USF’s messy, at times ugly, but still perfect

USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) makes a catch over Connecticut defensive back Jordan Morrison (29) during the third quarter. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) makes a catch over Connecticut defensive back Jordan Morrison (29) during the third quarter. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Oct. 21, 2018

TAMPA — They're not Alabama. Oh, are they not Alabama.

They might not even be UCF.

The USF Bulls are the least-respected unbeaten team in Division I-A, and they're also second banana in the AAC to those perfect scoundrels 80 miles down I-4.

And they continue to deserve it.

I'd still take being unbeaten.

But USF has messed around all season, with near losses on its way to no losses — imperfect on its way to being perfect. It was no different Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, a 38-30 win over awful UConn, which smacked the No. 21 Bulls in the face and took a 7-0 lead after the first quarter despite having the worst defense in the known galaxy.

Homecoming halftime score: 7-7.

This just in: But USF is 7-0, not 2-5. Okay?

Thing is, we need to be reminded.

The Bulls woke up in the second half, with Blake Barnett hitting Randall St. Felix for a 75-yard touchdown pass to start the third quarter and a 78-yard run from big-night running back Johnny Ford, who later added a 43-yard scoring run and finished with 164 yards and three touchdowns.

But the basic point already had been made.

The Bulls came up against an opponent they could defeat with impunity, but Charlie Strong's guys were again hesitant to oblige, even in their Oregon-wannabe-can't see-the-numbers uniforms.

It's hard to make out which USF is which at times.

This team has a lot of bad habits. It's just that losing games doesn't happen to be one. When the dust cleared Saturday afternoon, there were only six I-A teams with a perfect record going into the night games, and USF was one of them.

You'd maybe prefer being FSU?

Yes, the Bulls are unbeaten.

It just doesn't feel like it yet.

Maybe it's just who they are. The Bulls seem bent on playing down to everyone, including 1-6 UConn. The Huskies are ensconced at the bottom of the AAC East and entered the game giving up a ghastly 53.7 points per game, on pace for a I-A record, and they don't even play Alabama every week. Saturday was the first time all season UConn held an opponent under 49 points.

"First half, offense couldn't get it going," Strong said. "Second half, defense couldn't stop them."

Is USF for real?

The question hangs in the air as much as the showdown with UCF in Tampa the day after Thanksgiving. It's all about parallel tracks until then, these rivals maintaining a collision course.

The schedule says it will be a tough road for USF to be 11-0 for that game, with trips to 6-1 Houston, 6-1 Cincinnati and feisty 5-3 Temple before that.
USF's play to this point is making things difficult. So is its shaky defense.

The Bulls had 605 yards of offense Saturday, but I don't know how they are going to outscore everybody the rest of the way. Running back Jordan Cronkrite has been spectacular, but Barnett has been uneven.

Even that early win over Georgia Tech doesn't look as good with the Yellow Jackets now at the bottom of the ACC.

Some of the Bulls' other wins give you pause. They needed an 80-yard touchdown run by Cronkrite just to beat East Carolina. It took a dying-seconds pass from Barnett to Tyre McCants to set up the winning field goal last week at cellar-dwelling Tulsa.

Maybe that's who they are, the Cardiac Bulls. Maybe we'll laugh and talk about destiny when they're 11-0 and UCF is in town. Hey, you can only beat who is on your plate, and USF has done that.

But why do the Bulls insist on giving us indigestion?

Heading into Saturday, USF had trailed or been tied at halftime in five games. It is not Alabama. It might not even be UCF, though I'm not sure the Knights will make it to the Nov. 23 game as an unbeaten. It's harder to believe USF will reach that game unscathed. It seems to like getting scathed.

The Bulls could get trounced as soon as this coming Saturday against Houston, the same Houston that dashed 7-0 USF hopes last season in Tampa. Then there is Nov. 10 at Cincinnati, though the Bearcats' perfect season ended Saturday at Temple. At Temple is also on the schedule, the week before UCF. There is all of that.

But here is what we know for now: USF is 7-0 for just the third time in school history.

It just doesn't feel like it yet.

What, you'd rather be 3-4?