Welcome to the Big East - South Florida Bulls

On July 1, 2005, the Big East Conference unveiled its new website. Boston College and Temple are gone. Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida have been added. In a month, the newbies will participate in their first Big East Media Day, shortly before summer camp opens.


On July 1, 2005, the Big East Conference unveiled its new website, which was redesigned to reflect the new realignment of the league.  Boston College and Temple are gone.  Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida have been added (Marquette and DePaul, too, as non-football members).  In a month, the newbies will participate in their first Big East Media Day, shortly before summer camp opens.  This article is the last of a three-part series looking at the new members of the Big East Football Conference.  The first two articles introduced the Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats.  This article focuses on the South Florida Bulls, another Division IA neophyte. 


Founded in 1956, the University of South Florida is, by far, the youngest institution in the Big East Conference.  The next youngest member institution, Providence College, was founded in 1917.  The next youngest football member, Connecticut, was founded in 1881.  South Florida's founding was a reflection of the increased demand for access to college education for the baby boomer generation.  As with many post-war institutions, the University was initially sited on the location of a former military base, an abandoned airfield north of Tampa.  In 1965, the University opened a campus in St. Petersburg.  In the 1970s, a College of Medicine was established and New College in Sarasota was incorporated into the university.  In the 1980s, a graduate school was established and another campus was opened in Lakeland.  The University of South Florida presently has an enrollment of over 41,000 students. 

Like Cincinnati and Louisville, South Florida athletics first reached the national stage in basketball, though on a much smaller scale than for the Bearcats and Cardinals.  South Florida began competing in basketball in 1971-1972, immediately in Division I.  The Bulls were members of the Sun Belt Conference between 1976-1977 and 1990-1991.  In 1990, South Florida won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and earned its first NCAA appearance; the Bulls lost in the first round.  South Florida moved to the old Metro Conference for the 1991-1992 season.  In its first season, the Bulls finished third in the Metro Conference and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.  With the bulk of the Metro Conference, South Florida formed the Conference USA basketball league in 1995-1996


The University began planning the establishment of a football program in the early 1990s.  The plan was to initially compete in Division I-AA and them to move up to Division IA in 2001, joining its basketball program in Conference USA.  South Florida has fast-tracked its football program, which did not exist as recently as 1995:

  • South Florida signed its first recruiting class in February 1996 and played its first game in 1997. 
  • The Bulls played their first Division IA opponent (San Diego State) in September 1989. 
  • South Florida compiled a 20-13 record in three seasons of competition in Division IAA, including 24 straight weeks in the national rankings. 
  • South Florida became a transitional Division IA program in 2000. 
  • South Florida beat fellow transitional Division IA program Connecticut in 2000.
  • South Florida won at Pittsburgh in 2001. 
  • The Bulls beat nationally ranked Bowling Green in 2002. 
  • South Florida joined Conference USA in 2003.
  • South Florida compiled a record of 35-20 through its first five seasons of Division IA competition. 


Conference USA was formed in 1996 from a collection of mid-south independents.  South Florida was a founding member of the basketball conference but had to wait three seasons, until 2003, to join the football league after moving to Division IA in 2000.  The addition of South Florida increased Conference USA football membership to eleven teams.  By the time the Bulls played their first game, Army had already announced its intent to return to independent status after the 2004 season.  In November 2003, only months after joining Conference USA, South Florida (with Cincinnati and Louisville) accepted an invitation to join the Big East.  Shortly thereafter, Texas Christian accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference.  Conference USA replaced the five outgoing football programs with six new ones – four from the Western Athletic Conference and two from the Mid-American Conference.  Conference USA enters the 2005 season as a twelve-team, two-division league. 

South Florida was immediately competitive in Conference USA: 

  • South Florida finished in a three-way tie for third among eleven teams in its inaugural season with a 5-3 record in 2003. 
  • South Florida dropped to a 3-5 record in 2004, tied for fifth with four other teams.


South Florida has yet to participate in post-season play.  The Bulls did not participate in the Division I-AA playoffs in any of their three seasons, despite records of 8-3 in 1998 and 7-4 in 1999.  In three seasons as a Division IA independent, South Florida did not receive any bowl invitations despite records of 8-3 in 2001 and 9-2 in 2002, a reflection to the monopoly conferences enjoy in post-season play.  Although South Florida finished in the top five of Conference USA in 1993 with a 7-4 record, the Hawaii Bowl instead selected a 7-5 (4-4 Conference USA) Houston Cougar team ahead of South Florida.  The Bulls are still waiting for their first bowl bid. 


South Florida has had only one head coach in its nine-year existence, Jim Leavitt.  After serving as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State, Leavitt embarked upon a monumental task in his first heading coaching job – building a program from scratch and fast-tracking it to Division IA status.  The fact that South Florida is competing in a BCS conference in only its ninth year of existence is a tribute to the tremendous achievements realized under Leavitt's leadership.  Jim has compiled a 55-33 record in eight seasons in Tampa.  


