South Florida is out of the Big East Conference race, but the Bulls haven't given up on the season after losing four in a row.
"Everybody's talking about 'where's their confidence come from right now?'" coach Skip Holtz said as the Bulls (4-4, 0-4 in the Big East) began preparations for their last road game of the season, a Friday night affair at Syracuse. "I have said this from the beginning of the year. I've really been impressed with the closeness of this team. I've really been impressed with the work habits of this team and the way they come to work each and every day.
"Nobody's hanging their head. Nobody's dragging around, moping around. Everybody hurts a little bit. As I've told them, they've got 24 hours to get it out of their system."
The "it" Holtz referred to was the demoralizing overtime loss to Rutgers in USF's last game.
"It's gone," he said. "Let's pick ourselves up and let's get back to work and do what we do."
Holtz instead preferred to talk about how close his team has been despite the mounting losses. The combined margin of defeat in the last three games is 12 points.
"To be this close," he said, holding his thumb and index finger a couple of inches apart, "I think maybe instead of everybody hanging their head and saying 'OK, there's nothing left to play for,' it has been much more motivation to say we're that close. We're that close.
"We need to change one or two plays and we'll have the opportunity to taste that victory, especially one on the road. But we just haven't been able to get it done.
"If we had four lopsided losses, maybe the mindset of this would be a little bit different, that we're a long way off. But I said this to the football team. We're now sitting here three plays away from being 7-1 and probably the 15th-ranked team in the country."
--The Friday night matchup at Syracuse is the first of three weeknight games for USF to end the regular season. The Bulls are home against Miami on Saturday, Nov. 19, but then have a Friday game against Louisville (Nov. 25) and a Thursday night affair against West Virginia (Dec. 1) to complete the card.
--Both teams are looking to gain bowl eligibility. Syracuse needs just one more win to get to the necessary six victories, but USF must win at least two of its final four for the opportunity to extend its postseason streak to seven bowls in a row.
--USF is 3-0 against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome with an average winning margin of 24 points a game.
SERIES HISTORY: USF leads Syracuse 5-1 (last meeting, 2010, Syracuse 13-9).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Despite their recent problems, the Bulls remain one of the highest scoring teams in the Big East, third with their 32.5 points a game average. They are No. 2 in total offense with nearly 467 yards a game being a rushing attack that is producing just a couple of ticks under 200 yards a game. QB B.J. Daniels is throwing for 251 yards a game and has 12 touchdown passes against only five interceptions, but his wide receiving corps has been hit with key injuries with sophomore WR Sterling Griffin at the top of that list.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USF has played well enough on defense to be in a contender's role in the Big East, though it had problems trying to contain Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham and couldn't stop Cincinnati from driving for a late score that won the game for the Bearcats. The Bulls are stingy against the run, allowing only 108 yards a game and are third in the Big East in sacks with 28, just one behind leaders Pittsburgh an Rutgers who have played one more game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You talk about the parity in the NFL. It's very similar to that here. There's a very small margin of error for wins and losses in this league." -- Coach Skip Holtz, on the closeness of the Big East race, where one or two plays in certain games could have turned the standings upside-down.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: USF at Syracuse, Nov. 11 -- One more road test awaits the Bulls before they finish the regular season with three consecutive home games. Syracuse comes into the game with a 5-4 record but has lost its last two. The Orange fell to 1-3 in the Big East with its loss at Connecticut in its last outing but is 4-1 at home overall.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Avoid mistakes. The Bulls have stopped themselves with turnovers, penalties, and bad plays in their losses. Syracuse is not known for its rushing, but keeping RB Antwon Bailey, the league's No. 4 rusher, in check would be a big help for the Bulls.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Deonte Welch -- With injuries taking out Sterling Griffin and limiting A.J. Love, Welch becomes a prime target for QB B.J. Daniels. He had four catches for 37 yards at Rutgers but is capable of bigger plays. For the season, he is averaging nearly 17 yards a catch on 25 receptions.
DE Ryne Giddens -- Giddens is becoming a big factor in USF's defensive front with his recent play. He has 4.5 sacks for the year, tied with LB DeDe Lattimore for the team lead, and he has 10 tackles-for-loss overall to lead in that category.
DT Elkino Watson -- The freshman has emerged as a force on defense for the Bulls. He has 27 tackles for the season with a fourth of them resulting in losses for the opponent.
--Junior RB Darrell Scott has wrist and head injuries that have limited him in practice. His status for the game at Syracuse is considered day-to-day.
--Redshirt freshman LB Reshard Cliett, who didn't make the trip to Rutgers because of an ankle injury, is expected to play at Syracuse.
--Junior QB B.J. Daniels hurt his left thumb late in regulation against Rutgers but is expected to be ready at Syracuse.
--Junior PK Maikon Bonani will keep his job despite missing two field goals against Rutgers, including a 23-yard attempt from the middle of the field on the last play of regulation that would have won it for the Bulls.
--Junior LB Armando Sanchez, a backup with nine tackles this season, is questionable because of an ankle injury.
--Sophomore WR Stephen Bravo-Brown, who has missed the last two games because of an unclosed injury, will be available for Syracuse. He has four receptions in six games but was seeing more time on the field right before he went down.Click here to share your thoughts with other USF fans!