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USF Bulls sit in a familiar position

Here on the bloodied rocks, the view is always familiar. If you follow the USF football team, you have crashed here before.

Over there, on the big jagged rock, is where the team landed in 2007 after climbing to No. 2 in the country. There, on the big flat rock, is where the team fell in '08 after reaching No. 10. Up there, on those cliffs near the top of the mountain, is where the team fell in '09.

And now, here the Bulls are again after their most recent plummet.

If you didn't know better, you might say the collapse is more painful, and more frustrating, than ever.

For all the times USF has climbed, and for all the times it has crashed, this is the worst. Over the years, USF has fallen further, but it has never landed harder. Never has so much faith been lost along the way, and never has so much goodwill been squandered.

This time, for the first time, USF has managed to lose four straight games, three of which were winnable. Playing mediocre teams in a mediocre conference, the Bulls have whiffed four times in a row.

They have lost on offense, they have lost on defense, they have lost on special teams. They have blown leads, they have botched kicks, they have misplaced opposing receivers. Just like that, all the excitement over beating Notre Dame in the opener, all the passion that had fans talking about trophies, have disappeared.

Until they can stop the sliding, until they can change the outcome, this is who the Bulls are.

They are good enough to get off to a fast start, and they are big enough to get a signature win (Auburn, Florida State, West Virginia, Miami, etc.), and they are good enough to get ranked. But they are not good enough to finish in the Top 25 or to challenge for the Big East title.

So, yeah, if you are a USF fan, you have every right to be frustrated.

It's the price of caring about a program that cannot finish.

"I certainly understand how the fans feel,'' said coach Skip Holtz. "I feel awful for them. What's frustrating to me is where we are. We are literally three plays away from being 7-1 and ranked No. 15 in the country.

"I haven't been here in the past, but I know the history. Climb and then drop. But this isn't going to be built in a day. It isn't going to happen because Skip Holtz showed up. We have to build this. And that's what encourages me, what keeps me from saying, 'Here we go again.' I know just how close we are to going around that corner.''

It wears on Holtz, too. He admits he doesn't sleep much these nights. He doesn't eat well. Before Holtz's last game, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano made a statement about how much weight Holtz had lost.

"Try losing three in a row,'' Holtz said.

Or, as it turned out, four.

Oh, Holtz can tell you about the difference between winning and losing. His favorite moment of the season, he says, has been watching his kids celebrate in the half-hour after the Notre Dame game. The worst moments?

"Watching guys who can't breathe because they're crying so hard.''

A play here, a play there, and things could have been different in the Rutgers game, or the UConn game, or the Cincinnati game. That is true, of course. On the other hand, being close is not a consolation when a team was finally supposed to be a contender for the conference championship. In some ways, it makes losing more bitter. Fans, too. In the middle of another collapse, no one wants to hear about almost winning.

That's the thing here. Losing teams always tell you how close they are. Winning teams never measure. And this program will never be what it aspires to be until it can avoid midseason mediocrity. There will always be a big play to be made in the fourth quarter to win. Good teams make those plays.

"We're going to get this straight,'' Holtz said. "I'm an optimist. I understand there are some negatives to be fixed, but I still believe in this team. I still believe this program can be as good as any in the country.

"If we had been beaten by 21 points, I would say, 'Okay, we're not good enough yet.' But it isn't like we're light years from where we want to be. We're still coaching, and these guys are still working.''

They have not been good enough. In a season that should have been better, they have underachieved. They cannot hold a lead, or make a big play, or close out an opponent. They have stumbled again.

Such is the identity of the Bulls. They always seem good enough to beat somebody, and they always seem to trip over nobody.

Tonight, they play Syracuse in a grand effort to avoid last place.

Somehow, it seems as if a bigger goal should be at hand.


Five years of falling

Highest EnsuingFinal

Year Start AP rank lossesrecord

2007 6-0 2 3 in a row 9-4

2008 5-0 10 4 out of 5 8-5

2009 5-0 21 3 out of 4 8-5

2010 3-1—2 in a row 8-5

2011 4-0 16 4 in a row TBD

USF at Syracuse

8 tonight, Carrier Dome,

Syracuse, N.Y.

TV/radio: ESPN2; 970-AM

Line: USF by 31/2

Bulls need to finish

USF has blown late leads in each of its past two losses. 4C

USF Bulls sit in a familiar position

11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 9:51pm]
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