Joe Henderson Columns
USF takes another spike to the heart
TAMPA - TAMPA Turn the page on this USF football season. Better yet, rip it out of the record book and destroy all traces. Send it to Morgantown, strap it on a Mountaineers couch, and burn it. Cancel those plans for that bowl trip to St. Petersburg, or Birmingham, or anywhere else. This season just needs to be done, and now it is.The University of South Florida Bulls officially brought their season to a close Thursday night in a deflating, crushing way, losing 30-27 to West Virginia on a 28-yard field goal at the gun at Raymond James Stadium. It was another spirited effort, but another spike to the heart. The Bulls finished 5-7 after starting with four wins. They were 1-6 in the Big East. Too many games seemed just like this one – close, hard-fought, the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat until someone pulls the chair out from under you. The Who should do the soundtrack for the Bulls' team video this season. You know, that ol' rock anthem "Won't Get Fooled Again." It sure seemed different when the Bulls rallied from 10 points down to take a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter, only to see West Virginia take it all away. Just when the Bulls seemed to be driving for the potential winning score, well within field-goal range, quarterback B.J. Daniels fumbled and the Mountaineers recovered. And there was the pass completion for 26 yards by West Virginia's Geno Smith on fourth down with 13 seconds and no timeouts left for his team. The clock stopped with the first down, enabling West Virginia to spike the ball and set up the winning field goal. Incredible. Why does this keep happening? Coach Skip Holtz believes his team is closer than its record would appear, but I tend to think a team's record is the best way to measure things. This game was a microcosm of how frustrating a season it was. After a 32-yard field goal with 10:27 left in the third quarter pulled USF within 13-10, for instance, West Virginia's Tavon Austin ran the kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown. Or there was the time the Bulls had first-and-goal at the Mountaineers' 2-yard line late in the third quarter but got only a field goal after two incomplete passes, a running play that lost a yard, mixed in with a wasted timeout when they were slow getting the play set up. Yes, that was the sound of impressive booing echoing through the cool December night. The faithful have seen a bit too much of that this season. They've also seen too many seasons take the similar pratfalls after fast starts – nothing quite this dramatic, but close enough that it's familiar territory by now. The Bulls were 4-0 this year, got everyone excited, started showing up in the rankings, conference play began, and … SPLAT! Holtz and his staff strongly emphasized conference play with the team this season. The chatter was all about contending in the Big East and winning a BCS bid. As we've seen, though, the Bulls are not even close to being up to the job. Going forward, USF has to get deeper on the offensive and defensive lines and secondary, too. Just about everywhere, actually. Injuries were a problem and the Bulls don't have enough depth right now to overcome. After the loss to Louisville last week, Holtz was as upset as I've seen him. He minced no words and put the blame first on himself and his staff. He talked about holding the staff more accountable, and in turn having them hold players to a higher standard. That sounds good. But I think these players already are accountable. This team didn't quit, despite the acute frustrations of this season. They played their tails off Thursday in a game that meant a whole lot to their opponent. There are still too many mistakes, though, too many silly penalties and too many noble efforts that end in defeat. The Big East may never be more winnable than it was this year, especially with teams like SMU, Houston and probably Boise State on the way. This season was an opportunity lost. Nothing will change that. The best thing about it now is, it's over. Turn the page. Burn the page.