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October 30, 2013
The University of Louisville football team defeated a team Saturday that at one time was a despised nemesis, South Florida.
It took five tries before UofL won a game in Raymond James Stadium against the Bulls. That happened in 2011. The loses included a 14-45 beat down in 2005 when the Cards were ranked in the Top 25. But times have changed for the Cardinals and the University of South Florida.
In 2010, USF fired successful coach Jim Leavitt, the only football coach in the history of the school for physically bullying his players. In came Skip Holtz who, despite the name, struggled to be a winner as a college football coach at USF. He was fired after three seasons and Western Kentucky coach and Tampa native Willie Taggart was hired. Taggart is in his first season.
At the same time as USF hired Holtz in 2010 Louisville hired Florida assistant Charlie Strong as head coach to replace struggling Steve Kragthorpe. The Cardinal program has been on an ascent ever since Strong arrived and, as of the USF game, has a 31-15 cumulative won-loss record.
During the same four seasons the Bulls have an 18-26 record and one bowl appearance. The Cards will have four bowl appearances after this season.
The win-loss records are not the only records that see Louisville top the Bulls as attendance has seen a dramatic shift. In the previous games that I have attended at Raymond James Stadium USF would regularly pull in close to 50,000 fans. At the same time the smaller PJCS would have maybe 40,000 prior to Strong's arrival.
At Saturday's game with Louisville, the USF crowd was lucky to be 15,000 despite the announced number of 35,000. At the same game UofL pulled about 2,000 visitors to the game. This season UofL enjoys an average of over 50,000 fans at each home game.
The sad part is that USF has almost twice the students as UofL, and is in a metropolitan area of about 4 million population. There were maybe 500 students in the student section of the stadium and many of them looked like parents using student-cheap tickets.
While very few fans cheer on the Bulls the support for the professional Buccaneers is community wide. Throughout the Tampa Bay area fans wear Buccaneer gear and seldom if ever do you see USF gear. Maybe people are not enamored with Bulls. There is also the Rays which play in St. Pete but are the team of the Tampa Bay area.
Therein is the plight of the large urban universities that are not a land-grant school. The Bulls face the same problem that UCF in Orlando, Memphis in Tennessee, UAB in Alabama, Charlotte in North Carolina and Houston have in building big-time programs in states with beloved state universities with state-wide support and professional teams.
Louisville is one of the few urban schools that averages over 50,000 to football games.
USF has other problems besides attendance. Interest in Bull's football seems to be waning after relatively good years with Jim Leavitt. At the same time interest in Louisville football grows yearly, and the Cards look well-positioned for the future.
Hiring the right coach sure makes a difference.