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Like him or not, you know your team is big time when Dick Vitale comes to town.
Sure, Vitale lives in Sarasota, about an hour from South Florida's campus. But usually if he gets anywhere near the Fowler Avenue exit on I-275 this time of year, it's because he's on his way to Gainesville to see Florida. Vitale hasn't set foot in the Sun Dome for basketball since 1980, when the Bulls played Duke in one of their first nationally televised games.
Saturday, he'll be back to call USF's home game with play-by-partner Brad Nessler. Okay, so the opponent is Florida. But the Gators aren't the only reason Vitale finally will be seeing the Bulls in person.
"I'm excited about going back" to USF, he said. "They certainly right now have one of the Rip Van Winkle sleeper teams nationally. A lot of people aren't aware how good they are. When I get done Saturday, they'll know."
For USF, Vitale's appearance couldn't come at a better time. The Bulls are 7-0 for the first time in school history. And during a month when it usually can bring in only teams more interested in vacationing in Florida than playing basketball, USF hosts the highest-profile opponent of coach Seth Greenberg's six seasons.
Vitale said the Bulls, led by forward B.B. Waldon and wing Altron Jackson, have earned the exposure.
During the game, "I'm going to rate the five best combinations in terms of inside-outside combinations," Vitale said. "I'm going to have South Florida's kids in that top five." Florida's Brett Nelson and Udonis Haslem also fall into that top five, he said.
Vitale said though the Bulls have struggled down the stretch in recent years, he thinks this will be the season they earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Greenberg's arrival.
"I can't wait, because I think people are going to be shocked at how good this South Florida team is this year," Vitale said. "The way they blew out California the other day -- they absolutely put a blitz on them. I think Seth Greenberg has the best team he's had since he's been there."
BUCK, MEET THE BUCS: Fox announcer Joe Buck, well-known and respected for his major-league baseball work, will call the Lions-Bucs game from Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. It will be Buck's third NFL game this season.
Before November, he hadn't called an NFL game since 1997. Buck may not return to the NFL full time, but his renewed interest might be a sign that he will become part of Fox's regular rotation next year after the baseball season ends.
MILLER TO RETURN?: If his immediate boss has the final say-so, Dennis Miller will be back on Monday Night Football next season.
"I'm thinking a lot about next year already, and he is as big a part of my show right now as anyone else," producer Fred Gaudelli told the Associated Press. "He should be back."
Is that good news or bad news? Who can say? Miller's comic timing and intellect tend either to blow viewers away or drive them away (or to the dictionary). Most viewers want Miller to say smart, funny things, and goodness knows he can, but then he goes and makes a reference to "isotope arms," and even the guy who writes the "Annotated Dennis Miller" column for ABCSports online can't figure out what he's talking about. (Don't ask.)
USA Today says it would cost ABC $1-million to buy out Miller before next season. So it's a good bet he'll stay with MNF through 2002. Maybe by then, Lions GM Matt Millen will be available.