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The season from hell is finally over. Now what?

In the ashes of a doomed era of football comes opportunity for USF to capitalize.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

USF’s 2022 season ended with a hard-fought loss to Central Florida on Saturday. A seemingly helpless Bulls team that had no business competing kept things close until the very end, but couldn’t make the necessary one or two plays to trigger the massive rivalry upset. Hey, haven’t we seen this movie before? It sure does seem familiar.

Anyway, that concluded what will most likely go down as the most miserable football season in school history. Ridiculously bad injury luck, a late-season coaching change, and the worst damn defense you’ve ever seen in your life will define a team that finished 1-11, the worst mark in the program’s 26 years of existence. Sure, if you squint hard enough, there were positives. Brian Battie will go down as one of the best running backs the school has ever seen. Offensive coordinator Travis Trickett’s playcalling was fun. And USF may have found its future leader in quarterback Byrum Brown. But all in all, this was a total failure across the board to meet the most minimal of expectations and this hapless football program will end this current era of the American in its weakest state.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here?

The biggest fish to fry is obviously determining who will replace Jeff Scott as the next head coach and if I were to guess, we’ll know that answer by this time next weekend. Beyond that, the program needs to figure out it’s standing in the world as the AAC transitions into a new era. We’ve talked endlessly about the reasons why USF was left behind (again) and how the aforementioned school up the street passed them by. We don’t have a time machine, there’s nothing anyone can do about it now. But instead of moping around about the opportunities lost, the program needs to use this as an opportunity to redefine itself. To reset the perception of what USF football is and can be.

The fascinating thing about the new AAC is the inevitable power vacuum that will occur with the impending departures of Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston . There will be a huge void at the top and any number of programs could rise up and establish themselves as the new power of the league. Could it be Tulane, who will host the AAC Championship Game next Saturday? Could it be UTSA, who has been the class of Conference USA for the last two seasons? What about Memphis, who feels spurned that the Big 12 skipped over them? An SMU program that is leaning all the way into NIL and facilities? UAB? ECU? North Texas?

Or could it be USF? A program that, at least off the field, is finally putting the necessary facilities together and has the institutional commitment needed to be successful. There is an opportunity here for USF to rise from the ashes of this cursed era and finally be the program that it wants to be. But it must get aggressive starting today.