College Sports

USF prepares for Auburn

TAMPA - Watching film of South Florida's sloppy season-opening victory over Elon did little to ease Jim Leavitt's frustration about the Bulls' mistake-filled performance against an overmatched opponent.

What actually did more to improve the coach's mood is the simple fact that next on the schedule is a tough road test at No. 17 Auburn.

Leavitt is confident his players learned from errors that left him in a funk after last weekend's 28-13 victory over a Football Championship Subdivision opponent and will respond with a sharper effort against one of the strongest teams in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's always a challenge when you're playing somebody like Elon because of the film you look at, what they hear from media, what they hear from their friends: 'This is going to be a walk in the park. You're going to win by 80.' I'm sure that goes on all the time. Psychologically, that's very difficult," Leavitt said.

"Well, that ain't being said this week. They ain't hearing that this week. They don't have to deal with that. They are probably hearing the (opposite)," he added.

The Bulls have a history of playing well against ranked opponents. They upset Louisville at home two years ago for the biggest win in school history up to that point, then topped that accomplishment by defeating West Virginia on the road last season.

Leavitt said he's given no thought to why the team has a knack for playing up to the level of an opponent. He said he doesn't find it surprising, though, because that's generally what competitive athletes do.

"We just try to get guys ready to play. If you're competitive and you really want it, you look forward to these kinds of situations," the coach said.

"When I was in high school I wanted to go wherever I could to play the best. I enjoyed being in those kinds of arenas. Why wouldn't you want that? ... I would never want to be part of a football team that didn't ever feel like it had a chance and wouldn't play with confidence," he said.

South Florida received votes in The Associated Press preseason poll for the first time in the program's 11-year history. A victory Saturday night on national television could give the Bulls a chance to crack the Top 25 for the first time.

At the very least, it would set them up to climb by winning their next two games at home against North Carolina and No. 3 West Virginia.

Leavitt conceded USF faces a tall order at Auburn, which opened the season with a 23-13 victory over Kansas State.

The expected crowd of more than 87,000 will be one of the largest and loudest the Bulls have played before.

"I know that nobody thinks we have a shot. ... We'll go in there and play hard, go in there and try to do the right things," the coach said. "I'm more interested in playing well. You play well, then you have a chance to win ball games."