If former University of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt has stopped by a local newsstand lately, he may have uttered an "I-told-you-so."
Remember what Leavitt had to say last season after USF's win at Florida State prompted school officials to put up a billboard welcoming USF to the "Big 4" with Florida, FSU and Miami?
"I don't want people to sit there and think I think we're all that, because we're not," Leavitt said after the late September victory. "We're a program that's trying to get competitive. We're a program trying to build."
It seems the editors of the four major college football preseason magazines - Lindy's, The Sporting News, Phil Steele's and Athlon Sports - agree USF has not turned the "Big 3" into the "Big 4." Even the local buzz created by USF's hiring of Skip Holtz to replace Leavitt wasn't enough to get USF or Holtz onto the covers of the regional editions of the popular magazines, which hit newsstands in recent weeks.
Hogging the cover of Phil Steele's regional magazine are Gators running back Jeffery Demps, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder and Miami offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.
"While I am not ruling out (putting Holtz on the cover) in the future, I prefer to use action photos of players on the covers of the magazine, so I really did not consider putting him on this year," Steele said Monday in an e-mail. "I do think he steps into a great situation as he gets the most out of the talent on hand and USF has not played up to its talent level in the last couple of years."
On the cover of The Sporting News' regional magazine, Ponder shares the spotlight with two other quarterbacks: Florida's John Brantley and Miami's Jacory Harris. Sorry, B.J. Daniels. No mention.
The Sporting News published 17 regional covers spotlighting players from schools in areas where the magazines are sold. In the Northeast, UConn's Jordan Todman and Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage are on the cover. In the North Atlantic region, Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis made the cut, as did West Virginia running back Noel Devine. In the Midwest, Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros earned poster-boy status.
USF, Louisville and Syracuse are the only Big East schools not represented on the covers of The Sporting News' magazine.
Lindy's Sports produced 16 regional covers for its annual preseason magazine, with Savage and Lewis making the cut in the Northeast. On Lindy's Florida magazine, UF's Demps, FSU's Ponder and Miami's Harris earn top billing.
What about USF and Holtz?
"There was no discussion to include Skip Holtz on the cover, not because of any lack of importance, it's just rare that we include a coach over a player," said Anthony Gimino, Lindy's college football senior editor. "Even then, the coach's image might just be a small mug insert rather than a full cut-out photo. That said, it was a rather historic year of coaching changes - as we documented with various features in the magazines - and Holtz's hiring is certainly part of the intriguing storylines."
Finally, the Bulls may have gotten the biggest wave-off from Athlon Sports. Athlon shipped an SEC preview edition featuring Brantley on the cover, and an ACC edition featuring Ponder and Harris out front. Athlon's national edition in Florida features Alabama's Mark Ingram, Arkansas' Ryan Mallet and Georgia's A.J. Green on the cover.
Athlon, however, also produced four different Big East covers to distribute around the conference's core markets. Cincinnati's Collaros, Pittsburgh's Lewis and first-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong made one cover. Two others feature Savage by himself and West Virginia's Devine by himself. Finally, the fourth Athlon Big East cover has UConn's Todman and Syracuse's Derrell Smith sharing the spotlight.
No USF anywhere.
"The editorial staff was very interested in running a South Florida cover for our Big East edition, but we ran into some trouble in that market because of the amount of magazines we publish,'' Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light said in an e-mail. "We presented it to the retailers but did not get the type of feedback we needed to go ahead with our plan to publish a USF Big East cover. We hope to do one in the future.''
USF didn't go unrecognized by Athlon.
In its ranking of coaching jobs from 1 to 120 among Division I schools, Athlon ranks USF's job 35th-best in the nation. After listing pros and cons of the job, Athlon delivers this as its final verdict: "The school has a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state - even if that state is Florida."
That could explain it.