No. 39: South Florida
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 26, 2011
We have a problem. Lou Holtz has a son, Skip, who coaches at South Florida. Lou Holtz has undying love and affection for Notre Dame, which takes on Skip’s Bulls in the season opener. Lou Holtz is an analyst for a major television network, meaning he is paid to give his opinion on marquee college football games, of which South Florida-Notre Dame is one. So there’s the problem: Holtz will be asked to give his analysis, but his analysis is often tainted by his own personal allegiances. So who wins out when family – South Florida – takes on his beloved Fighting Irish? Well, it’s not such a big problem in the grand scheme of things. But now that U.S.F. continues to improve, what would Holtz do if the Bulls, Notre Dame and South Carolina ended the year undefeated? Not to mention N.C. State, Minnesota, Arkansas or William & Mary. That would be a problem.
10 (4 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
at Notre Dame
- Sept. 10
- Sept. 17
- Sept. 24
- Sept. 29
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 22
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 11
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 25
- Dec. 1
Last year’s prediction
What is there to like about the Bulls? Beyond Holtz, a coach with a proven track record, South Florida could speed up the learning process should a handful of the many young, unproven contributors make an immediate impact. The offense will center around Daniels, a wonderfully talented athlete still learning how to play quarterback on the college level. The Bulls aren’t a conference title contender; in a strange way, I think Rutgers — a team I have ranked behind the Bulls — more capable of exceeding expectations and challenging for a B.C.S. berth. Nevertheless, this is a clear bowl team, though a team that will occasionally stumble while growing accustomed to a new coach, a new voice and new standards. Not to mention new philosophies on both sides of the ball.
In a nutshell Consider the foundation laid for Skip Holtz and South Florida. Well, at least the cement has been poured: work remains to be done, of course, but at least U.S.F. can take solace in the fact that unlike the days under his predecessor, these Bulls finished strong. Though only 3-3 in mid-October, the Bulls won five of seven to finish the season 8-5, albeit a lackluster 3-4 in Big East play. As noted, the foundation isn’t built overnight. Holtz’s next plan of action should be rebuilding an offense that lacks punch. U.S.F. ended the year ranked 85th in scoring, 71st in rushing, 101st in passing and 105th in total offense — those numbers need to improve. They will with time, especially once this team catches up with the West Coast attack Holtz ran to great effect at East Carolina. But can the offense take a significant step forward in 2011? If the Bulls can get more from this side of the ball, this team is a definite B.C.S. contender.
High point A 23-20, overtime win over once-intimidating Miami (Fla.) on the second-to-last Saturday of the regular season. Beyond granting U.S.F. its seventh win, the victory over the Hurricanes gave the program something to hang its hat on during the upcoming recruiting cycle. It was a big win for the program. And it was hard not to be impressed by the way South Florida outfought Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, clawing out a 31-26 win despite struggling to move the ball, as most had predicted.
Low point Only one Big East loss came by more than a touchdown, so that’s the pick: a 20-6 loss at West Virginia. It wasn’t the first time the offense came up short, nor would it be the last.
Tidbit South Florida has posted 12 non-losing seasons over its 14 years of existence as a football program. The one losing season, as you’d expect, came in that 1997 season. The other was a strange slide to 4-7 in 2004, South Florida’s final season as part of Conference USA. In a not entirely apropos comparison, Florida State had four losing seasons over its first 14 years of existence, from 1947-60; Miami (Fla.) had three from 1927-40; and Florida had three from 1906-20.
Tidbit (Big East edition) Which Big East program has the most wins since 2005, when Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida joined the conference to give it a nine-team format? It’s West Virginia by a mile: 60-17, thanks mainly to three-straight 11-win seasons under Rich Rodriguez from 2005-7. Cincinnati comes in second, thanks to another successful three-year stint from a since-departed coach in Brian Kelly. Third? South Florida: 48-24, one win ahead of Rutgers, five wins ahead of Pittsburgh and Louisville, six wins ahead of Connecticut and 26 games ahead of Syracuse.
