By Leo Haggerty

Wanted to get this column up before kickoff so just commentary and no pictures. Will be adding photos later.

I am going to break from the original format for one simple reason. The 2017 Birmingham Bowl tilt against Texas Tech is, by far, the biggest game in the history of South Florida football for a few reasons.

First, with a victory, USF will be 4-1 against Power Five teams over the past two seasons.  The Bulls will have beat Illinois from the Big Ten and Big XII representative Texas Tech this year along with wins last year over Syracuse from the ACC plus SEC member South Carolina in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl. There only lost would be to perennial ACC power, except for this year, Florida State last season in 100-plus on-the-field temperatures at Raymond James Stadium.

That’s a helluva resume for a Group of 6 program. It verifies that the Green & Gold can consistently compete with the big boys.

Second, it will give the Bulls consecutive double-digit win seasons.  Why is that so important you ask? That’s because of all the adversity USF had to deal with when Hurricane Irma came rolling up the center of the Florida peninsula in late summer.

People have no idea how difficult it had to be to refocus a team, with 90% of its players Floridians, after the devastation of early September. Almost every player, as well as every coach and member of the South Florida football program, was effected by the aftermath of the worst storm to hit Florida in my 30 years on the Sunshine State.

This, without a doubt, has been Charlie Strong’s best coaching job of his career. To “rally the troops” and take this team to 9-2, and to be two plays away from being undefeated, was phenomenal. He would have been the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year hands down if it wasn’t for what Scott Frost accomplished down the road at UCF.

Third, there would be no more fitting tribute to Mike Radomski, the USF Assistant Director of Communications that passed away in a car accident during the season, than to win a second consecutive Birmingham Bowl. Mike was beloved by the entire USF football family and respected by all members of the media for his professionalism and dedication.

Finally, this would be the first piece of the puzzle for USF to move to the Big XII. Then, if Memphis beats Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl and UCF dispatches Auburn in the Peach Bowl, the Big XII will have “the pick of the litter” when it comes to expansion.

So, does South Florida take the first step and beat Texas Tech. I say yes and don’t stray too far from the telecast because points will come in droves. USF, 59-52, in an old fashioned shootout.

Am I right. Meet you at the TV this afternoon to find out.

All pictures below by It’s Sports Magazine photo journalists Trace and Matt Crisp and Jeff Fox and John Phillips.

Photo by John Phillips It’s Sports! Mag

Photo by John Phillips It’s Sports! M

Photo by Jeffrey Neil Fox It’s Sports! Magazine