It would be difficult for anyone to doubt that last season was a dream for USF football. It took only six years to garner national attention and an impressive 9-2 record against Division I-A opponents. But with the Bulls’ absence from a bowl game and the graduation of such cornerstones as quarterback Marquel Blackwell and middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell, many cried that the dream was over.
However, I’m not one of them. Look at the situation. Last season, the Bulls had no conference affiliation to help them get a bowl bid. Even with the rarity of at-large bids in college football, the Bulls almost secured one, an amazing feat for a young, independent school.
This season, the Bulls are a full member of Conference USA. If the team can compile a record similar to last year’s, a bowl bid would be a likely scenario.
The schedule, like 2002, has the Bulls pitted against strong opponents. In all honesty, the only likely losses could come against perennial powerhouse Alabama and possibly Louisville. Facing schools like Nicholls State and Army should give the Bulls an excellent chance to be 9-2 again.
But the schedule is not what worries most fans. The biggest question is how the Bulls can replace Blackwell and Mitchell, the impact players on both sides of the ball. Maybe first it would be wise to remember who is returning.
The entire offensive line and all four running backs return. On defense, Lee Roy Selmon Jr., is returning from injury, and Maurice Jones, Terrence Royal and Courtney Davenport all have another year of experience.
But what about the quarterback? Blackwell lit a fire under USF football that vaulted the entire program into success. His successor, Ronnie Banks, is going to take over the same no-huddle spread offense that Blackwell perfected. Banks has earned a vote of confidence from the coaching staff, and I remember the one bright spot of last year’s Oklahoma game was when Banks tossed two touchdown passes to avoid a shutout.
The Bulls have the right things going for them this season. While last season was an uphill battle, this season they have C-USA perks and an experienced squad to take the field. It’s not time to bury the Bulls. Life without Blackwell and Mitchell will not be as much of a trial as many seem to think.