It took less than one quarter for the Bulls' plan to go completely awry.
Starting quarterback Bobby Eveld was knocked out of the game early, setting the tone for a most forgettable trip across the state for the Bulls. South Florida allowed 463 yards passing, the biggest total yielded by its defense in more than two years, and was eliminated from bowl contention with a 40-9 loss at Miami on Saturday.
"It's certainly disappointing to play the way we did tonight," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "I thought we had a really good week of practice. To come out and make some of the mistakes we made tonight, it was frustrating. I thought this was a game where we'd be able to be competitive."
For more than a quarter, they were. Then came a one-play, 15-yard Miami touchdown drive in the second quarter after an interception, and the floodgates opened not long afterward as the Hurricanes (6-5) hit the 40-point mark for the fifth time this season.
"We didn't make the plays when they needed to be made, receivers and running backs," Murray said. "With a new quarterback we've got to make plays for them."
So the first game of the post-B.J. Daniels era — the senior starter who's out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury — did not go quite as South Florida planned.
Daniels made his first appearance for USF more than four years ago, Aug. 30, 2008, when some touted him as the Bulls' quarterback of the future. And that moniker proved correct. Daniels finished his college career with 10,501 yards of total offense and helped engineer some of the signature moments in USF history, like wins against then-ranked Florida State and West Virginia in 2009 and a victory at Notre Dame Stadium to open last season.
This game, however, won't be remembered like those. Not even close.
Eveld went out with a separated left shoulder after getting hit by Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman. Floyd came in and completed 20 of 35 passes for 175 yards, with two interceptions.
"We didn't play the way we should've played, but Miami is a great team," Floyd said. "They played well. This is a game we can build on."
It's a game that will bring some clarity to Miami's future as well. For the second straight year, Miami beat South Florida to become bowl-eligible — and now, the Hurricanes' fate is up to the university's decision-makers once again.
Stephen Morris threw for 413 yards and three scores, Herb Waters had an 87-yard touchdown catch for Miami's longest reception in more than five years and the Hurricanes got their sixth win, the magic number for postseason eligibility. Miami would finish no worse than tied for first in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division by beating Duke next weekend.
The question is, will that be the final Hurricanes' game of the season, no matter what?
"I thought our kids played hard and we have to do the same thing next week," Miami coach Al Golden said. "We've got to block out the circumstances, don't make any excuses. We're responsible for what we can control."
A year ago, when Miami got win No. 6 by topping USF 6-3, the university announced a day later that the team would forgo any postseason opportunities because of an NCAA probe into the school's compliance practices.
That investigation is ongoing and as such, speculation is rampant that the Hurricanes — who still have not been presented with their notice of allegations from the NCAA — may feel compelled to make a similar no-bowl decision this year.
"We don't know what's going to happen," Morris said.
Schools sometimes choose to self-impose things like bowl bans with hope that the NCAA's committee on infractions takes those moves into account before issuing sanctions. For example, if the infractions committee decided Miami deserved a two-year bowl ban for whatever wrongdoing is found, then it would be possible — though not guaranteed — that the Hurricanes could play in a bowl next year, since they willingly sat out in 2011 and may do so again in 2012.
It's believed that the decision will ultimately come from university president Donna Shalala — the former Health and Human Services secretary under President Bill Clinton — and acting athletic director Blake James, who said earlier this month that the school has "to be very careful and think through all the ramifications."
"We have the best president in the country," Golden said. "We have a president that oversaw a $600 billion budget when she was in the Cabinet. She was in rooms where they made decisions whether they were going to overthrow heads of state or whether they were going to commit troops. I think she can handle this one. I have complete confidence that she can handle this one."