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Days of I-AA foes near end

South Florida plans to pack future schedules with as many Division I-A opponents as possible.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002


TAMPA -- Speed, strength, coordination, depth, a punter ... Charleston Southern was lacking in all departments.

At least compared with South Florida.

It was clear from Saturday night's first play -- an interception by USF's Maurice Tucker -- the Bucs were out of their league.

As in Division I-AA vs. I-A.

As in the days of the Bulls playing I-AA opponents are all but behind them.

"We won't have more than one I-AA opponent on our schedule from now on," coach Jim Leavitt said after routing Charleston Southern 56-6. "One at the most."

And to think this has happened in less than six years.

It was not long ago (1997) that South Florida lost 41-13 at Elon in front of 4,692.

Elon?

That's a college somewhere in North Carolina.

It is also indicative of those early schedules. In the first three years South Florida had victories against big names such as Valparaiso (51-0), Cumberland (69-3) and ... Charleston Southern (24-6 in 1997 and 24-0 in '98).

"We sure have come a long way from that," Leavitt said. "That first year I didn't know if our guys could catch a pass. I didn't know if we could win a game.

"We had 18 true freshmen on that (1997) team so I really didn't know what we were capable of."

Fast forward to Saturday night: A few minutes into the second half South Florida's starters were sipping water on the bench with a 35-0 lead. By the fourth quarter the Bulls had emptied their bench.

While Leavitt was happy, "to get a lot of kids into the game," he and players remain focused on tougher opponents, teams that will raise South Florida's credibility.

"We'd like eliminate all the I-AA teams from the schedule," Tucker said. "We want to play the I-A teams. We want to play the best."

The Bulls played their first I-A opponent in 1999, a game at San Diego State, which beat the Bulls 41-12 in the season opener.

The next year could be considered the Bulls' transition year, meaning they sprinkled I-A opponents (four) among I-AA foes (seven).

Then came 2001, or what many consider the breakout season, featuring eight I-A opponents and three I-AA, a year in which South Florida went 8-3 and captured its first I-A victory 35-26 at Pittsburgh.

This season South Florida had only two I-AA teams on its schedule (Florida Atlantic in the opener and Charleston Southern), and next year it might go all I-A.

Eleven of next season's games will be against I-A teams, and if the Bulls get that 12th game, USF officials likely will seek another.

"Every year we're getting better," Leavitt said. "Every year we're looking for new challenges. That's what you have to do."

By the way, in the Bulls' second season they beat Elon 35-7.

South Florida has no plans to put Elon on the schedule in the future.

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