Bulls wide receiver Sean Atkins looks to break a tackle during mid-season game action. Atkins was a key target for Byrum Brown during the season. Francis Fedor Photos.
By FRANCIS FEDOR
The University of South Florida (USF) Bulls football team wrapped up a successful season with a 45-0 victory over Syracuse University in Boca Raton in the 2023 Boca Raton Bowl hosted at FAU’s stadium. It caps off a remarkable turnaround for a team that saw its coach fired after a 1-win season and a search for a new head coach kicked off at the end of the season.
The USF administration looked to the University of Tennessee to tap offensive coordinator Alex Golesh to become its head coach. He led a prolific offense at UT, and USF sought to build with offense. Coach Golesh accepted the role and was introduced to the public on Dec. 4, 2022, making an appearance at the USF v. UCF basketball game as he started to integrate himself into the USF athletics landscape. Next up for Golesh was to hire a coaching staff and build a roster. To compliment the Golesh offense, he hired Todd Orlando from FAU to be his defensive coordinator. The FAU defense was ranked #25 in the nation under Orlando, producing 21 turnovers. Golesh added Joel Gordon to be his offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. It would be a key role for the Bulls as they would need to build confidence in an QB to serve as the keystone to their offense.
Gordon worked alongside Golesh at Iowa State, and they were influential in turning around a 2-9 team to a team that appeared in five straight bowl games and played a role in mentoring Brock Purdy into the best QB in Iowa State history. They would have a similar task in hand with USF as the Bulls turned to redshirt freshman Byrum Brown from Raleigh, NC, to be the leader of the offense on the field. Brown did see playing time in the 2022 season, playing in four games and starting the last two vs. Tulsa and UCF. Brown stepped up to the challenge and posted the first 3000-yard passing season in program history, joining Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels as the only two players to post 3000-passing yards and 700-plus rushing yards. Brown turned 19 in the 2023 season and was a huge part of leading the Bulls to their first bowl appearance since 2018. Brown tossed 23 TD passes and was only two shy of the single season record of 25 set by Quinton Flowers in 2017. He garnered a number of honors during the regular season, including AAC offensive player of the week. It was a stellar season for the young QB and has USF fans believing in a revival of Bulls football for years to come.
Bulls football opened on the road with a loss but immediately bounced back in the home opener against Florida A&M with a 38-24 win. USF then welcomed Alabama to Raymond James Stadium for a game vs. a team steeped in tradition and always in the mix to compete for a national championship. The Bulls scored first and went into halftime tied at three and looked to have a reasonable chance to pull off the upset, but the offense was held scoreless and the defense gave up a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters. The effort was enough to drop Alabama in the national rankings and was a “things have changed” moment for USF. The team went on a two-game winning streak after that game and then alternated wins and losses each week and clinched a bowl berth for the first time since 2018 with a win over Charlotte in Tampa.
The Bulls celebrated their first bowl appearance in five years shutting out Syracuse. It was the first time the Orange was shut-out in a bowl appearance. And the offense continued to shine with Sean Atkins, a favorite target and offensive standout during the regular season, catching two TD passes from QB Brown to bring home a trophy for the showcase at the USF Athletic center, capping a successful first season for new head coach Alex Golesh. Welcome to Champa Bay Coach Golesh.