On Thursday against Syracuse, USF has the chance to accomplish two feats that have evaded the program for nearly half a decade.
In a year full of record-setting moments, the Bulls will aim to close out the first installment of the Alex Golesh era by gaining a postseason victory and defeating a Power 5 school in the Boca Raton Bowl.
History of bowl games and Power 5 opponents
The Bulls (6-6, 4-4 AAC) last defeated a Power 5 opponent with a 25-19 regular season win over Illinois in 2018.
Since then, USF has lost eight straight games against such programs, including shutout losses versus Notre Dame in 2020 and North Carolina State in 2021.
USF’s last bowl victory also happened to be against a Power 5 school, which was a 38-34 win over Texas Tech in the 2017 Birmingham Bowl.
The Bulls are 6-4 in bowl games. Five of those 10 games have been against Power 5 opponents.
Junior defensive tackle Rashad Cheney – who spent three seasons at Big Ten mainstay Minnesota – said he understands the allure of playing against such an opponent.
He said he sees the bowl matchup as an earned right for a team that clawed its way back to postseason contention.
“Even though the season didn’t go as good as we wanted to be, we earned it to go somewhere and experience a new atmosphere as a team with each other,” Cheney said at a Dec. 8 press conference.
Former success against the Orange
Historically, USF has succeeded against its former Big East rival.
The two teams faced off annually from 2005-16, with the Bulls compiling an 8-2 record over the Orange.
USF hopes to pick up its ninth all-time victory over Syracuse (6-6, 2-6 ACC) on Thursday.
Bulls coach Alex Golesh said practicing in December – meaning preparing for bowl games – is the expectation for the program going forward.
Thursday’s matchup could determine how the Bulls’ young roster responds when the lights are brightest.
“The majority of these guys have not played in bowl games,” Golesh said. “So they’re just sitting here looking for direction on how to do it. I think it’ll be fascinating to see how we prepare and play on the 21st.”
Syracuse is a team entering a new era of its own. The team parted ways with coach Dino Babers on Nov. 19 after amassing a 41-55 record with the team over eight seasons.
The move didn’t come as a surprise to many. The Orange have been plagued by late-season struggles over the past few years, including losing seven straight games after a 6-0 start in 2022.
Syracuse jumped out to a 4-0 record this season before losing six of its last eight games. A 35-31 nail-biter over Wake Forest gave the Orange the postseason nod.
A look at Syracuse’s roster
Much of this year’s late-season collapse can be attributed to an injury to senior quarterback Garrett Shrader, who went down on Oct. 26 against Virginia Tech.
Shrader saw limited action throughout the rest of the season as the Orange offense sputtered. It was announced on Monday that he would undergo shoulder surgery and miss the bowl game.
Backup sophomore quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson has also sustained injuries throughout the season. If Shrader and Del Rio-Wilson are unavailable to play Thursday, freshman Braden Davis could see his first career start.
Syracuse named former Georgia defensive back coach Fran Brown as head coach on Dec. 4. He will make his head coaching debut on Thursday against the Bulls.
Brown is currently ranked as the No. 2 recruiter in the nation for the 2024 class, according to 247 Sports.
The Orange have already reaped the benefits of Brown’s strong recruiting ties. Georgia transfer Yazeed Hayes announced he will join his former coach in Syracuse on Saturday. The next day, the Orange nabbed former Ohio State starter Kyle McCord, one of the top quarterbacks in the transfer portal.
Hayes and McCord will not suit up on Thursday.
Syracuse is bolstered by sophomore running back LeQuint Allen, whose 1,062 rushing yards rank third in the Atlantic Coastal.
Star junior linebacker Marlowe Wax, who led the Orange with 101 tackles, will also play in Thursday’s game.
USF will play Syracuse in the Roofclaim.com Boca Raton Bowl on Thursday at FAU Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN and BullsUnlimited.