Searching for answers

USF is on the verge of another midseason meltdown, and it’s a fact on a number of players’ minds.

“I just pray some teams get two losses so we can move back up,” said USF senior defensive end George Selvie. “That’s a lot of hoping and praying right there, but it can happen. We have to get wins, too.”

But frankly, some – even the younger players – are sick of hearing about it, as it’s been much of the buildup to Saturday’s matchup at 8 p.m. against No. 21 West Virginia at Raymond James Stadium.

“I was here last year watching, and it was frustrating even though I wasn’t out there,” said USF quarterback B.J. Daniels. “It was frustrating to see what the players, coaches and team go through. People in the surrounding communities don’t know how frustrating it is until they’re actually in our shoes. It’s hard on us.”

Though a Big East title for the Bulls (5-2, 1-2) seems less likely each week, USF coach Jim Leavitt said a victory over a rival could revitalize some confidence in the team.

“I think it’s exciting. You know, we’ve lost against two real good teams,” he said. “The bottom line for me is playing good football. A team beats you, they beat you – but I want to play good football. Just give ourselves a chance and see what happens.”

USF never really gave itself a chance the last two weeks because of penalties and lack of discipline on both sides of the ball, Leavitt said.

Last week, the then-No. 20 Pittsburgh Panthers did “whatever they wanted,” Selvie said.

There have been a number of problems in the past two games: pass rushing, pass coverage and penalties, but Selvie said there’s something the team needs to remember.

“Just go out there and play hard and go have fun,” Selvie said. “Just get back to that football we were playing in the beginning of the year, just being a dominant defense and an offense that makes explosive plays.”

The Bulls will have to deal with one of the best running backs in the country for the second straight week. This time it’s West Virginia’s Noel Devine, who ranks seventh in the country in rushing yards and is tied for 11th in rushing touchdowns. USF gave up 111 yards to Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis, also one of the nation’s leading rushers, last week.

Like Lewis, Devine can create havoc on the defense’s perimeter, said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.

“We have to make sure he stays inside. Be patient and make sure he cuts back to where the rest of the defenders are,” he said. “You have to play your gap.”

USF has two wins over West Virginia in the last three years, including a 21-13 victory when the Mountaineers were No. 5 in the country during the 2007 season.

After that win, which many considered the biggest in school history, USF went on to lose three of its next five, including three straight in the Big East. The same story ensued last year, when USF lost four of its last five conference games after being ranked as high No. 10 in the country.

“We can’t really look back at the last few years,” said junior wide receiver Carlton Mitchell. “This team isn’t the same as those two teams. We’re another team and it’s another situation – another schedule. We can’t control that. We can control what happens now.”

Controlling its own destiny in the Big East is no longer an option, however, and USF is trying to avoid a three-game losing streak for the third year in a row.

USF has never ended a season with less than three losses, a goal still attainable, and the Bulls can still make their fifth consecutive bowl appearance with two more victories.

“The things that people are going to say: ‘Oh, this is the third year in a row,'” said Daniels of the past few seasons. “I don’t think so at all. We still have our opportunity to finish strong and come out with some key victories.”