3 Games Today Begin With Birmingham Bowl

December 23, 2017 by Mike Mitchell

From its very first game in 1997 and on through 2009, Jim Leavitt was the only football coach the University of South Florida ever had. Since then, 3 different men have led the program.

After literally building the program from the ground up, Leavitt guided the team up the polls, as well, ranking as high as No. 2 in 2007. Jason Pierre-Paul, Mike Jenkins and Nate Allen became household names when they went on to play with the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. By the time he left amid accusations of mistreating a player, Leavitt was 95-57 overall and 51-35 in the FBS. In his last three seasons, the Bulls spent 24 weeks ranked in the major polls.

Skip Holtz followed Leavitt, and the program plummeted. After an 8-5 first year, the Bulls went 5-7 and 3-9 before Holtz was fired. Willie Taggart was hired away from Western Kentucky to rejuvenate the program and, though it took awhile, he did just that. After seasons of 2-10 and 4-8, the Bulls returned to the postseason and the rankings in years 3 and 4 of his tenure.

Alas, Taggart's turnaround of the USF program became the impetus of his hiring by Oregon and the Bulls turned to Charlie Strong. The former Florida defensive coordinator proved his head coaching mettle at Louisville, so much so that Texas came calling. And though his three seasons with the Longhorns didn't produce a single winning season, USF wasn't deterred in naming him as Taggart's replacement.

Today, Strong will try to guide the Bulls to a second consecutive bowl win under two different head coaches. Oddly enough, Leavitt and Holtz did just that in 2009-2010. But for greater irony, Strong and Taggart would have done so at the same bowl destination if the Bulls manage a victory today.

USF (9-2) faces Texas Tech (6-6) at Noon ET in the Birmingham Bowl as an 8.24-point favorite, according to the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com.

The match-up features two high-powered offenses, but USF brings a balanced attack while Texas Tech relies heavily on the passing game. It should contrast greatly with the game that follows it.

The Armed Forces Bowl between Army (9-3) and San Diego State (10-2) is scheduled for 3:30 ET and features a pair of teams that prefer to ground and pound their opponents into submission. Army is No. 1 in the nation in rushing while San Diego State ranks 11th behind the leading rusher in college football, Rashaad Penny (2,027 yards. 19 TD's). The computer likes SDSU by a meager 0.51 points.

The day closes with the only rematch of teams who met in a bowl game last year. The Dollar General Bowl at 7 p.m. ET presents a sequel to last season's Camellia Bowl between Toledo (11-2) and Appalachian State (8-4). The Mountaineers won the 2016 matchup 31-28. The Rockets are 6.43-point favorites to avenge that defeat.