What do you see when you look at your favorite college football team’s 2022-23 season schedule? Do your eyes zero in on the rivalry matchup? Do you start counting up hypothetical wins and losses?
For everybody at the University of South Florida, it starts at the beginning when the Bulls host BYU on September 3.
“Obviously as a coach before the season starts, you’ll look at your home schedule and you kind of think through and play the season out in your mind week by week but really the mentality is that the only game that matters is that first game,” USF third-year head coach Jeff Scott told Underdog Dynasty. “Our number one goal every year is to win the opener and so really you don’t get too caught up, we don’t really talk about any of the games that are after that.”
The origin story behind this season’s motivation started on September 25, 2021 when the Bulls dropped a close game to the then No. 15 ranked Cougars in Provo.
“The word I would use for BYU’s atmosphere is incredible,” Scott, a former Clemson offensive coordinator, recalled. “As the buses were driving to the locker room, their students were lined up to get in and this was two and a half hours before the game. And then we are sitting in the locker room an hour and a half before the game and they crank up the music and they start dancing and singing and that’s when we knew – this place was going to be loud. It was one of the best atmospheres that I’ve ever been a part of.”
USF hung tough with the Cougars, rallying back from a 21-0 first quarter deficit to outscore BYU 21-14 in the final three quarters. But they couldn’t quite seal the deal.
“Obviously I’m disappointed we lost the game but really proud of the fourth quarter long drive where we punched it in fourth and goal right in front of their student section,” recalled Scott. “So, for a young team that’s still developing and working, that was a big drive that we can build off of especially with a freshman quarterback in that situation.”
When BYU visit the Bulls in September, Scott believes that will be the biggest motivator for his men.
“I love a great opening game,” expressed Scott. “In my experience, when you have a really big game like ours with BYU as your opener, you tend to have a better fall camp in August - that month of practice tends to be a little bit better when they know right on the other side of that is going to be a big-time matchup.”
If you didn’t know, now you know – the Bulls are looking to make a big push in 2023. USF’s roster is absolutely flooded with talented athletes from Jaren Mangham to Dwayne Boyles, and the 16 seniors who decided to return will mix nicely with the 25 new faces, providing some healthy competition in Tampa. All of that talent, coupled with their head coach’s profound patience, is a recipe for success.
“Seasons are not going to be made or lost in your first game, so it gives you an opportunity early on to kind of see where you are and see what you need to work on,” explained Scott. “I love a great, challenging game like this for the first game. And I love that we are getting the opportunity to play them at our place. We went out there last year - that was a long flight, time change and altitude. So this year we are hoping for a good midday, 100-degree kick off right here at Ray-Jay.”
After USF tackles BYU at home, they host HBCU Howard before embarking on back-to-back battles at Florida and Louisville. Then the AAC fun begins.
10/1 vs. ECU, 10/8 at Cincinnati
Scott’s first year in 2020 was very limited when it came to conference road environments, so last season was really his first sample size. He still managed to weigh in on which American road games are the toughest and named ECU among them.
“We played them in a midweek game I believe,” Scott remembered. “It was a night game and it was a really good atmosphere. It was loud, they created some problems for our quarterback. We had weather and noise and all kinds of stuff. That was a really good environment for sure.”
The Bulls played the Pirates tough, but the rowdy Dowdy crowd was just too much as ECU won 29-14.
“I’m also looking forward to getting a chance to go to Cincinnati this year, I’ve heard they have a great environment,” commented Scott, who may be the only coach excited about heading into the belly of the Bearcat beast.
10/15 vs. Tulane, 10/29 at Houston, 11/5 at Temple
Aside from environment, tangling with familiar faces is another thing coaches look at when examining a schedule.
“That was the fun part of the last two years, joining a new league and meeting a lot of coaches,” shared Scott. “Dana Holgorsen when he was at West Virginia - we played them and they beat us pretty good when I was at Clemson. Pretty tough game down there at the Orange Bowl one night. So, it’s always good to see him.”
Dana & Co. will be a challenge for the Bulls especially on the road but if the Bulls ride the Green Wave and play Temple tough, a loss to the Cougars won’t burn so bad.
11/12 vs. SMU, 11/18 at Tulsa, 11/25 or 11/26 vs. UCF
Perhaps the toughest stretch of USF’s schedule: at home against a revamped SMU program, on the road against a disruptive Tulsa team and the War on I-4 with an undecided date.
“I’m looking forward to playing Rhett over there at SMU,” said Scott. “Rhett’s a good friend of mine and a guy that I’ve really shared a lot of ideas with throughout the years as we were both young coordinators working our way up int this profession. We’ve both talked about one day being a head coach and what that would look like and now to both do it in the same league, in what I think could become two of the top teams in the next few years – I’m definitely looking forward to that matchup for sure.”
Lashlee had similar complementary things to say about Scott in a recent conversation with Underdog Dynasty. And both coaches have history with the Gus Bus.
“And then obviously Coach Malzahn at UCF, we had a lot of battles back and forth when I was at Clemson and we had a very competitive game there to the end this past year,” said Scott.
Last year, the Bulls defense forced four three-and-outs, five punts and two missed field goals, holding UCF to just 12 first down, its fewest of the season. The three yards that prevented USF from defeating the Knights have definitely been living rent free in every Bull’s head.
Coach Scott is right. It may not necessarily be how you start the season that matters — but it will absolutely be about how the Bulls finish.