Zier: Now is the time for Scott, USF football to produce

Patrick Zier
Ledger correspondent

TAMPA — For South Florida coach Jeff Scott, spring practice this year was never really about the Xs and Os, although that was part of it. It was more about continuing to establish relationships and the kind of mindset needed to change the culture, to get this team ready to win. And while getting ready for the games has to be a priority, there's still a lot of that going on as fall camp opens this week.

From a coaching standpoint, Scott may never have a tougher season than he had during COVID-racked 2020, his first year at USF and his first year as a head coach, period. Scott knew what he wanted to do, he just couldn't do it. Because of the virus, there was no real sense of team early on.  Almost everything was done remotely and almost everybody was isolated from everybody else. Players and coaches met on Zoom rather than in person.

Of course South Florida wasn't unique in that respect, but the more established programs at least had a base to build on, to draw from. Before he could build a winner on the field, Scott had to construct a foundation, develop a new way of thinking, and COVID dealt those plans a major setback.

"We had to get to know our players, develop relationships with them," Scott said in his office here prior to the start of practice this week. "Some of the things we had to do last fall were similar to what we would normally have done in the spring. We had to show our players what we expected of them, and those who weren't ready to buy in needed to go someplace else."

So, as much as anything, last fall was about getting everybody who decided to stay on the same page as it was getting ready to play, and that was reflected on the field.

But the Bulls  have gotten through those growing pains and there is a new determination to succeed this year. "The team that showed up here in January had an attitude and mindset that was drastically different from last year," Scott said. "During our discretionary workouts in 2020, there were maybe one or two guys out there. This year, it was the entire team. The core of our team has bought in to our expectations, and our leadership is in a good place."

The key to this season lies in the Bulls' first four games; at North Carolina State, which is a very good team; a home game against Florida, which is even better; another home game against FAMU, a game the Bulls absolutely must win; and at Brigham Young, dangerous but not unbeatable.

Even if the Bulls defeat FAMU though, that means nothing if they don't show up against State and Florida and BYU. They don't have to win those games, but they have to play well enough to gain confidence going into their AAC schedule.

To do that, the Bulls must understand, as all good teams do, that you don't play to the level of your competition.  "It's not about changing your mindset," Scott said. "It's not about playing up to the level of your opponent or down to the level of your opponent. We have to play to our standard. We need to be consistent no matter who we're playing. The focus has to be on us and our execution. It's about playing your best game, not the quality of your opponent."

That's important because make no mistake, this team has to produce. Scott and his players can no longer just talk about winning. They have to actually win some games. "Last year, we set the table," Scott said. "Now, it's time to eat. Last year is what it is. It's time to go. It's important to our players, to our fans. They want results."

Indeed they do.

Patrick Zier