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SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA: SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

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South Florida's rise and fall proved that the Big East was a joke.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA. After dispatching with Florida International, I decided to head to Tampa to take on a slightly bigger target in the South Florida Bulls. Only slightly.

The University of South Florida, located roughly in the center of Florida, has been playing football since 1997. At that time, football was needed in Tampa, since they'd never had any before. This was before Jon Gruden inherited a Buccaneers team built by Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith and added a hint of offense, then got lucky enough to draw Bill Callahan's Raiders in the Super Bowl. Callahan, who would later have an inglorious stint as the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was so terrible that two of his best players still believe he threw the game. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl largely because the offense that Gruden had installed in Oakland remained totally unchanged, right down to the audibles. The Buccaneers rose from obscurity to win a Super Bowl, then quickly fell apart and have been a trainwreck since 2008.

But back then, Tampa hadn't experienced football, just a basement-dwelling Buccaneers team with an effeminate pirate for a logo. So Jim Leavitt led the South Florida Bulls to the FBS ranks by 2001, to C-USA by 2003 and finally the BCS-eligible Big East in 2005. They made a bowl in their first year in the conference, and in 2007 they knocked off Auburn and then the only semi-legitimate team in the Big East in #5 West Virginia. The Bulls rose all the way to #2 in the AP poll.

South Florida was ranked #2 and 6-0 and headed for a BCS berth and maybe an outside shot at the National Championship Game. Then they lost to Rutgers.

In their defense, Rutgers had entered the season ranked and would go on to join the glorious fold of the Big Ten conference. How would South Florida respond to this setback?

By losing to UConn.

The murderer's row of Rutgers, UConn and Cincinnati proved to be too much for South Florida to handle. THE BIG EAST WAS A JOKE THAT HAD NO MORE THAN TWO NATIONALLY COMPETITIVE TEAMS IN IT AT ANY ONE TIME, AND IT'S AN ABSOLUTE RIOT THAT ANYONE TOOK IT SERIOUSLY ENOUGH TO RANK SOUTH FLORIDA #2.

Fast forward to 2009, by which time South Florida had racked up a 4-game losing streak to Rutgers. They did indeed make a bowl, but at quite the cost. Turns out Jim Leavitt, the only coach they'd ever known, punched a player in the head. HE WAS A POOR MAN'S WOODY HAYES RIGHT DOWN TO THE BITTER END. AT LEAST WOODY PUNCHED AN OPPOSING PLAYER.

So Skip Holtz dragged the program down to the bottom for a few years, and then Harbaugh disciple Willie Taggart took over in 2013. In his third season last year, he managed to win eight games despite losing to Maryland. Yes, Maryland, who fired Randy Edsall halfway through the season, defeated South Florida 35-17 despite Caleb Rowe throwing 3 picks (he somehow threw even more touchdowns than that). This loss was probably the only reason Willie Taggart didn't get hired away from the stepping stone that is USF. IF EVER ANYONE NEEDED TO POINT TO A MOMENT IN TIME TO JUSTIFY THE LACK OF RESPECT THE AMERICAN CONFERENCE GETS, THAT LOSS TO MARYLAND LAST YEAR IS IT.

BY ALL MEANS A TEAM THAT GETS THE LEFTOVERS FROM MIAMI, FLORIDA AND FLORIDA STATE SHOULD BE GOOD YEAR IN AND YEAR OUT, EVEN IF IT IS A MID-MAJOR. NEVERTHELESS, ONCE WILLIE TAGGART IS HIRED AWAY, YOU'LL MOVE ON TO EITHER A POWER 5 WASHOUT RETREAD OR THE NEXT 2-3 YEAR RENTAL OF AN UP-AND-COMER WHO WILL LEAVE YOU. OR YOU CAN TRY AND HIRE JIM LEAVITT BACK...SEE HOW THAT WORKS OUT. EITHER WAY, YOU LOST TO 2015 MARYLAND.

USF's Next Date with the B1G: September 16th, 2017 when the Illinois Fighting Illini charge into battle for General Lovie Smith's return to Tampa.

Sherman's Next Destination: Coral Gables, Florida.