TAMPA — Here we stand at the halfway point of USF's season, with nary half a clue of where the Bulls appear destined.
Peach Bowl or a pedestrian one? At this juncture, who can say? The No. 21 Bulls may be unbeaten (6-0) but they're hardly unblemished, struggling for the last month to piece together four solid quarters against mostly inferior opposition.
The answers should come swiftly after Saturday night's homecoming game against hapless Connecticut. USF's final five opponents, which include No. 10 UCF and No. 20 Cincinnati, are a combined 23-8.
Here's our midseason review of the Bulls, based on the current body of work.
TB Jordan Cronkrite: Imagine just how southward the Bulls' season plummets if Cronkrite doesn't burst free for an 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run against East Carolina (a 20-13 win) or a 66-yarder at Tulsa (25-24 victory). In a year when the Bulls' backfield depth has been depleted by injuries, this University of Florida transfer has emerged as a three-down force of nature. He enters the UConn game ranked third in Division I-A in rushing yards per game (151.4).
49-38 win against Georgia Tech: Trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter against the most sturdy foe (to date) on their schedule, the Bulls rallied for three TDs in the final 12:11. Tech's trademark triple option got its yards, but USF's defense forced two turnovers in the final period. Tack on Terrence Horne's consecutive kickoff returns for TDs, and you've got USF's most exhilarating afternoon of '18 — so far.
20-13 win against East Carolina: The Pirates, American Athletic Conference bottom-feeders in recent years, literally had been displaced by Hurricane Florence, living and practicing in Orlando prior to this game. Seemingly galvanized by their circumstances, they sacked Blake Barnett six times and held the listless Bulls to their fewest number of offensive plays (52) since 2015. Cronkrite's 80-yard scoring dash with 10:13 to play saved the night.
Less than six months ago, Barnett wasn't even on the Bulls' roster. Today, the journeyman quarterback stands as a model of poise and, at times, proficiency. Barnett ranks third in the AAC in total offense (282.3 ypg) and has shown a mobility belying his 6-foot-5 frame. His sack total's a bit high (USF allows 2.67 per game), though that may be attributed as much to coverage (the Bulls can be predictable with their routes) as spotty protection. Regardless, Barnett always seems to shine in the clutch, as evidenced by Friday's fourth quarter at Tulsa.
Even considering all the replenishing the Bulls had to do on their defensive front, few could've expected the run defense to struggle so mightily. USF is allowing 214 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 10th in the AAC and 113th nationally. Georgia Tech's run proficiency (419 yards) was expected. Not so much with I-AA Elon and Illinois, who gashed the Bulls for 192 and 212 yards, respectively. Even Tulsa found gaping holes in critical moments Friday.
Most intriguing game left
While the Bulls clearly have a score to settle with Houston, which staged a furious, fluky rally (see fourth-and-24) last season in Tampa; no game looms larger than UCF on Black Friday. Even if this contest has no bearing on the AAC East outcome, it remains colossal to USF for obvious reasons. Granted, last year's thriller (a 49-42 Knights win) will be hard to replicate, but if Godfather Part II taught us anything, it's that sequels can be classic too.
Really hard to say. The Bulls haven't delivered a complete game in weeks, but have gotten away with it due to the quality (or lack thereof) of their competition. If they stumble out of the gate against any of their upcoming opponents, the season could go south in a hurry.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.