The past fifteen years have been pretty surreal to watch as a USF fan. I don't think anyone who saw USF take on Kentucky Wesleyan at the Old Sombrero on September 6, 1997 could imagine the progress and growth of the program.
We've seen the team go from meeting underneath a tree at their first practice and having the coaches work in a bunch of construction trailers called The Ponderosa to practicing in the brand new Morsani Practice Facility and being housed in a 100,000 square foot Athletic Training Center.
More importantly, the Bulls have moved up from a 1-AA independent to the Big East in a decade and a half. In that time, we've seen the mentality of the program shift from focusing on the non-conference portion of the schedule to succeeding in Big East play and reaching a BCS bowl.
I don't think we can fault Coach Leavitt for having the mentality of getting those big pelts. These games were major building blocks in the development of the program, and each one was a little check mark on the to-do list. In the first few years, the Bulls had to focus on winning those games to keep the program relevant in the state and getting all the press they could get. Beating 1-AA #1 Troy State in 2000 sent a message that USF could play some football and had the potential to play in Conference USA. Winning at Pittsburgh in 2001 gave USF their first taste of national recognition and threw the "I'd prefer we concern ourselves with quality, not quantity" comment from Southern Miss' Jeff Bower right back in his face.
The wins against Louisville in 2005 and West Virginia in 2006 showed that the Bulls were no pushovers and that they would be able to compete in the Big East. The Auburn win showed USF was capable of winning ANYWHERE in the country, and the West Virginia win showed the Bulls could win a high-stakes game against a Top 10 opponent. The Florida State win in 2009 and Miami last year started to chip away at the "Big 3" facade and you've seen the inroads in recruiting that these wins have helped create.
There really isn't much left that USF could do in a big non-conference game that would be as momentous as anything they've already done. Sure, beating Miami again will be great, but we've done it before and considering the heavy sanctions that might be slapped on the Hurricanes, beating them again might not even surprise anyone. For all we know, the Bulls will be favored when the Canes visit in November.
Future games against Michigan State or other BCS teams would be awesome, but will any of these wins top Auburn in 2007?
Other than winning the Big East, the only thing left for the program to do is beat historically great programs like Notre Dame. There are only so many times a decade that the Bulls can go up against a team like the Fighting Irish. And honestly, with the exception of Florida State next year and possibly the Florida game that was just postponed, when is USF going to have another chance to do something like this?
From what we've heard from everyone since the team arrived in South Bend, everyone has been all business. The team is ready. The coaches are ready. Let's just hope they are ready to make history today.