Tidbit (New College of Florida edition) There were several theories as to today’s team based on yesterday’s hint at the bottom of the Tulsa preview, which said the following:
One of the satellite campuses associated with tomorrow’s university shared its campus with an institution whose alumni include a Fields Medal-winning mathematician, a time management expert and an actress who once shared the screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So the answer is South Florida, obviously. The satellite campus in question is University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee; the institution that shared a site with Sarasota-Manatee was the New College of Florida, which is actually a very well-regarded school; the New College’s Field Medal-winning alumni was William Thurston, who won the award in 1982 for his work on 3-manifolds; the time management expert was David Allen; and the child actress in question was Sarah Rose Karr, who was one of the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s students in the 1990 classic “Kindergarten Cop.”
Former players in the N.F.L.
15 S Nate Allen (Philadelphia), OT Marc Dile (Tampa Bay), CB Mike Jenkins (Dallas), WR Taurus Johnson (Washington), DT Terrell McClain (Carolina), LB Tyrone McKenzie (Tampa Bay), LB Kawika Mitchell (New Orleans), WR Carlton Mitchell (Cleveland), CB Jerome Murphy (St. Louis), LB Stephen Nicholas (Atlanta), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants), S Mistral Raymond (Minnesota), DE George Selvie (St. Louis), LB Jacquian Williams (New York Giants), LB Kion Wilson (San Diego).
Arbitrary top five list
N.B.A. teams’ title chances most hurt by Jordan-era Bulls
1. New York Knicks.
2. Utah Jazz.
3. Portland Trailblazers.
4. Indiana Pacers.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers.
Skip Holtz (Notre Dame ‘86), 8-5 after one season at South Florida. He arrived in Tampa after leading East Carolina to back-to-back Conference USA championships, as well as four consecutive bowl trips. His stature grew with each successive season at E.C.U., in direct correlation with his team’s win total: 3-20 from 2003-4, the Pirates won five games in 2005, seven in 2006, eight in 2007 and nine games in both 2008 and 2009. In all, Holtz compiled a 37-27 record over five years with the Pirates. He was hired following five years as the assistant head coach under his father at South Carolina, though he had previous head coaching experience at Connecticut from 1994-98 (33-23 record). In his final season, Holtz lead the Huskies to a 10-3 record and a final ranking in the F.C.S. Top 25. It is not hard to imagine why Holtz had a degree of success with E.C.U.; in addition to working under his father with Gamecocks and at Notre Dame (1990-93), Holtz coached under Bobby Bowden at Florida State (1987-88) and Earle Bruce at Colorado State (1989), compiling a career mark of 67-15-2 as an assistant. Still relatively young at 47, Holtz’s decision to accept the U.S.F. position came as a surprise to some who felt he could have landed a job at a more historically successful program. However, Holtz saw in South Florida the same factors that attracted a Bobby Bowden to Florida State or Howard Schnellenberger to Miami: a fertile recruiting base, the opportunity for massive growth and the potential to be the defining figure in the history of the program. If Jim Leavitt laid the groundwork for future success, it becomes Holtz’s job to get South Florida off the lower levels of the Big East and into the penthouse. He’s off to a very nice start.
Players to watch
It wasn’t a very pretty year for junior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who struggled grasping a new system that seemed to play away from his improvisational strengths. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Daniels tossed 14 touchdowns against 8 picks while rushing for a team-best 772 yards. His numbers nosedived in a big way last fall: 1,685 yards — roughly 300 fewer yards in 18 more attempts — with 11 touchdowns against 13 picks and only 259 yards on the ground. Asked to do less, in some ways, Daniels did just that. What U.S.F. and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch wants from Daniels is consistency, which entails hitting on at least 60 percent of his attempts, limiting his interceptions and staying within himself, though that does detract from Daniels’ strength outside the pocket.
Year two in this system will surely find Daniels more comfortable, which will lead to better production, but how good will Daniels be? I think he’s just too gifted not to have a far better year. Yet last year marked a step back for one of the nation’s better athletes under center, and I still think U.S.F. would be wise to give Daniels more opportunities to make plays with his legs. It’s on Fitch and Holtz to be a little more flexible, as while the future of this offense lies with a pure pocket-passer, the Bulls should tailor the system just a bit to better fit Daniels’ skill set. As was the case in 2010, Daniels holds the key to the entire offense.
