The good news for the University of South Florida football program is that the Big East Conference might just survive and retain its Bowl Championship Series status.
The league made it clear Tuesday that it’s not going down without fight and has a plan in place. It’s an attitude the Bulls could use this Saturday as they attempt to climb their way out of the Big East basement.
What started as a season of great expectations has found USF sitting in the conference cellar with an 0-2 record. The Bulls averaged 49.8 points per game in winning their first four games of the season. Since then, they have averaged 13.5 points in two losses.
Things are unraveling quickly, but Bulls head coach Skip Holtz doesn’t want to call Saturday’s matchup with Cincinnati a crossroads game.
“It’s a very important game to us, but I am not looking at it as a sink or swim, that if we lose the season is over, and the last five games we are just going to go through the motions,” Holtz said. “This team will continue to compete and continue to fight, and after Cincinnati, we will evaluate where we are and what we are going to do.”
Where the Bulls are right now is not a good place.
The Holtz honeymoon is over, and his two notable victories last year over Cincinnati and Rutgers are fast fading into the rearview mirror.
Even the excuses seem to be providing more questions than answers.
The 44-17 loss to Pittsburgh was one thing, but the 16-10 defeat at Connecticut after more than two weeks of practice seemed to catch the coaching staff off guard.
Holtz talked about the lack of humidity and too much wind at Connecticut, leading us to believe you needed a weather almanac instead of a stat sheet to explain the loss.
But this is more about feeling bad than bad weather.
After two straight losses, USF fans are suffering from a bad case of déjà vu.
What they are seeing now looks an awful like what they got from former coach Jim Leavitt, who raised the program from the cradle, flirted with national recognition and BCS bowl talk only to see his teams collapse.
The Holtz era got off to a nice start last year, breaking those painful losing streaks against Cincy and Rutgers, but now he is a part of a four-game slide to Pittsburgh and three to Connecticut, though he is only in his second season.
USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said the five straight weeks of games might have hurt his unit against Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said the two-week layoff after Pittsburgh hurt his team against Connecticut.
Can’t have it both ways!
USF fans have been brutal on their offensive coordinators down through the years. They believe they’ve been cursed, particularly at Connecticut, where painful losses have come after highly questionable calls.
“I think defensively, we got a little bit tired at Pittsburgh, but the open date gave us an opportunity to simplify things, and they responded,” Holtz said. “Offense is about timing, and sometimes when you get a couple of days off, it throws your rhythm off in the passing game.
“But I don’t look at the open date, saying that is the reason for our woes. You look at four turnovers and five trips inside the 35 without being able to put a point up. You are not going to win many football games doing that.”
Connecticut, with one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, seemed like the perfect antidote for USF after the Bulls’ debacle in Pittsburgh. Even Western Michigan, a 4-3 Mid-American Conference team, had its way with UConn, throwing for 479 yards in a 38-31 victory over the Huskies. The following week, West Virginia threw for 450 yards in a 43-16 win over Connecticut.
Holtz said Western Michigan receivers made circus catches to help their quarterback, and UConn changed its defensive philosophy taking away the deep ball.
There were a lot questions about the Bulls’ insistence on running the ball in between the tackles, which is the strongest part of UConn’s defense.
Quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas said it was unfair to compare USF’s offensive philosophies with other teams.
USF fans will counter that it’s unfair to flirt with BCS Bowls and national rankings and then leave them feeling dumped like a jilted lover.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 745-2112.