The Bearcats celebrate with the travelling fan contingent following their 2007 win in Tampa. (AP/Mike Carlson)
The South Florida Bulls turned the corner in 2015, winning eight games and returning to national relevance for the first time in five years. The Bearcats, meanwhile, squandered away multiple games before getting blasted by the surging Bulls in Tampa. USF has never beaten Cincinnati in back-t0-back seasons, and the Bearcats will take the field Saturday with the goal of making sure that remains the case. Here’s the Cincinnati-South Florida breakdown and a look at some notable games:
All-time series record: Cincinnati leads, 8–5
First meeting: 2003
Last meeting: 2015
Current streak: South Florida won last year
Record in Cincinnati: Cincinnati leads, 5–1
Streak in Cincinnati: Cincinnati has won the last two
Mike Daniels scores a first quarter touchdown. (AP photo)
October 31, 2003 — South Florida 24, Cincinnati 17
The Bulls joined Conference USA for the 2003 season, which set up their first matchup with the Bearcats. UC packed up and flew to Tampa for a Halloween game in front of what looked to be a very sparse crowd.
Mistakes were a theme, and the Bearcats seemingly did all they could do lose the game. After a defensive stand that forced USF to tie the game rather than take the lead, the red and black worked themselves into field goal position to take a shot at a 41-yard game-winner with four seconds left. The attempt was blocked, and the teams went to overtime tied at 10.
The Bearcat defense, having played tough all night, quickly came unravelled and allowed touchdowns on USF’s first two possessions. Following a UC first down in 2OT, Gino Guidugli’s pass bounced off of the shoulder pad of Richard Hall and into a defender’s hands to end the game. The whole mess is on YouTube, if you’d like to watch.
The win pushed the Bulls to 5–3 on their way to a 7–4 finish. The double overtime victory over the Bearcats was USF’s second of three double overtime victories on the year. The loss dropped the Bearcats to 4–4 on the year, and they’d go on to lose three of their remaining four, signaling the end of the Rick Minter era and making way for Mark Dantonio in 2004.
To be fair, I’m not sure anyone cared about this excruciating loss, because:
Butler Benton runs for a 48-yard touchdown in the second quarter. (Enquirer/Meggan Booker)
November 20, 2004 — Cincinnati 45, South Florida 23
The Bulls made the trip to Nippert for the first time and took their first shot at Bearcat head coach Mark Dantonio. UC swung hard and didn’t miss, storming to a 45–23 victory at home.
After a critical turnover near the end of the first half, USF knotted the score at 17. However, the Bearcats drove 80 yards down the field on the ensuing drive to take a 7-point lead into the break. After halftime, the offense and defense turned things up to pull away for the win behind stellar performances from Guidugli and the entire running back corps.
The win made the Bearcats bowl eligible and helped toward a 7–5 finish. USF limped to their first losing season, a place they wouldn’t return to until 2011.
WR Marcus Barnett slings a 76-yard pass to Mardy Gilyard in the second quarter. (AP/Mike Carlson)
November 3, 2007 — Cincinnati 38, #20 South Florida 33
2007 in Tampa was like 2009 in Clifton. Building on years of success, the Bulls finally were getting things to fall into place. They opened the season 6–0 with wins at #17 Auburn and at home over #5 West Virginia. The Bulls had arrived, and they were ranked #2 in the country by mid-October. Then things started to fall apart. First it was a 3-point loss in New Jersey to Rutgers, then a 7-point loss in Hartford to UConn. The Bulls limped home in November to face Brian Kelly’s Bearcats, hoping to get back on track.
On the first drive of the game, USF picked off a Ben Mauk pass and took it 73 yards for a touchdown and a 7-point lead. UC was able to equalize with a 63-yard Mauk touchdown pass, but USF returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving them a 14–7 lead.
The Bearcats responded well, answering with a field goal, a blocked punt returned for a score, a 79-yard interception return, and a 16-yard touchdown catch by Dominick Goodman. This was all before the end of the first quarter. UC was suddenly leading 31–14.
