Photo via gousfbulls.com
It can’t be denied that Florida is a powerhouse for College football. Programs like FSU, UF, and Miami are historically strong, and are the first teams that come to mind when one thinks of Florida football. In the last 16 years each team has posted at least one top-10 team, more than most states can say.
The result of this thinking is that other teams like FAU, USF, and FIU (and the myriad of other teams in Florida with less successful programs) are often overlooked. As a longtime resident of Tampa, I was always exposed to Bulls football, but the truth is that USF is a frequently overlooked program.
One only needs to look at the most recent season to realize that it’s time to start thinking about adding a fourth name to the list of impactful programs out of the Sunshine State. USF’s only losses this year came from a strong FSU team and Temple, which ended out the season at 10-3 with a strong win against Navy.
USF finished this season with a 10-2 record, which is the best record they’ve ever had ending out a season. They had wins over strong programs such as Syracuse, Cincinnati, Navy, and South Carolina. The Bulls were 7-1 in-conference, the same record as the leader of the AAC West, Navy, and Temple, the leader of the AAC East.
The Bulls aren’t scheduled for a particularly glamorous Bowl game—the Birmingham Bowl against a 6-7 Gamecocks—but they have edged themselves into the AP poll at #25 and show no signs of slowing down before taking them on.
At first, it seems as if the Bulls losing their head coach would be a blow to the program. Willie Taggart is moving on to bigger and better things by going over to a struggling but historically powerful Oregon program, but it seems as if the Bulls have found an even stronger replacement that will continue their upward momentum.
Charlie Strong is a well-known name in football. He had a hand in UF’s extremely strong recruitment class back in the day, and before being the head coach at Texas he was the head coach for a strong Louisville program. He has had a deep connection to recruitment in the state of Florida for years, and now as the head of a USF program at the heart of the Sunshine State he will truly be able to test his prowess.
Tampa is the perfect place for Strong to save face in the wake of his overall 16-21 record at Texas. He was fired earlier this year after a disappointing three seasons, despite bringing the Longhorns into the rankings several times—many think that he wasted a very powerful recruiting class and did not deliver on his potential.
The first argument I can think of against the growing strength of the Bulls is them being held back by the relative weakness of the AAC, but recently this has proven to not be the case. The AAC has become a training ground for many powerful coaches, teams and players, and the programs within the conference are starting to become formidable opponents.
Both Temple and USF are ranked in the AP poll currently (at #23 and #25), and Navy was ranked as high as #20 earlier in the season. Houston started the season at #6 after a record season and an upset against the Seminoles in the Peach Bowl. The conference is growing, and soon it’ll be hard to ignore. The American is becoming a powerful arena for young teams and coaches to test their strength, and I don’t think it’ll slow down in becoming a relevant conference in the coming years.
The Bulls are such a new team, but their potential is impressive and they now have a coach who is a veteran recruiter. Most years, FSU and UF snatch up the best new talent and dominate the recruitment classes; this year and in the next few years, however, perhaps USF will surprise many with its performance.
Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.