MORGANTOWN - It is a game in which West Virginia always seems to struggle, and the reasons are neither consistent nor entirely clear.
Yes, South Florida has developed a solid program, but WVU always has gone into the games between the teams with a better record. Only once in the five years the teams have played has USF even been ranked, and that season the Mountaineers were 13 spots higher.
The Bulls have had talented players, too. Last year, five of them were drafted as compared to just one Mountaineer. But there are still more WVU players active in the NFL than there are USF products.
And, no, coaching probably hasn't had much to do with it, either. Bill Stewart is 1-1 against USF and Rich Rodriguez was 1-2. Jim Leavitt was the South Florida coach in all five previous games, but he was fired after his last four teams went 3-0, 6-0, 5-0 and 5-0 to start and then 6-4, 3-4, 3-5 and 3-5 to finish those seasons.
It's not easy to put a finger on why South Florida has won three of the five meetings between the teams and played tough in the other two, but don't be surprised if the script is the same tonight.
The Bulls (3-2) are coming off an embarrassing 13-9 loss at home to Syracuse, while the No. 25 Mountaineers (4-1) have lost only by six points on the road at unbeaten and No. 9 LSU. Yet when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. at Mountaineer Field, it is likely to once again be a struggle.
"I don't know what it is. I guess we underestimate the speed that those guys have,'' said West Virginia receiver Jock Sanders. "And they've beaten us in all parts of the game - coaching, playing, physicalness, every part of the game they just beat us.''
That speed factor is perhaps the most generally speculated reason for why South Florida is always able to rise up from whatever station and give West Virginia fits. The fact is that the Mountaineers beat many teams because of their own speed in the form of players like Sanders and Noel Devine on offense and Robert Sands and J.T. Thomas on defense.
Those four - as well as 11 others on West Virginia's two-deep - are from Florida. But South Florida, to the surprise of no one, has a roster dominated by Floridians, where speed is the name of the game. Only three players listed as starters are not from Florida.
"Sure, I think speed has something to do with it,'' said Stewart. "They match up well with us. They run well.''
There is also the other Florida factor involved, one that has nothing to do with speed and everything to do with pride. Both Rodriguez and Stewart have tried to minimize the effect over the years, but with so many Floridians on the West Virginia roster, a game against USF is often like a reunion. So many players from both sides competed with or against one another in high school and it becomes personal.