Before I get to the crux of this piece let me first give a sincere congratulations to the South Florida Bulls football team for an impressive win over the Florida State Seminoles, and to the editor of this site for making the world (read: blogosphere) aware of BJ Daniels last week. It can not be understated how great the growth of the USF football program has been. Though it may seem like they have been around for some time now, they are still truly in their infant stages of being a football school. Saturday they took another huge step forward by beating one of the Big Three Florida schools for the first time (Their only other meeting was a 2005 loss to Miami).
With all of that said, let's not get ahead of ourselves and proclaim South Florida to be a part of a proverbial "Big Three" or "Big Four." This is actually not the first time that arguments have been made to include South Florida; several times over the last few years, with Florida State and Miami struggling, and USF starting to emerge as a contender in the Big East conference, some people have made the assertion that they are the second best team in the state. While their may be times when the Bulls have been ranked higher and performed better than FSU or Miami, there are several reasons why they still rest firmly behind those three prestigious schools.
First of all, what really signified the dominance of the Big Three schools during their peak was that each team dominated their conference. Year in year out the three were winning conference titles, playing in big bowl games and finishing the year in the top ten in the national polls. While USF now has a few "signature wins," they still fail to have a "signature season." Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel [Ed. Note: one-time interviewee of this site! Yeah, I met my weekly name-drop quota there] summed it up nicely in a message he wrote via Twitter:
"USF pulls off its annual early-season "time to take us seriously" upset. Maybe this year not lose to Rutgers."
It's true. If we just take a look at their resume since joining the Big East before the 2005 season, there is not much to suggest they are an elite program. In those four years, they have never finished a season with fewer than four losses, and have always had at least three losses in the Big East, which many regard as the worst of the six BCS automatic qualifiers. Bowl Games? There are obviously no BCS bowls, or even New Year's Day games. Instead they have the Meineke Car Care, Papajohns.com, Sun and the (inaugural) St. Petersburg bowls, in which they have gone 2-2 in. To my knowledge, they have not finished a season ranked in the top 25, although I may be mistaken. If they were, it certainly was not the top 10.
I know the counterargument would be that FSU and Miami have had similar or worse results in the last four years. There is no denying that. Both of those schools have had down periods which have angered fan bases. But, they have enough history and prestige to bear with it, while they make the appropriate changes to improve. It would appear they both are on their way back, despite the awful performances Saturday by both squads. I'm not saying national titles are in their immediate future, but they are back in the discussion as the class of their conference (The ACC, I know that's not saying much).
The point is, while USF has scored yet another impressive, program-building win, they still have a ways to go to be considered a part of the class that is the Gators, Hurricanes and Seminoles. I would second Mandel's suggestion that they should not lose to Rutgers this year, and try to win the Big East. If you can go to Doak Campbell Stadium and beat the Seminoles (who I still think will be ranked at the end of the year), then you ought to be able to navigate a Big East schedule. Cincinnati is the only test, but USF will be at home on Thursday night, which has proven to be the graveyard of highly ranked teams.