Commentary: USF football is difficult to evaluate

Running back Kelley Joiner celebrates after scoring against The Citadel on Sept. 12. With one convincing win, a painful loss and now a postponed game, it’s hard to evaluate the quality of USF football. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF took a hard loss to potentially the toughest team it will face all season just a week after winning against possibly the easiest team it will face all season.

After their game against Notre Dame, the Bulls dropped six places in the USA Today Sports NCAA Re-Rank poll, putting them in the bottom third of the rankings.

But the difference in quality of opponents from one week to the next makes it hard to judge alone. Throw into the mix a postponed game against Florida Atlantic that was scheduled for this weekend, and USF finds itself in an early bye week, which further throws things up in the air.

Add up injuries, unavailable players and the fact that USF has yet to play an evenly matched opponent, evaluating the Bulls is like taking a shot in the dark.

Week 1 against The Citadel and Week 2 against Notre Dame were night and day.

Against Notre Dame, USF’s defense gave up 281 yards and six touchdowns on 45 carries, but against The Citadel, the Bulls allowed 200 yards on 54 carries with no touchdowns.

However, The Citadel will likely be the easiest game of the season, whereas Notre Dame was undoubtedly the toughest. It’s hard to grasp where USF’s defense is after just two games against opponents that were polar opposites in quality.

USF’s defense has the potential to be great under defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who led FAU to the top of FBS rankings last season in forced turnovers with 33, but that potential has yet to be fully realized given the games USF has played so far.

On the other side of the ball, USF’s offense is just as difficult to evaluate.

The Bulls’ offense suffered a lot of pressure from Notre Dame’s large NFL-caliber defensive line and only ran for 106 yards. USF’s porous offensive line allowed two sacks, 11 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

Against The Citadel, however, USF showed its rushing offense could be explosive after running for 302 yards, ranking it as one of the top rushing offenses in the country.

A huge question mark remains when it comes to quarterbacks too. Against The Citadel, USF quarterbacks went 18-of-25 for 102 yards.

The same quarterbacks against Notre Dame went 12-of-29 for 125 yards.

Without Cade Fortin, who has been listed as unavailable for the past two weeks, judging the quality of the quarterback room, along with the quality of receivers is nearly impossible.

Against Notre Dame, USF was lacking experience in both its offense and defense.

The Bulls were missing two starting offensive linemen, juniors Brad Cecil and Demetris Harris, as well as two starting linebackers, Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier, who combined for 18 total tackles in the past two games.

A team is tough to evaluate when it is missing its best players, especially when it’s lacking veteran leadership.

A lack of star power on both the offensive line and front seven while facing one of the toughest offensive and defensive fronts the country has to offer in Notre Dame eliminated any hope of USF scoring this past Saturday.

But USF lacked the entire left side of its starting offensive line in its first game and still managed a convincing win.

The Jeff Scott era is just getting started. With only two games of differing quality under his belt, it’s hard to say where USF is at. The Bulls have at least eight more games and as it stands, a conference title isn’t impossible.

It’s 2020, and in the world of COVID-19 anything can happen.

Don’t count out USF just yet.