Could two-loss Bulls still be ranked?
Lots to follow up on after Saturday's 24-20 loss at Louisville, but first, is it possible that USF could take a second loss to an unranked team and remain in the top 25?
Crazily enough, of course it is. Why? Four other teams ranked lower than USF -- No. 17 Pittsburgh, No. 19 Kansas, No. 21 Georgia Tech and No. 23 Boston College -- also lost Saturday, along with five of the top eight teams in this week's "also receiving votes." I'm fairly certain that Michigan State and North Carolina will jump into the poll -- I have them at No. 21 and No. 22 -- but can't decide who the bottom three teams will be.
USF is a real possibility, since they were three spots higher than Pittsburgh, which took a more damaging loss, giving up 54 points to a 3-5 Rutgers team. Kansas, with three losses, will drop out. Who could jump ahead of USF? Oregon is 6-2 with losses to USC and Boise State, so they're high on the list. Big East rivals Connecticut and West Virginia could, or Maryland, though the Terrapins beat N.C. State far less convincingly than USF did. I think USF sneaks in at No. 25, which isn't saying much. Onto the game ...
-- First, links to our notebook and sidebar from Sunday's paper. How big an opportunity did USF miss? The rest of the Big East had cleared a path for the Bulls, with Rutgers putting up 54 (!) on Pittsburgh and Connecticut handing Cincinnati its first loss. There have been 11 conference games this season, and already seven different teams have lost. The only remaining undefeated team, West Virginia, has beaten Syracuse and Rutgers, both at home. So yes, USF is still alive in the Big East, but the conference won't have a team in the top 20 now, and with Kansas dropping out, USF can't boast a win against any current ranked teams. Barring a crazy logjam of teams with 5-2 league records, it sure looks like USF is headed to the St. Petersburg Bowl. A bowl rematch against East Carolina? Rice? Houston?
-- For an offense that's talked a lot about feeling good about five running backs, I was surprised how quickly the Bulls discarded their running game, even with injuries to tight end Trent Pupello, tackle Marc Dile and running back Mike Ford. Not only did Matt Grothe lose 42 yards on tackles for losses, but he only gained 15 during the game -- can't remember the last time his running was that big a non-factor. Having said that, Grothe accounted for 90 percent of USF's offense and was super-sharp with those intermediate passes across the middle. Except on broken plays, were there any throws deep?
-- Jim Leavitt told himself aloud twice in postgame that he'd made the right call kicking a field goal with six seconds left in the first half and the ball on the 8-yard line. The Bulls lined up for a quick pass but called a time out when they didn't like the defensive look. Then they lined up for the kick, waited through four more time outs, and took the safe three points. Greg Gregory said the eight points lost by getting two field goals instead of touchdowns were huge -- his offense crossed midfield on six of their first eight possessions, with six points to show for it.
-- One glaring reason USF is a good and not great team this season? They've completely lost the ballhawking nature of last year's defense. Instead of 3-4 turnovers a game, the Bulls have forced 10 in eight games. Kion Wilson's interception came because the ball popped straight out of a Louisville receiver's hands. Again, I can't remember near-picks, or Cardinal fumbles that were recovered. For the year, can you think of a meaningful turnover, aside from Nate Allen's pick against Kansas?
-- Coaches won't say it, but I think Tyller Roberts has lost his starting cornerback job. Assistant coach Troy Douglas said on the deep touchdown, Scott Long didn't make a double-move or anything special -- he just went right past Roberts. And right before Louisville's second touchdown, Roberts literally watched Victor Anderson run past him -- no attempt to tackle him at all. One hitch in this: Quenton Washington had a brace of sorts on his right hand after the game, though he said the injury wasn't significant.
-- Remember how Marcus Edwards had seven punt returns for 124 yards against Tennessee-Martin? On Saturday, he had three returns for ... 4 yards. In the seven games since that opener, Edwards has 17 punt returns for 93 yards. His longest return of those 17 is 13 yards. I understand that coaches trust his surehandedness in fielding punts, but there doesn't seem to be much more to the return game than that.
-- I think two areas that were real problem spots -- offensive line and defensive backs -- are also positions where USF will be hit hardest by graduation. The Bulls lose four starters on the line, and three key safeties in the secondary. Shoring up those two positions -- with linebacker right there as well -- will be a huge priority in the offseason and in recruiting.
-- Seeing Cincinnati give up 40 points to a Connecticut team that's scored 12 or less in three games this season, USF's offense really should be able to score on the Bearcats, with or without Ford, Dile and Pupello. Cincinnati gave up six turnovers and had 28 incomplete passes -- they'll be at home Thursday, but it's a game USF should be able to win.
-- If there's a positive in Saturday's game, it might be that George Selvie looked like his old self for the first time this season. Four tackles for loss and two sacks -- he's a half-TFL behind Pitt's Scott McKillop for the conference lead, and tied for third in sacks, two off the pace. And Aaron Harris had three TFLs, or one more than he'd totaled in the first seven games. OK, I'll have more off the rankings -- or lackthereof -- on Sunday afternoon ...