upstarts have their share of overachievers as well. Selvie was a center at Pine
Forest High in Pensacola who had his sights set on Division II until the Bulls
showed an interest. After spending a redshirt year on the offensive line, he
switched to defensive end, where he's one of the most disruptive forces in the
nation. Central Florida's Kevin Smith was a running back at Miami Southridge
High until he was moved to safety before his senior year, dropping him off the
radar of several major programs. The Knights switched him back to running back,
and he has rewarded them with 152.5 rushing yards a game this season, third
best in the nation.
smart," says Cristobal. "They're starting to look at which schools
already have enough depth and which schools might offer them a chance to play
right away. Is it worth it to be third-string at a big-name school when you
could be first-string at a lesser-known school and maybe help start a
tradition? That's why you see some of the newer programs making a name for
themselves, and we think FIU is going to follow that same path."
USF'S lofty ranking, the four younger programs still have some distance to go
in terms of recognition. But the Bulls at least are beginning to draw
disparaging comments from coaches at higher-profile programs, a sure sign that
they are perceived as a serious competitor. In late September. Florida State
coach Bobby Bowden said that he would be "amazed" if the Bulls
maintained their ranking all season, and Alabama's Nick Saban questioned USF's
admissions standards. "There's a significant amount of players who don't
qualify [at some schools], and they end up being pretty good players at some
other schools," Saban told The Birmingham News. "I think there are six
guys starting on South Florida's defense who probably could have gone to
Florida or Florida State, but Florida and Florida State couldn't take
indicate who those players are, nor did he offer other specifics to back up his
point. "It's not right," Leavitt told The Tampa Tribune. "Of 110
players, we have two [academic] nonqualifiers. One starts, one doesn't....
Whoever gave him that information needs to correct it."
impressed with the progress of the state's other Division I-A neophytes,
Leavitt has made it clear he has no interest in being grouped with them as cute
little underdogs. "There are four BCS schools in this state, and that's
South Florida, Florida, Florida State and Miami," he says. "If we're
going to be lumped in with other teams, that's the group we should be in."
That stance is part of South Florida's effort to make sure its BCS affiliation
isn't forgotten when bowl bids are handed out. If the Bulls do run the table in
the Big East—Rutgers, No. 23 Cincinnati and Louisville all loom as significant
roadblocks—they don't want to be leapfrogged by a one-loss team that trumps
them only in profile or tradition.
But whether or
not South Florida finishes undefeated, the Bulls and their fellow Florida
upstarts have made serious inroads into the in-state dominance of the Big
Three. The nation has begun to take notice and, more important, so have
recruits all across the Sunshine State, the ones who can make sure the growth
of the young programs continues. In some ways the four newcomers are starting
to resemble the crops that rise out of Florida's soil—with the proper nurturing
and replenishment they could grow into something strong and lasting. If you
think they're bearing fruit now, come back in a few years. They might be more
bountiful than you ever imagined.