The Bulls must replace leading rusher Moise Plancher, who ended his career with a very nice senior season. You’d think that junior Demetris Murray (533 yards, 4 scores) would step into Plancher’s shoes, as Murray and Plancher did share top duties a year ago. You’d probably be right; Murray knows this offense, has proven an ability to make plays in this offense, so he’ll continue to factor heavily into the mix. But the big story in the backfield is the arrival of former Colorado transfer Darrell Scott, who is eligible for snaps after sitting out last season.
Scott, as we’re all aware, arrived in Boulder with massive expectations but ended up being a massive disappointment. Thanks to a fresh start, look for Scott to show why he was such a highly-touted recruit, choosing the Buffaloes over Texas, Oklahoma and offers from coast to coast. Another B.C.S. conference transfer, former Auburn back Dontae Aycock, will be the big back in this offense. U.S.F. wants to get the run the ball with its backs, not Daniels, and the Bulls definitely have the backfield to do so.
A.J. Love is back on the field at receiver after missing all of last season with an A.C.L. tear, which is great news for this South Florida offense. Love was due to be a major player at receiver in 2010, so his return provides a sizable boost to a group still looking for a top target. Maybe Love will be that guy, though he needs to recapture his 2009 form. Converted quarterback Evan Landi (29 catches for 402 yards), South Florida’s leading returning receiver, is a starter heading into the fall. As is former defensive back Terrence Mitchell, who has speed to burn but no experience at the position. There’s an overall lack of experience here, minus senior Joel Miller and junior Lindsey Lamar (25 for 161). So the Bulls need help from redshirt freshman Deonte Welch and sophomores Sterling Griffin and Derrick Hopkins in order to get this passing game off the ground.
Holtz made a great hire at defensive coordinator in Mark Snyder, who became available following the 2009 season after failing to turn things around at Marshall. He did a nice job in his first year with the program, continuing South Florida’s recent history of solid play defensively despite replacing two standout rush ends, another pair of starters at linebacker and retooling the secondary on the fly. Now that Snyder has passed those hurdles — and now that his charges are another year wiser in his system — look for the Bulls to take another step forward defensively.
If the Bulls take a step back defensively it will be thanks to a rather large hole in the middle of the line: Terrell McClain, the anchor of South Florida’s run defense, will be hard to replace. And such an imposing figure can make or break a defense, as we’ve seen many times in the recent past. The onus is on senior Keith McCaskill and junior Cory Grissom to maintain the solid level of play along the interior of the line. Neither has started for the Bulls, but both were important pieces of the rotation in 2010. They’ll start, with redshirt freshman Todd Chandler and sophomores Luke Sager and Demi Thompson the top reserves. Chandler is going to do big things for the Bulls at some point in his career. Sooner rather than later, hopefully.
U.S.F. is loaded at end, one year after the program needed to replace two of the finest defenders in school history. There’s talent in the top pair, sophomore Ryan Giddins (19 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and senior Patrick Hampton (20 tackles, 7 for loss), but the real story is depth: it seem as if the Bulls could go five deep here, which should mean a heavy rotation of speedy ends dedicated to getting to the quarterback. The list of backups includes sophomore Julius Forte, junior Anthony Hill and senior Claude Davis; the latter, a former JUCO addition, will be asked only to rush the passer.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where U.S.F. returns two of last season’s starters. One is junior middle linebacker Sam Barrington (65 tackles, 6.5 for loss). Despite his relative youth, Barrington is a team leader in the middle of the defense. Sophomore DeDe Lattimore (69 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is back on the weak side after playing very well as a rookie starter. The Bulls need a new starter on the strong side: redshirt freshman Reshard Cliett has a slight leg up on senior Curtis Weatherspoon, but the latter’s experience might end up giving him the edge. But Cliett, a converted safety, has a promising blend of size and speed.
