Last Saturday the South Florida Bulls gave their fans a very unwelcome sense of deja vu during their homecoming game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bulls lost 37-34, and the way they lost -- with a last-second defensive letdown, plus lots of undisciplined penalties, miscues, and clock management mistakes -- reminded impatient USF fans of games they might have seen in 2007, or 2008, or 2009, or 2010. The loss made the Bulls 0-3 in conference play for the first time ever, and it gave them three Big East losses before anyone else even had two.
I wrote after the game that if the game had unfolded with both teams playing well, and it turned out that the Bearcats just made one more play, then we might look at this situation differently. Instead, it feels like a line has finally been crossed with USF fans, both diehard and casual alike. In the past, when the Bulls would lose all their momentum in October and then play out the string, the fans were always ready to pop back up the next season with the same enthusiasm they'd had before everything went wrong. It was a setback, but hey, there's always next year, right?
But now it's happened so many times, and with two different coaches, that the shine is finally off USF football. Plus, there might not be many next years left unless some kind of miracle lifeboat is put in the water by the Big XII for the Bulls to climb into. There's a very good chance that USF's athletic programs will be worse off five years from now than they are today. So now instead of being supportive and looking forward to the future, it seems like the fans are tired of it all, fearful of the future, and looking for someone to blame.
The most appropriate would be athletic director Doug Woolard -- he's had seven years to prove USF's worthiness on the BCS AQ stage and has almost nothing to show for it. (I love our top-five soccer team, but if that's your only elite sport, then that's a real problem.) And unless there's something going on way behind the scenes that we can't possibly know about, there's no fight in him to save USF from mid-majorhood... unlike Louisville and West Virginia, who are getting out the biggest of guns to try and battle their way into the Big XII. Losing that BCS access would cost the school tens of millions of dollars, alienate fans, donors, and coaches alike, and it could even affect the University academically by making would-be undergrads less interested in applying.
Then there's Skip Holtz, and although a lot of people are trying to blame him, the one person you should not blame is him. It's true that when he arrived in Tampa almost two years ago, he didn't have a complete rebuilding job in front of him like so many college coaches take on when they take a new position. But it wasn't exactly a ready-made winner, either. Holtz should be given the kind of leeway you would give most other college coaches, even when there are bumps along the way like this season. This hasn't been a full-on disaster like Steve Kragthorpe or Mike Locksley or Greg Robinson. If it ultimately doesn't work out for him -- and for the record, I'm not expecting that to happen -- it's just as likely that external factors like USF getting left out of the BCS loop will be what does him in.
It's fair to question some of Holtz's recent coaching decisions, like his clock management and maybe a few of his assistants. But if USF fans are mad because of several years' worth of disappointment, then they need to stop holding those earlier disappointments against a coach who wasn't even here when they were happening.
2011 is looking like a difficult season for Bulls fans to get through. But everyone who's looking into the domain availability of FireSkipHoltz.com really needs to slow down and think that decision through. Because you don't want to be the guy running that site if and (hopefully) when Holtz gets things going the way we all want them to go.