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USF earns first winning season since 2018 with a 45-0 rout of Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl

South Florida defensive end Jonathan Ross (10) and offensive lineman Donovan Jennings (73) pose with the trophy after the team's win over Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Lynne Sladky
South Florida defensive end Jonathan Ross (10) and offensive lineman Donovan Jennings (73) pose with the trophy after the team's 45-0 win over Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl at Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023

The Bulls' 7-6 record put them over .500 in Alex Golesh's first year as coach − one of the best turnarounds in the nation. The shutout against the undermanned Orange was USF's first since 2009.

Byrum Brown threw three touchdown passes and became the second University of South Florida quarterback with 4,000 total yards in a season in a 45-0 rout of undermanned Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl on Thursday night.

Brown, a redshirt freshman, closed out his outstanding season with 4,101 total yards. Quinton Flowers had 4,339 for the Bulls in 2016.

“I’ve said it before: tough, smart, gritty,” first-year USF coach Alex Golesh said.

USF (7-6) finished above .500 for the first time since 2018. The shutout was the Bulls' first since 2009 against Charleston Southern.

The Bulls put together one of the best turnarounds in the nation this season, after winning four of 37 games coming into 2023.

“Seven wins is not the pinnacle of college football, but it’s certainly the foundation,” Golesh said. “We will win championships in Tampa. We will win championships at South Florida.”

Syracuse (6-7) struggled at quarterback. With starter Garrett Shrader missing the game following shoulder surgery, interim coach Nunzio Campanile employed a hodgepodge approach at quarterback. The plan went about as well as it sounds.

Tight end Dan Villari, a former QB at the University of Michigan, drew the start, with backup quarterback Braden Davis and running back LeQuint Allen Jr. also sharing snaps. The Orange managed 159 yards against a defense that surrendered more than 450 yards per game during the regular season.

“We had to do what we had to do,” Campanile said.

But, help is on the way for Syracuse. After leading Ohio State to an 11-1 regular season, quarterback Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal and signed with Orange. Both McCord and incoming head coach Fran Brown attended the game in Boca Raton.

Syracuse nearly tied it at 7, but officials flagged defensive back Alijah Clark’s touchdown return of Brown's lateral because of a blindside block. The Orange still took possession in Bulls territory, but a botched field goal attempt resulted in Aamaris Brown’s 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Tramel Evans provided USF its second scoop-and-score by returning a fumble by Davis 61 yards in the closing seconds of the first half, giving the Bulls a 31-0 lead at the break.

Sean Atkins caught two of Brown’s touchdown passes. A former walk-on in his fifth year at USF, Atkins caught six passes for 93 yards in the game and became the first Bulls player to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

“That speaks to who he is — a team-first guy,” Bynum Brown said. “He means everything to this team.”

Brown finished 19-for-26 for 214 passing yards. He added 64 on the ground.

USF’s defense forced four turnovers and limited Syracuse to 1 of 17 on third downs.

“I told the defense after the second drive we were playing harder than them,” Golesh said. “And there’s a team that wants to be there — a team that’s just happy to be there — and a team that wants to win the game. We were there to win the game, and the defense set the tone.”