There’s a very nice blend of experience and talented youth in the secondary. The four starters are locked into place, but depth might be at a program-high thanks to a recent infusion of defensive backs via South Florida’s solid recruiting efforts. Junior strong safety Jon Lejiste (43 tackles, team-best 4 sacks) has a very nice grasp of things at strong safety. He’s joined by senior free safety Jerrell Young, last year’s team leader in interceptions with three. Senior Quenton Washington and junior Kayvon Webster will start at cornerback.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line Three starters must be replaced, none bigger then multiple-year starting center Sampson Genus. U.S.F. will promote senior Kevin McCaskill into his old spot: McCaskill started once last fall when Genus went down to injury, so perhaps the transition will be a smooth one — still, McCaskill is really the only viable option at center, so he not only must deliver but also avoid any bouts with injury. Even while losing Genus hurts, the biggest question mark up front is at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Quinterrius Eatmon won the job, so let’s give him credit for that, but he’ll be lined up across some from very talented ends both in and out of Big East play, so his youth is a bit of a concern. The Bulls can feel secure at guard, where all-conference pick Jeremiah Warren lines up on the left side and Chaz Hine on the right. These two seniors will help McCaskill ease into full-time starting duties at center. Junior Mark Popek was an easy pick at left tackle: he lost his grasp on the starting job last season, but he was a solid performer as a freshman in 2009. To be honest, the Bulls might be in fine shape if McCaskill’s transition is a smooth one and Eatmon shows himself capable of holding down the fort on the right side. But those are question marks, as is depth along the second level of the depth chart. Senior left tackle Darren Powe is a nice option behind Popek, but U.S.F. can’t feel overly comfortable with its reserves elsewhere. But there is talent here, and the line will benefit from another year in this offensive system.
Game(s) to watch
The opener with Notre Dame stands out, as does a late-season date with Miami (Fla.), which will want some revenge after last year’s loss. All Big East games are big, but games against Pittsburgh and West Virginia will decide how the top half of the conference shakes out. The Bulls play four conference games on the road and three at home.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell I have a Big East favorite. I see two teams above the rest, one a bit more than the other. And I see three Big East teams that can sit back in July and have very real B.C.S. hopes: South Florida is one of those teams. There’s a lot to like, starting with a very good coaching staff entering its second season with the program. Holtz and his assistants did a fine job in 2010, starting slow but turning things on down the stretch, which lends credence to the thought that U.S.F. will continue to get better and better with this staff in place. There’s also talent in the offensive backfield, led by a crop of intriguing running backs headlined by a pair of top-notch transfers. The only real question mark on defense is along the interior of the line, which is cause for concern but not, in my mind, something that’s going to keep South Florida from reaching its full potential. So don’t be surprised if the Bulls end up taking home the Big East and reaching a B.C.S. bowl; be upset, as this team is not of that caliber without the conference tie-in, but don’t be surprised. So why do I have U.S.F. third in the Big East? Because the team is not as talented as either West Virginia or Pittsburgh, in my opinion, though the gap isn’t all that large. Because Daniels has talent but lacks consistency, and his play will again dictate this team’s fate offensively. Because while the team will be better in year two under Holtz, I still think the Bulls need to learn what it takes to win a Big East crown. But they’re learning, and have the right coach in place to eventually get there. For now, U.S.F. is running third in a pretty weak Big East, behind Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Dream season The year starts with a win at Notre Dame and ends with a win over West Virginia. That would spell an 11-1 finish, a Big East title and a B.C.S. berth.
Nightmare season The Bulls take a step back to 6-6, getting to .500 only with help from three laughable games in non-conference play.
In case you were wondering
Where do South Florida fans congregate? As always, begin with the independent site. In South Florida’s case, it’s The Bulls Pen; a solid play on words. If you’re more interested in recruiting, check out USFNation.com or USFBullsEye.com. Fans can also find local coverage at the Web sites of The St. Petersburg Times and The Tampa Tribune. For a blog’s take, visit Voodoo Five and The Bull Rush.
Through 82 teams 247,158.
Who is No. 38? The largest city in the state housing tomorrow’s university was founded on the same day — not the same year, but the same day — that Abraham Lincoln announced he would issue a formal emancipation of all slaves in the United States on the first day of the following calendar year.
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Tags: A.J. Love, B.J. Daniels, Big East, Darrell Scott, DeDe Lattimore, Jeremiah Warren, Jon Lejiste, Kevin McCaskill, Mark Snyder, Sam Barrington, Skip Holtz, South Florida
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