With Big East hopes dim, USF looking ahead

With the Bulls off to a 0-3 start in conference play for the first time ever and a shot at the title remote, they still have a lot to play for like getting to the six-win level needed for bowl eligibility.

With its chances in the Big East Conference race pretty much shot, South Florida can now concern itself with more mundane matters.

Like getting to the six-win level needed for bowl eligibility.

That seemed pretty much a given when the Bulls breezed -- well, they breezed after opening with a clutch win at Notre Dame -- through September with a 4-0 record.

But the loss in their Big East opener to Pittsburgh in their last outing of September started the Bulls on a three-game skid, making them 4-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference.

"We're not where we need to be," coach Skip Holtz said when asked what his message to his team was after the loss to Cincinnati in the last outing. "I don't question this team's effort, I don't question their work habits, I don't question if they want to be good.

"We're playing hard, but playing hard and playing smart are two different things. Right now, we're making some costly mistakes."

With five games left after this open date, the Bulls need to get two more wins or they will be home for the holidays for the first time since 2004, when they were 4-7.

A case can be made that the Bulls will be underdogs in all but maybe one.

Two are on the road, at Rutgers on Nov. 5 and at Syracuse Nov. 11. The home games are against Miami, Louisville, and West Virginia.

NOTES, QUOTES

--USF is off to a 0-3 start in conference play for the first time ever. The Bulls competed for two years (2003 and 2004) in Conference USA before joining the Big East in 2005. The Bulls have finished with losing conference records four times (3-4 in 2010, 3-4 in 2009 and 2-5 in 2008 in Big East play and 3-5 in 2004 in C-USA) and must win their remaining four Big East games or be assured of a fifth losing league mark.

--The Bulls have recorded 22 sacks through seven games, a pace of just over three a game. Last year they had 30 in 13 games. They had only 25 in 2009 and 23 in 2008.

--USF has had the same players start 74 of 77 opportunities on defense. The exceptions: Junior CB George Baker started one game in the secondary (Texas-El Paso), freshman DT Elkino Watson made one start at tackle (Connecticut), and sophomore DB Jaquez Jenkins started one game as an extra defensive back (Cincinnati) in place of LB Michael Lanaris.

BYE WEEK MISSION: Get well. The time won't help WR Sterling Griffin get back, but WRs A.J. Love and Stephen Bravo-Brown also are ailing, and PR Terrence Mitchell has been out with effects from a concussion. The Bulls can use the time to work in young receivers like redshirt freshman Deonte Welch and true freshmen Ruben Gonzalez and Andre Davis into the fold.

LOOKING AHEAD: The trips to Rutgers and Syracuse could set the tone for the rest of the season. A sweep would give the Bulls a huge momentum boost, and a split wouldn't be all that bad either, though it would assure the Bulls of a losing Big East record. The Bulls end the year with three home games -- against a Miami team that is beginning to awaken, and conference foes Louisville and West Virginia.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are all men. We are playing for pride right now. We aren't going to duck our heads in the sand and just throw in the towel. Like I said before, we are all men, and if we get knocked down, we got to get back up." -- Junior QB B.J. Daniels, after the loss to Cincinnati.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: USF had problems scoring in back-to-back losses at Pittsburgh and Connecticut, managing only 27 total points. The Bulls woke up against Cincinnati, but still lost some points because of turnovers. For the season, the Bulls are averaging 197 yards rushing and 282 passing, though games against Ball State, Florida A&M and UTEP tended to inflate those statistics. But they still are averaging just under 420 yards a game in three Big East contests, second in the league.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USF's defense has had problems since Big East play began. The Bulls couldn't handle Pitt's Ray Graham in their conference opener, and they couldn't stop Cincinnati from driving for the winning score in the final minute in their last outing. For the year, the Bulls are giving up just over 124 yards rushing and just under 238 yards a game passing.

ROSTER REPORT

--Sophomore WR Sterling Griffin will be out six-to-eight weeks because of an ankle injury sustained in the loss to Cincinnati. The Tampa Tribune reported that X-rays revealed a fracture and the soonest he would be expected back would be for the regular-season finale on Dec. 1 against West Virginia.

--Sophomore CB Ricardo Dixon, a backup, will be out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

--Junior RB Darrell Scott has started the last five games and is leading the Bulls in rushing with 511 yards. USF has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 when Andre Hall ran for 1,374.

--Redshirt freshman WR Deonte Welch made his second start of the season in the game against Cincinnati. He had a career-high 130 yards on just five receptions.

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