Challenge The Assumption: Is USF Any Good?

USF is 7-0 – congrats to them and that’s a fun ride as we all know. But are the Bulls for real or is this just a paper tiger in Tampa? Today, I’m challenging my own assumption:

There are 5 undefeated teams left in FBS: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, UCF, and USF. From the eyeball test – who would you prefer to play? The obvious answer is South Florida.
And when you drill down it’s even worse. In 7 wins, the Bulls average scoring margin is just 9.9 (in UH’s 6 wins, average scoring margin is 24.8). Compare USF to other undefeateds:
Alabama – 38.2
Clemson – 28.6
UCF – 26.3
Notre Dame – 13.9
USF – 9.9
USF’s average scoring margin against FBS competition is just 7 points and in their 3 AAC games, the margin shrinks to 5.33. And that’s having played East Carolina, UConn, and Tulsa – not exactly a murderer’s row.
When looking at the Bulls, I think back to early-season UH from 2011. In the first few FBS games of that year, UH was pretty sluggish. Close wins over UCLA, LaTech, and UTEP and a closer-than-the-score-suggests UNT game are a lot like USF’s start.
But after those close wins, UH hit another gear: their next five wins were by an average of 45.2 ppg. Compare that to USF the last few weeks – they had to score 3 times in the last 7 minutes to beat Tulsa and then gave up 30 to UConn in an eight-point win (UConn’s highest FBS point total since Oct. 6, 2017). USF is not trending in the right direction – which is where my assumption came from in the first place.
So I went to the numbers and compared them to this UH team – a team with a lot of potential but still hasn’t put a full game together. The numbers helped confirm my assumption as well.
*All figures in parentheses below are national rankings. Click on tables to enlarge

In what I would call major stats, UH has a clear advantage most of the way across. USF is better in first down defense and significantly better in 3rd down defense. The most curious thing about USF is they put up a ton of yards but don’t turn those yards into points while UH’s total offense and scoring offense are virtually identical.

As you’ll see more below, most of the rating systems are not terribly impressed with the undefeated Bulls. ESPN’s FPI puts them in the bottom half of the country overall and in efficiency. And at 8.9 wins, FPI believes USF will win about 2 games remaining on their schedule. They think UH will win 4 more games.

SB Nation’s S+P Ratings have my favorite set of numbers to really get into and dig around. S+P has both UH and USF rated higher than other services but they have USF well behind the Coogs everywhere except defensively. The difference in resume is stark here: even with a loss, UH’s resume is 35 spots higher. USF hasn’t been great on 3rd down and short or long (they’re decent on 3rd and medium).
Sagarin rates USF similar to where ESPN FPI does as the Massey Power Ratings say the same. But Massey has USF slightly ahead of the Coogs – mainly due to the disparity in their defensive power ratings. Massey sees USF losing about 3 of their last 5 games as well but are slightly less bullish on UH’s future wins.
The Massey Composite is compiles hundreds of rating systems and averages them out – surprisingly, they have USF several spots above UH. That’s not what others ratings have shown.

Here’s all of the future predictors in one place. USF has one more win than UH currently yet both projected win totals have the Bulls well behind UH. Sagarin Predictor uses scores from this season to predict future performance and has USF significantly behind as well.
Conclusion: The eye test, the small winning margins, national rating systems, and the future predictors all agree: USF isn’t what they seem. The Bulls have struggled against bad competition and haven’t really faced a good top-half team. I believe my assumption was correct in that USF is ready to come back to earth.

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