Heading into the first season of Bulls coach Alex Golesh’s tenure, expectations were low for a team that only won four games in its previous three seasons.
South Florida (5-6, 3-4 AAC) was picked 13th out of 14 teams in the 2023 American Preseason Media Poll on July 25.
Four months later, the Bulls are on the cusp of a postseason bid.
“I think that’s the first step for us as a program,” Golesh said. “But the most gratifying moments that I can remember have been accomplishing something that most people said you couldn’t accomplish.”
Saturday’s game against Charlotte is bound to be an emotional one for USF’s 15 graduating seniors. They will likely play their last regular season game at Raymond James Stadium.
Golesh said he is looking forward to the potential of rewarding long-tenured seniors like left tackle Donovan Jennings and defensive back Daquan Evans with a bowl appearance.
Jennings was a part of the last USF roster to make a bowl appearance — a 38-20 loss against Marshall in the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl. He said he recognizes how special a moment like this is.
“I didn’t take it all in as much as I should’ve, but that moment was cool,” he said.
Jennings has seen plenty of calamity within the Bulls’ program over his six years with the team.
During USF’s 1-11 season last year, he missed eight games with an ankle injury.
The chance of another postseason appearance is something that he said he’s not going to take for granted.
“It’s definitely gone full circle – kind of a surreal feeling,” he said.
Jennings also has the opportunity to start in the most games in program history. Saturday’s game will mark his 54th career start, tying former linebacker Dwayne Boyles.
Of course, a bowl matchup is not a given. USF must first defeat Charlotte (2-8, 2-5 AAC), another rebuilding program trying to find its identity. The program is only in its ninth year and also has a first-year head coach in Biff Poggi.
No longer in bowl contention, the 49ers are simply evaluating the talent on its roster at this point in the season, according to Golesh.
He also said that Charlotte – who has “nothing to lose” – cannot be overlooked just because of its record.
Senior defensive back Daquan Evans said he usually isn’t one to be overly emotional. For him, this week’s game is the exception.
“I’ve been thinking about [senior night] for the last few weeks,” Evans said. “I’ve just been thinking about how far I’ve come and all the adversity I’ve been through here.”
Evans is another Bull who has remained on the team through multiple coaching eras, recording 166 tackles and four interceptions. He said he’s looking forward to an opportunity to extend the season and remain around the team.
But for a defensive unit that has widely struggled this season, the importance of finishing the regular season strong with consistency is not lost on him.
“When we’re consistent and clicking, nobody can mess with us,” he said.
In a season full of come-from-behind victories and frustrating defeats, the Bulls hope they’ll extend its underdog season with a win on Saturday.
Golesh said he sees this game as a benchmark for how much the team has adapted to the rebuilding process throughout the season.
“This really is us versus us in terms of our process being so elite that we have every chance in the world to win that game,” he said.
USF will take on Charlotte on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU and BullsUnlimited.