The Bulls made it interesting late, but their comeback bid fell short, and their plummet from #2 continued following a third consecutive loss. They never really recovered that season, finishing 9–4 following a loss in the Sun Bowl. The Bearcats couldn’t quite get past #5 West Virginia two weeks later, and settled for a victory in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, capping a 10–3 season.
October 15, 2009 — #8 Cincinnati 34, #21 South Florida 17
The Bearcats returned to Tampa in 2009 as a Top 10 team. The Bulls were a respectable #21, but had won five straight games against ranked teams, two of which were Top 10. The Bearcats were good, but the Bulls liked their chances, especially at home in front of a packed crowd of nearly 64,000 at Raymond James Stadium.
USF scored first, taking a 7–0 lead on a BJ Daniels touchdown pass, but the Bearcats held a 17–10 halftime advantage after two first half connections between Tony Pike and Armon Binns. Early in the third quarter, Pike re-aggravated a 2008 injury and was replaced by sophomore QB Zach Collaros, who promptly split the Bulls defense for a 75-yard touchdown that effectively put the game away.
Collaros scored on another touchdown run for good measure, and the Bearcats got the win in Tampa, pushing them to 6–0 at the midpoint of what would be a perfect 2009 regular season. It was the fourth consecutive win for UC in the series, the longest by either team.
Zach Collaros scores on a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. (AP Photo/The Tampa Tribune, Fred Bellet)
October 22, 2011 — Cincinnati 37, South Florida 33
By 2011, Collaros was a senior, and ready to bookend his Bearcats legacy with another Big East Championship. After a blowout Week 2 loss in Knoxville, the Bearcats headed to Tampa with a 5–1 record to face a team that beat the Bearcats in 2010 and opened 2011 with a win over #16 Notre Dame in South Bend.
The Bearcats started slow, playing to a 10–10 halftime tie. UC let the third quarter get away from them, and the Bulls opened up a 10-point lead to start the fourth. A Collaros touchdown run made it a 3-point game before a touchdown pass to Alex Chisum gave UC its first lead of the half.
The Bearcats had their work cut out for them after a BJ Daniels touchdown pass with 1:27 remaining, but the always-poised Collaros crafted a 7-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with the game winning score with 12 seconds remaining.
Two weeks later, Collaros fell to injury, causing the Bearcats to lose two consecutive games on their way to a 10–3 finish. The Bulls, who had entered conference play 4–0 and ranked #14, finished the Big East slate at just 1–6, capping a disastrous second season for Skip Holtz.
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
November 20, 2015 — South Florida 65, Bearcats 27
The Bearcats’ disappointing 2015 season went from bad to worse in Tampa, as a crowd of fewer than 27,000 had plenty to cheer about in USF’s beatdown of UC. A 44-yard Andrew Gantz field goal saved UC from being shut out in the first half, but the red and black saw only red with the scoreboard reading 51–3 at the break.
Things got a bit better in the second half (which isn’t saying much) as Chris Moore reeled in a 54-yard touchdown pass from Hayden Moore to clinch the Bearcats career receiving touchdowns record.
For the Bearcats, the loss was a preview of what to expect in the Hawaii Bowl. For the Bulls, the win was another stepping stone in the return to relevance. USF won eight games and made a bowl appearance, both of which hadn’t been done in Tampa since 2010.
So far, the Bearcats seem to be much-improved defensively in 2016. The game is in Cincinnati, where USF has just one win in six tries. The Bulls have never beaten the Bearcats in back-to-back seasons. If history and statistics are any indication, I like the Bearcats’ chances this weekend. A win here would likely be the biggest conference win for Tommy Tuberville since the Bearcats fended off Houston at the end of the 2014 season to win the AAC title. UC played strong for three quarters against a Top 10 team two weeks ago. Saturday they’ll have a chance to prove that wasn’t a fluke, and move one step closer to facing Houston again in December.