Time moves fast in college football. It doesn't seem like it at the time-- every week between games feels like months of argument and analysis and politicking unfolding in slo-mo. But seasons aren't evaluated on what happens from Monday to Friday; it's the sixty-minute blips on Saturday that decide everything, and when you only get twelve of them per year, dreams will be created and fulfilled and destroyed faster than Lindsey Lamar in the open field. Halfway through this season, Willie Taggart still had the majority support of the USF fanbase. A few sixty-minute blips later, through a menagerie of coaching blunders and awful personnel decisions, the fire burning underneath Taggart's seat has gone from zero to 100 really, really quick.
For the fourth straight season, the USF Bulls will not be going to a bowl. 2014 was a little different than its predecessors-- it fluttered around the .500 mark long enough, did just enough to keep treading water that it seemed that maybe the stars could align and the Bulls would, in spite of themselves, fall backwards into the postseason. On Saturday, the pipe dream was officially extinguished by a six-foot-seven man with the nimble legs of a gazelle, to the tune of a thousand Bulls fans yelling expletives in unison as Quinton Flowers lobbed the ball off Marlon Mack's chest on some sort of reverse from hell.
Four and seven stings. Not because we expected a better result, necessarily-- in fact, pretty much all of us had the Bulls pegged at sub-.500 before the season-- but because no matter what the win-loss record says, USF was barely improved, if at all, this season. It's a harsh, uncomfortable truth that no one wants to hear, but it's a truth nonetheless: the Bulls ranked 99th in F/+ last season, and are currently ranked 120th. 120th! There are 128 teams in college football, and only eight of them have played worse than the Bulls have this year.
"But they've doubled their win total!" someone will inevitably point out. Thank you, kind mathematician. USF beat three teams with a combined record of 4-27, plus an FCS school-- all by a possession or less. The 2014 Bulls were 2013 UCF, minus the "being good at football" part. We could accept this if USF was one of the eight least talented teams in the nation. They're not. We could accept this if USF was playing smart, strategically sound football. They're not. We could accept this if USF was engineering a devious plot to play possum for eleven weeks before awakening and completely trouncing UCF on Friday. They're (probably) not.
So that's that, then. We can't accept this season, and saying that we can on the basis of a marginally improved win-loss record is an insult to expectations. The Bulls didn't progress nearly enough in 2014, and much of the progress that they did make was rendered irrelevant by incompetent coaching.
The penultimate insult came in the form of the Bulls putting together one of their better games of the season on Saturday, at least on the offensive side of the ball. They were hamstrung by their usual nemeses-- chop blocks, which for some reason became a problem that could not be fixed in a week's worth of practices, a self-inflicted carousel at the quarterback position, and a handful of inexcusable playcalls. What was the logic in bringing in Flowers for two plays after Mike White led an impressive opening drive? Why would Willie Taggart call a draw on 3rd and long in the red zone? And then the reverse, that hideous reverse, deserves its own special place in USF infamy. At this point, poor Quinton may as well have a sign around his neck that says "I AM GOING TO RUN THE BALL UP THE MIDDLE" every time he enters the field. If you don't trust him throwing the ball, why even burn his redshirt in the first place?
Worse yet, why haven't we seen this coaching staff make the slightest adjustment to anything they're doing when we've all clearly seen that it's not working? We've seen no tweaks to the offense, despite the ever-looming truth that we don't have the right personnel to run it. We've seen no tweaks to the defense from Chuck Bresnahan, whose definition of disguising a blitz is sending a linebacker as a fourth rusher. Taggart has gone beyond trying to fit a square peg in a round hole; he's trying to fit a ten-ton boulder into a basketball hoop, and he's trying again and again and again and again until the hoop disintegrates. This is called a typical Stan Heath offense, and is not regarded as sound football strategy.
So we have one more game left, which we'll all be plenty excited to watch because George O'Leary is an insult to humankind. No matter what happens there, in all likelihood, we'll still be watching Willie Taggart coach next year, because there are far too many messy, nasty strings to work through if Mark Harlan were to pull the trigger this offseason. But that doesn't mean USF football is doomed. Taggart has to learn from the mistakes he's made this season and make some major personnel and scheme changes on both sides of the ball. If he doesn't, perhaps the Bulls' talent level will finally win out and it won't matter. Or perhaps someone else will be making those changes for him in 2016.
As for us? We have to demand success. And not marginal, if-you-squint-hard-and-look-long-enough success like this season-- real, tangible progress. That might be a bowl game. That might be seven wins. Heck, with how bad the AAC's been of late, that might be a conference title. But when we figure out where that bar is, don't adjust it and don't accept anything even a hair under it, because the time for making excuses about this program is over. The clock is ticking.