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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Much recognition, no intimidation
By JOHN ROMANO, Times Columnist
Published September 9, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. - This was a time to grow.
On a day when Miami was taught humility and Florida State learned about fear, South Florida made the case it was the better team.
This was a time to gain ground.
On a day when Florida bullied a weakling in relative obscurity, USF put on a show on prime-time television.
This was a time for underdogs everywhere.
The Bulls have done it again. For the third time in as many seasons, they have taken down a ranked opponent. This time, USF stunned Auburn 26-23 in overtime and crept a little bit closer to national relevance.
Since 2005, the Bulls are 3-4 against ranked opponents. That may not get you near the national championship picture, but it suggests you reside in the same neighborhood as some of the nation's elite programs.
Mostly, this was a time of vindication for Delbert Alvarado.
For the longest time Saturday night, the USF placekicker was the most lonely man in college football. Three times in the third quarter he had a chance to tie the game with a field goal, and three times he did not get the job done.
It was like watching someone's dreams die a slow and painful death. Yet, in the end, Alvarado came through with a game-tying field goal in the final minutes, setting up Matt Grothe's touchdown pass in overtime.
What was impressive is the way the Bulls behaved. They played as if they belonged. They were neither intimidated, nor overwhelmed. And every time they came up short, they returned with the same dogged attitude.
Oh, the Bulls had some breaks along the way. For instance, the Tigers occasionally allowed quarterback Brandon Cox to attempt forward passes. Cox is currently the most accomplished quarterback in the SEC with a 20-6 careeer record, but he was dreadful for much of the game Saturday.
And Auburn running backs seemed to have a difficult time holding onto the ball when stuck on their own side of the field.
USF was not the most talented team on the field, but it was the more disciplined. The offense did not commit turnovers, and the defense held on when it was absolutely necessary.
Yet, for all the commotion, it is not as if USF was traveling unfamiliar ground. The Bulls upset Louisville in 2005 and brought down West Virginia in '06. They have pulled off shockers, they have announced their presence.
But upsets should be the point of launch rather than the landing spot. Auburn may be the biggest name on the schedule, but it will not be the greatest challenge.
Were USF still in Conference USA - as it was when the Auburn game was scheduled in 2004 - than the outcome would have loomed larger. Nothing the Bulls could do in Conference USA would have a larger impact than an upset of the Tigers.
But, these days, USF should want more. And the possibility is within its grasp.
As a member of a BCS conference, the Bulls are no longer in a make-or-break situation in these non-conference showdowns against more traditional opponents.
Which is why it is time for the Bulls to move beyond their familiar storyline. For years, it has served their purpose to be the new kid on the block. To impress people with how far they had come in such a short time. But to stick to that line of thinking is to sell the program short.
The Bulls cannot look at themselves as the perennial underdog. It may be great for pregame motivation, but it reinforces the impression you're not really good enough to run consistently with the big dogs.
So a non-conference game against an Auburn or a North Carolina can be a measuring stick, but it should not be the make-or-break proposition that it once seemed for USF.
What this game did for the Bulls was turn a few more heads among state recruits. It caught the attention of a few more pollsters. It convinced the players that they are not as far away as some might think.
The Bulls do not yet have the reputation, the history, the prestige of some of their opponents, but that doesn't mean they can not have the same dreams.