Big East mailbag: What's wrong with USF?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The path from gruntled to disgruntled is a short one. To wit:

Chris from Orlando, Fla., writes: I am a USF ('07) alum and loyal Bulls fan since 2003. As such I have witnessed USF go from obscurity in Tampa to the national spotlight in an incredible rise. I have also had probably unreal expectations for my Bulls recently and after the loss to Pitt have some questions hopefully you can help with. I know the team is young and transitioning and I hope they will improve over the seasons to come after signing better and better talent. What do you predict for USF over the next few seasons or so? Do you think they will become more consistent or continue to flash brilliance and mediocrity in the same season?

Keith L. from Tampa, Fla., writes: I don't want to sound irate, but it is painfully obvious to me that USF is constantly getting outcoached in most facets of the game. We easily are as talented personnel wise as any team in our conference and in many teams in FBS. But three years in a row of great wins followed by massive dropoffs, massive amounts of penalties, and moronic playcalling as in eight passes against a fairly weak Pitt secondary, not to mention our inability to find a field goal kicker. What is the chance that we find a new head coach within the next couple of years at USF or are we going to fall into the trap of being mesmerized by having an "iconic" coach stay here as long as he wants because of what he started here?

Brian Bennett: Yes, Bulls fans are pretty down right now, and it's hard to blame them after South Florida continues its mesmerizing pattern. First of all, let's remember that the team's two losses so far have come against the No. 8 team and the No. 15 team in the country, and a win this week over No. 21 West Virginia could make things seem a lot better.

Still, it's sure seems like something odd is going on in Tampa. It's still a young program, to be sure, and many underclassmen are playing significant roles. But this team just can't get to where it consistently competes at a high level in conference play. There is a lot of talent on the roster, and that talent is improving each year. There's no reason why the Bulls shouldn't break through and win the Big East in the next couple of years.

Is it coaching? Jim Leavitt has done a wonderful job of getting the program to this point from scratch, and that can't be overlooked. You have to wonder, though, if maybe his all-out personality and hard-driving style perhaps wears the players down by the middle of the year. They sure look like they hit a wall at this time of year each season, only to recapture their breath later on. Leavitt's not going anywhere soon, though. He signed a lucrative extension and the school isn't flush with enough cash to buy him out and go after a bigger name. It's up to Leavitt to figure out how to get over this ever-growing hump.

Daniel J. from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: Can Cincinnati's schedule help them get to the national championship game? There's a possibility that they might play a Pitt team ranked in the top 10 and a WVU team ranked in the top 15, if they both keep winning. Also TCU has a hard game against Utah left that they can lose, and Iowa's Ohio State. UC jumps Boise because of SOS, USC and Oregon aren't safe from Arizona especially if Oregon beats USC since they play at Arizona. The big problem seems to be the SEC right now though I think a few upsets are more then possible.

Brian Bennett: The Bearcats would get a boost if they beat both Pitt and West Virginia, but their schedule also won't be helped too much by games against Syracuse and Illinois. They need Oregon State to keep winning and make that road victory look better; the Beavers are just 4-3 right now, though they played USC closer on the road than they did Cincinnati at home. Everybody outside the SEC seems to be playing for one spot in the BCS title game right now, with Texas having the huge inside edge. It's going to be a mad scramble, but there's a lot of football left.

Frank from Pittsburgh writes: You were discussing some what-if scenarios and mentioned that if Pitt and Cincinnati run the table until their game in December both might make a BCS game (if Pitt were to win). That's a long shot in a bunch of ways. As I'm a huge Pitt fan (and an alum) I love the thought of Pitt running the table and heading to a BCS game. But I couldn't help but thinking, if WVU were to win out and win the conference, do you think Cincinnati would be able to sneak into the BCS if it went 11-1? They'd be coming off a win at Heinz Field and would have suffered their loss in mid-November. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I can't envision that happening. All a team needs to do to be eligible for an at-large BCS selection is have at least nine wins and finish in the top 14. Let's assume that the after the six conference champions make it, either Boise State or TCU gets a BCS bid. Then the runner-up in the SEC. That leaves two at-large possibilities. One would be taken by Notre Dame if the Irish could finish in the top 14. Other candidates would include the USC-Oregon loser, the Big Ten runner up and a second team from the Big 12. Cincinnati would have a tough time getting an invitation in front of those teams just because of name recognition, ticket sales and TV ratings. Remember that after the BCS title game, the rest of the BCS bowls are about entertainment, not who deserves to be there.

Justin from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Here's to hoping, but you have to love to think about it. Bruce Feldman has Penn State as an at-large team in his bowl projections; now he has them playing Boise St. But if Pitt were to win the Big East if the BCS is all about money. how can you not put a Penn State versus Pitt game on? That place will sell out and everyone will be watching. It's about time this rivalry comes back, and if Pitt would win maybe Joe Pa will play us again. Wouldn't you like this to happen?

Brian Bennett: Justin, I think that would be fun, but I don't think it would happen for the same reason why I don't think an Ohio State-Cincinnati BCS game will happen, either. Yeah, it would be a huge deal for everyone in Pennsylvania or Ohio, but outside of that state, the game wouldn't draw nearly as much interest. Those bowls are shooting for the biggest national TV audience possible.

Jon from Cincinnati writes: What odds do you give that the season ends with the SEC champion, Texas, Iowa, TCU, Boise State, and Cincinnati all undefeated? Could that finally spell the end of the much derided BCS system?

Brian Bennett: That is the doomsday scenario. But it seems like every year we worry midseason about too many undefeated teams remaining at the end of the year, and it usually works itself out. The bottom line is, it's really hard to go unbeaten. Would something like that destroy the BCS? The only thing that will kill the BCS is if people stop going to the games and stop watching them on TV.

Greg F. from Greenbelt, Md., writes: Thanks for the coverage, Brian. Is there a rule prohibiting the Gator Bowl from selecting Notre Dame over the Big East runner up that is two (or is it three?) games better than Notre Dame? I had thought there used to be this rule, but I can't seem to find it. I am wondering if a 10-2 Pitt or WVU could get into the Gator over 8-4 or 7-5 Notre Dame?

Brian Bennett: Greg, I mentioned this in my chat last week, then followed up with the league office to make sure I was right. It's true that the Gator Bowl can only select Notre Dame if it's within two wins of an eligible Big East team. So, for example, let's say Cincinnati finishes 11-1 and loses to Pitt to come in second. Notre Dame would have to be at least 9-3. The Irish currently have five wins and should get to seven or eight with relative ease. UConn and Pitt both play Notre Dame next month and could help out the league by winning those games.