TAMPA — A year ago, football scheduling looked like a nightmare for the University of South Florida Bulls. USF didn’t truly know the future of its conference. It didn’t know how many league games would be played or how many non-conference opponents were needed.
Now USF has entered a period of stability. The American Athletic Conference offers eight league games — four home, four away — so four additional slots are available within each 12-game season.
The Bulls now have an array of impressive-sounding Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, including a home game next season against N.C. State, a home-and-home series against Florida State, plus nine games over the next five seasons against teams from the Big Ten Conference.
“We were trying to get games we thought would be attractive to our program and fans,’’ USF athletic director Doug Wooolard said. “It just happened that there were openings on some of the Big Ten schedules, along with our schedules.’’
Woolard said there wasn’t a strategic plan to schedule games against Big Ten opponents, but he’s happy it turned out that way.
“I think the Big Ten sees it as a chance to play in front of their alumni who have moved to the Tampa Bay area,’’ Woolard said. “You look at license plates in town and a lot of them are Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and so on.
“With the new football playoff system (after the 2014 season), strength of schedule is important, so these are the kind of games we wanted.’’
Here are the future USF non-conference opponents:
* 2014: Western Carolina, Maryland, N.C. State, at Wisconsin.
* 2015: Florida A&M, Indiana, at Maryland, at Florida State.
* 2016: Towson, at Indiana, Florida State.
* 2017: Stony Brook, Wisconsin, Illinois.
* 2018: Elon, Michigan State, at Illinois.
USF had a home game scheduled against Nevada in 2015, the return game for last season’s trip, but it will now be played in 2020. Additionally, USF still has a second game at Florida — the first meeting was in 2010 — but it hasn’t been scheduled.
Woolard said he wants to schedule games against the state’s other FBS teams. The home-and-home series against Florida State helps fulfill that. Woolard would love to renew the series against Miami, which is playing the last of a five-game agreement against USF on Sept. 28.
“It’s a good game for both of us,’’ Woolard said. “When we originally did it, one of the attractions was if we played in late in the season, both programs could avoid a trip to a cold-weather climate. I hope we can get back together with them.’’
Unbeaten Soccer Teams
USF has gotten off to unbeaten starts with Denise Schilte-Brown’s women’s soccer team and George Kiefer’s men’s soccer team.
The women (4-0-2) have out-scored opponents 14-2 and are working on a streak of three straight shutouts behind sophomore goalkeeper Christiane Endler. The Bulls next face two ranked SEC opponents: at No. 22 South Carolina on Thursday and No. 10 Florida at home on Sunday.
The men (1-0-2) are getting solid defensive play and last Friday posted a 1-1 tie at No. 14 Michigan. Defender Nikola Paunic was the American Athletic Conference defender of the week. The Bulls stay in the Big Ten Conference on Thursday by hosting Wisconsin.
“If they keep working, I feel like this team can be a special one,’’ Kiefer said.
Fort Myers Dunbar WR Ryeshene Bronson, a four-star recruit, gave a verbal commitment to USF football last week. Bronson, who last spring backed away from his original commitment to Florida, favors the Bulls over Miami, Mississippi State and South Carolina. …Courtney Draper’s volleyball team (4-4) is back to .500 after Tuesday’s four-game win at Florida Gulf Coast University. The Bulls host No. 22 Purdue, Pittsburgh and Florida Atlantic in this weekend’s USF Invitational. …Ken Eriksen’s softball team will play an eight-game home exhibition schedule. All games are free. The schedule: Oct. 6, Santa Fe State College, 2 p.m.; Oct. 16, HCC, 6 p.m.; Oct. 18, Saint Leo, 6 p.m.; Oct. 20, Florida State, noon; Oct. 25, Polk State College, 5 p.m.; Nov. 1, Tampa, 6 p.m.; Nov. 2, Manatee State College, 5 p.m.; Nov. 7, Indian River State College, 6 p.m.