Jim Leavitt                                         Jim Leavitt
            Source: gobulls.usf.edu                      Source: Associated Press


Despite a short football history, South Florida has put more players into the NFL since 2000 than has Rutgers.  In that span, Rutgers has had four players drafted and sixteen more signed as free agents.  Seven Bulls have been drafted and another twenty have signed as free agents, including: 

CB Anthony Henry played between 1997 and 2000.  South Florida had a combined record of 27-17 during Henry's career.  He was the second Bull to be drafted into the NFL, by Cleveland in the 4th round.  He played four years with the Browns before signing a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys this year. 

PK Bill Gramatica played between 1998 and 2000 after transferring from Florida State.  South Florida had a combined record of 22-11 during Gramatica's career.  The Arizona Cardinals drafted Gramatica in the 4th round, immediately after Henry.   He played three years with Arizona, of which he missed much of the third with an injury.  He signed late in the 2004 season with Miami as an injury replacement.  His future is uncertain at this point. 

LB Kawika Mitchell played between 1999 and 2002.  South Florida had a combined record of 31-13 during Mitchell's career.  The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Kawika in the 2nd round.  He has been a two-year starter for the Chiefs. 


In 1997, South Florida played its inaugural season in the final season of Tampa Stadium, the 72,000-seat home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Bulls played in the lower bowl of the stadium, which had a capacity of 46,000, and drew an average attendance of 33,000.  South Florida was 6-3 in its only season at Tampa Stadium, which was demolished the following year.  


    Tampa Stadium                                                        Tampa Stadium
    Source: stadiumsofnfl.com                                         Source: stadiumsofnfl.com

In 1998, South Florida moved into brand new $169 million, 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium, new home of the Buccaneers.  The lower bowl of the stadium, with a capacity of 41,000, is used for Bulls games.  South Florida's average home attendance was 26,000 during their last two years of Division I-AA football (1998-1999).  The Bulls home attendance has averaged 27,000 during its five years of Division I-A play.  The Bulls own a 35-8 record at Ray Jay. 


Raymond James Stadium                                                 Raymond James Stadium
Source: gobulls.usf.edu                                                    Source: 2004 South Florida Media Guide


South Florida football has not been in existence long enough – and hasn't been stable enough – to develop even a nascent rivalry with any opponent.  Division I-AA for three years.  Division I-A independent for three years.  Conference USA member for two years.  Now in the Big East.  The Bulls haven't played any opponent more than four times – Division I-AA Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky plus Conference USA members Memphis and Southern Mississippi.  South Florida has played Division I-A newbie Florida Atlantic once.  The Bulls have not played any other Florida team.  Central Florida would be the lost logical choice as a local rival.  The first game between the two programs is scheduled for September 17, 2005.  We'll see where this heads. 


The Bulls have not played Rutgers in their brief existence.  They have played four games against the incumbent members of the Big East:

  • In 2000, South Florida (7-4) beat Connecticut (3-8) 24-13 at Memorial Stadium in Storrs in late October.
  • In 2001, South Florida (8-3) stunned Pittsburgh (6-5) at Heinz Field in early September, helping the Panthers along to a 1-5 start before Pittsburgh recovered to win its final five games. 
  • Also in 2001, South Florida again beat Connecticut (2-9), handing the Huskies a 40-21 whipping at Raymond James Stadium in mid-October, two weeks after the Huskies stunned Rutgers (2-9) in Piscataway. 
  • In 2004, South Florida (4-7) was dismantled by Pittsburgh (8-4), 43-14, at Raymond James Stadium in early December after Hurricane Frances postponed the game originally scheduled in early September. 


South Florida's schedule and record over the past five years is summarized below: 


2000 (7-4)

2001 (8-3)

2002 (9-2)

2003 (7-4)

2004 (4-7)

Jacksonville St


@ Northern Illinois


Florida Atlantic


@ Alabama


Tennessee Tech


@ Kentucky


@ Pittsburgh


Northern Illinois


Nicholls State


@ South Carolina


James Madison


@ Memphis


@ Arkansas


@ Army


@ Texas Christian

45-44 (OT)

@ Baylor


North Texas State


@ Oklahoma



31-28 (2OT)

Southern Miss


Troy State


@ Utah


@ North Texas St


Texas Christian




@ Southern Miss




Southern Miss


Charleston South


@ Louisville




Southern Utah


@ East Carolina


@ Southern Miss


@ Alabama-Birm


@ Connecticut




Charleston South



24-17 (2OT)

East Carolina


Western Kentucky






@ East Carolina

38-37 (2OT)

@ Cincinnati


@ Middle Tenn


Western Illinois


Bowling Green






Austin Peay


Utah State


@ Houston


@ Memphis





Coming Next:  A three-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it enters summer camp.  Part 1 will review new faces on the roster, some of whom are not so new. 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the upcoming football season with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

Scarlet Report Top Stories