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Q&A with ESPN’s Rece Davis
Posted Sep 13, 2012 by Joey Johnston
Updated Sep 13, 2012 at 01:17 PM
A conversation with ESPN’s Rece Davis, who will call tonight’s USF-Rutgers football game at Raymond James Stadium:
Q: How do you explain USF’s 0-8 record in Thursday night ESPN games?
A: I can’t explain it. I can explain one of them, the Pittsburgh game last season (Pitt won 44-17). They didn’t tackle Ray Graham. Another one I called, the West Virginia game (beating USF 30-27) was really a microcosm of USF’s season, whether they played on Thursday night, Friday afternoon or Tuesday morning. They played well enough for the most part to win the game, but they didn’t make plays in the clutch. Those two games I can explain.
Q: Is it a factor tonight?
A: I believe it’s an aberration. Kids like playing on Thursday night. We’ve talked about this constantly. It’s college football’s version of Monday Night Football. I would imagine some individuals could get a little amped up. Maybe you don’t play your best because you’re pressing a little too hard. But I don’t think you could apply that across the board, that it’s the reason USF is 0-8 on Thursday night ESPN game. If you allow it to become a factor, it will be. How much of that is a factor for USF? Only time will tell.
Q: What’s the importance of tonight’s game?
A: My thing with USF is much larger than Thursday night. The big games they’ve lost stick out and frankly they shouldn’t have lost them. If they’re going to take the next step as a program, that’s what they have to do. They need to take care of business at home if they’re going to be a conference champion-type contender. Against Rutgers, a solid team, in my judgment, this is the type of game USF needs to win. If they want to be viewed as one of the big boys, they need to win.
Q: The old Rutgers coach, Greg Schiano, is with the Tampa Bay Bucs. How much will be part of tonight’s broadcast?
A: If he’s there, we’ll try to get him on. We’ll certainly talk about him. What he did in terms of establishing that program, bringing that program from the dregs of college football to respectability and near-contention at times, is nothing short of remarkable. He made Rutgers, at least in the Northeast, a brand name and a viable destination. He did a great job recruiting Florida. Certainly, Greg will be part of the discussion. The thing that keeps coming up with Rutgers players and coaches, when you ask about the differences between Schiano and Kyle Flood, is they say their core values have not changed. There are more similarities than differences.
Q: What do you think about the viability of Big East Conference football, now and moving forward with the changes in 2013?
A: My thinking is it is in a very tenuous and vulnerable position. I think from a football standpoint, you certainly added a strong program in Boise State. But I think it’s hard to develop a lot of cohesion. Georgraphy might not be as important as it once was, but I do believe it gives you some strength as a conference. I had a person affiliated with one of the two schools that’s leaving for the ACC tell me,m “Look, South Florida is a great program. They’ve won a ton of games and we know how good they are. But here’s the fact of the matter. If they come to our place to play, we’ll get a normal crowd. If Florida State comes in 0-11, they’re packing the joint to see Florida State.’’ So I think those are the types of challenges that the Big East is going to have to continue to overcome. The departure of a couple of name-brand programs is going to be a great challenge. Now they will go across the continent, the western swing, and it’s a challenge for them to maintain their position and grow it and be on the same level year-in, year-out as the other five big conferences.
Q: People have certainly taken their shots at the Big East and I think there’s a perception that ESPN is working against the Big East. Do you see a lot of people taking things personally?
A: That certainly can happen. The No. 1 thing you have to do is be as fair and honest as you can. People will see through you if you’re not being honest. If I said, “Hey, everything’s great with Big East football, the future couldn’t be better,’’ that would be disingenuous. People would see through that. At the same time, you have to be fair. You know what? Wasn’t it about a year ago that we were wondering if the Big 12 was still going to exist? Now all of a sudden it looks like it’s in a position of power. Maybe the additions will work out well. Maybe there’s a plan that will allow the Big East to prosper in ways we can’t envision at the moment. Our charge when we talk about the Big East is to be as fair and honest as we can. The Big East has been a premier basketball conference. It’s sad to see that change. But Big East football and the growth of it has been a phenomenal story. Has the Big East turned into the SEC? Well, no. But it’s been good. West Virginia has provided some great moments in BCS games. Cincinnati came within a hair of playing for the national championship. The growth of the league has been a major success story. Now there’s a bump in the road. I don’t know that anybody would’ve thought Rutgers would’ve built the type of program it has built. I don’t know that people would’ve seen USF ascending to No. 2 in the nation and that happened. You can use that as a guide to avoid saying the Big East is doomed, that it will never operate at the highest levels of college football. I would not be willing to say the Big East is doomed right now. There’s so much that still must be played out.
Q: If USF wins the Big East and reaches a BCS bowl game, what would that do for the program?
A: It would change the perception that it’s a program that’s very good and has had excellent players and hasn’t quite gotten over the hump. I think it’s sort of the height of folly, realistically, to attach too much significance to a bowl game. Sometimes, the best way to figure out who’s going to win a bowl game is to figure out which team really wants to be there. Which team is coming in disappointed. Which team isn’t thrilled with its gift package. Even though I hesitate to attach too much significance to bowl games, it would be determine largely how well USF played in that bowl game. Look at the change in perception of Utah after they beat Alabama. The same thing could be true in USF’s case if they beat name-brand school. Extenuating circumstances wouldn’t matter, whether the other team was hurt or disinterested. It’s the perception in the eyes of the people outside. Boise State lifted themselves to a level that you almost come to expect from them annually after beating Oklahoma. USF had a little bit of that. They beat Notre Dame, Clemson, teams like that. If they can win a Big East championship, then do something on a big BCS stage, it would certainly change the perception someone on the outside might have of them.