During training camp, Florida State University senior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins was all smiles when asked about FSU's dominating defense and the Seminoles' chances of contending for a national championship.
Then someone mentioned Sept. 26, 2009, when Dawkins was a freshman and FSU was upset by the University of South Florida, 17-7 at Tallahassee's Doak Campbell Stadium.
"Nobody was expecting that,'' Dawkins said. "The mentality they had coming into that game, we weren't ready for it. That was a rough, rough day.
"I'll tell you what. We can't sleep on those boys.''
It was three years ago. The head coaches — and many of the assistants — are different. Only 23 players from that day remain on the USF and FSU rosters.
"That was 2009 and this is 2012,'' USF junior receiver Terrence Mitchell said. "This is a new season. We ain't playing no ghosts. We're playing humans.''
But some of those humans might have long memories Saturday night, when No. 4 FSU (4-0) faces USF (2-2) at Raymond James Stadium.
"I'm sure (FSU players) are tired of hearing about that game,'' Bulls coach Skip Holtz said.
"We're looking forward to going down there, not necessarily for payback, but we want to go out there and take care of business and play well,'' Seminoles senior quarterback EJ Manuel said.
In 2009, the Bulls stunned the Seminoles with two touchdown passes and 126 yards rushing from redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, a Tallahassee native making his first college start. USF's defense was relentless, limiting FSU to 288 yards and registering five sacks of Christian Ponder. Bulls defensive backs Jon Lejiste and Nate Allen had particularly memorable hits that fueled USF emotion.
"They came out and hit us in the mouth, no question,'' FSU senior defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel said.
"There was a lot of swag on our defensive side of the ball,'' USF senior cornerback George Baker said.
Then-USF coach Jim Leavitt called the victory "very historical,'' but he was upset one week later when a USF-sponsored billboard was erected in downtown Tampa. It had the words "BIG 3'' with the "3'' crossed out and replaced by a "4.'' The Bulls logo was placed next to logos from the Seminoles, Gators and Hurricanes with these words underneath:
"Welcome to the Club Bulls Fans!''
"We have not won national championships and we have not won conference championships,'' Leavitt said at the time. "What gives us the right to sit there all of a sudden like we've won all these championships and done all this stuff? … We're a program that's trying to get competitive. We're a program trying to build.''
That's still the case.
USF remains the program with something to prove.
"Definitely (this game is bigger), because they're a higher-ranked team,'' USF senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "Whenever you have the chance to protect your house against an in-state team, it does good for recruiting and the program as well.
"I know they're going to have it in their minds that they lost that game in 2009, so they're going to come in ready to play.''
FLORIDA STATE AT USF
Saturday: At Raymond James Stadium, 6 p.m. TV: ESPN