With the University of South Florida beginning its 12th season tonight, it is obvious how remarkably far the program has come in a short period. In fact, the Bulls have evolved so fast they prefer not to be compared to one of college football's all-time great programs.
"We definitely don't want to be 'this year's Michigan,'" USF junior free safety Nate Allen said.
Michigan has one of college football's best traditions and plays in the Big House. Last year, Michigan also had the big shocker: Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32.
When the Bulls host Tennessee Martin, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), the No. 19 Bulls will begin the year with their first preseason ranking.
And they want to make sure they remain in the Top 25 when the new Associated Press rankings are released Tuesday.
"We know a loss will definitely drop us out," Allen said. "The rankings are our main thing. We know we're there."
Michigan's stunning loss to Appalachian State in last year's season opener has been a rallying cry this week for the Bulls, who are not expected to have much trouble against UT Martin.
There is no official point spread, but the Bulls are rated a 37-point favorite by Jeff Sagarin's USA Today computer rankings.
The Skyhawks, 0-6 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) teams, were picked to finish fifth in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference. Eastern Kentucky, last year's Ohio Valley champion, was pummeled by Cincinnati, 40-7, on Thursday night, but USF coach Jim Leavitt is still concerned.
"Tennessee Martin is a better team than Elon, I promise you that," Leavitt said.
USF opened last year against Elon and managed a sluggish 28-13 victory. In 2006, USF led McNeese State 14-10 after three quarters before pulling away for a 41-10 win.
Quarterback Matt Grothe said he has no idea why the Bulls have struggled against lesser competition.
"I honestly don't know how we can fix it, if I don't know why we're struggling," Grothe said. "The biggest thing is we have to execute.
"We didn't play well the last few years against I-AA teams. We have a chance to do big things this year, so we're going to have to play well this game."
Despite playing a supposedly overmatched opponent, USF senior wide receiver Taurus Johnson compared tonight's contest to the NFL's ultimate game.
"Every game is like a Super Bowl for us," Johnson said. "You can't take a team lightly. We will definitely be ready."
Leavitt certainly is.
"I want to play," Leavitt said. "I really get excited about playing. You put in so much time and work. Guys have worked hard, and you just want to get out and play."