"Guys are not as rushed for meetings, so they have more time off their feet and are not walking around campus," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They can focus on football. We'll have a little bit of Thanksgiving here Wednesday."
Possible players out for USF are Ovid Goulbourne and Barry Wright, predominantly special teams players who have tweaked hamstrings. Linebacker Phil Plank, also a contributor on special teams, might also be out. Offensive lineman Greg Isdaner has a shoulder injury, but is expected to play.
Another side worry for Rodriguez is that the warm weather, combined with the students on break, might downgrade the Mountaineers' home field advantage. USF is 2-2 all-time in games played in under 50 degree conditions. The forecast this weekend is for mid-50s as a high on Saturday, with the potential for rain. The students are away for the week, then return for two more weeks, a "dead week" of studying, before a week of finals completes the fall semester.
"It's a feather in our cap to our fans that we travel well, and I hope our students will come back," Rodriguez said. "The reason we were not at 60,000 the last game was because of our students. The empty seats that I saw were in one corner where the students sit. To be true, passionate football fans, they need to fill those up. Our guys know when the fans are in the game. They can feel it. And I kinda hoped it would be about 15 degrees. It is going to be 50s and a little rain. We got used to that. I don't know if our guys from down south like it. Now, you just hope the flu bug doesn't hit this time of the season."
Rodriguez spoke to the players about being one of a handful of 119 division I teams that are still competing for the championship of a BCS conference and ranked in the top 10. WVU's senior class could also finish as the winningest in program history, with the potential for 39 games. Last year's senior class won 36 games in four years. A win over South Florida would be the 37th in four years for the 2006-07 class.
If Pitt beats No. 8 Louisville at Heinz Field, then the Mountaineers could win the Big East outright for the second straight year and third time overall. The Cardinals control the fate of the conference's BCS bid. Should they win out, the hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over WVU, which would still share Big East title honors if it can beat South Florida and Rutgers. A U of L loss likely means the Dec. 2 winner of Rutgers and West Virginia would be league champion.
"Our league, from all either teams, has been more competitive than it has in a long time," Rodriguez said. "The home field advantage is one for Pitt. There are good players everywhere. I think the Big East has proven itself. I say that from what we have done non-conference-wise. I said when we started conference play, it would not surprise me if we beat each other up a little bit. If that is the sign of a good league maybe the Big East is getting there. People think it is easy to go undefeated in the Big East, but it is not. It's hard. It has better eight teams than it has in a long, long time."
First things first with USF, however. Its offensive coordinator, Rod Smith, played quarterback for Rodriguez at Glenville State in the mid-1990s. He was a video assistant under Rodriguez at Clemson in 2000, then accepted the quarterback coaching slot with WVU in 2001 before opting instead to coach at South Florida. He has installed a spread offense similar to Rodriguez's, and the Bulls are averaging 22.8 points and 219.8 passing yards per game. Like WVU, USF utilizes a scrambling quarterback in redshirt freshman Matt Grothe. The 6-0, 200-pounder doesn't have the speed of White, but he can run and slides effectively ion the pocket, like Pitt's Tyler Palko. All but two of the Bulls' players come from Florida.
"They have been able to recruit right in their area, which is a major advantage," Rodriguez said. "They have some skill and speed on offense and defense. They are pretty good. We played them down there last year and we won, but it was a close game. Pat (White) got loose a little bit, with having the two long runs. They tackled well in spaced, which is the hardest thing to do defensively. But they have speed, and that's the one thing that will help them. They do tackle well. There have not been very many long runs on South Florida, and the speed is the reason for that."
Note: Rodriguez said he does not favor a playoff system. The sixth-year head coach would rather keep the current bowl system.
"A full-fledged playoff system would diminish all the excitement that is going on now," He said. "Maybe a plus-one or something (where the top two teams play another game following the completion of the bowls), but a full-fledged playoff would not be good for the college football.
"Right now, it looks like we could go anywhere, from out in Pasadena (Rose Bowl) to El Paso (Sun Bowl) to Toronto (International Bowl). We do control our own destiny in that if we win the next two games we have at least a share of the Big East title."