By Michael Fergusson
The University of South Florida Bulls have been much-hyped throughout this offseason. On Saturday, they got off to a shaky start before rolling on toward a 42-22 victory over the San Jose State Spartans.
The start of the game wasn’t quite what many fans expected: Through the first 15 minutes they only managed to gain 22 yards. USF quickly and unexpectedly found themselves down by a 16 point deficit.
For a team that has recently garnered praise from such media outlets as ESPN and Bleacher Report, things looked grim.
However, after a slow first quarter the Bulls picked things up and showed glimpses of what they are truly capable of.
With almost 230 yards rushing and 28 unanswered points in the second, Coach Charlie Strong and his offense stampeded through San Jose State’s defense. D’Ernest Johnson was responsible for one of the standout plays of the quarter: a 50-yard breakout run to make the game 28-16.
Johnson showed that he isn’t just former USF running back Marlon Mack’s shadow — he rushed for almost 100 yards in the game and had two rushing touchdowns.
Senior quarterback and potential Heisman candidate (granted, it’s a bit of a reach) Quinton Flowers was, as expected, the driving force behind the offense. He threw for 212 yards with two passing touchdowns on top of having 70 rushing yards with a rushing touchdown.
But it wasn’t all offense.
The Bulls’ defensive unit secured 3 interceptions and multiple tackles-for-loss. The new and improved defense is at the core of what many fans thought Strong might add to the group.
Ultimately, the win may not have been pretty, but it shows that this team doesn’t fault under pressure or crumble when facing adversity. They have the ability to regroup even when trailing by nearly three possessions.
That’s a championship mentality.
The Bulls are projected by multiple outlets to be the best non-power 5 team (any team that isn’t from the SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big 10 and Big 12) at the end of the season. That would grant the Bulls a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game. These games are nationally televised and would have them matched up against one of the best teams from any of those conferences.
Also, USF is still one of four teams in the nation to have more than a 50 percent chance of beating each regular season opponent according to ESPN, the others being Ohio State, Alabama and Wisconsin.
An undefeated season could give the Bulls a spot in the College Football National Playoff — though, realistically, the chances of this becoming a reality is quite slim due to USF’s strength of schedule.
Nevertheless, if the Bulls continue to play with the same intensity and grit that they showed after the first quarter they can make a case that a team from the “Group of 5” deserves to be mentioned among the elite.
Their next game is Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4:00 p.m. against the Stony Brook Seawolves.