2018 USF Football: A New Era

How a QB From Hawaii Unified Two Bitter Rivals

"A hush fell over Raymond James Stadium. Football didn’t matter anymore. The rivalry didn’t matter anymore."

First, let me get this out – this is a column, which means these are my views, not anyone else’s, not my employer’s. This is a vessel for me to get my views out to the readers. Simple. A lot of people seem to forget that in times like these.

With our formalities out of the way, let’s get another point across. USF football is a mess right now. Not just with the on-field product, but everywhere you look, there’s fighting. Fans are going after each other in person and on social media. Fellow USF media members are at each other’s throats for having a different opinion, some even calling for credentials to be pulled.

Right when the USF fanbase needs a calming hand – which comes from the media (in which Joey Knight has done a fairly good job of that) – the people that are able to do that are almost at war.

It’s silliness. It really is.

We know what the culprit is, coaching. It’s the elephant in the room. Should Charlie Strong have a job at USF at the end of the year? How about Sterlin Gilbert? Brian Jean-Mary?

Maybe unity would come in a different form if USF coaching or media couldn’t bring it to the table.

It came – in an unfortunate way – during the second quarter of Friday’s War on I-4 battle between UCF and USF.

UCF QB McKenzie Milton bounced a run to the right side and took a low hit from USF CB Mazzi Wilkins. Nothing dirty. Wilkins was playing to the game as Milton was low to the ground. As football has shown – injuries can sometimes be unavoidable. Milton’s leg twisted awkwardly. Instantly, a USF trainer was by Milton’s side.

USF LB Greg Reaves walked over towards me (I was about 5-10 yards away from where it happened on the USF sideline), looked me in the eyes, shook his head, grimacing and said, “It’s bad.”

It was. Not even a minute after, a golf cart was coming out from the southeast tunnel to take the Heisman candidate to the locker room. Nearly all of the UCF football team made its way out to the USF sideline to see what was going on. Strong kneeled next to Milton’s head, making sure he was okay. UCF HC Josh Heupel close by, as well.

In that moment, a hush fell over Raymond James Stadium. Football didn’t matter anymore. The rivalry didn’t matter anymore.

A brilliant, young quarterback’s health mattered. It mattered to USF and UCF fans alike. In that moment, a stadium of 50,000-plus, including all of the people watching at home, were unified in wanting to know if Milton would be okay.

All fans – no matter what colors they were wearing – shouted “U-C-F” as Milton was loaded onto the golf cart. The crowd roared as the Hawaii native raised his fist to the sky. UCF fans clapped. USF fans cheered.

Milton is the one individual that could bring notoriety to the American Athletic Conference. Sure, UCF has done great things as a team. 24 wins in a row is nothing to sneeze at. 22 of those (23 if you count the 7-0 lead that Milton exited with) came at the hands of the junior from Kapolei, Hawaii.

He’s been responsible for 79 total touchdowns, most in the FBS. He’s the only UCF quarterback to ever throw for 4,000 yards in a season.

And unfortunately, he won’t play in the Knights’ biggest two games (potentially) in program history. If UCF wins big over Memphis in the AAC title game and enough dominoes fall, the Knights may just find themselves in the College Football Playoff.

It would be monumental for the AAC, for Group of Five schools around the country.

You can thank Milton for that. You can thank him for putting the AAC on the map.

You can thank him for uniting a pair of bitter rivals for a few minutes.

You can thank him for uniting an opposing fanbase that needs to stick together.

Coaching Carousel:

Two separate ideas, I know. A lot of people have asked for my take on the coaching carousel and what should happen over this offseason.

Well – USF should not fire Charlie Strong. Yes, USF threw in the towel on fourth-and-one, only down 14, by punting the ball away. Would you rather it be another halfback dive.

As a media member, I’m not at liberty to call for coach’s heads. So, I won’t. I will say this – the offensive playcalling has to change. Jordan Cronkrite was so limited in what he can do in the second half of the season. Johnny Ford really became a star, ride the hot hand, I understand that. That was primarily because of the playcalling.

Something has to change though, offensively. Maybe that’s with a different offensive coordinator, or give Sterlin Gilbert a much, much shorter leash?

Or – as I know many USF fans would like – promote Tampa favorite Shaun King to offensive coordinator.

I could see that, and I could get behind that.

I think Strong has to stay. He talked about recruiting “stronger, faster” players in order for USF to be good – and that doesn’t happen if he gets fired.

Look at this recruiting class for 2019. Leonard Parker from Plant hawked down a Venice High School player from 25 yards behind in the Kickoff Classic to force a fumble. Raymond Collins from Largo High is a monster offensive lineman. Thomas Nance at Lake Region in Polk County is a big-time playmaker.

Strong got it right with Donovan Jennings out of Gaither at left tackle and Brad Cecil at center. Terrance Horne was the talk of Tampa before he suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Strong didn’t miss with Ford. Zion Roland, Dwayne Boyles, Vincent Davis, Rashawn Yates, Tyrone Barber and Antonio Grier all made some noticeable contributions.

Give it time. This team isn’t as far off from success as many think.

Some personnel changes do need to happen, especially on the offensive side, but there’s many different things you can do with it.

Just give him some time.

by Will Turner
Columnist & Photographer, SoFloBulls.com | @TBTurner813

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