Bulls don't embrace spoiler's role

If not for some unforeseen circumstances, maybe Skip Holtz would be leading Connecticut to its first BCS game.

Holtz coached the Huskies from 1994 to 1998, going 34-23, including a 10-win season in his final year. But he didn't get to see the program through to its transition to the FBS level. His mother got cancer, and he left Storrs to become an assistant coach for his father at South Carolina and to be closer to his family.

Ironically enough, Holtz's first regular season as head coach at South Florida ends against Connecticut. And his Bulls are the team standing in the way of UConn reaching its first-ever BCS game. Holtz, a Connecticut native who says he is a "fan of the program" and a friend of Randy Edsall, tries not to look at things that way.

"I'm excited about the growth that program has made, and to see where it has come is rewarding," he said. "But, still, I want this one for this team, for these seniors."

West Virginia fans will never root harder for South Florida than they will on Saturday night. A Mountaineers win and a UConn loss puts West Virginia in a BCS game. The Bulls are in the classic spoiler's role, but Holtz doesn't want his team to use that language or mindset.

"We're not playing to spoil somebody else's year," he said. "We're playing to make ours.

"It's more about finishing this out for the seniors and playing a good football game. We're not trying to take something from Connecticut. We're trying to make something for South Florida."

Had a play or two gone differently, the Bulls (7-4, 3-3 Big East) could be standing where the Huskies are now.

Like UConn, they started out league play 0-2. And like UConn, they turned things around and got on a roll. USF won three straight conference games, breaking losing streaks against Rutgers and at Cincinnati and Louisville. It had Pittsburgh on its home turf with a chance to tie for first place but lost 17-10.

The team, though, bounced back to beat Miami in overtime last week.

"We had to get that 'W,'" senior wideout Dontavia Bogan said. "I told the other receivers that we've had a signature win every year I've been here. Last year it was Florida State, and this year it's Miami."

By beating the Huskies, the Bulls could close out the regular season with five wins in their last six games. They'd reach eight victories for the fourth straight season. They might have an outside shot at the Champs Sports Bowl, though the Meineke Car Care Bowl would be a more likely destination.

Mostly, though, it would reward a senior class that led the team through some tough times after the Jim Leavitt abuse controversy last winter. The only spoiling USF is worried about it not spoiling Senior Night.

"If they come in here and beat us, they go to the BCS, and of course we'll try not to allow that," Bogan said. "But this would mean a lot for the seniors, because we've put in a lot of hard work."