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USF takes on another Big Three challenge

South Florida linebacker Sabbath Joseph has seen his popularity in social media soar in the past several days.

"Everybody is blowing up my Twitter and Facebook, asking me how they can get tickets," Joseph said.

The senior has a lot of requests to fill as he returns to his hometown this weekend for the Bulls' game at Miami. Joseph has already secured tickets for about 40 friends and family members and is trying to find more.

"I'm very excited about it," he said. "Getting a win would make it even better."

Beating Miami would also make up for the disappointment that South Florida felt last week. A 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh at home pushed the Bulls out of the Big East title race. The Hurricanes know that feeling well, as they fell to Virginia Tech last week and saw their chances of making the ACC title game evaporate.

It's easier to forget about those downers when there's an in-state rivalry looming the following Saturday. Joseph is one of many Bulls players who is very familiar with several Hurricanes from high school and youth football days, and USF guys grew up watching Miami dominate the Big East.

For the Bulls, this game brings another chance to prove themselves against the state's powers. They beat Florida State last year but couldn't hang with the Hurricanes at home later in the season, falling 31-10. They got their first crack at Florida this season and were competitive for more than a half before turnovers doomed them to a 38-14 loss.

"Everybody wants to be in the Big Three," Joseph said. "But in order for us to be considered the Big Four, we've got to beat them."

USF coach Skip Holtz has a slightly different take on the in-state pecking order. While Holtz says a win this week would "help our national reputation" and that the Bulls have to beat the Big Three to earn respect, he argues that the best way to be considered a state powerhouse will be to compete for the Big East title year in and year out. They haven't really done that yet, though they got close this year.

As for this week, Miami is a heavy favorite despite its disappointing 7-4 season. The Hurricanes still have elite-level athletes and a punishing defense that could make life tough on B.J. Daniels and the low-wattage South Florida offense. Daniels has been dealing with a quadriceps injury that has limited his movement and scrambling ability, a major part of his game.

At least Daniels has cut way down on his turnovers since the Florida game and other early-season calamities. The same cannot be said for Miami's quarterbacks, who have thrown more interceptions (21) than any FBS team other than Buffalo. The Bulls will likely have to hope their defense can cause some mistakes and capitalize on them.

If USF could spring the upset, it would give the team and Holtz a signature victory on the way to a bowl game. The Bulls would have a chance for an eight-win regular season. And Joseph's social-media platforms might crash from all the congratulatory messages.