Bowling Green, Ky. — Western Kentucky University will add a home-and-home series with a Big East Conference school to its future football schedules with the announcement Friday that it has signed a contract with South Florida.
The Hilltoppers will play host to the Bulls in 2009 — the date is tentatively set for Sept. 12 at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium — while travelling to Tampa for a Sept. 25 contest the following fall. All dates are subject to change.
USF is coming off a season in which it climbed as high as second in the both the BCS and Associated Press polls. The Bulls ended the campaign 9-4 overall, 4-3 in conference action, with wins over Auburn — which would go on to win the Chick-fil-A Bowl — on the road and then-No. 5 ranked West Virginia in their Big East opener. They ended the year by earning an invite to the Brut Sun Bowl.
“We are excited to host a Big East Conference opponent in our 2009 home opener. South Florida has enjoyed considerable football success, including taking the nation by storm as they ascended to a No. 2 national ranking during the 2007 season,” WKU Director of Athletics Dr. Wood Selig stated. “This home game will be a great one for all WKU and college football fans. As we embark on our first season of bowl eligibility and competing for a league championship in 2009, kicking off the home season with an opponent like USF will be a meaningful event in the evolution of WKU football.
“Overall we have been very pleased with the scheduling opportunities that have presented themselves while transitioning to the NCAA I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) level. WKU football has some exciting times ahead.”
The two schools played four straight years from 1997-00, with each earning a pair of victories. The Toppers took the first two games, winning 31-3 in Bowling Green and 31-24 in Tampa, while USF earned a 21-6 victory at Houchens Industries-Smith Stadium in 1999 before closing out the four-game series with a 30-24 home win the following fall. In the last meeting between the two schools, USF was in transition from the NCAA Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) to the I-A/FBS level.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for what coach Leavitt has done with the USF program,” said Hilltopper head coach David Elson. “We’re looking forward to bringing the first-ever Big East team to Houchens Industries-Smith Stadium in our first year as a bowl eligible program.”
The Hilltoppers will also face Tennessee and Navy, both on the road, in ’09 with one more non-league game to be added. After a two-year transition from the I-AA/FCS to the I-A/FBS division, 2009 will mark the first season that WKU will compete in the Sun Belt Conference and be eligible to participate in a postseason bowl.
WKU was 7-5 a year ago in its first season of transition, the program’s 12th winning campaign in a row.