This was the AP college football poll from Oct. 14, 2007. Insanity. pic.twitter.com/mqs9mPNkl7— David Fox (@DavidFox615) August 12, 2014
I'm going to propose an opinion here that may be controversial: Rutgers 30, USF 27 on October 18, 2007, was not the most painful loss in USF history.
Yes, there were many, many things about that loss that sucked. The zillions of dubious penalties. The "illegal propulsion" call when the Bulls blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown. The fake field goal by Rutgers that went for a touchdown. Ray Rice hit-sticking George Selvie to the ground on a sweep. USF incredibly converting a 4th and 22 late in the game to move into field-goal range, only to have it overturned by a lame offensive pass interference call.
(Side note: Now that Glasses Ref is retired and Ron Cherry bashing has become passé, we hope John McDaid gets his due as one of college football's worst referees. He was the referee in this game. He was the referee in the USF-Cincinnati game we eulogized earlier this summer. He was also the referee in the USF-Houston game last year where his crew called 19 penalties on the Bulls and only four on Houston. They took a go-ahead touchdown away from USF on another lame offensive pass interference call, then badly botched another call, then flagged Willie Taggart for unsportsmanlike conduct for complaining about said botched call. Incredibly, he and his crew were allowed to officiate the 2014 Orange Bowl, which they did their best to ruin with about 15 video reviews. And McDaid became the first referee in history to throw a flag for the sideline Gatorade bath after Clemson had just clinched their biggest win in decades.)
(Good, now that will come up anytime someone Googles John McDaid. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah.)
Despite all that, I still maintain that this was not the most painful loss in USF history. Consider:
- This game did not cost the Bulls a national title shot. Think about what happened by the end of November 2007. Everyone had lost at least one game except Missouri (and Hawaii, although no one took them seriously as a title contender). West Virginia, who USF had beaten in September, got themselves back in line to play for the title until their tragic 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh. The 2007 season was total anarchy and the Big East still had lots of national respect. Even with one loss, the Bulls could have easily been that team in line to play for the title.
- This game did not cost the Bulls the conference title. The Mountaineers won the league with two losses, crushing UConn 66-21 the day after Thanksgiving to claim the head-to-head tiebreaker. If USF had bounced back and beaten UConn the next week, and their other results stayed the same, guess who would have won the Big East instead of West Virginia?
- Rutgers was not a bad team at all. They weren't winning all their close games like they had the year before, but the core of their 11-2 team from 2006 was still around. At the time of the USF game they were receiving votes in the polls. They finished 2007 ranked 31st in Football Outsiders' F+ (the same ranking that had the Bulls 11th). This wasn't like losing to Steve Kragthorpe or GERG or something. The big, physical Scarlet Knights were always a matchup problem for a small, quick team like USF. And the Bulls had to come down from their 64-12 annihilation of C.Florida on a short week to get ready to play this game. This loss didn't come out of nowhere.
- Better to have been the #2 team in the country and lost than to have never been the #2 team at all. That six-week stretch from Auburn to Rutgers is still the most fun any of us have ever had as USF fans, with the possible exception of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Sure, the ride ended badly, but at the very top of the polls, the ride ends badly for every team except one. It doesn't cancel out all the excitement that came before it.
- It didn't hurt USF that badly in the big picture. Their recruiting jumped up a notch, the tickets kept on selling, they started the 2008 season ranked, and stayed in the polls for nearly two months. They had earned their respect and were generally accepted as a quality program.
The Rutgers loss in 2007 was gut-wrenching in the moment. But when you see what our final eulogy is, you'll understand that USF has suffered a loss that was much, much worse.
P.S. In my estimation, Greg Schiano is the second-most hated man in the history of football in Tampa, trailing only Hugh Culverhouse. I hope Jim Leavitt laughed right in Schiano's face when the 49ers came to town last December and beat the living hell out of the Bucs. He would have been laughing on behalf of every single one of us.