The slogans are printed on the tarpaulins that surround the University of South Florida’s football practice field.
Blame No One.
Make No Excuses.
True to form, USF coach Willie Taggart and his players aren’t pointing fingers or making excuses for what seems to be a puzzling lack of fan support, even as the crowd-pleasing Bulls (5-1) continue to put up historic numbers.
USF has the nation’s longest streaks in 200-yard rushing games (11 straight games), scoring 35-plus points (10), and surpassing the 440-yard mark in total offense (10).
The Bulls, who average 44.5 points and 502.7 yards per game, are on track to finish eighth or greater in all-time single-season marks for Florida teams in total points, average points per game, total touchdowns, total yards and average yards per game, outproducing some of the state’s most iconic teams, including some that won national championships and had Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.
Here’s another statistic: 16,585.
That was the actual attendance last Saturday at Raymond James Stadium for USF’s homecoming game, a 38-22 win against East Carolina. The student section appeared to contain about 2,000.
There are excuses, of course, and some could be valid. Maybe there was a spinoff from Hurricane Matthew (although it didn’t come near the Tampa Bay area). It was a noon game, brutally hot, due to television scheduling through the American Athletic Conference. There’s lots to do in Tampa, a challenge for every professional franchise trying to attract fans.
Last season, Taggart guided the Bulls to the program’s first bowl game since 2010, and they can become bowl eligible on Saturday night when the Connecticut Huskies come to town.
The Bulls score a lot — and score quickly — with an up-tempo offense. Quarterback Quinton Flowers accounts for 303.3 yards per game. Running back Marlon Mack already has set the program’s career rushing record. Wide receiver Rodney Adams, who has scored a touchdown in 12 of his last 15 games, is one of the nation’s fastest skill-position players.
What’s not to like?
The Bulls are in great position to win the AAC’s East Division and compete for the program’s first conference title. If the right chips fall, the Bulls could play for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl berth, likely in the Cotton Bowl.
These are heady times for USF’s 20-year-old football program.
The bandwagon has lots of room.
“It is what it is,’’ Bulls tight end Mitchell Wilcox said. “We’d like to have the students there and a bunch of fans, but we’re going to play our game and do what the Bulls do.’’
“We can only control what we can control,’’ Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols said. “We have a saying, ‘We’re all we’ve got. We’re all we need.’ ‘’
USF attendance reached its apex with an average of 53,170 in 2007, when the Bulls rose to the nation’s No. 2 ranking at midseason. When the Bulls suffered through four consecutive losing seasons (2011-’14), the fan base began to splinter.
Clearly, USF football would have a better outlook and atmosphere with a smaller on-campus stadium instead of a 65,000-seat NFL facility… but that requires money — lots of it — and it’s why a potential opening in the Big 12 Conference is so enticing to USF (and others).
However, that doesn’t explain why the Bulls can’t get a more representative crowd for what seems to be an exciting, winning product.
“You promote it by the way you play on the football field,’’ Taggart said.
“Our guys have done a great job on the football field. We’re fun to watch. It’s something we all wanted around here.
“Our role, my role, is to put a good product on the football field, something people want to watch and get excited about. The rest should take care of itself.’’
Taggart added diplomatically, “I do know having folks in there can add some strength to our football team.’’
But again … no excuses.
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve been stressing not to blame anyone, don’t make excuses and do something,’’ Taggart said. “That’s all we preached, all we talked about. You don’t make excuses when you’re building something.
“We need the entire Bull Nation and all of this Bay area. We are Tampa Bay. We’ve got to get it that way and we will.’’