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EMOJICAP: C. 49, USF 42

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Finally, some more thoughts about an instant classic where no one deserved to lose, but someone had to.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Is that the first instant classic kind of game USF’s ever lost? Is this the first time we’ve ever walked away from a loss thinking, “That was still a fantastic game?” I feel like USF came away with more honor and respect than they went into the game with, even though they lost. That doesn’t get you a banner or a ring or a New Year’s Six bid... but it’s not nothing.

To the emojis:

tophat

Not much we can do except tip our hats to C. USF played about as well as they possibly could. We’re not sitting around angry that they made a ton of mistakes, or put together a bad game plan, or did something really stupid to box themselves out of a win. Even the kickoff return for a touchdown was more about C. making a big play. (That was Mike Hughes’s third kick/punt return TD of the season, and USF’s special teams woes have been almost exclusively in blocking for punts and kicks. The kick coverage hasn’t been much of an issue.)

It’s funny — I was a lot more upset at 21-7 with a blowout looming than I was at the end of the game. No, they didn’t win, but no one on the field will look back on that game with any regrets. For me, that replaced Kansas 2008 as the best-played USF game ever. The only reason it’s not the best USF game ever is because the wrong team won.

Quinton Flowers is the USF GOAT. No arguments, no debates, no questions. In the biggest game of his life, he broke the school single-game passing record by 94 yards and became only the second FBS player this century to put together a 500/100 game. If Q doesn’t break the single-season passing record (he needs 312 yards in the bowl), it’s only because USF had a game canceled. He has the career total offense record, and he’s 44 yards away from breaking Marlon Mack’s career rushing record.

We only get one more chance to watch Quinton Flowers play in a USF uniform. Whenever it is, and wherever it is... savor it.

OK, Flowers’ gesture in the third quarter. As one smartass in the press box said, “I didn’t know he was left-handed.” It was unnecessary and tasteless, but so were the C. students asking him where his parents were, which is probably what triggered it.

Here’s the thing, though: USF can make Flowers put out a statement to apologize for that, but we can’t get a statement out of Charlie Strong after one of his players gets arrested for sexual battery? (Oh, and don’t bother putting one out now. It happened 13 days ago. It’s way too late.)

TYRE MCCANTS DA GAWD.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Not only did Tyre drag this defender almost 15 yards to score the first touchdown of the game, but he broke Andre Davis’s single-game receiving yardage record in less than a half. McCants finished with nine catches for 227 yards. For a guy who hasn’t had as many chances to shine as he had last year, McCants was a superstar in this game.

I absolutely will not make Mitchell Wilcox a villain for his fumble. Fortunately it looks like no one else has, either. He was in enough agony at the end of the game. How are you going to be upset at a kid who was underused all year, plays his hardest every single snap, and constantly tries to make things happen for his team? It was a horrible time for that fumble to happen, but he doesn’t need to feel bad or apologize to anyone for trying to do a little bit more with the game on the line.

With the Knights looking like they would run USF out of the stadium early, defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary made a bold decision. After the first quarter, he went to a dime defense with six defensive backs, four down linemen, and one linebacker. Even more bold, that linebacker was Nico Sawtelle, not Auggie Sanchez.

Imagine having the nerve to take the school’s all-time leading tackler off the field in a must-win game. That was a seriously gutsy move by BJM. It was also a good one. USF put together six consecutive stops on defense in the second and third quarter to get a foothold back in the game.

Yes, it’s local, but USF really is too good to play in the Gasparilla Bowl. That bowl is intended for the teams who just barely reached bowl eligibility. (Not to mention that Bulls fans would be so put out by their team playing there that USF might sell negative tickets to it.) Early rumors are USF could be sent to the Military Bowl in Annapolis to play an ACC team like Virginia or... hmm, maybe 6-6 FSU?

After that, it’s time to pull the handle on the bowl slot machine and see what the dials say. The American has a backup agreement with the Liberty Bowl, but it’s more likely they would try to use that on Memphis if they don’t beat C. on Saturday and get a New Year’s Six bid. There’s also a chance USF could fill a hole in a power conference’s bowl lineup if it’s a better matchup for the Bulls. The Big Ten only has eight bowl-eligible teams, so there are some opportunities. Or the league could spin some magic, like they did for Houston last year to get them into the Las Vegas Bowl. We’ll see what happens on Sunday. But right now indications are USF won’t do worse than the Military Bowl, which isn’t too bad at all.