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Why USF football believes Bulls are poised to break through in 2022

Receiver Xavier Weaver: “Ready for y’all to see the new Bulls.”
USF coach Jeff Scott thinks the Bulls could have some breakthrough games in 2022.
USF coach Jeff Scott thinks the Bulls could have some breakthrough games in 2022. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Aug. 1

The most satisfying triumphs for USF coach Jeff Scott aren’t always the biggest ones. They’re the ones that follow months of accumulated adversity, after a team builds and builds and builds until finally breaking through.

“I feel like this team is prepared to be able to experience those this year,” Scott said.

Related: As USF’s on-campus stadium takes shape, Tampa companies aim to benefit

The adversity, clearly, has piled up through Scott’s first two seasons, from the pandemic robbing the first-time head coach of his pivotal first offseason to a 3-18 record that features only one Division I-A victory (over Temple last year).

But why should USF enter spring camp Wednesday believing it’s ready for a breakthrough? Start with the close calls that defined last season.

The Bulls lost to BYU by eight after letting the Cougars drain the final five and a half minutes. They led Tulsa with 4:20 left, trailed Houston by a score in the last three minutes and had two chances inside the 5 to knock off UCF in Orlando.

USF quarterback Timmy McClain and the Bulls came up just short against UCF last season.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain and the Bulls came up just short against UCF last season. [ WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Orlando Sentinel via Associated Press ]

Those defeats were failures caused by some combination of questionable coaching decisions, defensive collapses and miscues on offense and special teams. But they might also have been necessary steps for a program still learning how to win. If nothing else, they were improvements from the blowouts that marred 2020.

“There’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to work through, but times of adversity are really where you grow the most …” Scott said during last week’s AAC media day. “It kind of creates some scars for you that are really good for your future and for the things that are coming.”

Related: AAC commissioner: ‘Something important is being lost’ in conference realignment

The scars are obviously in place. Scott believes the stars are, too.

He said this is “definitely going to be the most talented team” of his tenure. The Bulls return four of their five leading tacklers, their top three receivers, their top two running backs, all five starters on the offensive line and consensus All-American returner Brian Battie.

Star returner Brian Battie (21) is one of the reasons for optimism at USF.
Star returner Brian Battie (21) is one of the reasons for optimism at USF. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

But much of the optimism on campus centers on the newcomers from one of the best transfer classes in the Group of Five. Even if Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon doesn’t beat out incumbent Timmy McClain for the starting quarterback job, he’ll add leadership and depth to the position. USF repaired a problematic defensive line with eight additions, including Rashad Cheney (Minnesota), Jatorian Hansford (Missouri) and three-star prospect Eddie Kelly (one of USF’s biggest recruiting coups in years).

Related: Why three-star recruit Eddie Kelly can be USF’s C.J. Spiller

“I’m so grateful for each and every one of them that came in …” linebacker Antonio Grier said. “Overall, man, we’re stacked.”

Though stacked is a stretch, the Bulls’ roster has been upgraded. The intangibles have been, too.

This time last year, Scott talked up the team’s cultural transformation. He said he has seen even more progress this offseason as players understand his expectations and what it takes to win at this level. The issues he noticed in Year 1 and 2 are dwindling.

“It’s been completely different in that respect,” Scott said.

Those differences almost certainly won’t be enough for USF to challenge Houston, Cincinnati or UCF for conference supremacy. The roster and schedule aren’t set up for that kind of a push in Year 3 of a long-term rebuild.

Related: What’s the best Florida college football game this season?

But the changes should be enough to make bowl eligibility — and a breakthrough win or two — seem like realistic goals on the eve of preseason camp.

“I’m ready to be a part of the program and be a part of this program while we’re about to change it …” receiver Xavier Weaver said. “Ready for y’all to see the new Bulls.”

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