Commentary: USF football is well behind Tampa Bay’s best — for now
I don’t have to tell you, but this year sucks.
If you’re a Tampa Bay sports fan, however, then it sucks a little less.
In spite of the deep, dark ocean that is 2020, Tampa Bay sports have been a shining beacon of light.
The Lightning are Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2004, the Rays are three victories away from winning their first World Series in history, the Rowdies are headed to the Eastern Conference final and the Buccaneers are top of the NFC South.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of one, all or none of those teams, the Tampa Bay area is feeling good, and it’s infectious.
Then there’s USF football owning a 1-4 record and riding a four-game skid.
Call them the odd one out, it’s clear USF didn’t get the winning memo.
But the Bulls are in a much different place than the big shots of the Bay. While the pro teams revel in their success, the Bulls are still ironing out the kinks.
And for where the program is, that’s OK.
Coach Jeff Scott has been candid about USF’s struggles.
“We’re still early in the process, we knew that it was going to be a process, we knew there was going to be a lot of adversity,” Scott said following the 44-24 loss to East Carolina on Oct. 10. “We got to do what we’re doing better than we have.”
Adversity and the process that Scott speaks of is something Tampa’s pro teams have overcome on their roads to success.
USF, by all accounts, has not been pretty to look at. Through five games, the Bulls have been outscored by their opponents 169-95 and average a measly 19 points per game.
The pro teams, however, have had a way better ride.
The Lightning had one of the best goal differentials in the NHL with +50, second only to the Boston Bruins with +53. The Lightning continued that hot streak into the playoffs and in the Stanley Cup with a +22 goal differential.
The Rays topped the AL East with the second-best record in the league. Their 40-20 record is second only to the Dodgers, whom they’re currently tied with 1-1 in the Fall Classic.
The Rowdies topped Group H in the United Soccer League (USL) with a 10-3-3 record and they are two victories away from winning their first USL Championship title.
Of course, the Bucs, led by Tom Brady have seen a resurgence this season and sit atop the NFC South, a spot where the New Orleans Saints have sat for the past three years. The Bucs hold a 4-2 record and are averaging around 30 points per game.
Not only do Tampa Bay pro sports look good on the surface, but they’re also putting in quality performances under the hood.
USF looks messy on the exterior and interior, but that’s what comes with a transitory period, a process the pro teams know well.
The work the Lightning have put in hasn’t gone unnoticed. Just a year ago they crashed out of the playoffs after being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Rays won the 2019 AL Wild Card Game and forced a Game 5 against the Houston Astros in the AL Divisional Series, but it didn’t go Tampa Bay’s way, and the Astros went on to win the AL Championship Series. The year before, the Rays failed to make it to the postseason.
The Rowdies lost 2-1 against Louisville City in the 2019 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and they didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2018.
The Bucs didn’t make it anywhere near the playoffs last season. They didn’t even have a winning record, going 7-9 and finishing second-to-last in the NFC South.
I’m not here to compare USF to Tampa Bay’s paid professional teams. It’s apples to oranges.
I’m also not here to say USF is going to turn it around this season or even next. A 4-8 record last season doesn’t guarantee anything.
What I’m saying is have some patience. If every Tampa Bay team, including USF, was playing well at the same time, then I’d say the world was ending.
For now, enjoy the coincidental success, Tampa Bay sports fans.
And for USF fans, the Bulls may not get to be among the saviors of this godforsaken year, but success will come to them eventually.