Nothing much about this college football season has gone according to plan, so in that spirit we present the University of South Florida — where absolutely nothing has followed the script.
The Bulls beat Notre Dame and started 4-0, so everyone thought they were good. They were moving up the national rankings, but then they got embarrassed at Pitt and wound up losing four in a row. Goodbye rankings, goodbye national buzz. Everyone wrote them off.
That may have been premature.
If they could ever figure a way to wipe out the middle of the season from the schedule — maybe just eliminate the month of October entirely — they'd be BCS contenders.
Since that is impossible, you go for the next best thing. That turned out to be a solid thrashing of Syracuse last Friday. Their national aspirations are gone, but the thought of salvaging respectability for this whacked-out season is still in play.
If they beat Miami on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, the Bulls will be 6-4 and bowl eligible. In the words of defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, "It would help heal some wounds, that's for sure."
It's not that different than a year ago, really, when the Bulls had been up, down and consistently inconsistent. But they went to Miami and upset the Hurricanes 23-20 in overtime, then beat Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to finish the season feeling pretty good.
"It is kind of a national game when you play the University of Miami. It is. It is what it is. Being in-state, all these kids know each other. It's going to be an exciting game. It's going to be a fun game for the fans to watch," Snyder said.
"Our goal is to always win the Big East championship, but it sure would be nice to go pull out another win against an ACC team. That always helps, or if you beat a Notre Dame or something like that, it always helps your program. It's all about branding. And it helps our league, there's no question about that."
You have to admit, it would be strange to look back at the end of this season and see wins over Notre Dame and Miami — with a shot at West Virginia still to come — balanced against USF's struggle to win conference games.
The way this season developed has been frustrating and puzzling, but beating Syracuse seems to have put a little more spring in the steps of those at USF.
Head coach Skip Holtz joked that his new, slimmed-down appearance has more to do with the Bulls' four-game losing streak than any workout routine or diet. But after beating Syracuse, he said he treated himself to "a whole pizza, by myself."
I guess you could say they were hungry for victory out there.
Coming as close as they did in three of those losses during the streak only made it worse. Losing a close game at UConn was, well, bad. Having Cincinnati rally in the final minute to beat them by one point on homecoming was worse.
Losing at Rutgers in overtime, after a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation went awry, was probably the worst. It was a dark hour, but not the darkest. The darkest would have been if the players stopped caring and essentially quit on the team, and that didn't happen.
They showed that at Syracuse, a good sign.
Beating Miami would be a better sign and would carry more clout around here.
"You've got a lot of these football players who played together (in high school)," Holtz said. "A lot of them played against each other. A lot of them played on all-star teams together. A lot of relationships go back and forth on each team.
"So I'm sure the cell phones will be burning up going back and forth. There will be a lot of trash talk going back and forth among the players. That's kind of what a rivalry game and a geographic rivalry game creates. For the players, for the fan base, for the bragging rights, for recruiting, for all those things, it really makes it an exciting week."
We're using the words "USF football" and "exciting week" in the same story. A week ago that would have been a stretch, but in a crazy season like this, why not?