International Bowl: South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5):
Jan. 2, Noon (ESPN2)
Suppose you would have asked South Florida back on Sept. 26, just hours after it scored a potentially program-changing victory at Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Bulls would end up bowling.
I bet you could have polled all 85 scholarship players and not found a single one who would have said in Toronto against a 7-5 MAC team.
Such, however, is the state of South Florida, a program that never wins enough after strong starts to matter much in the end. The Bulls won just twice after Oct. 3 and thus earned the Big East's version of a postseason banishment: Canada.
Head coach Jim Leavitt's first order of business will be to get his players excited about such an assignment and convince them that Northern Illinois is dangerous. The Huskies, after all, beat Purdue and gave Wisconsin a battle on the road earlier this year and have a strong rushing attack.
Still, there's little to suggest that Northern Illinois can keep up athletically with the Bulls, who have future pros like George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul on defense, electric boom-or-bust quarterback B.J. Daniels and a fleet of fast receivers. With proper motivation and focus, South Florida should be the heavy favorite in this game.
But that's assuming a lot for a team that too many times comes out flat emotionally. And that's why a promising start to the year is ending in Toronto for the Bulls.