As USF begins its 25th season of football, we know where the Bulls have been — from a Division I-AA independent based out of some trailers to a Group of Five program that once reached No. 2 in the country.
But where are the Bulls going? Here are the five stories that will shape the next 25 years (and more) of USF football:
1. Conference realignment
The Bulls are on their third conference (the American Athletic Conference, after stints in Conference USA and the Big East) and have been independents in I-AA and I-A. It’s foolish to predict their league for 2026, let alone 2046. The landscape is too unstable.
USF’s most pressing issue centers on the Big 12, which will be without powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma on or before the 2025 season. The Big 12 may choose to expand. If it does, USF should make another aggressive push to join, just as it did in 2016. If successful, the Bulls would rise from a mid-major conference to a Power Five league, even if the Big 12 has a lot less power than it did two months ago. Other short-term scenarios include the Big 12 doing nothing, the AAC poaching Big 12 schools and the leagues merging.
Another, long-term possibility: The best and biggest football programs break away from the NCAA to form a premier league. In this hypothetical, USF would either have to prove its worth and financial commitment to competing at the highest level, or it would have to accept its role as a mid-tier program.
Regardless, the financial and philosophical impacts of realignment will affect everything else, including …
USF has come a long way from its trailer complex but still has a lot of work to do. The Bulls hope to break ground on an indoor practice facility this fall, about four years after unveiling plans to build one. A football operations center remains in USF’s long-term vision, though it isn’t yet close to becoming a reality.
Though coaches’ claims that new facilities boost recruiting may be overblown, new buildings are a tangible sign of a school’s investment in the program and solve logistical problems — like the daily summer showers. For players, this is the Bulls’ most pressing long-term issue.
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3. On-campus stadium
Athletic director Michael Kelly and coach Jeff Scott both have talked optimistically about building an on-campus stadium … at some point. It would generate a buzz that isn’t possible with the current setup and create a more intimate setting than what the Bulls have now at Raymond James Stadium. It would also cost upwards of $200 million.
That price tag isn’t feasible in the coming months. But over the next 25 years? That’s a different story. Whether and when the Bulls seriously pursue a new stadium will affect everything from recruiting and finances to public perception and realignment.
4. Transfer portal
The NCAA’s recent decision to let athletes transfer once without losing eligibility can be transformative for USF.
The Tampa Bay area and Florida as a whole produce dozens of great recruits that sign elsewhere. Some of them end up unhappy and will want to go closer to home. The Bulls should be an attractive landing spot. That’s already showing, with USF landing nine new transfers from Power Five schools.
If the Bulls can keep adding promising players like TJ Robinson (a Riverview High product who initially signed with Rutgers) while keeping poachers away, they can build one of the most talented rosters in the Group of Five.
The Bulls’ situation would be drastically different if then-president Judy Genshaft and athletic director Doug Woolard had been able to get them into a Power Five league when the Big East crumbled. Kelly and USF’s next president must try to accomplish that task.
Beyond conference affiliation, Scott saw firsthand how Clemson became a powerhouse when its president, athletic director and coach were all aligned. The new president, whenever he/she is hired, will have an enormous role in deciding how committed USF wants to be in athletics. And that will help determine the future of the Bulls’ next 25 years.
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