TAMPA Knowing his team was facing a short week for its Big East Conference opener this week at Pittsburgh, University of South Florida coach Skip Holtz did his best last week to make up for some lost time.
Holtz and his staff spent an hour each night after normal game-week preparations for UTEP to lay the groundwork for Thursday's nationally-televised meeting with the Panthers. And on Friday, when his staff is normally out recruiting, Holtz kept the group home and spent the day formulating the Bulls' game-plan.
But plenty of challenges with tweaking the game-week schedule still exist for the Bulls, who rose to No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 14 in the USA Today coaches poll following a 52-24 win over UTEP at Raymond James Stadium.
The team's on-field preparations were wiped out Sunday because of inclement weather, though the Bulls were able to get quality time in the film room. With today typically being an off day and dedicated to academics, many players have classes scheduled deep into the evening, putting the Bulls in the unenviable position of staging a 9:30 p.m. practice.
"There's a big emphasis for the players to get over here, to spend a little bit extra time watching film and doing what you need to do because what you're normally putting into a seven-day routine we've got to wedge into not only five days, but with a travel day almost four," Holtz said. "It's going to make it difficult."
Of course, Pittsburgh is in the same situation with having to prepare on a short week, though without the burden of traveling, but the Panthers don't have one thing the Bulls do – positive momentum.
While USF (4-0) got through the season's first month unscathed, Pittsburgh has lost its past two games following a 2-0 start under new coach Todd Graham. Two weeks ago the Panthers had a 17-point lead at Iowa with 12 minutes to play but ended up losing, 31-27. On Saturday, Pittsburgh again had a fourth-quarter lead but couldn't hold on in an eventual 15-12 home loss to Notre Dame, a team the Bulls defeated 23-20 in the season's opening week.
Still, the Bulls know they're going to be in for a dogfight.
"I think they're getting better and better. Very similar to probably where we were a year ago," Holtz said of the Panthers, who edged USF, 17-10, last season in Tampa. "The first couple games they found a way to win but probably not clicking on all cylinders, but they're getting better and better. … We're going to have our hands full."
There was positive news regarding the injury Saturday night to sophomore receiver/punt returner Terrence Mitchell, who was taken off the field on a stretcher after making a tackle early in the fourth quarter when UTEP executed a fake punt.
Mitchell was released from the hospital late Saturday night, and tests revealed that he sustained a concussion but no other damage.
"We have no idea of the outcome and how long that will last. We just have to see how he responds," Holtz said. "He has a pretty good headache today, but he came back over to the office this morning and it was nice to see his smiling face in there talking. We'll proceed with extreme caution with that, just with the severity of it."
Holtz expects all three players who missed the UTEP game with an injury – CB Quenton Washington (knee), S Tyson Butler (hamstring) and OL Tony Kibler (knee) – to be available Thursday. The only other injury concern outside of Mitchell is CB Ernie Tabuteau (back).