When USF added Nevada to its schedule back in January, it had no way of knowing that an already difficult road game would be made tougher by the Big East.
The Bulls were forced to fill a hole in their slate after TCU pulled out of the league, and decided on a tough nonconference road test with a date set for Sept. 8. But two months later, the Big East announced USF would play Rutgers the following week. A month after that, the game was moved to Thurs., Sept. 13 -- a mere five days after the Nevada game.
That made for a few unhappy people in Tampa. Back in April, coach Skip Holtz said, "I don't like it, but I don't have a veto vote."
Now the time has arrived for USF to take on the challenges this doozy of a two-game slate presents.
"All we can do is control what we can control," Holtz said this week. "We can’t change the game. We can’t meet them halfway. We have to go out there and play."
USF is making only the third trip in program history west of the Rocky Mountains, and the first since playing Utah in 2001. The last time it played on the West Coast was in 1999 against San Diego State. The Bulls lost both those meetings, but they were not members of the Big East at that time.
Traveling west from Florida is not easy for any team. USF has a five-hour flight; must cross three time zones; and Nevada is at a much higher altitude than Florida. All of these are intangible challenges that are not part of the typical USF road trip. USF spent extra time on conditioning this summer, and is making sure its players are hydrated and taking care of their bodies this week in preparation for the long flight.
Though as Holtz points out: "It’s better to fly for 5 1/2 hours than bus for 2 days."
The on-the-field challenges are just as difficult. Nevada plays out of the Pistol formation on offense, something the Bulls rarely see in Big East and nonconference play. The Wolf Pack looked terrific in an upset win against Cal last week, grabbing national headlines for putting a damper on the reopening of the Bears' stadium. And Nevada plays well at home.
Nevada is 17-1 in its past 18 home games, including a memorable overtime win against Boise State that shocked the nation.
"In my opinion, this will tell a lot about our team," linebacker Sam Barrington said. "We’re trying to force the urgency we have, and understanding these next 10 days with Nevada, then playing Rutgers on a Thursday prime-time game -- we have to prepare and take care of business. These are the games we have to win."