"I just hope we're on top," Rodriguez said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "Whatever it has to be. I do think there will be a lot of emotion in this game, not just for what's at stake but because of the crowd and being a Big East opener for both schools. I think both teams will be fired up and ready to go."
This game, much like last year's affair between the two schools, is expected to be a back and forth duel with Big East title implications at stake. The match-up of two of the league's top quarterbacks, West Virginia's Pat White and South Florida's Matt Grothe, will be the main focus for many watching on national television. Both players are noted for their abilities to run and throw for big plays. Neither has thrown an interception in 2007, and in a game that could come down to the fourth quarter, one or two key plays could change the entire complexion of this September showdown.
"Turnovers will play a key in it," Rodriguez admitted. "In an emotional game, you can't have negative yardage plays which include penalties, tackles for losses and all of that on either side. When you're in second and fifteen, or third and fifteen, it's hard to get first downs.
"South Florida is first in the Big East in stopping people on third down, a lot of which is because they've gotten people in a lot of third and long situations," he continued. "We've got to stay out of those."
Friday night's contest is expected to take place in a sold out Raymond James Stadium (65,000), which also houses the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If it is in fact a sellout, it will be the largest crowd the Mountaineers have had in a true road game since an October 2004 loss at Virginia Tech. Of course, playing in front of a sold out crowd is nothing new for one of the nation's premier programs, which draws big audiences both in person and on television on a weekly basis no matter who the opponent happens to be.
"I've talked to our kids about that," said the seventh-year Mountaineer mentor. "When you're highly ranked, when you go to play somewhere then people are going to sellout the stadium. It's like the Yankees; every time they go somewhere, they probably get a big crowd. Every time we go somewhere, we're selling out stadiums. They aren't all coming to watch us, because they're obviously coming to watch USF too.
"To me, our guys have to understand that it's going to be a hostile environment, but at the same time you'd rather go into an environment like that then go into an environment where there's nobody there or nobody cares."
When South Florida joined the Big East prior to the 2005 season, Rodriguez noted at the time that he felt the Bulls would stand to gain the most from a conference realignment that also brought Louisville and Cincinnati into the fold as all-sports members.
"I do remember that," he admitted. "I think that of all the schools that benefitted the most from the Big East, I thought South Florida (benefitted the most). They're surrounded by so many players in their area. They can get their whole roster within 100 miles. They can use the argument that you can play Big East competition by staying (in Tampa), you don't have to go up north."
For schools such as West Virginia that are not blessed with an abundance of in-state talent to recruit, Florida is always a key state for getting players. Without question, Rodriguez noted, USF's addition to the Big East has made recruiting players to WVU from the Sunshine State a little bit more challenging than it would have been if the Bulls would not have joined the conference.
"It's made it more difficult to recruit against them, but we're still going to because I think we have a better sell. But I'm biased," he said with a grin.
"That's why I keep pushing for improvements for our facilities. We have a great place, but sometimes you have to be here to see it. That's why I'm pushing the academic center. It's why we've got to get that locker room done. That's why we've got to do some things to keep our program at that top level. Once we get them here, we want them to see that everything we've got is first class. Everything we've got now is first class, but there's always work to do."
For right now, though, Rodriguez will settle for his second career win over South Florida on the field Friday night.
NOTE: West Virginia's next win will be the 100th victory of Rodriguez's head coaching career, which also includes stops at West Virginia Conference schools Salem and Glenville State. When alerted of this, the Grant Town native was somewhat surprised.
"That doesn't matter much to me," he said. "I'm hoping that I'll be coaching here long enough to get a few more victories. You don't want to ever get too high, because the highs are never high enough, and the lows are always too low. I'd be happy just because we beat South Florida and it's a Big East game."