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Battle-tested USF staying positive despite 1-4 start

Only one other FBS team (Arkansas) has played four opponents currently ranked in the AP top 25.
“We’ve got to go harder," said USF defensive lineman Thad Mangum. "We’re right there, but we’ve got to get over the hump.”
“We’ve got to go harder," said USF defensive lineman Thad Mangum. "We’re right there, but we’ve got to get over the hump.” [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Oct. 15

TAMPA — In its first five games, USF has flown 7,000-plus miles, been beaten by four teams currently ranked in the top 25 and suffered excruciating injuries while compiling a 1-4 record.

Yet, there remains hope for the remaining seven games.

“Our season is not going to be determined by our first five games,” USF coach Jeff Scott said this week. “Our success will be determined by our next seven games. We’re going to be playing teams we match up better against. Right now, all we know is we haven’t played well enough over four quarters to upset teams that were favored by an average of 24 points.”

The possibilities begin with Saturday’s home game against Tulsa following one of the roughest stretches in all of college football: losses to ranked North Carolina State (No. 22), Florida (20), BYU (19) and SMU (23). Only one other team in the 130-member FBS division (Arkansas) has played four opponents currently ranked in the AP top 25.

The more forgiving upcoming stretch gives USF a chance to start building some momentum.

“Our goal is to win every game, and we’re not happy about our record,” Scott said. “We’re not going to come up with excuses, but we have to be real about the situation. We could’ve (played) a couple of other teams and been 4-1 right now. Physically, we might’ve been the same team, but mentally we might’ve felt a little bit better about where we are.

“Ultimately for us to get over the hump, we can’t make excuses. We have to realize that is going to make us better down the road. We can’t allow these losses to create doubt and negative energy. I’m definitely not happy with our record, but I am pleased with how the guys have responded to these challenging games.”

Tulsa will arrive in Tampa with a 2-4 record (1-1 in the AAC). But, like USF (1-4, 0-1), the Golden Hurricane haven’t played a bunch of patsies, either. Two of Tulsa’s losses came to No. 6 Ohio State (41-20) and No. 12 Oklahoma State (28-23), and both were relatively close in the third quarter.

“You might look at Tulsa’s record and think one thing,” Scott said. “But then you put on the tape and see that they are better than that. They’ve got almost everybody back from a team that played for a (conference) championship. They’ve got a lot of guys back who have played a lot of ball. The big message to our team is to stay committed to the process. Ultimately, that’s how it’s going to translate into wins on the game field and the success we all want.”

Despite the losses, USF’s players have stayed positive, and their effort has been consistent They believe better days are ahead.

“Like they always said when I was growing up, it gets greater later,” said defensive lineman Thad Mangum, a 24-year-old in his seventh season of college football (the first five at FCS Wofford). “We’ve been through some tough games against quality opponents. We know when the time comes we’ll be better prepared against our next opponent. And we always emphasize that the most important game is the next game.”

It should help that four of USF’s next five games are at home, including Temple (3-3), Tulane (1-5), Houston (5-1) and Cincinnati (5-0). The only away game during that stretch is Oct. 28 at East Carolina (3-3).

Meanwhile, the off week has helped some players heal from injuries, most notably cornerbacks T.J. Robinson and Jalen Herring, who are expected to return Saturday to bolster a depleted secondary.

“So now let’s go play well,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, the choice is ours, the coaching staff and the players. Are we going to allow those first five games to make us stronger and hungrier and better, or are we going to allow them to bring us down, lose confidence and go through the motions?

“Ultimately, it’s a decision everybody has to make each and every day. Right now, I’m pleased with the decision our guys are making. These guys are staying together pretty good.”

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