We have the full understanding that “War on I-4” will always belong to the Arena Football rivalry Tampa Bay Storm vs. (Now Defunct) Orlando Predators first. The name, a new trophy and a new rivalry has re-emerged with USF and UCF. And it’s one that the AAC needs to have succeed for the play on the field and the attention it will bring.
USF currently has “the hardware” after a blowout win in Orlando last year and Coach Willie Taggart was showing it off early in the week:
— USF Football (@USFFootball) November 22, 2016
“It’s one of those game you can take the records out, it doesn’t matter,” said Taggart.
There will be more at stake than a piece of hardware hoisted by the victor. Recruiting, a potential trip to the conference championship game, a 10-win season, and bowl games will all be on the line.
“This is a natural rivalry, I think it’s good for both programs,” said UCF head coach Scott Frost. “I think there is a little extra motivation when your playing someone just down the road from you.”
It didn’t always used to be this way.
When the Bulls and Golden Knights were in different leagues earlier this century, USF had zero desire for this game. From former head coach Jim Leavitt to still current President Judy Genshafft, they felt no need to play UCF and legitimize them. This infuriated those associated with UCF, but you could understand and appreciate USF’s point. This is especially when Leavitt and the Bulls beat them four straight times head to head and then, would say “we have nothing to gain continuing to beat them/play them.” So, the series expired.
Obviously, Leavitt is long since gone as coach, and the Bulls and Knights are now in the same division in the same conference. So, the point is moot about playing/not playing.
Here’s the reality: It’s in both schools interest to develop a rival/game to point to every year, and it’s obviously in the American Conference’s favor, too. With programs spread literally from Connecticut to Dallas to Greenville, NC, to Tulsa and back to Central Florida, they NEED two teams this close to each other to be good and want to “get after it” in a rivalry game.
American Commissioner Mike Aresco has said he believes the AAC makes it a “Power 6” when it comes to major conferences. Let’s be honest, that’s just salesman talk and IF the AAC was taken so seriously, then how is it USF could win their tenth game and still be unranked? That wouldn’t indicate they beat quality opponents comprising your conference, Mr. Aresco.
That brings us to Saturday at noon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. USF has had a spectacular offensive season and is a win from earning their best regular season ever at 10-2. UCF is back from a horrific 0-12 season and an upset of the Bulls makes them 7-5. That’s coaching, right there.
There are plenty of story-lines at play, but maybe, one of the biggest won’t actually be on the field, it will be in the stands.
USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan has noted that attendance has risen compared to last season. But will there be enough combination of black, green and gold so that the red Raymond James Stadium seats don’t appear on national televisions.
Only 16,585 showed up for USF HOMECOMING. One would think the seventh highest scoring offense in the country would intrigue Bulls fans to show up for a game. Maybe the allure of the rivalry will constitute a better turnout, because we all know a noon kickoff time doesn’t help the situation.
It’ll be Senior Day, and a chance for the USF senior class to go back-to-back over the Knights. Imagine when the Bulls’ senior class arrived on campus as freshman, USF stunk. That’s right I said it: Skip Holtz made them horrendous. Now they have a chance to climb in to the rankings, and with some help from ECU over Temple, play for in a conference championship game.
This game isn’t a battle of national heavyweights like Michigan and Ohio State will be Saturday, nor is it a showdown of sunshine state juggernaut’s like Florida and Florida State Saturday night. This rivalry is more like two little brothers pounding it out, and who doesn’t love a good sibling scrap?
The AAC is smiling, as they should be, at this match-up in the latest edition of the new “War on I-4.”
A game that everybody needs.
USF escapes Tulsa with dramatic 25-24 comeback win
It wasn’t pretty, and it was against another bad team, but USF pulled off a dramatic 14 point comeback Friday night in Tulsa for a thrilling 25-24 win. The Bulls had been living dangerously in their previous three games against bad opponents pulling out wins over Illinois, East Carolina and UMass in the second half of them all. Friday night it looked like they were done.
