Expectations for USF football this season are hard to pin. The defending conference champion has left, and all of the remaining teams should feel that they have a chance. But the chances of a holdover team, with a third year coach, a 4th-year starting quarterback and 14 returning starters, should go up. This is Skip Holtz’s third season, and usually the third season is when you see whether a program is going somewhere or not.
Combine that with the departure of heretofore conference standard-bearer West Virginia, the arrival of probable also-ran Temple, and a number of coaching changes, and USF is poised to compete for a conference title, and for this season, that's all I want.
It’s natural to come into the 2012 USF football season with reduced expectation. But while the team finished at 5-7 last year, it was 1-6 in games decided by 10 points or less There were few games were the team hit on all cylinders. When the offense was clicking, the defense would fall apart. When the defense stood tall, the offense would turn the ball over. And when both sides of the ball played reasonably well, the coaching would shoot them in the foot. We can't do any worse in close games, and I expect us to do better. More consistent play from B.J. Daniels, and consistent coaching from Holtz, are the keys to USF doing better.
I don't expect us to win the conference; every team save Temple has a shot. But competing for a conference title is something we've never done. In seven years in the conference, we haven't won even a share of a Big East title. There have been 12 shares of Big East conference titles over those seven seasons. Go back to the two seasons in Conference USA, and it’s 14 title-shares in nine seasons. Beyond that, USF hasn't even finished second in a conference in those nine seasons.
Over the years, this team has accomplished a lot. We've won bowl games. We’ve beaten FSU, Miami, West Virginia, and everyone in the Big East at least once (except for Temple, since they just showed up). But honestly, I care less about having another splashy, flashy non-conference win than I do about getting toward the top of the conference slate. So what I want is for USF to compete for the conference title, and at least finish second. Second or bust.