It took the University of South Florida’s football program six consecutive victories – including two against ranked teams – to become a blip on the radar of college football. It only took three short weeks and three consecutive losses, all in Big East play, for the Bulls to become another average college football team.
For all the work the Bulls did early in the season to climb up to the No. 2 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), it didn’t take long for USF to ruin its progress in making a name for itself nationwide. The Bulls went from being the darlings of college football with an opportunity to play for the national championship to proving all their critics right, dropping out of every poll with their recent loss to Cincinnati on Saturday.
USF isn’t a bad football team, but the Bulls have nobody but themselves to blame for their recent struggles. Coach Jim Leavitt believes the reason they have lost three in a row is because of turnovers. He feels that if USF limits the turnovers, the Bulls will get back to winning games.
“What is it, around 19 the last three games? If you add them up, I don’t know how many it is. You can’t win,” Leavitt said. “I don’t see many people that do. I mean, the last game we had a play at the end of the game. For us to be in the position we are to win is extraordinary to me … Most coaches will say if you turn the ball over that many times you know you’re going to have a hard time winning. And we came close in all three of them, even with the turnovers.”
Leavitt might be right: the Bulls have won only one game this season – against Florida Atlantic – when not winning the turnover battle, but they also lost to Rutgers on the road despite winning the turnover battle.
The reason for the Bulls’ three-game losing streak, however, is the plays that weren’t made to capture a victory in the last three weeks. At Rutgers, USF got a big catch from wide receiver Amarri Jackson but was called for a pass interference penalty, which took the Bulls out of field goal range and kept them from tying the game.
The defeat at Connecticut was full of plays that could have been made offensively, but the ones that stick out were in the fourth quarter. A holding penalty by tight end Cedric Hill negated a touchdown run by running back Mike Ford. Hill had an opportunity to redeem himself late in the fourth quarter, but dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone.
The loss last week against the Bearcats can be blamed on the eight turnovers in the contest, the one blocked punt and the 31 points given up in the first half. However, after all of that, the Bulls still had a chance to capture the victory, but again couldn’t make a play at the end of the game. Quarterback Matt Grothe hit wide receiver Carlton Mitchell in the corner of the end zone, but he just couldn’t come down with the reception.
So the reason for the losing streak isn’t solely that the Bulls have had too many turnovers (actually 11). Despite all the turnovers in the past three games, USF has had an opportunity to tie or win every time, but just couldn’t make the plays at crucial times.
The Bulls should be 9-0 right now, ranked No. 2 in the BCS and worrying about winning the Big East and playing for a national title. However, as former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are,” and the Bulls are 6-3, hanging on to their hopes of ending this losing streak and trying to capture a third consecutive bowl berth.
This isn’t a bad football team, but it will take a long time to repair the damage of a three-game losing streak that has dropped USF off college football’s radar.
Charles Gonzalez was a staff writer and columnist for the Oracle for 1 1/2 years and currently works for Pewter Report magazine covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.