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Bye week gives USF Bulls chance to regroup

TAMPA - Bye week. Bye-bye, season? The University of South Florida Bulls – halfway through their schedule, all the way to frustration – have one immediate consolation. They won't lose this weekend. There's a much-needed break before the Bulls (2-4, 0-2 Big East Conference) resume with an Oct. 20 trip to Louisville, the league's preseason favorite.
Following Saturday afternoon's 37-28 unacceptable defeat at Temple, which was picked eighth in the eight-team Big East, the Bulls can use some idle time. "You have the opportunity to get away from football a moment, just sit back and get healthy,'' USF senior quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "Since we have an off-week, our game will be against ourselves.'' And it could be USF's most difficult task to date. "I think this would be a good time to look inward,'' Bulls senior middle linebacker Mike Lanaris said. The details are gory. USF, picked for second in the Big East after returning 15 starters and 24 seniors, ranks as one of the biggest mid-season flops in the Football Bowl Subdivision. A loss at Louisville would be USF's fifth straight defeat, something that never has happened in the program's 16-season history. The Bulls are the only FBS team (out of 120) to not have an interception on defense this season. The outlook could have been even worse without late-game heroics in a 32-31 win at Nevada on Sept. 8. That put USF at 2-0 and seemed to set it up for bigger things. Instead, the season has unraveled. Bulls coach Skip Holtz, whose record has slipped to 15-16 midway through his third season, said it's his responsibility to fix the mess and find answers. Many of the mistakes, particularly dropped passes and an inability to stop the running game, have been recurring. "We're all hurting a little bit and when I say all, I mean players, coaches, the fan base, alumni and administration,'' said Holtz, whose original five-year contract was extended through the 2017 season last summer by USF athletic director Doug Woolard, following last year's 5-7, bowl-less finish. "I've yet to see anybody on the inside throw their arms up or put their head in the sand. We're going to keep plugging, working at it and try to get it straight.'' It won't be easy. The Bulls still have Louisville and Cincinnati, two of the Big East's unbeaten teams, on the road. Plus, there's a trip to Miami. USF has home games against Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, but none of those are givens. Under Holtz, the Bulls are 1-7 at home against Big East opponents with the only victory occurring in 2010 (28-27 against Rutgers). It's part of an overall grim league outlook that has seen USF go 4-12 overall in Big East games under Holtz. Meanwhile, USF has lost 10 of its last 11 games in the conference. Those numbers hardly inspire confidence to somehow find four more victories and become bowl-eligible. But USF has put itself in this position after falling Sept. 22 at Ball State, its first defeat against a non-BCS league team since joining the Big East in 2005, and failing to win a must-win game at Temple. "It's tough to lose,'' USF senior cornerback Kayvon Webster said. "We just have to keep our eyes on the prize. We lost two Big East games. It's not the end of the world. We still have a chance to contend (for a bowl). We've got to stay positive and keep pushing.'' It's the bye week. USF needs some rest. Then it needs some answers. Or else it's bye-bye to any hope for a respectable finish. (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib
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