Whit Watson Blog: Winning Weekend

How complete was the University of South Florida's win over ninth-ranked Louisville on Saturday night?

Louisville fans were posting messages on USFNation.com, the Bulls' Scout.com affiliate website, congratulating USF on the win. A Penn State fan thanked the Bulls for validating PSU's win over South Florida earlier this season. Fans from West Virginia chimed in. Miami fans posted notes saying how much they were looking forward to playing the Bulls next week. And my favorite - a random Cal Bears fan posted a note with the heading, "Who ARE you guys???"

Who are they, indeed. To recap, from the blog entry in this space a mere 24 hours before this historic win: the Bulls of the University of South Florida, a program whose storied history goes all the way back to, umm, 1997, were the 9th-best rushing team in the nation entering the weekend. USF had the 5th-best passing defense, the 8th-best total defense, and the 17th-best scoring defense in all the land - and all of that was before they held the high-flying Cardinal offense to 104 rushing yards and 14 points on Saturday.

Andre Hall, the best running back in the state, did his part with 83 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but it was the previously unheralded Amarri Jackson who will be dancing through Bobby Petrino's nightmares for the next several weeks.

Jackson, a 6-5 sophomore from Riverview High School in Sarasota, ran for two touchdowns on reverses and passed for another, not to mention a 57 yard catch-and-run on the Bulls' second play of the game that set up Hall's first TD. In three prior games this season, Jackson had totaled 3 receptions for 15 yards. Hello, big time.

The night before the game, we had Josh Newberg, the administrator of USFNation.com, as a guest on Sports Talk Live. Josh and I traded e-mail before and after the show, and he allowed as how his appearance on Sun Sports would be great press for the Bulls. Josh, I think your football team took care of the press. And even though I completely blindsided you by asking you to pick the winner, you're welcome. Hey, making the guests and analysts look smart is part of my job description.

It was USF's first win over a ranked opponent in six tries, it stopped Louisville's nine game winning streak, and it all came in the first ever Big East game for the Bulls. Biggest win in school history? Duh.

Perhaps even more importantly for the University of South Florida, the win over Louisville lifts the program a full notch higher than UCF, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic in the race to be included in conversation with the Big Three of Florida, Florida State, and Miami. We often field e-mails from fans of the Other Four, asking us why we don't bring more coverage of their teams during our Chevy Tailgate Saturday block of programming. Officially, there are three answers we give them, having to do with the following factors:

-Our contractual agreements with Florida and FSU,

-The contractual agreements between those other schools, their respective conferences, and competing networks,

-And the laws of supply and demand with our viewers and advertisers.

Unofficially, my answer has always been, "Just win, baby." Win meaningful games, force yourself into the discussion, and we'll be more than happy to give you the love you deserve. Just win. We don't discriminate, and there's no agenda. It's not about money, or contracts, or broadcast rights. It's about winning. That's my answer, anyway.

Congratulations, Bulls. You just won. Welcome to the show.

* * * On the same night, UCF ended the longest active losing streak in the country by beating Marshall at home, 23-13. Steven Moffett passed for 260 yards, Matt Prater kicked three field goals, and just like USF in the Big East, the Golden Knights are unbeaten in their new conference, C-USA. The 17-game losing streak, dating back to October 23, 2003 and encompassing the entire 11-game 2004 season, is history. Granted, Marshall passed for 368 yards against UCF (and for that matter, Brian Brohm had 389 yards through the air for Louisville against USF), but the Knights held the Thundering Herd to 11 yards rushing. And a win is a win.

Head coach George O'Leary said afterwards that he was "happy for the kids." He should be happy for himself, too. Unlike many in the media, I don't believe that O'Leary will be feeling much heat anytime soon from UCF brass (are you reading this, Bianchi?), but the streak needed to end. UCF began playing football in 1979 as a Division III program, working its way up to D-I in the late '90s. Throughout its history, the Golden Knights have grown in fits and starts, with glorious peaks (see Culpepper, Daunte) and excruciating lows (see the 2004 note above). O'Leary was hired for the long haul, and the plan was to start from scratch, creating the foundation that, for various reasons, has never really been laid. His hall pass is good for several years, not just two. Win a few more games, scare a big-name opponent, get a stadium built on campus, establish a foothold in the fertile Florida recruiting grounds - in short, do the things that should have been completed by now - and UCF will be fine. Think long term, Knights fans. Your Louisville is coming. It may not be this season, but it's coming.

* * * Want to know the best part of my job? Finding nuggets like these. I've just laid out two great football stories among Florida college football teams, and I've barely scratched the surface. Webber International University drummed the Hornets of Concordia College on Saturday, a win that is sure to elevate the Warriors in the NAIA Top-25 this week - a ranking that Webber had never attained before now. Bethune-Cookman beat the Spartans of Norfolk State in four overtimes - yes, FOUR overtimes - by a final of 63-61. Amazingly, it was only the second longest game in BCC history. Florida A&M, much maligned over the past two years, squeaked out a 12-7 win over Tennessee State. The Jacksonville Dolphins, who had to postpone two games this season because their opponents were too close to Hurricane Katrina, set a school record with 585 yards of total offense in plastering Butler 55-21. And oh yeah, Florida beat Kentucky, and Miami rolled Colorado.

Football in the Sunshine State. There ain't nothin' like it.

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