PISCATAWAY, N.J. — They have been neither snake-bitten nor — in Saturday's case — frostbitten. USF can't pin the worst record in program history on poor calls or poor climates.
The Bulls simply are a team in transition, struggling to find the personnel and personal discipline to evolve into the program they wish to be.
On a raw central New Jersey night, in a place where USF wretchedness has gone to roost, the struggles were made vivid.
A litany of flags and flubs, dearth of running lanes and periodic defensive breakdowns equated to a 31-6 loss to Rutgers before 37,645 at High Point Solutions Stadium.
"We're recruiting guys to come take our current guys' jobs and we're going to continue to do that as well," clearly frustrated Bulls coach Willie Taggart said.
"No position is safe. I'm going to evaluate the entire program and make sure we've got the right pieces in place so we can be a hell of a lot better than what we've shown this year."
Indeed, as the Bulls (2-10, 2-6 American Athletic Conference) thaw out today, few will lobbying to have this season cryogenically frozen for posterity.
In clinching the worst record in the program's 17-year history, the Bulls also eclipsed the season's century mark in penalties.
Saturday, they had 99 penalty yards and 10 rushing yards. As a result, USF ended the year on a six-game skid. The loss was its fourth consecutive defeat at this stadium, where the Bulls aren't likely to return any time soon; Rutgers (6-6, 3-5) is bound for the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights became bowl eligible and will find out their bowl destination today. The Associated Press reported that Rutgers would likely play in the Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame.
Just where the Bulls are headed remains anyone's guess.
What's clear is, they're in dire need of playmakers — which Taggart acknowledged afterward — and self-control.
The absence of the latter was never more clear than in the first quarter, when a microcosm of this excruciating autumn played out.
With USF down 7-0 freshman quarterback Mike White, wearing gloves on both hands, fumbled the exchange from center Austin Reiter. The following play, Scarlet Knights senior Chas Dodd shuffled right and threw to Bulls cornerback Brandon Salinas in the left flat. Salinas returned the interception well past midfield, but senior defensive tackle Luke Sager was whistled for roughing Dodd.
On the next play, Dodd found freshman wide receiver Andre Patton for a 12-yard touchdown and 14-0 Scarlet Knights lead.
"I think that's been our biggest downfall this whole year, just penalties at the wrong time, crucial times during the game," said USF senior linebacker DeDe Lattimore (18 tackles), on the verge of sobs after his college finale.
"Brandon made a great play and we got a penalty."
By halftime, USF had eight penalties and two turnovers. Its only two trips into Rutgers territory during that span ended with short Marvin Kloss field goals.
USF finished with 151 total yards, going without an offensive TD for the sixth contest.
"We've got to fix everything and more important, we've got to fix this offense," said Taggart, who nonetheless insists he won't change his power-run approach. "I don't know what this is. It's not an offense, it's just off."
Meantime, Knights rushing leader Paul James, questionable earlier in the week with a lower leg ailment, gained 113 yards on 26 carries.
James ran 11 times for 51 yards on the game-sealing drive, which he capped with a 1-yard touchdown with 7:24 to go, giving Rutgers a 28-6 lead. By contrast, USF's longest run from scrimmage was a 16-yard scramble by White.
"We've just got to work on executing when there's plays to be executed, and we've got to run the ball, man," USF tight end Mike McFarland said. "We're a power offense."
Question now is, how powerful can they be in 2014?
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3350. Follow him on Twitter at @ TBTimes_Bulls.