EDITOR'S NOTE: To help us get through this first offseason without any game film or really anything to analyze, I've been putting together a series of posts to help people understand who USF is and where we came from. Honestly, very few people outside of Florida know who the hell we are, and even a lot of people in Florida don't know. That's the point of our Position Papers, and posts like this - to tell our story.
USF football has been a tremendous growth and success story since it launched. We may never see one like it again. The cost, though, has been that we've never stayed in one place long enough to form any lasting rivalries. It was three years in I-AA. Then it was three years as an independent, including a transition year from I-AA to I-A. Two years in Conference USA. And now five years in the BIG EAST, which many people believe is about to be torn to pieces.
All that moving around has prevented USF from having what just about every other established football program has - one or two schools that you know, without even having to say it, that they are your rival. You've been playing against each other for years and years and years. You instinctively dislike them (or just flat-out hate them). Maybe you've cost each other some shots at championships or glory. Maybe there's even a dispute over your record against each other. Every win against them is the best day of the year, and every loss is the worst. Fan bases and traditions are built on these games. That's what a rivalry is.
Since we don't have that kind of deep history, maybe we should figure out who isn't a rival and see who's left.
One of the definitions of "rival" in the dictionary is an equal or peer. That "equal" bit takes a lot of teams off our list, including every other state school. USF is in a tier by itself right now - clearly better than programs like UCF (who is in another tier by itself) and the Sun Belt teams, but also not quite at the level of Florida, FSU, and Miami. Until we move in one direction or the other, I don't think any of them can be considered a rival.
One thought - just because your school is near another school doesn't make you a rival. I mean, Miami wouldn't consider Florida International a rival just because they're in the same city.
Another thought - if you hate a team because you can't beat them, that makes them a nemesis, not a rival. There goes Rutgers off the list. And I think a lot of the pent-up hate disappeared when Jim Leavitt was let go, because he might have tried to stuff Greg Schiano in a rug and throw him in the Raritan if he could get away with it. I don't think the two of them will be sending each other Christmas cards, or anything that isn't ticking or reeking of gunpowder.
We have quite a few peers, but most of them haven't been shut out of something big because they lost to USF. Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati - not rivals. The Bulls and Panthers have put some pretty big losses on each other, but nothing really devastating.
That leaves us with one team.
I really credit RichRod for even getting West Virginia this far. His whole "I think it's like the Yankees" bit before the 2007 game and having his team come off the bus wearing Yankees hats really bumped this up to a new level. It gave USF fans a reason to hate the Mountaineers. (You know, other than their crazy couch-burning heavy-drinking backwoods fans.) West Virginia fans already blame USF for knocking them out of a BCS game in 2006, and for temporarily knocking them out of the national title race in 2007. It's been a fairly even, hard-hitting series in the five years these schools have been playing, and all signs point to it staying that way.
But even with them, there's a problem. They don't hate us enough. Pittsburgh is their longstanding rival, and they had a thing built up with Virginia Tech before the Hokies left for the ACC. You just can't have a one-sided rivalry. (Ask Mountaineers fans how they feel about Marshall if you need another perspective.) If we don't accept other teams declaring we are rivals just because they hate us, then we can't accept it going the other way. So even though I think West Virginia comes the closest to what we're looking for, and there could be something down the road, right now they aren't a rival either.
So there you have it. USF has no rivals at the moment, a major bummer to be sure. There are some teams with rivalry potential, but it will take awhile to realize it. Like many of the things we wish USF football had -- traditions, people who know the words to the fight song, retired numbers, a stadium on campus, trophies, writers who don't confuse us with other schools in news reports -- it's going to take time and patience.
P.S. When I was talking to Toro about this post, he said our best shot at a rivalry so far would have been Southern Miss. I responded that I would have rather started chugging diesel fuel than live with that fate.
P.P.S. USF definitely does not have any basketball rivals. Before leaving for the BIG EAST, we went way back with UAB and Charlotte, but there was never anything on the line.