First of all, much credit goes to South Florida. The Bulls fooled West Virginia for the second straight season, this time with a national television audience watching on ESPN. Much of what happened on Friday night was because of South Florida's efforts. Without question, the Bulls are now a power player in the Big East.
That being said, the Mountaineers flat out laid an egg on Friday night. The offense moved the ball consistently between the 20's, but also had an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Most importantly, West Virginia's power spread attack was shut out of the end zone, save for a fourth quarter Darius Reynaud touchdown. Defensively, the Mountaineers again played well enough to win the game, but still gave up an inexcusable 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Carlton Hill in the second quarter.
Don't get me wrong; I don't expect Rich Rodriguez and company to bring their A-game every week. Every great team has a bad game now and again, but the mark of a true champion is the ability to find a way to win even when you play your worst game. For a program that has accomplished a whole lot over the past few seasons, this is the next step it must take to be considered a true national title contender.
Yes, they have had some magnificent come-from-behind victories over the past couple of seasons. The 2005 win against Louisville, and last season's triumphs over Rutgers and Georgia Tech are some of the best wins in school history. However, the inability to execute down the stretch in games against Louisville (2006) and USF (2006 and 2007) have left Mountaineer fans wondering "What if?" about even bigger goals for the program.
It will be interesting to see what happens the next time West Virginia has a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession.
* * *
And now, for something completely different.
While I agree with the assessment of many that Friday night's win over West Virginia was the biggest in the brief history of South Florida football, I'm not completely sold on the whole "this is a great win for the city of Tampa" argument.
Did I miss something? Didn't Tampa take home a Lombardi Trophy a few years ago?
The Bulls have done a remarkable job of selling their product to the Tampa-St. Pete area. At the end of the day, though, it is always going to be a pro sports town first. And with the Florida Gators still roaming just two hours to the north, USF will always be sharing the collegiate spotlight with Urban Meyer's program.
On top of all that, I'm still not completely sold on South Florida as the Big East winner in 2007. Yes, the defense is incredibly fast and technically sound. And there's no doubt that Jim Leavitt has worked wonders during his 11-year reign in Tampa.
Offensively, though, there are still some questions regarding the Bulls. First and foremost, they have trouble running the football. And second, quarterback Matt Grothe is certainly a great talent, but also toes the fine line between "gutsy" and "risky". The sophomore signal caller looked to be confused at times by West Virginia's secondary as he lofted several balls into double coverage without so much as a look at the Mountaineer safeties. Part of this is a credit to West Virginia doing a good job of disguising coverages, but another part of it was bad decision making on Grothe's part.
I'm looking forward to seeing a game in which USF's offense has to carry the load in order to win. If they can do that, there might not be any stopping the Bulls in 2007.
* * *
Looking back, there was waaaay too much bad karma leading up to Friday's game. Fifteen minutes before we departed the Westshore Marriott for Raymond James Stadium, I felt something fall down my shirt. Upon further inspection, it was my lucky white necklace that I have worn to virtually every football and basketball game since I purchased it on January 2, 2006. If you're keeping score at home, you'll note that on that same date, West Virginia won the Sugar Bowl. Count up every big Mountaineer win in football or men's basketball since that day, and chances are the necklace was there.
The second bad karma fact that stands out in my mind was the absence of Mountaineer mascot Brady Campbell. The senior was unable to make the trip due to taking LSAT exams on Saturday morning back in Morgantown.
To be fair, Brady's backup did an admirable job filling in for him.
The nail in the bad karma coffin, however, was Rich Rodriguez's comparison to the New York Yankees earlier in the week. Rodriguez stated that the Mountaineers were used to playing in front of sold out crowds on the road because they, like the Yankees, win a lot and people want to see them play.
I don't think there was any harm intended in Coach Rod's statement, but more than one South Florida player -- as well as Leavitt -- made reference to the comparison following the game.
Besides, do the Mountaineers really want to be thought of in the same company as a team that hasn't won a meaningful game in seven years, and also lays claim to the biggest choke job in the history of professional sports?
* * *
Finally, there was good news and bad news for WVU after all of Saturday's games had been played. The good news is that Saturday's slew of Top 25 upsets took West Virginia out of the limelight after Friday night's debacle. The bad news is that a win Friday night combined with the events of Saturday afternoon and evening would have likely resulted in a solid climb for the previously fifth-ranked Mountaineers.
Of course the best news of all is the fact that starting today, the blue and gold can move on and forget about Friday's loss with plenty of season and several goals still left for the taking.