The University of South Florida's current four-game losing streak has been a tough stretch for all in the program to endure, but Bulls coach Skip Holtz said most of the frustration centers around how a handful of plays have prevented the team from being in a much different position.
"You're three plays away from sitting here 7-1 and being ranked 15th in the country, and the mindset's totally different in this press conference, in that locker room, with our fan base and everything else," Holtz said at Monday afternoon's press conference in advance of Friday's game at Syracuse. "We're that close, and that's why it's frustrating because you're right there.
"You can look back at the film and for every player they watch that film and say, 'If I only could have caught that interception. If I only would have knocked that ball down. If I only would have caught that ball on third-and-5. If, if, if.' We're that close. That's what makes it frustrating, but not discouraging.
"I think that's why everybody's attitude is, 'Let's roll 'em up. We've got to change one play and we win. One play and we turn this thing around.' That's' right now the mindset of this team. I know they're hurt, I know they're disappointed, but it's frustrating more than it is anything else to be this close and not be able to be here 7-1 right now."
The reality of the situation is the Bulls are in the cellar of the Big East Conference standings after losing four straight league games following a 4-0 start to the regular season. USF needs to manage two wins over the final four games to reach bowl eligibility for a seventh consecutive season.
"We better get something done as we go down the stretch because if this continues and we continue to lose close games, we're not going to a bowl," Holtz said.
Senior safety Jerrell Young said the camaraderie of the team has prevented the locker room from breaking apart despite the current skid, and added it hasn't been tough for the Bulls to remain positive and confident because the belief is the collective effort has been all that could be asked.
"Why would I not be happy for someone who gives me their all and is doing the best they can do? As long as you give me your all, that's all I can ask for," said Young, a team captain. "We're playing hard. We're battling. We just get tough breaks sometimes."
The hope is that USF will be able to reverse the trend against the Orange (5-4, 1-3 in Big East), who have failed to build off an impressive 49-23 home win over then-No. 11 West Virginia. Syracuse dropped consecutive road games at Louisville and Connecticut and still need one win to become bowl eligible themselves.
USF has never lost in the Carrier Dome, winning in all three previous trips. However, the Bulls had a five-game win streak against Syracuse snapped with a 13-9 loss last season at Raymond James Stadium, one in which they were plagued by several missed opportunities.
"I think it will definitely be a great reminder of just like last week, missed opportunities," Holtz said. "I think right now every phase of the team needs to look at themselves with missed opportunities and what we can do to get better. How can we make up this one play on defense? How can we make us this one play on offense? And how can we make up this one play on special teams?
"I think we're a good football team right now. There are probably a lot of people who would argue with that with our wins and losses and when you look at where we are in the conference, but when you break us down as an offense, defense and special teams unit, we're doing a lot of good things. We just have to get some things cleaned up."