On Saturday, November 3, the mission at Raymond James Stadium will be quite clear. The 2-6 South Florida Bulls simply must defeat the 3-5 Connecticut Huskies to have any hope of a post-season appearance.
The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. and will be the home crowd's next-to-last look at many departing seniors, including 4 year starting QB B.J. Daniels, ace kicker Maikon Bonani, senior running backs Lindsey Lamar and Demetris Murray, and defensive stalwarts Sam Barrington and Kayvon Webster.
But the contest against the Big East's other win-less school is only the first step. In order to salvage a 6-6 campaign during Coach Skip Holtz's 3rd year guiding the Bulls, USF must pull off an unlikely sweep of its final 4 games of a frustrating season.
Who would have thought that it would come down to this? Currently losers of 6 games in a row, a month-long winning streak, which will include a road trip to face the cross-state rival Miami Hurricanes, is required to land a bid at a 3rd rate bowl game.
For a school described as a sleeping giant for nearly a decade, it is ironically almost time to turn off the lights and extinguish hope of respectability in fans.
Yes, supporters of a program that once rocketed into the top 10 ranks of the national polls now pine for an upset merely to defeat a struggling UConn squad.
From admittance to the Big East in 2005 to Holtz's inaugural season in 2010, USF landed on the college football map by knocking off powerhouses like Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, and West Virginia.
Those days surely feel distant, even as the school just now completes the back-end of several of those home-and-home series in 2012.
And the cupboard for the future appears shockingly bare in a 35,000 student strong school located in the heart of the nation's best recruiting state. Despite the promise of athletic recruits, Holtz's defense has been woeful in losing 6 of 8 games and is rarely capable of halting an opponent's 4th quarter drive.
A natural replacement for Daniels -- the multidimensional senior who has accounted for almost 75% of the school's offense in 2012 -- has yet to emerge. Likewise there appears little hope for the future of the school's running game within the present team.
In fact, one of the few positive developments this year has been the nurturing of sophomore receiver Andre Davis, who leads the Bulls with 35 receptions, 446 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns.
All these flaws naturally lead fans to question the future of the team's embattled coach. Frustratingly given a 3 year contract extension through the distant 2018 season over the summer, Holtz is now 15-18 at USF.
As a result, it will require a substantial financial hit to buy out the 48 year-old's lucrative contract. But can South Florida afford not to do it? These results simply cannot be rewarded at a school with so much potential and ambitions much greater than defeating UConn during an early November contest in Tampa.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A USF Bulls fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.