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Bulls’ backs against the wall with No. 22 Navy on Friday

Junior linebacker and captain of the defense Auggie Sanchez (left) will be tasked with defending a Navy offense that has averaged nearly 300 rushing yards per game with quarterback Will Worth (right) as the starter. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Beginning with USF’s 45-24 win over Syracuse in its 2015 homecoming game, the Bulls went on a streak in which they won the rest of their regular season games with the exception of one — a 29-17 loss at Navy on Oct. 31. 

That stumble proved to be fatal to USF’s hopes of playing in the conference championship game, as Temple won the East division with a one-game lead over the Bulls, even after the Owls lost to them 44-23 on Nov. 14 at Raymond James Stadium. 

In 2016, USF (6-2, 3-1) finds itself in a similar position, as it sits behind Temple for the division lead with No. 22 Navy coming to play the Bulls on Friday at 7 p.m.

While it remains only one game in the grand scheme of a three-month-long season, Friday represents a make-or-break opportunity of sorts for USF. 

Reeling from a 16-point loss to Temple last Friday, USF coach Willie Taggart said his team is sticking to his mantra of taking the season one game at a time, no matter how dire the circumstances.

“After the loss, we were ticked off,” Taggart said. “I think after any loss you get a little ticked off, and after any loss you lose a little confidence, but we were ticked off after the Florida State loss, too, and we bounced back.

“But we’re 6-2, only one loss in the conference and we still have a lot to play for. Our football team is still learning how to be champions. And being a champion, you have to be mentally locked in each and every Saturday and that’s tough, not may people can do that for 12 weeks.”

With a short week to prepare and the fourth-best rushing team in the nation coming to town, the timing couldn’t get any worse for USF. 

Temple relied almost exclusively on its running game last Friday, rushing for 319 yards on 51 carries compared to 209 yards through the air on 21 passing attempts. 

Leading the AAC in rushing, Navy has scored 20 touchdowns on the ground and averaged just shy of 300 rushing yards per game in 2016.

In its loss to the Midshipmen in 2015, USF struggled all game against the Navy offense, giving up 428 yards on 69 carries.

If the Bulls’ defense surrenders anything close to last season’s total, a final-stretch collapse from Temple would be their only hope of playing for a conference title. 

In its remaining four games, Temple plays AAC teams that combine for a 2-13 record in conference play this season, while USF still must play Memphis (5-2, 2-1) and UCF  (4-3, 2-1).

And while the Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the Owls for the rest of the season, they can’t forget about the Knights. 

Despite going winless in 2015, newly hired coach Scott Frost has turned UCF back into a competitive team in 2016. 

Even though USF will get the chance to play UCF in the final game of the regular season on Nov. 26, the Knights are only a half game behind the Bulls, with a loss to Temple as their only blemish in AAC play. 

For what began as a near-perfect start to the season, the Bulls find their backs against the wall for the first time in 2016.

With only four games remaining and the Bulls needing to gain a game on Temple to claim the East, each and every contest could dramatically alter their chances of winning the first conference championship in program history.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, it just so happens their most formidable opponent left is who they play next.