Saturday, June 23, 2018
Colleges

Don't take solace from USF Bulls' close defeat

TAMPA

They were plucky, if that sort of thing satisfies you.

They played hard, if that is your goal.

It was close for a while, if that makes you happy.

On the other hand, USF lost, which means the general dissatisfaction that has enveloped the program will probably continue for a while yet. Granted, this time, the Bulls lost to a very good Florida State team, one that looks underrated at No. 4 in the nation, and yes, they showed a bit more fire along the way.

Still, USF has beaten enough quality teams over the years to take any sort of reward in losing.

FSU 30, USF 17. How you feel about the final margin — encouraged or enraged — probably reflects how you feel about the program these days.

As for USF coach Skip Holtz, well, he seemed positively skippy after the game. He kept talking about how hard his team competed. And let's face it: If you had watched the loss to Ball State up close, you might feel the same.

"Our players competed their tails off," Holtz said. "A lot of naysayers may only see the end result, but I was proud of the way we played. We got better as a football team."

Really? USF lost. By 13. At home. It has now lost three in a row and 10 of its past 13 games.

Just asking here, but isn't it about time for the next memorable victory to occur for the Bulls?

It has been a while, hasn't it? Time was, USF seemed to knock off one of the brand name programs all the time. Auburn. West Virginia. Notre Dame. It would come out with energy and daring, and it would make a few plays, and it would build on its reputation as a giant killer. Kansas. Louisville. Miami.

And one more.

FSU.

For a week, USF has been reliving its 2009 upset of the Seminoles. You remember. Good day, that. It was the day when the Bulls went to Tallahassee with a freshman quarterback and a stadium filled with doubters. After the game, the USF faithful walked away believing their program had arrived, that it had achieved toe-to-toe status with the big schools of the state.

Yep, that was the victory that was supposed to propel the USF program forward. It was going to establish credibility, and it was going to improve recruiting, and it was going to raise standards.

And the Bulls turned it into … zip.

In a strange way, it was that victory over FSU that led to this loss to FSU. No, not because of anything as cliched as revenge. That's always a bigger factor in the stands than it is on the field, anyway.

Looking back, however, USF didn't build nearly enough momentum from that victory. As a program, it is 19-19 since that game. The recruiting has not gotten noticeably better. B.J. Daniels, the freshman quarterback, hasn't gotten noticeably more accurate. Maybe some of that momentum was lost when Jim Leavitt was replaced by Holtz, but at the moment, USF looks like a team that is running in place.

Ask yourself: How much better is this program today because of that big win in Tallahassee?

For much of Saturday night, FSU looked like a beatable team. You might say the Seminoles were back to not being back. They sputtered. They had a punt blocked. They were forced to bring a safety into the box and play man to man during the second half. Given all of that, you might expect that to drive the Bulls — and Holtz — a little crazy.

Here's the sad part: The Bulls were better Saturday night. They played harder, and they had more passion. Which makes you wonder: Where was this in other games? Rutgers, perhaps? Ball State?

At USF, something has to happen for the program to re-gather its momentum. It has to beat a big team on a late night in front of a big crowd. It needs to reclaim its fire and its future. After that happens, this time, it needs to build upon it.

For the night? Yes, the Bulls competed harder, if that was your goal.

On the other hand, they finished second in the game.

Even for the yaysayers, that shouldn't be good enough.

Listen to Gary Shelton from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.

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