Heart of the City: South Florida

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
10:30
AM ET
We're taking a closer look at city schools in college football. Our definition of a city school is one that competes in the same city/market as an NFL franchise. The Big East has a few of them. Including the South Florida Bulls.

School: South Florida
Location: Tampa, Fla.
Enrollment: 31,000 full-time undergraduate students
Bowl appearances: 5
NFL first-round picks: 2
Losing seasons: 2
10-win seasons: 0

Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: College numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: South Florida football didn't even exist until 1997. The Bulls' first coach, Jim Leavitt, often talked about the early days of the fledgling program, when coaches worked out of trailers.

But if you were going to start a new program, putting it in Tampa would be a smart idea. The state of Florida annually produces some of the top football talent in the nation, and USF coaches rarely, if ever, have to get on an airplane to go recruit. There are literally hundreds of Division I prospects within a couple hours' drive of the Bulls' campus.

That location helped Leavitt build the program up incredibly fast. The Bulls reached a BCS AQ conference in just eight years when the Big East opened its doors in 2005. They achieved their first national ranking in 2007 and rose all the way to No. 2 in the polls that season.

South Florida shares its home field with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, where crowds have been known to get pretty rowdy during big night games. In the past two years, the Bulls have beaten both Miami and Florida State to stake their claim as one of the state's new powers. The team's potential convinced Skip Holtz to take over last January, and he appears to have the program on the rise. USF has a growing student body, the city is surrounded by water and the weather's almost always nice. What's not to like?



The bad: You can build a program quickly, but tradition and top-flight success still take time.

USF has been able to swipe a few high-profile recruits away from the big boys over the years, but it still must compete with Florida, Florida State and Miami in its own state and won't often win those battles. It's not just the Buccaneers who vie for media and fan attention in Tampa; tons of Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes fans live there, too.

Though the student population is growing, USF as a school is less than 60 years old, so there is a lack of big-money alumni who can underwrite the football program. The campus still has a bit of a commuter-school vibe to it, and the Bulls' facilities badly needed an upgrade by the time new practice fields were installed this year.

The Bulls have notched some impressive upsets over the years, but they have yet to get over the hump and reach the next level. They have never finished higher than tied for third in a conference race. Many feel this is a sleeping giant, and Holtz looks like a coach who's capable of having USF rise to the top of the Big East.

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