South Florida may not have officially knocked down the entry gate into the Big Three of Florida, but now it has a rivalry game befitting of that status.
Miami comes to Tampa this weekend for the first of a planned five-year series between the two schools. The Hurricanes and Bulls will meet during Thanksgiving week just like Florida and Florida State do every year. On Saturday, the two games will even kick off at the same time (3:30 p.m. ET) and both will have network broadcasts -- ABC will show the USF-Miami game to about 40 percent of the country. Bulls coach Jim Leavitt hopes this becomes a second traditional rivalry game in the state.
"For us, we've never been a part of that Miami-Florida State, Florida-Florida State game," Leavitt said. "I really thought that if there was a way we could play one of those schools and build a game, it would really help our program."
This isn't the first meeting between the two schools; South Florida lost at Miami, 27-7, in 2005. But the Bulls feel like their program has come a long way since then, and that they can now begin to compete with the state's superpowers. They proved that by beating Florida State 17-7 in Tallahassee back in September.
"That gave us a lot of confidence to move on to another big team," South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels said.
This will be the first time the Bulls have a home game against one of the Big Three. Raymond James Stadium is officially listed as a sellout for Saturday.
"That's a real big deal for us," defensive end George Selvie said. "They're coming to our stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. It will be one of the biggest games ever played in the Ray Jay."
South Florida (7-3, 3-3 Big East) has, in some ways, disappointed this year, faltering in conference play after another hot start. But to beat Florida State and Miami in the same season would make this one of the most memorable campaigns in school history.
"I think the biggest aspect for our program is recruiting," linebacker Kion Wilson said. "Hopefully this will help us land some better recruits and actually launch the program even more than it even is, if we have the ability to beat both Florida State and Miami."
The Bulls beat out the Hurricanes for a few recruits this past offseason, most notably defensive back Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, both of whom have played a lot this season. They're always going to be butting heads with Miami, Florida State and Florida on the intense Sunshine State recruiting trail.
Leavitt said the difference in those programs and his own right now is that they can stockpile top-shelf recruits and create lots of depth on the roster. He doesn't think the Bulls are quite there yet, which may be one reason the team has slipped in midseason the past few years.
But South Florida -- which gets its first crack at the Gators next year in The Swamp -- is getting closer to the other state superpowers. Saturday brings another chance to knock down the entry gate.
"I felt like beating [Florida State] was the first step," Daniels said. "Playing Miami is another step. I won't ever say we're in the Big Four until we beat all of them."