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It certainly helps things that USF plays in a stadium like Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While RJS is much too large for USF, the facility itself is as good as any you'll ever visit and the tailgating areas are as nice as any place I've ever visited. It certainly doesn't hurt that a December tailgate can be operated in 75-degree weather, nor does it hurt that the locals dress for the weather, but there's a lot of potential for USF to grow.
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Speaking of dressing for the weather, it was quite humorous to see some of the South Florida staff bundled up for the frigid 53-degree evening forecast. I spoke to one USF videographer who was decked out in insulated pants, Under Armor cold weather gear, gloves and earmuffs. Meanwhile I was sporting shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. I can't for the life of me imagine why they felt chilly in Connecticut the previous week.
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A couple of things were very disappointing in Tampa, and they both involved speaking with local media members after the game. It should be noted that South Florida has never been to the post-season of any level of football in their nine years of existence. But judging from some of the comments we heard, it's obvious that some people in Tampa have absolutely no idea of how big of an accomplishment earning a bowl bid is to the USF program.
My first discussion was with a member of a local media outlet, and our discussion circled around the fact that USF might get left out of a bowl if UConn beat Louisville on Saturday evening. Despite the fact that USF would have gotten the Motor City Bowl, (a representative of that bowl was in attendance), the writer was adamant that USF was getting worked over by the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The writer couldn't believe that a "low level bowl hardly worth attending" could treat USF in such a manner.
Well here's my tip: Bowl games take teams with fans. Bowl teams take teams with fans who travel. All things being close to equal, Bowl A is going to take the team who will either sell the most tickets or garner the largest market share on television. Being that South Florida has never been to a bowl, it is difficult to predict what the Bulls fans would snap up ticket-wise, and UConn's trip to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl last year was a big leg up for the Huskies. By the way, you can do all the research you want and you won't find any articles where anyone from UConn was critical of the Motor City Bowl, which is located in a region a tad cooler than Charlotte, N.C.
My second discussion was laced with even more cynicism. When I arrived back upstairs from the USF post-game press conference, I stopped to inquire about the schedule of another football game that was on television. They noted that in the waning moments of the UL-UConn game that they flashed a graphic showing USF going to the bowl game in Charlotte.
The man then quipped that USF was going to get slaughtered if they faced up with Clemson. When I told him that USF was a pretty good ball club and not to sell them short, he then provided me with a couple of quips that sent my blood to boil.
The first comment was about how South Florida had blown their last two games and Clemson would blow them out of the water. When I informed him that not only would it not be ten below zero in Charlotte but that West Virginia was a good football team and USF had nothing to be ashamed of, he dropped this bomb.
"Please! If it wasn't for two lucky runs by your quarterback, who couldn't even play for us, we'd have won this ballgame."
It was a shame really. All the good treatment and the mutual admiration society feelings were just washed right down the drain.
As far as I am concerned, the quarterback who couldn't play at USF is pretty good in the gold and blue. The transformation that Pat White has made since coming on in relief in the Louisville game is nothing short of mind-boggling. His 65-yard touchdown run on WVU's first play from scrimmage in the second half was nothing short of jaw-dropping. And his subsequent 76-yard scamper that covered just about every inch of ground between the sidelines made his other run look like a routine five-yarder.
It was simply the most spectacular run I've ever seen in person, and I was in the stands in 1988 when Major made his run against Penn State. Major faked out the entire Penn State defense on his way to a 26-yard score in 1988, and White covered about 70 yards after he got inside the 25 yard line against USF by moving left then right and then left again leaving Bulls defenders grasping at air before finally steamrolling one of them into the endzone. Amazing, simply amazing.
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South Florida fans interested in what it takes to get the attention of the bowl scouts needed to look no further than the southeast corner of RJS on Saturday night to see why all four of the bowl contingents in the press box were frothing at the mouth at a shot at West Virginia. USF's announced crowd of 42k and change was the largest crowd ever to see the Bulls in Raymond James Stadium. And there had to be at least 7,000 fans wearing the gold and blue. When the "Lets Go Mountaineers" chant started early in the first quarter after WVU took a 7-0 lead, you could hear it in the press box as plainly as if you were sitting outside. And it was loud. One look at the smiles on the faces of the Orange Bowl scouts revealed all you needed to know about their wishes.
However, Orange Bowl officials were not interested in a re-match bowl game and even less interested in matching up WVU with a four loss Florida State squad. The Meineke Bowl people would sell their souls, funeral plots and next born to get the Mountaineers again. And the Motor City Bowl would kill for such a coup. Meanwhile the Sugar Bowl rep just sat back and smiled, fingers wrapped behind his head, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. If he'd have had a big Cuban stogie and a steak sandwich in front of him you'd have thought he was Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazard, the television version.
After discussion with the Orange Bowl reps on Saturday night it was revealed that West Virginia had a tremendous chance of making it to the Orange Bowl despite all the media reports to the contrary. All that would have had to happen is USC, Texas and LSU lose, and hell freeze over.
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Keep your eyes on Jarrett Brown. There's no way he rides the pine in 2006.
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Jahmile Addae closed his senior regular season out in fine fashion in front of what seemed like 900 family members who all visited him in the Tampa North Shore Marriott before the game. Here's hoping that the Jahmile talks his younger brother Jahleel, a sophomore at Riverview in the Tampa area, into following in big brother's footsteps.
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#11 West Virginia is going to the Sugar Bowl. #8 Miami is going to the Peach Bowl. #10 Virginia Tech is going to the Gator Bowl. #17 Boston College is going to play in Boise, Idaho against Boise State in the MPC Computers bowl. You remember when your mother taught you that if you didn't have anything nice not to say anything at all?
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See you in Atlanta.