"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Big East, not to win every other game outside of the Big East," defensive tackle Ryne Giddins said. "We didn't declare going undefeated. We declared to win the Big East. Any other game outside of the Big East wasn't really our (main) objective."
Holtz called the 30-17 loss to Florida State, which moved up to No. 3 this week, disappointing.
"But at the same time I was encouraged. There was some growth," the coach said, adding if the team plays with the same type of passion it did against Florida State that he likes the Bulls chances of being competitive in a conference race where No. 19 Louisville, No. 22 Rutgers and unbeaten Cincinnati appear to be the teams to beat.
"A lot of naysayers may only see the end result. ... But I felt we got better as a football team," Holtz said.
"There's an awful lot of excitement to get back in the conference. I loved the opportunity to play Florida state, but I'm really excited to have the opportunity to get back into conference play. These are the games that have a residual effect," Holtz added. "Florida State game is kind of one and done. It's over. This game has a residual effect with lasting implications for the end of the year."
With quarterback B.J. Daniels leading the way, the players feel they're capable of making a run. After facing Temple, the Bulls have a bye before sandwiching Big East games against Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh around a nonconference date at Miami.
"We have to make sure we come out with the same feistiness and energy we came out with against Florida State," said Daniels, who's fifth on the Big East's career total offense list.
"The last couple of games, we lost. But right now, we're where we want to be," running back Demetris Murray said. "If we run out the rest of these games, we should be in good shape to win the Big East, which is our main goal."
Holtz is optimistic, too.
"I like the morale of this football team right now. I know that's hard to believe when you're sitting here with three losses in a row, but I don't believe morale just comes from winning," the coach said. "I think it certainly does for alumni and your fan base. But the morale for a football team, it comes from them feeling like they're getting better. They see the light at end of the tunnel."