USF seeks ‘breakthrough moment’ in Saturday’s opener vs. BYU

The football program is trying to pick up its first win against a ranked opponent since 2016.
USF senior running back Jaren Mangham (0) and the Bulls seek their first win against a ranked opponent since 2016 in Saturday's season opener at home against BYU.
USF senior running back Jaren Mangham (0) and the Bulls seek their first win against a ranked opponent since 2016 in Saturday's season opener at home against BYU. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2022

TAMPA — As offseason momentum goes, USF cued up a Quinton Flowers approach: deliberate, dazzling, even a little daring.

The final, figurative brush strokes are being applied to the indoor practice facility. Booster donations have spiked. And the on-campus stadium has evolved from pipe dream to project designs.

All well and good for a program trying to claw its way into the conversation regarding the seismic realignment looming on the collegiate horizon. But nothing moves the needle like a noticeable win.

“We want to make sure that when people look at the landscape of college football, the next time there’s a chance for realignment, we want them to look at South Florida and say, ‘Hey, those guys can compete. Those guys deserve to move up,’” Bulls third-year coach Jeff Scott said Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into that, but probably the No. 1 factor is your winning on the field.”

Which leads to the Bulls’ 2022 opener Saturday at home against No. 25 Brigham Young — the most significant game of the Scott era so far.

More than a ground-breaking ceremony, more than a lavish donation, more than the size of the region’s TV market, big wins against national brands will sway the influencers who ultimately determine which schools will form the future super conferences.

The Bulls, who haven’t defeated a ranked team since 2016, have a plethora of chances to make an on-field impression this year. All four teams moving to the Big 12 in 2023 (BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF) are on the Bulls’ schedule. So are Florida and Louisville.

“I think kind of the word that I’ve been using with our team is, we’re going to have several opportunities this year for those breakthrough moments,” Scott said. “And just for our program to really take that next step, we’ve got to be able to go out and have success versus good teams like BYU.”

Yet a sparkling start to 2022 can’t include the finishes of 2021.

During a four-game stretch last season, the Bulls held second-half leads against three teams — Tulsa, East Carolina and Houston — and lost all three. The most debilitating: a 32-31 home loss to Tulsa, which stuffed the Bulls on fourth-and-2 from the USF 42 with 4:20 to play, then scored the game-winning touchdown nine plays later.

Thanks to a seasoned, fortified roster, the Bulls should be far better equipped to handle stretch runs.

The 18 returning starters (10 offense, eight defense) include the entire first-team offensive line, which has a combined 136 career starts. The smorgasbord of Power Five transfers includes new quarterback Gerry Bohanon, who started 12 games for Big 12 champ Baylor in 2021. The top four rushers and top six tacklers all return.

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“The offseason, winter, spring and summer workouts, and fall camp has been the best that it’s been since I’ve been here, so I have no doubt in my mind that we’re better,” Scott said. “Now how much better, and how that measures up against a very talented, top-25 BYU team coming in, we’ll find out on Saturday.”

A potential breakthrough afternoon for the Bulls.

“As you can see, the indoor (facility), everything is being built,” senior tailback Jaren Mangham said. “It just seems like everything is just a steady progress with this university that’s going up. And I feel like we just have to do our part and go out there and play our tails off and get the results that we want.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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