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Familiar questions face USF

To win the Big East, Skip Holtz believes, South Florida cannot focus on the big picture. The Bulls must try to get better every game, a motto that will be put to the test over the next two weeks.

USF must bounce back from a conference-opening loss to Rutgers by taking care of business at Ball State this weekend before gearing up to play No. 4 Florida State. Then, Holtz said, his team can try to build upon its ugly recent history in conference play.

"That's where we've tried to keep our focus from Day 1, once this season has started," Holtz said. "We don't run from the fact of what our long-term goals are for this program, what we want to do and the level we want to compete at. But the only way to get there is to learn to compete week-in and week-out, and if you can learn to win every week, then at the end of the year you look back and you go, 'Wow, we're conference champs.' But that's where we're trying to maintain our focus and that's where we've tried to keep it from Day 1."

USF entered 2012 as the Big East's preseason No. 2 team despite going 1-6 in conference play a year ago. A 10-point home loss to the Scarlet Knights marked the Bulls' ninth straight Thursday night defeat, and it marked their ninth loss in their past 10 conference games.

A late double-digit comeback win a week earlier at Nevada suggested USF may have turned the corner after losing five games by six or fewer points a year ago. But a four-turnover effort five days later under the home spotlight took the air out, and now it's back to the drawing board for Holtz, who must convince his players that Thursday was more aberration than habit.

"I think the players are extremely disappointed," Holtz said. "They know we had our opportunities, we can't make the most of them when you turn the ball over. And I think before you ever learn how to win you've got to learn how to quit beating yourself, and that starts with turnovers, and we can't make some of the mistakes that we're making against good football teams in close games.

"Everybody was down, everybody was disappointed. They know that we can play better than we did [Thursday], and we have played better than we did [Thursday]. I think everybody kind of put their heads in the sand for their 24 hours and we had our little pity party where everybody felt sorry for themselves, and now that's over and we've got to go forward."