The Golden Hurricane, just 1 – 4 on the season, put together four complete quarters of solid football and two long second-half scoring drives to set the stage for the possible huge upset of the Bulls.
However, even though the Bulls struggled for much of the night to get any sustained offense or drive rolling, they eventually would get on track.
Trailing 10-3 at the half, the Bulls got on the board when their top weapon all season, running back Jordan Cronkrite ripped off a 66 yard touchdown run to even the game up at 10. That put Conkrite over a hundred yards (151) rushing for the fourth consecutive game.
However, there was no quit in Tulsa. They put together their key third quarter scoring drives and running back Shamari Brooks capped off both with 10 yard touchdown runs each time. The second Drive was an 88 yarder and it put the Golden Hurricane up 24 – 10.
Tulsa was playing with confidence that it had not shown for much of the year with four losses in five games and that included 16 turnovers, as well.
But, the Bulls finally got their offense sustained midway through the fourth quarter, when quarterback Blake Barnett led a 14 play, 82 yard drive that he capped off with a 1-yard scramble run for the touchdown. Tulsa blocked the extra point to maintain a 24 – 16 advantage.
USF was able to force a punt and then quickly marched 80 yards in 10 plays and Barnett again scrambled in from 12 yards out to cut the lead to two at 24 – 22. With only 2:09 remaining the Bulls decided to try to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
Tulsa’s defense rose to the occasion and stuffed a scrambling Barnett on the two-point play.
Still, USF just kept making plays and got three stoops of Tulsa, used two timeouts remaining and got the ball back.
That’s when the real dramatics took over.
First, USF was aided a roughing the passer personal foul with under :40 to play that gave them a first down in Tulsa territory. Then Barnett fired a bullet downfield to receiver Tyre McCants for 32 yards down to the Hurricane five yard line with :08 left.
Barnett did most of his statistical damage in the fourth quarter finishing with 237 yards passing and 24 more rushing with the two TDs.
The Bulls got to the line and calmly spiked the ball with :05 left.
Kicker Coby Weiss booted the 22 yard field goal for the win at 25-24.
The “Houdini” escape for the Bulls puts them at 6-0 for the second consecutive year and only the third time since the program became FBS in 2001.
Tulsa was bidding to beat a Top 25 team for the first time in eight years. Alas, they came up a point short and are now 0 for 15 against ranked teams since 2010.
Bulls RB Cronkrite named American Offensive Player of Week
It was a record setting Saturday in New England for USF Bulls RB Jordan Cronkrite. So, it’s no surprise that the American Athletic Conference rewarded him with their Offensive Player of Week award Monday morning.
Cronkrite set a USF (and American) single game rushing record with 302 yards, as the Bulls raced past UMass 58-42.
3⃣ hundo 😱
— USF Football (@USFFootball) October 7, 2018
The red-shirt junior from Miami repeatedly ripped off long 76 and 70 yard TD runs and ended up with a gaudy 13.1 average per carry on the overcast Saturday.
The 5’11 205 lbs. Cronkrite transferred to the Bulls from the University of Florida and sat out last season waiting for his opportunity. In a wild coincidence, the 302 rushing yards he gained Saturday is the exact total he gained in two seasons (2015-16) with the Gators in 21 games.
Further, Cronkrite now has a string of three 100 yard rushing performances going. He gained 136 yards in the win at Illinois, and then clinched the East Carolina home win with an 80 yard touchdown scamper that gave him 129 yards that day.
Cronkrite is former 3,000 yard career rusher at the 3A level for Miami’s Westminister Christian High School, and was on the 3A All State first team in his final season, 2014.
The Bulls hope to see more of Cronkrite’s explosiveness, when they host Tulsa Friday night at Raymond James Stadium on ESPN.
USF- Unbeaten but Unproven, again
The timeless wisdom of sports tells us that you can only beat the teams you play on the days you play them.
The University of South Florida football team has been scheduled to play four games. It has won all four of them. The Bulls, within that narrow and small frame of reference, have done the most they can do through four weeks of the young season.
