After retiring from the NFL as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, I enjoyed a career in banking for about six years. It was an easy transition because I had gone through the management program in the offseason just after my rookie season. But in 1993, the University of South Florida approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping to build the football program. I jumped at the opportunity and have worn three different hats at USF: my first position was Associate Athletic Director, I then held the position of Athletic Director for three years and since then, I have been proud to be involved in the development of the football program through fund raising.
I think that Coach Jim Leavitt has done a spectacular job at South Florida as the first and only football coach that we have had at the university. He is driven toward success, and I still see the same passion today that he brought when he first took the job. To follow the growth of the program from the early days of working out of trailers with hardly any footballs to even practice with, to joining the Big East Conference, and to now becoming a Top 25 team (currently No. 9 in the Master Coaches Poll) and playing in front of a sellout crowd for the first time against West Virginia …. it is truly remarkable!
Being in the state of Florida, Coach Leavitt has been up against the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes in the recruiting of players. The "Big 3" Florida schools have rich traditions of success, and they generally get their pick of the litter in the state. There are a lot of great athletes in Florida, and Coach Leavitt has done a great job of marketing the Bulls to high school coaches thereby getting some of those players as well. If I had to pick one thing that has made a big impact in recruiting it would be joining the Big East Conference. By becoming a member of the conference the players have a chance to play in a BCS Bowl and quite possibly a National Championship.
South Florida has an awful lot of talent and a chance to have a really special season after knocking off Auburn and West Virginia. The notion is that our schedule appears to be fairly easy from here on out, but I do not agree. The Big East is a tough conference and getting tougher. For example, a traditionally weaker team, Syracuse beat Louisville a few weeks ago, so there is no easy game along the way. If I had to pick the toughest upcoming opponent, I would say FAU because we tend to look at the schedule one game at a time. If the team can stay focused and take it one game at time, they have a chance of being in every game along the way.
One of the biggest games this week features my alma mater, Oklahoma against Texas. Oklahoma took a tough hit last weekend, being upset by Colorado 27-24. Not to take anything away from Colorado, but I do not think Oklahoma brought their A-game to Boulder. The Sooners most likely got caught looking ahead to the Texas game after taking a 24-7 lead. When I was playing at Oklahoma, we could not help but look ahead. As much as Coach Switzer tried to keep the team focused, it was very difficult not to look ahead. There is so much hype about this game, with people talking about it at the beginning of the year, let alone a week before the teams are set to square off. The Sooners did not play nearly as well against Colorado as they had in the first three games, and you could easily attribute it to looking ahead. I give Colorado a lot of credit for taking advantage of the opportunity and finishing off Oklahoma.
It is a humbling experience to lose a game like that. Oklahoma will have to put the Colorado game behind them. They must focus on this game against Texas, and I believe that a victory will allow them to get their heads back on straight. From here on out, Oklahoma must prepare for each game as if the opponent is the best team in the country. Anything less will set them up for another embarrassing loss.
It is interesting to me that both Texas and Oklahoma lost this past week…one of the teams will have suffered two straight losses when the Red River Shootout is decided. When I was at Oklahoma, I played in an era where our team had not lost a game in a couple of years. One year Kansas came to Norman and beat us. We were forced to go on the road the next week to Missouri and found ourselves in a dog fight. My teammates and I started to think, if we lose this one, our whole season is in jeopardy and we may not have a shot at the national championship. The loser of the game will be in big trouble.
Sam Bradford could be the key to the game. I have been impressed with his play, even though he made a few mistakes late against Colorado. He is awfully talented and, as a redshirt freshman, he has a lot of years of football in him. He looks like a natural on the field, very comfortable, and the longer he is in the system, the better he will become. The Colorado loss may be a blessing in disguise to help him step up as the leader of the team. His play and Oklahoma's ability to pressure the quarterback will be the deciding factors in the game.