Bulls look to crash state's Big Three with FSU win

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

When George Selvie Sr. first heard that Florida State was going to play South Florida this season, he excitedly called his son. You're going to get a shot at my boys, he blurted over the phone.

"I said, 'Your boys?'" recalls his son and namesake, the South Florida star defensive end. "You're a South Florida fan now."

The elder Selvie might have momentarily forgot his allegiance, because the Pensacola resident was a big Seminoles fan for many years. South Florida, for all its recent success, still feels in some ways like it just got here yesterday.

The Sunshine State's other three BCS programs still dominate the headlines and recruiting. But the Bulls are trying to upgrade their status.

"Since I was in high school here or junior high or elementary school, it's always been Florida, Florida State and Miami," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. "I don't think there's any question that South Florida has done some pretty competitive things. But to really change history ..."

Leavitt didn't finish his thought, but he didn't need to. In order to turn the Big Three into Big Four, South Florida will have to beat the members of that triumvirate.

Its first-ever crack at Florida State arrives this Saturday in Tallahassee. Later this season, the Bulls will play host to Miami for the first time since 2005. Next year, they're scheduled to play at Florida for the first time.

In some ways, Leavitt's program has already established itself as a bona fide member of that group. In each of the past two years, the Bulls reached the Top 10 of both polls, while Florida State and Miami were spinning their wheels. But South Florida still couldn't compete with the resources, fan bases or traditions of those schools.

Leavitt chuckled this week when asked about recruiting battles against Florida State. Most of the players on his roster, including Tallahassee native son and quarterback B.J. Daniels, couldn't get a sniff from the Seminoles. Selvie, who played high school ball in the panhandle, never even got a letter from FSU. South Florida made news this offseason when it signed a couple of kids who were also recruited by Miami and Florida.

That's why the Bulls are looking forward to this weekend's game as a chance to prove they belong on the same stage. Selvie compared it to the game at Auburn two years ago that became a breakthrough win.

"That was a big stepping stone for our program," he said. "Playing FSU is like the same thing, but this is an in-state game. For recruiting and prestige, it would propel us up there for years to come."

The question is, are the Bulls ready for this moment?

They are 3-0 but have played probably the worst schedule in the country so far, beating two FCS opponents (Charleston Southern and Wofford) and the newest program in the FBS (Western Kentucky). Florida State, meanwhile, battled resurgent Miami down to the wire on Labor Day and blew the doors off BYU last week on the road. The No. 18 Seminoles look as strong as they have in years.

For South Florida, this will be like going from a morning commute to the Indy 500.

"The speed will be much faster," Leavitt said. "It's a different deal, we all know that."

South Florida's best preparation for this game might come not from its first three games, but from practice. Leavitt often pits starters versus starters, and those players Florida State didn't want are in most cases just as talented as the current Seminoles.

"Our defense is as fast as a lot of teams in this country," offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. "Going ones-on-ones at that speed every day keeps you at the level you need to play at. Obviously, it may take a little time at the beginning of the game to get used to [FSU's speed], but we'll make little adjustments as we go."

The Bulls are hoping there's a big adjustment after the game, with the Big Three reluctantly clearing some space for a fourth member.