Setting the stage: Bulls host Cuse in Big East opener

For USF coach Skip Holtz, how his team responds to a win or loss is more important than the actual result.

But surely, he said, responding to a win is ideal.

USF looks to extend its two-game winning streak against Syracuse on Saturday at noon at Raymond James Stadium in each team’s Big East opener.

“Obviously, I think it’s important because these are the games that carry the residual effect,” Holtz said. “These are the ones that determine what bowl game you’re going to play, where you finish in the conference. Everybody’s fighting for conference championships. I think it’s important, but I don’t think the loser is out of the race. I’d much rather be responding to a win than a loss this week.”

For the Bulls, a win simply means not losing ground in the Big East race, while a loss would push them to the bottom half of the conference, which by most accounts is wide open this season.

“You always want to get that first one,” senior defensive end David Bedford said. “The ultimate goal – yes, we wanted to beat Florida – but at the end of the day, we knew that that game was just preparing us for the Big East. It’s all about the Big East. That’s what we’re stressing around here, winning that first one and trying to get on the right track.”

A loss to Syracuse at home means the Bulls could very well start 0-3 in conference play. USF then has consecutive road trips to West Virginia and Cincinnati, which are arguably the conference’s top two teams, before hosting Rutgers, a team the Bulls have struggled with in recent years, on Nov. 3.

“I just think there’s some heightened awareness that every game is crucial now, it means something,” defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “Not that the other ones didn’t, but every game from here on out dictates what happens in this race for the Big East championship.”

The Orange (3-1) are led by sophomore quarterback Ryan Nassib, who leads the conference in passing efficiency (151.8 rating, nine touchdowns and two interceptions) and senior running back Delone Carter, who’s averaging 105 rushing yards per game this season after producing a 1,021-yard effort last season.

The Bulls, meanwhile, are coming off a record-tying eight-sack performance by their defense last week in a 31-3 win against Florida Atlantic.

“I thought defensively, we looked like a top 25 football team with some of the things we did,” Holtz said. “Offensively, we were much better, but we’re still a long ways away from being where we need to be to execute at that high level.”

Holtz knows that the season won’t be gone without growing pains.

“You never know what your chances, and that’s why you go play the game,” he said. “We’re going to set the same goals this year that we’re going to have five years from now. We may be more prepared to handle them five years from now than we are today. It’s going to be a challenge for us this year. Let’s go play the game.”