1. Sports
  2. /
  3. USF Bulls

Four reasons USF still can reach a bowl game

After going 3-1 in October, the Bulls have provided a sliver of postseason hope to their fans
BYU linebacker Max Tooley (31) tackles USF Bulls running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) during the second half of the Bulls' 27-23 win in Tampa in October. Cronkrite ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
BYU linebacker Max Tooley (31) tackles USF Bulls running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) during the second half of the Bulls' 27-23 win in Tampa in October. Cronkrite ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 29, 2019

TAMPA ― A season that seemed poised to flatline by mid-October still has a stable pulse.

Thanks to its October resurgence, USF (4-4, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) enters the regular season’s final month still pursuing bowl eligibility. Considering the schedule’s brutal back end (Temple, No. 17 Cincinnati, No. 24 Memphis, UCF), the Bulls’ odds of December football remain long, but at least they’ve given fans reasons to believe.

Here are four of them.

1. The run game has resurfaced

USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) runs past East Carolina defensive back Colby Gore (26) during the Bulls' 45-20 triumph Saturday. [GREG THOMPSON/ICON SPORTSWIRE | Icon Sportswire]

Instead of overhauling the offensive line after a dreadful start, USF’s coaches opted for just one significant tweak: moving senior Billy Atterbury and sophomore Donovan Jennings back to their natural spots at right guard and left tackle, respectively.

That move, combined with some public challenges of the veterans, has resulted in a reborn run game. Senior Jordan Cronkrite, limited to 76 yards on 33 carries in his first four games, has 511 on 75 handoffs (6.81 yards per carry) in his last four.

Even in the Bulls’ lone October embarrassment, a 35-3 loss at Navy, Cronkrite still managed 76 yards on 17 carries (4.47 ypc) against the AAC’s top run defense. It’s also worth noting two of the Bulls’ last four foes (Temple, Memphis) give up more than 160 rushing yards a game.

“Whenever we’re able to be physical and run the football,” coach Charlie Strong said, “it just shows who our team is.”

MORE BULLS: Three takeaways from USF’s romp at East Carolina

2. The four-legged quarterback

USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) runs with the ball as Navy safety Kevin Brennan (10) tries to stop him during the first half of Navy's 35-3 victory in Annapolis on Oct. 19. [JULIO CORTEZ | AP]

An injury-decimated team that seemed on its last legs at quarterback now suddenly has two fresh ones. Freshman Jah’Quez Evans dazzled ― if not dominated ― as the wildcat option at quarterback at East Carolina, darting his way to 99 yards (including a 34-yard scoring run) on only six carries.

“He does a great job wherever he is,” Cronkrite said after Saturday’s game. “He goes from receiver to quarterback in practice; he just sticks with it and has a great attitude about it. He gives us a different dynamic and it’s great to have.”

All 99 of Evans’ yards occurred in the first half, before starter Jordan McCloud exited with a mild ankle injury. McCloud, meantime, finished 9-for-12 for 102 yards and two TDs in that span, running for 49 yards of his own.

Translation: The tandem kept ECU woefully off-balance. No reason to believe Kerwin Bell won’t continue interspersing Evans into the game plan moving forward.

3. The Bulls force turnovers

USF senior defensive end Greg Reaves (4) had an interception Saturday at East Carolina, his third takeaway of the season. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

After collecting two more takeaways (one interception, one fumble) at ECU, the Bulls now rank first nationally with 20 takeaways. That figure would be more impactful if they hadn’t committed 13 turnovers of their own (for a plus-0.88 margin).

Still, anyone who manages 2½ takeaways per contest will find themselves in most ― most ― contests.

4. Any given Saturday (or Thursday)

College football’s capricious nature is arguably is one of its most endearing qualities. Show of hands: How many envisioned USF clawing its way back to 4-4 after that SMU debacle?

Bottom line: It’s a long season, and a team’s fortunes can fluctuate both drastically and dramatically. Temple (5-3, 2-2) was on the fringe of the AP top 25 before surrendering nearly 1,300 total yards in lop-sided losses to SMU and UCF.

Meantime, Memphis (7-1, 3-1) is hosting ESPN’s College GameDay this week only because a Tulsa kicker missed a chip-shot field goal to preserve the Tigers’ 42-41 victory.

The Owls and Tigers come to Tampa on Nov. 7 and 23, respectively. Both games represent daunting challenges for USF, but not insurmountable ones like Cincy and UCF (in Orlando) appear to be.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls


  1. Connecticut's Jalen Gaffney (0) and South Florida's David Collins (0) battle for a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
  2. USF guard Laquincy Rideau drives to the basket between Houston's Nate Hinton, left, and Fabian White during a game on Jan. 26, 2020, in Houston.
  3. USF athletic director Michael Kelly (left) and first-year football coach Jeff Scott have confirmed the Bulls' spring football game will remain on campus. [JOEY KNIGHT | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
  4. USF coach Brian Gregory's club dropped its third consecutive game Thursday, falling 65-55 at Wichita State.
  5. Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) smashes into LSU Tigers safety John Battle (26) in the second quarter. (Bronte Wittpenn, Times)
  6. BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times
Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) catches the ball near the end zone in the third quarter in a game against LSU at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, October 6, 2018.
  7. USF defensive back Mike Hampton (7), returning an interception during the 2018 season opener, will help lead the Bulls through what could be the American Athletic Conference's toughest schedule in 2020.
  8. USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls have only one open date in the 2020 season. USF's complete 2020 schedule was finalized Tuesday.
  9. Former USF coach Charlie Strong (left), greeting Alabama coach Nick Saban at a 2017 summer football camp on the Bulls campus, reportedly has joined Saban's staff in an analyst role.
  10. Connecticut's Megan Walker, left, drives past USF's Shae Leverett during the second half of the Huskies' 67-47 triumph Sunday at the Yuengling Center. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
  11. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma brings his team to the Yuengling Center for the final time as an American Athletic Conference member today.
  12. USF coach Brian Gregory, pacing the sideline during a January game at the Yuengling Center, watched his team score only 11 first-half points in Saturday's 56-48 loss to Tulsa. [OCTAVIO JONES | TAMPA BAY TIMES]