South Florida Bulls: Homecoming game always a challenge

Bulls to meet nationally-ranked East Carolina.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Wisconsin
South Florida Bulls quarterback Mike White (14) throws the ball during the first quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Homecoming, it’s one of the most anticipated times of the entire college school year; the mums, the dresses, the parties and of course, the football game.

Most teams schedule its weakest opponent for that all-important date, for the purpose of insuring victory and a good time to follow. In fact, the ineptitude of a football program is oftentimes measured by the number of times it receives invitations to opposing school’s homecoming games.

Somehow the memo hasn’t reached the University of South Florida, 9-8 all-time in homecoming games, including a 34-3 loss last season to nationally-ranked Louisville.

Perhaps the Bulls brass didn’t anticipate the rise of an East Carolina football program in its first season as a member of the American Athletic Conference. Or maybe that was the very attraction in scheduling the Pirates for the 7 p.m. Saturday kickoff at Raymond James Stadium.

South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack (5) runs for yardage against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 27-10. (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack (5) runs for yardage against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 27-10. (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Either way, South Florida’s 2014 homecoming game with East Carolina will be televised nationally by ESPNU.

The Pirates are ranked No. 19 nationally in the latest AP Poll with a 4-1 record, including a 45-24 drubbing last week over hapless SMU in the program’s first-ever AAC game. It was also their homecoming game. They got the memo.

The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team since a 23-20 win at Notre Dame in 2011 and are 0-5 since.

But they’ve had better luck against the Pirates winning all four previous meetings, including a 24-7 triumph in the most recent matchup at the 2006 Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. They also claimed a 41-17 victory at Tampa back in 2004 when both were members of Conference USA.

They meet again Saturday and for the first time as AAC brethren with more than limo rides and boutonnieres on their minds. South Florida, 2-3 overall, started AAC play with a 17-14 victory over UConn and look to improve to 2-0 in conference play.

The return of wide receiver Andre Davis improves those chances greatly. The senior, who has missed the last four games with a bruised sternum, is on the verge of setting all-time school records in a couple of categories. With 1,586 career receiving yards, Davis is 63 yards shy of that mark, and his 118 career receptions leave just 14 more for the record. He already owns the school record of 31 consecutive games with a pass reception.

Davis’ return is also good news for quarterback Mike White, the nation’s leader in yards per completion (17.53), and for freshman running back Marlon Mack, AAC rushing leader with 107.2 yards per game, who was recently named to the CFPA Freshman of the Year Watch List. Pomp and circumstance notwithstanding, the trio should bring enough firepower to keep the Bulls in contention Saturday and perhaps even provide South Florida’s homecoming king and queen with a little icing on the proverbial cake.

Oh, and next Saturday, South Florida travels to play the role of Tulsa’s homecoming opponent. The Golden Hurricanes – it would appear – didn’t get the memo, either.

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