There were high expectations for USF football the past two seasons.
In 2016, the team finished ranked in the top-25 for the first time. Last season, coach Charlie Strong and the Bulls were ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press’ (AP) preseason poll.
This season, the Bulls have seemingly taken a backseat to other teams in the AAC. UCF, Memphis and Houston all received votes in the AP preseason poll, with UCF being the only ranked AAC team at No. 21.
USF received no votes.
The general consensus among USF coaches and players, however, is that the preseason ranking — or lack thereof — doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“Are those out right now?” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert asked a day after the rankings were released last Monday. “I didn’t even know they were out.”
For the past two seasons, USF was expected to run away with the AAC Championship. The Bulls were supposed to have a shot at playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game. They were supposed to go undefeated.
Now, Gilbert says, the Bulls’ main focus will be on themselves.
“What we’ve got to do is just worry about us,” he said. “That’s the number one thing. We’ve got to go get better, we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.”
In addition to all the predictions leading up to last season, USF was on college football fan’s radar for other reasons as well.
The Bulls played two games on national television on Thursday nights. This year, the Bulls do not have a single game scheduled for Thursday. USF had the nation’s spotlight last season for those two games, but will be competing for viewers on Saturdays just like every other team.
For senior leader Ronnie Hoggins, the thought of that isn’t too bad.
“That’s fine,” he said. “We’re just going to come out every game and do what we do. I mean, we don’t mind doing what we do under the radar.”
Strong told the media last season that the ranking next to the team’s name didn’t mean much and that he wanted to make sure the Bulls played their best regardless of the ranking. He’ll try to keep that mentality this season as well.
“It’s going to be game-by-game,” Strong said. “Even like last season, we were picked to go undefeated and we lost two, but we’ve still got to be prepared, got to go out and go play.”
With what could be a loss of legitimacy from AP pollers, the Bulls said they are just ready to get on the field and play football because they would be, with or without being ranked.
“No one’s even said ‘set hut’ yet,” Gilbert said. “There’s not a win-loss out there so all it is, is just preseason hype and just talking. What we’re excited about is just getting back out on the field and taking care of us.”