- Andrea Adelson, College Football
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It is time to take a last look back at how each Big East team fared in 2011 with season-ending report cards.
Up today: USF.
Offense: The Bulls were improved on offense this season even though it did not feel that way. Scoring was up. Total offense skyrocketed an average of over 120 yards, from No. 7 in the Big East in 2010 to No. 2 in 2011. But there should be an asterisk next to those numbers. They are inflated because of three nonconference games against cupcakes — 519 yards against Ball State; 745 against FCS Florida A&M and 575 against UTEP. If you take those three games away, USF averaged 371.2 yards on offense, significantly down from the 431.7 it averaged in all 12 games. USF failed to score more than 20 points in four of its final eight games, and went over 400 yards in just three of its league games. The Bulls never went over 500 yards again after that early three-game stretch. Injuries hurt the development of the receiving group, and B.J. Daniels — while better — reverted to form in many late-game situations. It says something when you finish in the Top 30 in the nation in total offense, but finish with a losing record. Only four teams hit that rare feat in 2011.
Defense: USF took a step back from where it was a year ago in several defensive categories, allowing more points per game, more total yards per game and more passing yards per game. Sacks were up, but otherwise the defense was in the No. 4-5 range in most of the Big East stats. Just like the offense, it is important to look at more than just the numbers. You also have to consider the way this team played in crucial periods of games. The Bulls blew several second-half leads against teams like Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia and Cincinnati. A win in any of those, and they would have kept their bowl streak alive and avoided their worst finish in Big East history.
Overall: USF has been known as a team that swoons once Big East play begins. But the Bulls have never quite swooned like this. After a 4-0 start and national ranking, they ended the season with losses in seven of their final eight games. You could say the Bulls were ohsoclose because they lost five games by six points or less, including three on the final play of the game. But the bottom line is this — you have to get a failing grade when you 1) finish with a losing record while also 2) failing to live up to preseason expectations and 3) failing to go to a bowl game for the first time in seven years.