The USF football team is, mercifully, off this weekend. Question is, should the Bulls’ decision-makers remain idle as well?
The Bulls (1-6, 0-3 AAC) find themselves several rungs below relevant as deliberations over coach Jeff Scott’s job status rage within the fan base. USF is 4-24 on his watch, and his third season has been far more bust than breakthrough, despite one of the league’s most experienced rosters.
Though an outbreak of injuries, one hurricane and a tough non-conference schedule have conspired to sabotage the season, some insist those factors don’t totally excuse the onfield performance.
Which leads us to this crossroads: Should USF make a coaching change, or does Scott deserve one more season?
We’re not advocating for either. Instead, we’ve simply laid out the rationale, for and against.
The case for another year
Though USF’s record is unacceptable, it requires context, beginning with a schedule ranked as the 36th toughest in the nation, according to the Sagarin Ratings. Despite being down a dozen players with starting experience, USF has risen from No. 110 in ESPN’s SP+ advanced metrics (last year) to 109th (last month) to No. 96 (this week). That’s not good enough, but it’s progress.
Remember, too, that coaching changes come with risks and costs. Scott’s full buyout is unknown, but USF owed his predecessor, Charlie Strong, almost $3.2 million. Whatever the exact figure, the money could be better spent on infrastructure upgrades. Athletic director Michael Kelly, notably, has called Scott a “fundraising partner.” That’s critical, too, as USF pursues an on-campus stadium that’s bigger than any coach or season.
If USF fired Scott this fall, his replacement would be the Bulls’ fifth in 15 seasons. Compare that turnover with No. 21 Cincinnati and sixth-year coach Luke Fickell. Or Tulane, which is ranked in Willie Fritz’s seventh season. Or Conference USA contender North Texas, which stuck with coach Seth Littrell after three consecutive losing seasons. Will “continuing to push reset,” as Scott put it recently, make the Bulls relevant or put them farther behind?
Hitting reset again would also send an unwelcome message to potential hiring targets. Would you want a job that fired three of its last four coaches after three seasons each — including one (Scott) who was hamstrung for a year because of the pandemic? Even if Scott doesn’t work out, an extra year might help the perception around USF, potentially strengthening the candidate pool in next year’s coaching carousel.
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The case against another year
On a mid-August day inside an Armature Works banquet hall, Scott and USF president Rhea Law took turns at a podium doing their darndest to stoke an audience of more than 500 boosters at the USF Kickoff Luncheon.
But less than three weeks later, all that fervor and froth had been vanquished in one fell sweep. Or more specifically, a jet sweep.
On the first play of the first game of 2022, Brigham Young receiver Puka Nacua went in motion, took a handoff from quarterback Jaren Hall, dashed around the left edge of USF’s defense and raced nearly untouched near the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
Before halftime, the Cougars already had built a 38-0 lead.
Injuries can’t explain away that debacle. At that point, USF was at its healthiest.
While the Bulls appear poised to set a program single-season record for X-rays, the comprehensive scan of this team reveals a condition far more chronic and concerning: Players not being adequately prepared for the opposition.
In 12 of Scott’s 25 games against Division I-A opposition, USF has trailed by two or more scores at the end of the first quarter. Three weeks after the BYU embarrassment, in a 41-3 loss at Louisville, the Bulls entered halftime down 28-0. By then, Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham had gone nearly untouched on scoring runs of 40, 35 and 8 yards.
“(Cunningham) is just an outstanding player,” Scott said afterward. “And though we had them in some third and longs, they went to the speed option and we didn’t have our guys in the right position, and then we didn’t tackle well.”
A week later against East Carolina, veteran Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers upstaged Cunningham, throwing for 465 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-28 romp. The Pirates led 41-7 at halftime.
“Obviously something is not connecting, especially in the first half,” Scott said afterward.
See a trend here? By Scott’s own admission, his staff’s message isn’t resonating, and his players aren’t being put in a position to succeed. As a result, USF remains one of four teams without a Division I-A triumph this year.
In fairness, the Bulls were displaced days by the effects of Hurricane Ian days before the East Carolina contest, which was moved to Boca Raton. Perhaps a win would have been a tall order in such circumstances. But a 34-point deficit at halftime? Against a middling conference opponent?
After inheriting a barren roster from Strong, Scott appeared to have replenished well enough to withstand inevitable attrition. As a result, this fall was projected as a turning point.
It has reached a tipping point instead. The Bulls fans bursting with hope at that August luncheon weren’t prepared for that type of reality.
Clearly, they weren’t the only ones who came out unprepared this fall.
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