There is a different feeling around the USF football team this week.
Smiles revealing outward confidence have faded — even the outlandish mohawks a few players were wearing have been cut. The Bulls are a different team since South Carolina embarrassed them 34-3 Saturday.
Or so they hope.
“You got to step up or you’re going to get replaced,” senior running back Clenton Crossley said. “It can’t go on like this. It just can’t happen. Somebody is going to step up and take it on themselves.”
USF, which opens conference play Saturday at TCU, has come back after lopsided defeats before.
In each of the past four years, after the Bulls have lost by at least 23 points the team has won the majority of its remaining schedule.
But this season is different. It’s not the same kind of schedule USF has enjoyed in the past.
Back-to-back the Bulls play the Horned Frogs and Southern Miss, who both beat USF last season and are the only two teams to finish higher in Conference USA in 2003. Then, after a game against Army, USF plays at UAB, who beat the Bulls 22-19 in the final home game of the season a year ago at Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s definitely going to be a brutal stretch,” team co-captain Lee Roy Selmon Jr said. “They’re definitely going to all be very physical ballgames.”
Despite Saturday’s loss, USF feels like it can start fresh with the conference schedule.
“The main thing that our coach told us after the game,” Selmon said, “was we lost, and we didn’t want to lose, but as far as our goals and what we want to achieve this year, really, the loss means nothing. We can definitely bounce back from it and learn from it before conference play because the conference championship is still attainable. We’re just 1-1 right now.”
For now, all focus is on beating TCU. The Horned Frogs were ranked as high as sixth in the BCS rankings last season. They finished the year ranked 24th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and 25th by Associated Press.
“I think it’s very important (to beat TCU),” Selmon said. “Especially off of a loss like we took last week. We want to bounce back. We didn’t play like we could or we should have last week.”
The Bulls look to pay back the Horned Frogs after they snapped USF’s 21-game winning streak at home, which was, at the time, the nation’s second-longest home-game winning streak.
Crossley just wants to get a win.
“Regardless of what the schedule is, you’ve got to play,” Crossley said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We’ve got to execute.”
Coach Jim Leavitt added, “We’ll just take it one game at a time and focus in on TCU and see if we can play some good football. I think that’s important. The wins will come if you play good football but we need to play good football all the way around.”
The USF offense, which ranks 115 out of 117 schools, has only scored two touchdowns this season and both came with great field position.
“Offensively,” Leavitt said, “we need to get in the end zone. We all know that and we’re not doing it. We have to find a way to do that.”
In 2003, USF nearly came back, but lost to TCU 13-10. TCU beat Northwestern to open the season and followed with a win over SMU. Last week the Horned Frogs lost to Texas Tech 70-35.