South Florida Bulls Football: Can They Win On Talent Alone?

For the South Florida Bulls, Saturday nights 33-3 win over Cincinnati was a misnomer. Their talent lifted them to 6-0, but it was by no means their best performance. A slow first quarter allowed the Bearcats to hang around, leading to questions surrounding the 2017 Bulls ability to hang in games against top contenders.

If I’m being brutally honest, the Bulls inability to finish drives with touchdowns and undisciplined penalties could end up being costly down the stretch. With a top UCF team and Houston looming, there’s a real chance South Florida falls this season. Or, more likely, they fall victim to the upset bug that’s plagued ranked teams throughout 2017. This weekend alone, top 10 teams Clemson, Washington State and Auburn lost to unranked conference foes. In the American Athletic Conference, 24th ranked Navy fell to an unranked Memphis Tigers team.

Now, the Tigers are better than many believe, a result of a 40-13 drubbing to UCF a few weeks back. Nobody expected the Knights to be as good as they’ve been in all phases, so it’s easy to say a loss against them is grounds for removal from the Top 25. It shouldn’t be though, one of the flaws in NCAA Football’s ranking system. In fact, an undefeated AAC team deserves to be in the college football playoff picture. That’s unlikely to happen, as the AAC isn’t a Power Five conference, but there’s a legitimate argument to be made. That’s for another day though.

Right now, the Bulls need to focus on improving as a football team. They can start by cutting down on the number of penalties. 15 for over 150 yards, seven of which were personal fouls or chop blocks, helped stall drives and gave the Bearcats new life. Against better teams, that would put them in a deep hole. One they might not be able to climb out of. Another area that needs work is finishing drives with six points instead of three, especially in the red zone. South Florida had two first half drives end with field goals. One drive saw them drive down to the Cincinnati 4-yard line, but three straight running plays produced little. They did score twice late in the first half, with both the offense and defense chipping in a big play apiece. The second half didn’t see much improvement, as the Bulls needed a tough one-yard run by Quinton Flowers on 4th and goal to put up 30 points for the 23rd consecutive game. That’s a modern-day NCAA record.

Speaking of milestones, Flowers surpassed 3,000 yards rushing as a Bull on the teams first drive of the game. Kicker Emilio Nadelman also tied Marvin Kloss’ school record, with 13 consecutive field goals made after going 4-for-4 on Saturday night. The victory, coupled with Clemson’s loss, gives South Florida the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games. They also became the first AAC team to qualify for a bowl game, but they have their eyes set on bigger prizes. An AAC championship and New Years Six bowl game are still within reach, a testament to their ability to pick one another up. Two weeks ago, with the defense struggling to stop East Carolina, the offense carried the team in a 61-31 rout. Saturday night, the defense came up huge, limiting Cincinnati to three points and under 100 yards rushing. Senior Auggie Sanchez’s pick-6 to end the first half shifted momentum, with the Bearcats’ electing to go more conservative in the second half. That played right into the Bulls hands, as they had less to worry about as the game wore on.

While happy about the win, head coach Charlie Strong closed his post-game press conference by saying “We didn’t play good. Good enough. Up to our standards.” He harped on the lack of execution and sloppiness, saying that his Bulls were lucky to walk away with another win. He said as much to his team after the game, leaving one to ponder what adjustments might be made prior to next weeks game at Tulane. Will the team heed Coach Strong’s words or will number 16 be the next ranked team to fall? While unknown, anything can happen in this wild and crazy 2017 college football season.

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