After losing its first two conference games, USF football’s first season under coach Skip Holtz seemed lost.
But after bouncing back with two straight conference wins, the preseason goal of contending for a Big East championship is alive and well.
USF looks for its third consecutive conference win when it travels to play Louisville on Saturday at noon.
“There’s one team undefeated in this league in Pittsburgh,” Holtz said. “Every other team mathematically still has a chance to win this conference. It’s very uncommon this late in the season that you’ve got every team in the Big East talking about winning the Big East right now. Everybody is if this, then this. If they lose to them and them and we beat them and them, then we can win the league.”
Seven teams, including the Bulls, have exactly two conference losses, while Pittsburgh remains unbeaten in three conference games this season.
Even if the Bulls win their last three conference games, they still need several scenarios to occur to earn their first Big East title.
But just being in the conversation after a dismal start is a win.
“(We have) just a lot of confidence,” sophomore safety Jon Lejiste said. “Winning a Big East game is big for us period, both offensively and defensively. The wins on both sides gives us lots of confidence.”
While USF remains in the hunt for the Big East title, it also needs just one more win to become bowl eligible.
Holtz said the team, which last played Nov. 3 against Rutgers, is trying to stay away from the what-ifs concerning the Big East race.
“The thing we’re trying to emphasize is the one-game season,” he said. “If we don’t beat Louisville, the ifs don’t matter. How hard would you focus if you only had to play one game?”
The Cardinals (5-4, 2-2) are coming off a 28-20 win against Syracuse on Saturday, when they didn’t have their starting quarterback and tailback. Louisville ranks second in the Big East in total offense and first in rushing offense, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns.
“It speaks volumes to the type of depth and talent this team has,” Holtz said. “They have so much firepower. They can run the ball and control the clock.”
With a win, the Bulls would turn what appeared to be a disappointing season into one with more promise. For now, they can enjoy being in the conversation.
“It’s going to create an exciting finish down the stretch,” Holtz said.