W. W. W. W. The sheet looks clean, and the value of that achievement is real: A bowl bid will definitely be part of USF’s December or January. Florida State can’t yet count on a bowl bid. USF can. That’s pretty good.
Yet, as much as “4-0” looks pretty and inspires a certain degree of confidence — there is something to be said for winning close games — let’s not try to pretend that the 2018 Bulls are a known entity.
We are about to begin to learn where USF stands — in the AAC at large, the AAC East Division in particular, and in the state of Florida.
Style points matter in College Football Playoff conversations and in New Year’s Six bowl conversations. In terms of the bottom-line business of winning and losing, they don’t carry much significance.
No need to worry about the style points with this USF team: The Bulls might have won every game they have played, but style points have been thrown out of the apartment… if they were ever allowed in to begin with. Without a fumble recovery just when Georgia Tech was on the verge of reestablishing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, USF might be only 3-1... and Georgia Tech is the only half-decent team USF has played so far this season.
Moreover, Georgia Tech has tumbled to the bottom of the ACC since the loss in Tampa. USF has managed to stay afloat against Illinois and East Carolina, but the failure to land decisive knockout punches earlier in the game against a pair of bad teams does not inspire confidence for the road ahead.
This should not be seen as a particularly controversial thesis, as much as it might create some pushback: South Florida doesn’t yet know what it has.
Yes, Blake Barnett — having transferred from Alabama to Arizona State to USF — is trying to find a comfort zone, as one could very reasonably expect of a two-time transfer. The fact that he has not torched Illinois or ECU, while concerning, is still understandable. If you wanted to make the case that Barnett will become an excellent quarterback as this season evolves, you could marshal a convincing contextual argument.
What is harder to argue against is the reality that USF has far less proven skill-position talent compared to last season. The 2017 Bulls had Quinton Flowers as the trigger man, D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice in the backfield, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the perimeter. Those four players are gone.
Losing merely one of them is significant. Flowers, given his skill at football’s most important position (other than left tackle), left behind an enormous void Barnett is trying to fill. It is impossible to avoid the inconvenient truth: Unless or until Barnett and his 10 teammates win a game of considerable consequence — no, Georgia Tech simply doesn’t rise to that level, given its stumbles and fumbles at the start of 2018 — this team won’t be able to rise to the 2017 standard.
The schedule does look favorable, but one-score wins over the Illini and Pirates over the past two weeks have raised questions instead of answering them.
Duke is 4-0, having won at Northwestern and Baylor... but Northwestern lost at home to Akron and Baylor could very possibly go 2-7 in the Big 12 this year.
West Virginia is 3-0, but the Mountaineers didn’t get to play North Carolina State, and their Week 1 victim, Tennessee, was undressed by Florida this past weekend.
USF is like a number of other unbeaten teams in the FBS, teams that have taken care of business to the extent that they can, but have nevertheless played opponents which have not become formidable in their own right. The record might be perfect, but the quality of the resume simply can’t be elevated.
No, it is not USF’s fault… but the limitations of a month’s achievements remain conspicuous.
It is up to the Bulls to turn a thin resume into something more substantial, but right now, there’s no convincing evidence which screams and shouts that the Bulls are as good as their record. Charlie Strong, having endured a series of hard knocks at Texas, is all too aware of how quickly this industry — and Saturday results — can change in a negative way.
South Florida — even with its high-end talent in 2017 — struggled in a number of games against inferior opposition. The Bulls played well in the game that really mattered against UCF, but the Knights, playing the season of their lives, answered them in crunch time.
This year, South Florida cannot rely on its ability to pull close games out of the fire. The Bulls have to be markedly better in the coming weeks to reach the 10-win mark this season. If they continue to play very close to the margins, they will most likely get burned. The wisdom of history tells us so.
There are no preseason games in college football, but if Illinois and East Carolina were warm-up acts — test drives before the journey into the thick of the AAC season — perhaps South Florida is ready to leave a more definitive imprint upon this season.
The Bulls better hope so. The level at which they have played through four weeks might have been good enough to go 4-0, but it is most assuredly NOT good enough to get them where they want to be in early December.
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