Now that they have become college football's dishrag, the question for the USF Bulls is simple:
For crying out loud, when do they win a game?
Is there anyone on the schedule who is small enough, slow enough, undertalented enough? The Bulls have now lost to FAU, amazingly. They have been blown out by McNeese State, incredibly. Is there anyone left who can measure down to USF?
How about Cincinnati? Can the Bulls beat Cincinnati? How about UConn? How about Memphis?
Here's a better question:
Can this year's Bulls beat anyone on their schedule?
Put it this way: They won't play anyone with less talent than Florida Atlantic. They won't play anyone with less tradition. FAU is the kid brother of the state schools. It was usually going to finish with a losing record, and maybe it would beat FIU or maybe not, but in the end, the Owls wouldn't matter.
If you are keeping score, this was 10 times more embarrassing than the loss to McNeese, which was 10 times more embarrassing than any loss the Bulls had ever endured. Yes, the talent level is down, but it is not down this much. Yes, the coaches are new, but they didn't arrive yesterday.
This is a team that seems determined to make you feel wistful for last year's 3-9 team. They do nothing consistently, not run, not pass. Worse, they do not seem to be improving. They go from quarterback to quarterback, and no one seems ready.
There are certain losses that redefine a team. This was one of those. You can lose to Michigan State, and no one clears their voice. But lose to McNeese and to FAU?
"I wouldn't have believed that in a million years," said USF coach Willie Taggart, who seemed at a loss to explain the loss. "That's more frustrating than anything. Those are two games I feel like we should have won. But we're not going to win turning the ball over. It's not like we're turning the ball over on their 30. We're turning it over for touchdowns. That just kills you."
This game? This game was a scarlet letter of a game. And from the looks of it, it is going to be a long, long year. There is reason FAU is called the Owls. When they beat someone, the alumni usually ask: "Who?"
After all, FAU had lost 14 straight games to teams from the big six conferences, by an average score of 39-8. Who? And furthermore, how?
Today, how seems like a big question. You can blame the coach, you can blame the talent, you can blame the mental toughness. It all adds up to a program that has sunk into the muck.
Want to know when this one turned? It was in the second quarter, and the Bulls were inches from going ahead by two scores. Despite giving away another touchdown with an offensive mistake, USF led 10-7 and had second and goal at the FAU 2.
A touchdown there, and the Bulls would have been in control of the game. Instead, they didn't score, and FAU took over the game.
It goes back to what Taggart said after the loss to McNeese. His team isn't mentally strong enough to respond when bad things happen. The truth is that it wasn't strong enough last year, either, but isn't that why Taggart was brought in? Wasn't he supposed to make a difference? Wasn't he supposed to, and these are his words, do something?
Coming in, FAU was 0-2 this year (including a 31-13 loss to East Carolina). It was 3-9 last year. It was 1-11 the year before. And so on.
And USF can't beat these guys?
Put it this way: If USF took some pride in being atop the Bottom 10 poll two weeks ago, well, it's a strong contender again. Who is playing worse? Anywhere? Who is destined for a longer season? Anyone?
Taggart says he remains confident his team will win this year. What else can he believe?
"I do," he said. "I think we have the guys. They have to believe in themselves. It's three bad ballgames for us. We're not quitting. That's for sure. That way doesn't work."
Part of the problem, of course, is that Taggart keeps playing the Dating Game with his quarterbacks, and everyone is Pee Wee Herman. We have gone from Matt Floyd to Bobby Eveld to Steven Bench. Eveld looked good when Floyd started, and Bench looked good for a while when Eveld started. But no one looks good for long.
Here's the secret. So far, they're the same guy. They read the cards on their sleeves between plays, and then they make an error that gives up a score. (Five times in three games). And then, it's on to the next guy. You wonder how long it will be before Taggart turns to freshman Mike White.
When that happens, it probably won't matter. This season seems beyond repair.
As for next year, we'll see.