It has been a rough year for the South Florida Bulls, who have lost a number of key players to injury and have struggled to develop any continuity in a season in which they have fallen to the bottom of the Big East conference standings.
The biggest of those injuries was to senior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who broke his ankle Nov. 3 in a Bulls win against Connecticut.
Daniels was third in total offense (10,501) in Big East history and had been the Bulls' leader for the better part of the past four seasons.
Without him, the offense has been anemic as the Bulls (3-8) went on to a 40-9 loss to Miami and a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati.
Despite the injuries and adversity, South Florida coach Skip Holtz is excited about the season finale Saturday against Pitt -- and not because he wants the season to end.
Holtz said he has been impressed by how his team has handled adversity and he is proud to take the field one last time with his seniors.
"We keep talking about this being senior week," Holtz said. "We have had spirited practices. This senior group, I keep talking about the love I have for them because of the quality people they are, the young men they are, the togetherness that they have and just seeing them out there working together and embracing this week.
"It has been neat to watch it transpire from a togetherness standpoint of this team and I know it is really important to the underclassmen to play well this week to make sure that we send these seniors out the right way and that is because of the respect that everyone has for this group of seniors and what they have accomplished."
The Bulls are eliminated from bowl consideration, so this game against the Panthers is for nothing more than pride and the right to finish the season on a high note.
Pitt (5-6) can become bowl eligible with a win, so the Panthers have a lot more to play for than the Bulls. But Holtz doesn't see it that way.
He said that every opportunity to take the field is an important one, especially for a team like the Bulls, who have many younger players playing because of the rash of injuries.
He said that this game will set the tone for the offseason and the winter conditioning program and it is chance for the seniors to leave their mark and create a legacy of a group that weathered tremendous adversity and never quit.
"I get out there on the field and see all those young players running around and some of the things they are doing -- it is really fun to go to practice," Holtz said. "The upbeat and positive attitude of these young men and the way they feel they are getting better is special. We have to keep getting better, and there is a lot of hope on that football team.
"You never know how a team is going to react, but [young players] working through the hard times is building for the future. We look at the way they continued to work and evaluate them differently. We don't get win oriented, obviously, but you build the product and the wins will come.
"I am very impressed with the way this team has handled the adversity that has been on them. They have a great attitude and the young guys playing are only going to get better. And the way they are staying together is one of the legacies this senior class will leave -- the way to handle adversity and come to work with the right attitude every day and work on getting better."pittsports
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @paulzeise.