I can relate to the 2018 South Florida football team, even though I have never played a down of college football.
Really, I can.
In grade school, I would — once every few weeks — be so late with my math homework that I would do it IN THE CAR when my mom was driving me to school. My mom had a day job, so when I spent five extra minutes furiously writing down answers on a sheet of paper, that meant I was making mom late for work. Mom was furious with me, but of course, what could she do? (I am so lucky to have you for a mother, Mom. That is still true decades later.)
In high school, I remained a first-class procrastinator. I would save that big semester magazine project until the final 36 hours before it was due, cramming weeks of work into one and a half days, bullshitting my way through some artful generalizations of the books I skimmed and half-read and trying to make the final product seem as enlightened as possible, when in truth, the quality of my analysis wasn’t nearly as precise or focused as it could have been. I didn’t care about the quality of my work, only that I got a good enough grade. I thought I could get by while doing the least possible amount of work.
Here’s the tricky part of these two revelations from my youth: Most of the time, I got away with this stuff. Most of the time, I shrugged off being late to grade school and making Mom late. Most of the time, the grades still checked in at A-minus or B-plus. Most of the time, based on accumulated experiences, I had a sense that the assignments given to me were not necessarily “easy,” but vague enough that I could satisfy their requirements by writing aggressively to paper over the nonexistent research and the lack of grunt work I put into my academic life.
But then came chemistry and trigonometry.
I could not bullshit my way through those subjects. I could not drift through class or assume I could find answers. I could not say something clever or write something piercing to show that I grasped the essence of a text or could point to a general historical trend. No, when math and science became more detailed and complicated, I was out of my depth. My grades reflected as much. I picked up Cs and Ds in those subjects.
I was exposed.
Yes, I can relate to the 2018 South Florida football team.
So far, everything looks like an A-minus if you focus solely on the standings and the bottom line in a bottom-line business. Coaches get paid to win games and not lose them. By that measure, Charlie Strong is batting 1.000 as the World Series begins in Boston. Strong has lost just twice at USF. He is 17-2 in one and a half seasons on the job in Tampa.
And yet, who thinks this ISN’T a house of cards, waiting to collapse the way my grades did as soon as math and science courses got tougher?
Strong himself acknowledged as much after another narrow win over another bad team this past Saturday, 38-30 against Connecticut.
UConn had lost three games by 41 points or more, four by 39 or more, and all five games by at least 30 points… until it played USF close. Strong could not look past that ugly reality, and to his credit, he owned it on Saturday after the game:
Strong: "We play (at Houston) like we played tonight, we'll really get embarrassed."
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) October 21, 2018
The easy homework assignments a team can blow off and still successfully complete — not just on time, but with a passing grade — are over. Now comes a real team, Houston, with a real defensive goliath, Ed Oliver, and an offense which just rang up 49 points at Navy... and Houston isn’t even the best team in the AAC.
That’s UCF, waiting at the end of the regular season schedule on Thanksgiving weekend.
South Florida has been remarkably consistent at one thing this year: winning close games against bad teams. You would think that after being fortunate to beat Georgia Tech — USF was doomed if the Yellow Jackets hadn’t fumbled deep in Bull territory in the fourth quarter — South Florida would tighten up the screws against Illinois. That didn’t happen.
But as I did on that magazine project in high school, USF got away with it.
Okay, SURELY, USF will put it to East Carolina and show it can flex its muscles, right?
Nope… it turned in a limp offensive performance and scored only 20 points against a team which has allowed at least 35 points in each of its last four games. Yet, USF got away with it.
Tulsa? Oh, dear. USF fell behind 24-10 midway through the second half. This is the same Tulsa team which just got shut out by Arkansas, which has one of the worst defenses among all Power 5 conference teams.
The Bulls — as though trying to see just how much they could get away with, much as I did as a schoolboy — once again bullshitted their way to a razor-close win, 25-24. They were the bored kid who wanted to make life exciting by trying out new heights of procrastination.
I can relate.
But now, guess what? Houston — the trigonometry class — is coming up next Then comes November, with chemistry exams versus Cincinnati and Temple and then the calculus final against UCF.
That homework which was able to be completed on time and with a passing grade? It’s just about over — only Tulane offers that kind of escape for the remainder of the season. The rest of this journey for USF? It will actually require doing homework… on time… with rigorous focus.
If the Bulls get a D-minus in these next several weeks, though, I won’t be surprised.
I have been there. I, too, thought I could continue to get away with B.S. and then had to learn the hard way that I could not.
Study your assignments, Bulls. The time for procrastination is over.
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