I watched the Western Michigan-Toledo game on Friday night with a rooting interest because USF was in search of two miracles (WMU to lose either to Toledo or Ohio, and ECU to beat Temple) to clear a path to a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
I had seen both teams play more than the average MAC school due to “Row The Boat” being so compelling this season, and for a lot of very nice Toledo fans I met at the Boca Raton Bowl last season (where they beat Temple pretty convincingly). Toledo is a fun and entertaining team that is probably the most accurate representation of #MACtion. They were 9-2 going into Kalamazoo for a de facto playoff game that would determine who played in the MAC Championship.
Toledo lost by 20, and were down a lot more than that in the third quarter. Because Western Michigan dominated them, as they did literally every team in the MAC this season. And a season like what the Broncos did this year is what it might take for USF to get where they want to go in 2017.
With an out-of-conference slate of San Jose State, Illinois, UMass, and Stony Brook, the Bulls just won’t have any wiggle room next year when searching for recognition. And as we’ve seen this season, The American simply won’t get the respect it deserves from the national media and pollsters once a team slips in league play. Houston lost to Navy and fell through the floor instantly, and that only got worse when they lost again. Fringe teams such as SMU and Tulsa couldn’t ever get over the Top 25 hump, much less Temple.
It’s highly likely USF would be well-above .500 in the SEC East, B1G West, Pac-12 North, Big XII, and maybe a few other P5 divisions too. But the hypotheticals just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Until this team finds a way to scratch and claw on the other side of the P5 wall, it’s gotta do what WMU is doing.
Be perfect, and leave no doubt. And that’s a helluva lot harder in The American than it is in the MAC.
The Bulls were a bit unlucky the last two seasons:. In 2015 they beat every team in their division, but still ended up a game short of the championship because of the tougher crossover schedule. In 2016 they went 7-1, but lost on the road to another 7-1 team. 10 wins and a Top 25 ranking wasn’t enough to get to the title game, and in most years that will be plenty. In 2016? Just bad luck.
And there’s only two ways to counteract bad luck: be perfect, and leave no doubt.
The defense will need to improve significantly of course, and it’s likely they will. Many folks would be surprised if Raymond Woodie remained as defensive coordinator next year, as the Bulls finish the year with the 100th-ranked defense by S&P after giving up 31 points to the nation’s 109th best offense on Saturday. The #BullSharks were 46th in 2015, and didn’t graduate so many players where the falloff should have been anywhere near as drastic.
From the offense Willie Taggart and Marlon Mack returning for next season are of course the two most-important things for the Bulls to continue success. College football’s second-best offense has been breathtaking, and though losing Rodney Adams will have an impact, gaining another year of experience for so many other players will have even greater value than what is lost.
And let us appreciate what we have just witnessed: flawless, historically great offense. It has been a joy to behold, and whatever governors were on the engine will be gone next season. They could break national records by the truckload. There is almost no limit as to how good they can be next season. Bulls fans should be giddy thinking about it.
Because of that offense, 2016 might have been the best Bulls team ever (feel free to disagree in the comments, members of the 2002 and 2007 teams). And with so many returning players both sides of the ball should be significantly better in 2017. Which is simply incredible if you think about it. But they’ll have to fight and scrap and claw for every scintilla of recognition because of the AAC & that marshmallowy out-of-conference slate.
Injuries happen, and weird bounces happen, and sometimes just stuff happens. There’s no such thing as a guarantee when entering a season in a sport where there are just 12 data points. But there’s an artificial ceiling on USF Football right now because of their conference alignment and their schedule. And there’s only one way around that in 2017.
Be perfect, and leave no doubt.