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Austin Peay not a strong opponent, but game closes college careers of 14 original players.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000
TAMPA -- When pressed on the subject, South Florida coach Jim Leavitt admitted that the Bulls would love to be playing beyond today. In some type of bowl game, to be exact.
It also would be nice to play an opponent other than Austin Peay to close out the season.
But the reality is the Bulls (6-4), who are completing a transition from I-AA to I-A, aren't eligible for a bowl game. So they will end the season against a 2-8, non-scholarship, Division I-AA independent at 3:30 p.m. today in Raymond James Stadium.
No disrespect to Austin Peay, of course.
While the Governors aren't the most formidable opponent, after the season the Bulls have had, Leavitt isn't making any excuses.
"If we were playing Austin Peay the first game of the season nobody would think anything of it," Leavitt said, adding that many Division I teams schedule lesser opponents early in the season without criticism. "We played Kentucky and Baylor early in the season and we've played ranked Division I-AA teams. ... We're ending with Austin Peay, that's just the way things go."
Several factors make Austin Peay a huge underdog. The Bulls are coming off their worst loss of the season, 45-9 at Middle Tennessee State. It is the final game for 25 seniors -- including 14 players from the school's inaugural season. And the Governors have several key injuries, including starting tailback Jay Bailey who injured a knee last week.
"We certainly are taking a shell of a team from a health standpoint than I thought we would be taking," Austin Peay coach Bill Schmitz said. "But that is football."
From their perspective, the purpose of today's game is twofold for the South Florida players: make sure the seniors go out on a high note and erase the memory of last week's loss.
"It's going to be an emotional game," senior cornerback Glenn Davis said. "It's a game that we would like to put up a lot of points and go out happy. It's important to do that after the game last week. We want to go out on a good note. That's probably one of the biggest things."
The game will most likely generate mixed emotions from the senior class, but the players said they can't get caught up in emotions or the Governors could walk away with an upset.
"We want to go out in a big way, so we need to jump on them early," senior long snapper Ryan Benjamin said. "It's going to be a lot like the first game we ever played, but I think it will be more fun than sad."
"It will be real emotional, probably just like our first one," senior center Joey Sipp said. "It will be like a dream that I don't want to end. When it ends, the shock probably won't hit me right then. You really can't say what it will feel like."
For the record, Schmitz knows the odds don't give his team much of a chance. But like Leavitt, he isn't apologizing for scheduling the Bulls. In fact, he sees this as a positive experience, no matter the outcome.
"I have never backed down from a challenge and I thought it would be great for our kids to play in Raymond James Stadium, the same stadium the Super Bowl will be played in in 21/2 months," Schmitz said.