very formidable Florida State Seminoles arrive in Tampa.
For sure, the Bulls have made plenty of big splashes for a young program — wins against Notre Dame, Clemson, West Virginia, Auburn, Miami, Louisville, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and, yes, FSU come to mind.
The biggest unmet goal is a conference championship, and the Bulls have shown the chops to potentially be a worthy challenger for Houston in the American Athletic Conference title race.
This is an opportunity for USF (3-0) to build on a hot streak of 10 wins in its last 12 games. Its offense has roared in the last seven contests, averaging 48.1 points per game (second nationally only to Texas Tech’s 52.8 in that span).
This is the chance to make a statement… but Bulls coach Willie Taggart has his own criteria, which really doesn’t need quantifying.
“For me, personally, I always wanted to play on TV,’’ said Taggart, a former record-setting quarterback at Western Kentucky. “Back then, we didn’t have ESPN2, ESPN3, all these different cable networks.
“I shouldn’t have to say anything to our team. You’re on national TV (ABC) and the entire country gets to watch. Just think about that … the entire country! You don’t even need cable to watch this game. You need some rabbit ears to watch this game.’’
It’s the fabled rabbit-ears game, and it’s about time for USF’s Gulf Coast Offense to receive some coast-to-coast exposure.
Viewers will see a lot of eye-candy with the Bulls.
There’s junior quarterback Quinton Flowers, a magician on turf, who has 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in his last eight games.
There’s junior running back Marlon Mack, just 137 yards away from the program’s career rushing record, who is averaging 9.6 yards per carry this season.
There’s senior Rodney Adams, the nation’s leading scorer among wide receivers, who has produced 16 touchdowns in his last 12 games.
It would be easy to paint USF as Louisville Lite, an extension of the Cardinal team that ran FSU into the ground, 63-20, last weekend. It would also be inaccurate.
“That’s exactly how you get yourself beat, trying to be like someone else,’’ Taggart said. “We still feel like we haven’t played our best ballgame yet. Let’s try and see if we can play our best ballgame.’’
That might be required for the Bulls to have a shot at pulling the upset against FSU.
It’s very fashionable for everyone to hop off the Seminoles’ bandwagon. FSU is a flawed team, certainly, but it’s also a very good team, one that could skulk around for another month or so until the Oct. 29 game against Clemson, a matchup that could propel FSU back into the national conversation if the right chips fall in the ACC.
USF cares little about that.
Last season in Tallahassee, the Bulls were torched by FSU running back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 266 yards — or 38 yards more than he has produced in three games this season.
What’s wrong with Cook? Nothing, said Taggart, who knows his defense must step up this time.
“You’ve got to get guys to the ball, gang tackle him and hold on for dear life,’’ Taggart said. “Our guys understand what it takes to win football games. We don’t need a miracle or anything like that (to beat FSU). We just need to play football the way we know how to play football.’’
If that happens, expect an entertaining show, one that could do wonders for the national exposure of USF football.
“This is the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next game and it’s a stepping stone to get where we want to get,’’ Bulls junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “We’re trying to earn people’s respect. People don’t really respect (USF).’’
“Florida State has a little more power to their name (than USF),’’ Mack said. “We’re going to keep doing what we do. Hopefully, we get looked at.’’
Bring on the rabbit-ears game.