Depending on one's station in life, we tend to acquiesce more readily to certain realities than to others. As an unwitting, non-minority tool of modern society's hegemonic power structure, for example, I'm much more willing to champion the notion that Western technology, economics and influence has fueled plummeting hunger rates and a three-fold increase in global income over the past half-century than I am to surrender to accusations that the same forces might exact a terrible toll via global warming. This acceptance, and lack thereof, is a choice, essentially, based on which stories slide easily into the de facto outlook and which need to be more thoroughly vetted before they're allowed to bend the system.
As a partisan of a reasonably successful but decidedly non-upwardly mobile, second tier program, South Florida bends the system to a degree I can't find it within my rational capacity to accept. The notion, ten years ago, that USF might be playing West Virginia, of all teams, with very real implications on the national polls and positioning for huge year-end payouts, while Southern Miss toiled on, again, forever, in Thursday night obscurity, would not only have been laughable or farfetched, but closer to the very genuine definition of inconceivable. South Florida didn't exist ten years ago, not in any meaningful way. While Southern Miss was establishing itself as overlord of then-new Conference USA, USF's first team ever was toiling away without even a facility as a I-AA independent. At the same time, Louisville was preparing to finish 0-11 under Ron Cooper.
Historic win there...last year...in the PapaJohns.com Bowl...
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Southern Miss' mid-major, underdog status has never been difficult to accept, because it hasn't changed in my lifetime. Play elite teams annually, give them a decent game, beat one of them every few years, play well in the conference, win eight or nine and play in the Liberty Bowl, hopefully, or some other, lesser December bowl nobody watches. That's the reality of the program for the better part of the last quarter-century, and it's successful enough in the long haul. We take pride in consistency: a winning record every year, thirteen years running now. Nobody talks about national championships. By all existing evidence, winning Conference USA is the ceiling, and that's perfectly fine. That's what the program is. This is vastly preferably to going 2-6 in the SEC year after year.
Now: the dominoes that began to fall when Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the Big East left an obvious opportunity in that league, which was not going to look like the SEC. And when it snapped up Louisville, that was one thing - the Cardinals had ascended from ashen depths to the top of the conference by 2004, and, like fellow C-USA refugee Cincinnati, brought a strong basketball presence to a basketball league. These were not more deserving teams on the field, by any means, but at least they had been around, and clearly offered more attractive markets than South-Central Mississippi. You win some, you lose some.
On the other hand, South Florida in a BCS conference was and is a slap in the face. It is an embarrassment. The first time South Florida played Southern Miss, in 2000, USM was in its 90th year of organized football; USF was in its third. USM was ranked seventeenth in the nation; USF was a "provisional member" in transition from Division I-AA, an obscure footnote not really worth putting on the schedule. USM won, 41-7, and took two of three from the stagnating Bulls from 2002-04. The loss, by three points and a missed field goal on the final play and unquestionably the high point of USF's mostly I-AA-laden 21-game home winning streak in 2002, was an abject humiliation, emphatically corrected in the next two meetings. South Florida roughly broke even in Conference USA, did not come close to contending for a conference championship and finished 4-7 in 2004, its last year in the league. But when the Big East came calling the same year with big bucks at stake, conference titles, two and a half decades of barely interrupted success and tradition - any tradition - couldn't hold a candle to geography and marketing.
No one is naive to believe it could be otherwise. The dollar is a titan towering over the corpses of history and justice. The Big East wanted Florida back, the market and the talent, wanted metro Tampa at all costs, and it got it. And here the bastards are, three years on, ranked, playing in a pro stadium with the upper deck closed off Friday to knock off a top ten team for the third year in a row, in front of a national audience, with the hopes of becoming a favorite itself for mega bucks in the new year. Louisville occupying that position last year was enough of a blow, and the Cardinals'sudden implosion (as well as TCU's, to a much lesser extent) is so, so sweet. UL's run could be on life support, and if I could, I'd provide the pillow, or at least another ten years' salary for Steve Kragthorpe to oversee its vegetative state.
But even that analogy presumes USF deserves a run, too, and it does not. For so many reasons, South Florida cannot win Friday, because it is not really a good team, because its success has been fluky, an illusion, and because I still need South Florida to be in the Big East what it signed up to be: a fifth-place punching bag whose occasional competence kept it hovering around mediocrity. This is who you are, South Florida. Only West Virginia can send the Bulls staggering away, punch drunk, disillusioned and violated now, perspective smacked back into their impudent faces. It's not that USF is playing for heights unmatched for a school this early in its football life, or hasn't earned its accolades on the field - the Bulls may be fit for their newfound status, but this conflicts too strongly with my understanding of merit and systemic peaks and troughs to compute. I still wish they'd had never been given the chance.
Myths, Rumors and Scandals in the Big East:
• Pitt's quarterback situation is a swamp from which a true freshman is beginning to ooze, and Pat Bostick is the good news for Pitt, actually, if you insist on there being good news. Redshirt freshman Kevan Smith was intercepted on the first possession of Saturday's home loss to UConn, setting up a seven-yard touchdown "drive" for the Huskies, and by the second quarter, the Panthers were trying to use diminutive tailback LeSean McCoy in the McFadden role, attempting passes as the lone back in a Wildcat-esque shotgun arrangement they had showed (minus the passing) at Michigan State a week earlier. It worked to begin with - McCoy completed an 18-yard pass to Marcel Pestano that kick-started Pitt's only scoring drive of the first half, finished on McCoy runs of 24 and 19 yards for the touchdown - but then became sort of a farce, apparently, ending in the play-by-play line, "LeSean McCoy pass incomplete to LeSean McCoy."
Kevan Smith returned for a single play after that, fumbling right before the half to set up a chip shot field goal that put UConn up 27-7 at the break. Bostick played the rest of the way, finishing by throwing three interceptions in Pitt's final five possessions.
• Greg Schiano wears a tupee.
• Louisville leads the nation in total offense but has given up 120 points in its last three games. Improbably, UL's pass defense isn't the lowest-rated in the nation in terms of efficiency - Northwestern, UL-Monroe, Central Michigan, Navy, Rice and feisty but porous Cardinal victim Middle Tennessee State are statistically worse. But any secondary that can make Andrew Robinson look like Tom Brady will always be Number One - er, that is, Number 119 - in my book.
How far of a fall is that?
Because it's been such an obviously offense-driven team, Louisville's taken heat for years over its defense, sometimes deservedly and sometimes not, but the last three games do not fall under the category of "trend" or "saw it coming" by any means. They are evidence of wholesale collapse of the likes the Cards had not even begun to approach since Petrino's first year. CardsFans922 tries to explain.
Anyway, as of now, there are four teams from the Big East ranked in the latest AP poll, and Louisville, of course, isn't one of them.