Dream seasons are rarely as squeaky-clean as they appear from the outside. Every once in a while you’ll get an absolute gem of a year in which a team strolls through their schedule almost entirely unblemished— Florida State’s national title run in 2013 is a rare example— but most are more like USF’s breakout 2007 campaign, a blend of dominant performances mixed with a couple too-close-for-comfort contests against the likes of Florida Atlantic, or UCF’s magical 2013 season that required at least three fourth-quarter comebacks against teams that finished .500 or below.
In essence, teams aren’t usually so stupendously talented that they’re able to waltz their way through a dream season; generally all you can do is put together a team that’s good enough. If you can put together a team that’s good enough to put themselves in a position, week in and week out, to absorb and take advantage of the whims of a strangely-shaped ball bouncing in and out of the arms of teenagers, then you’ve got a shot at something really special.
This is not to suggest that USF is experiencing a dream season in 2016, or even that their 6-1 start will blossom into one (I mean, come on: I’m a USF fan. I will not consider any success to be ironclad until I see it recorded in ink, locked in a safe, and at least 100 miles away from Greg Schiano’s teeth). What I am suggesting, though, is that they’re good enough, and Saturday’s bizarre slugfest against UConn was the latest example of this.
USF is a broken team— not in the sense that they aren’t good, because they’re tremendous— but in the sense that there are some flaws the size of Montana on this football team. Can any single, sane human in the Bulls’ fanbase take a look at the Bulls’ front seven getting gashed like a teenager at summer camp in a 90’s horror movie and think “Yes, good. I have complete confidence in this team to defeat everyone left on their schedule, especially those two top-50 teams on the road”?
The Bulls have been talented enough to compensate for a leaky defense, a lazy quarter against ECU, and a rather ludicrous turnover fest this weekend, and have emerged on the other side with a 6-1 record and all of their dreams still very much of the table. If you have total faith in this team, bless your soul— you’re a human of a much stronger constitution than me. The hardest part of USF’s schedule has finally arrived, and they’ll likely have to play a little cleaner than they have in the last two weeks if they want to get through it unscathed. But we know they’re talented enough, and we know they can do it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of demanding perfection, but seriously— that’s all we can ask for at this point.
Stray Observations from #dySFunCTion:
- There comes a time in every single USF game when you think to yourself “Hmm, maybe Brett Kean would be better here” after seeing Quinton Flowers miss a couple of easy throws... and then he goes and rips off a jaw-dropping touchdown run, or leads three key TD drives in crunch time, or throws a lead block fifteen yards downfield for Marlon Mack to seal the game. Flowers is an absolute gem, and while we may never see him blossom into a fully accomplished passer, USF can absolutely achieve all of their goals with the version of Quinton Flowers that they have right now. He’s brilliant.
- It’s genuinely alarming to see Marlon Mack lose the ball in the red zone after a big play for two straight weeks. That said, Willie Taggart should take the hint at this point and give Mack a breather the next time he busts a big gainer.
- Speaking of fumble issues... Rodney Adams! He might be the most electrifying player on this offense, which is saying something, but his ball security issues need to be shored up. That’ll cost USF against a better team.
- Mitchell Wilcox is a grown man. He and Elkanah Dillon— a freshman and a sophomore, respectively— are going to be the beautiful one-two punch at tight end that Mike McFarland and Sean Price never got the chance to be.
- Auggie Sanchez is quickly becoming one of the most divisive players in recent USF history (let’s be very clear: NOT his attitude, which is and has always been tremendous. He’s a fantastic leader and by all accounts a great guy). Collin and I had a quick debate about him last week, in which I defended him by saying that he’s been much more of a threat in the backfield and less of a reactive tackler than in years past... which he showed on Saturday with a career-high three sacks. Collin countered by adding that he’s been a total liability in pass coverage... which Sanchez also showed on Saturday, getting absolutely roasted by Arkeel Newsome on UConn’s first touchdown of the half. I think he’s shown genuine improvement this season and is a much more dynamic player than he was a sophomore, but his lack of athleticism has really burned USF on pass defense on more than one occasion.
- On the whole, USF’s defense wasn’t tremendous on Saturday— UConn’s offense is terrible, so surrendering 27 points is nothing to write home about— but it was undoubtedly their best performance in at least a few games. In a lethargic, rain-soaked game, they played with consistent fire and energy, and were almost fully responsible for the Bulls’ early cushion. As the USF offense sputtered early and struggled with turnovers, the Bulls’ D held UConn to six straight punts in the first half, including four straight three and outs. That’ll get the job done when you’ve got an offense this good.
- It wasn’t that entertaining to watch, mind you, but beating a team by a pair of touchdowns while being -4 in turnover margin is pretty incredible, and indicative of the superior talent that the Bulls boasted on Saturday. Still, USF won’t get away with playing that sloppy against pretty much any other team left on their schedule.
- UConn has really become my favorite team to play in the AAC. The games are always wacky, their fans are largely intelligent and friendly, and their players and staff are likable— Bryant Shirreffs is really tough, if rough around the edges, and Bob Diaco is endlessly entertaining. It probably doesn’t hurt that USF was now won five straight games in the series, in which they used to struggle mightily. How’s that for flipping a narrative?