South Florida has shown some fight in defeat, but the Bulls have to eventually demonstrate that they can be winners, or at least approach the .500 level.
USF, which plays its home games at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, hasn’t been much of a factor in the American Athletic Conference since QB Quinton Flowers played his final season in 2017.
With the dual-threat Flowers, the Bulls went 10-2 in 2016 under Willie Taggert and 10-2 in 2017 under Charlie Strong.
It’s appropriate to pause and point out what a great college career Flowers had. As a junior, he rushed for 1,530 yards (7.7 avg.) and 18 TDs while completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,812 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year. His senior year wasn’t as strong, but Flowers was still highly effective. As a senior in 2017, he rushed for 1,078 yards (5.5 avg.) and 11 touchdowns and completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 2,911 yards, 25 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
He was a great college player, who never made it in the NFL as a running back, but that shouldn’t detract from how much success he had at USF. It shows how much a franchise quarterback can do for a program.
The Bulls went 7-6 the next year in 2018 under Strong. Since then, USF has produced an 8-31 record, including 1-5 this year.
With all the advantages of being in one of the top high school football states around, one would think USF shouldn’t be down for so long. Even getting the leftovers that Miami, Florida State, and Florida don’t recruit, there is still plenty of talent in the Sunshine State.
This year there are some silver linings, so to speak, and one came this past week in a 28-24 loss at Cincinnati. That is a Cincinnati team that just earned its 30th straight home win and 18th consecutive AAC victory. The Bearcats entered the game with a No. 24 ranking. A year after becoming the first G5 team to earn a College Football Playoff berth, Cincinnati (5-1) is still a quality team.
This was not a misleading score. USF led 24-21 after Gerry Bohanon hit Xavier Weaver with a 16-yard scoring pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Then trailing 28-24, USF got to the Cincinnati 25-yard line but was stopped on a 4th-and-1 play with 5:12 left.
At that point, Cincinnati said “Enough with this” and ran out the clock.
Earlier this season, USF lost to then No. 18 ranked Florida 31-28. While not a power, Florida (4-2) just beat a Missouri team that scared the living daylights out of Georgia the previous week.
In other words, USF went toe-to-toe with a quality (but inconsistent) SEC team.
USF also lost its opener, 50-21 at home to then No. 25 BYU.
So the schedule has been tough and going 0-3 against three teams that were ranked at the time they played USF is no disgrace. Plus the fact that two of the games were highly competitive speaks well for a USF team that is awfully banged up. USF entered the game against Cincinnati missing eight starters.
Besides Cincinnati, the other AAC loss was 48-28 to East Carolina, a more than respectable, but far from a powerhouse team.
So there is the big question – how many wins can anybody foresee on the rest of the schedule? The answer appears to be not many.
This week, USF hosts Tulane, a team that has gotten off to a 2-0 AAC start, with wins over East Carolina and Houston. After that, the Bulls get a well-needed bye. Then the rest of the schedule is as follows – at Houston, at Temple, SMU, at Tulsa, and home against UCF.
Any more than two wins out of the remaining schedule would be a pleasant surprise.
Coach Jeff Scott, just 4-23 in his third season at USF, needs to find a modern-day Flowers.
Bohanon, who has another year of eligibility next season, is the quarterback now. He is a transfer from Baylor and is a dual threat, rushing for more than 100 yards against both Florida and Cincinnati. His passing could use some refinement, with a 55.6 completion percentage, six interceptions, and five TD passes.
He was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last season, throwing 18 touchdown passes and rushing for nine more, but had a much better supporting cast on a 12-2 Baylor team.
Bohanon has been up and down, sort of mirroring the performance of a team that has fared well in defeat but is still looking for a big win or two.