South Florida may be the hardest Big East team to predict. They could fall outside of the top half or wind up wining the league. Much of their success rests on quarterback BJ Daniels. The junior has potential to be one of the best players in the conference if he is able to avoid turnovers. Trouble on the offensive line this season could threaten his chance to lead South Florida to a title though.
Offense: Daniels regressed, the running game wasn’t great, and the offense was a mess in general last season. There are plenty of tools on South Florida. It is just a matter of learning the offense and fixing the mental mistakes.
After 772 rushing yards as a freshman, Daniels numbers plummeted to only 259 yards last season. His play overall dipped, but there is reason to believe that he can right the ship this season. From Rivals.com:
“He clearly was out of his comfort zone. He was bottled up as a runner. He also dealt with injuries to two of his top receivers. Daniels recovered down the stretch, throwing only three interceptions in his last six games. As lost as Daniels looked against Florida in September, he looked just as confident in the bowl win over Clemson in which he completed 20-of-27 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Look for Daniels to be more comfortable with Holtz and coordinator Todd Fitch this season. He also should be a more active runner this year, but perhaps not as much as he was under Jim Leavitt.”
If Daniels does struggle out of the blocks again, don’t think that Holtz won’t replace him with Bobby Eveld.
There is a bit more stability at the runningback position. Demetris Murray is back after gaining 533 yards last season. He punched in four touchdowns on the ground and added two more receiving scores in 2010. His 11 receptions for 153 yards indicate just how skilled he is as a receiver.
Murray may have not get his shot quite yet though. Highly touted Colorado transfer Darrell Scott was once the top RB recruit in the nation and is capable of posting a monster season. After being plagued by injuries and awful offenses in Boulder his first two years, Scott is looking for a fresh start. If he is finally healthy, there is no reason to believe he can’t lead the conference in rushing. Auburn transfer Dontae Aycock is also worth keeping an eye on.
Headlining the WR corps is AJ Love. The senior WR was out all of last year after tearing his ACL but is expected to contribute in a big way this season. Behind him Evan Landi will look to regain his 2010 form. He finished 16th in the Conference in receiving yards despite only catching 29 balls. The former quarterback figures to only get better with more experience.
Not much else on offense matters if the line can’t pull it together. The guard position seems like the strength of the unit as the Bulls will look to plug holes at tackle and center. Mark Popek, Kevin McCaskill, and Quinterrius Eatmon figure to fill in the other positions but only have ten career starts between them. The plan is for Daniels to run often this season, but Holtz might see more scrambling than even he wants.
Defense: For as unstable as the Bulls’ offense was last season, the defense was the mark of consistency. Finishing as the 17th best unit in the nation, South Florida only allowed 317 yards per contest. With a steady group of veterans returning and nice crop of recruits incoming, the Bulls should once again rank near the top of the Big East in total defense.
DeDe Lattimore is the star of the LB unit, but he does have help around him:
“DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington will continue to grow into one of the best linebacker duos in the country. Lattimore in particular started every game in 2010 as a redshirt freshman last year, and he was a difference maker at WLB. Both seem to continue the strong string of linebackers that molded Stephen Nicholas, Kawika Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, and Ben Moffitt.”
Along with Lattimore and Barrington, guys like redshirt freshman Reshard Cliett and Mike Juen should make an impact this year. No other position is as deep as the LB unit for South Florida this year.
NT Cory Grissom and DE Ryne Giddons will anchor the Bulls’ defensive line. Giddons was a top-flight recruit who learned from some of the Big East’s best in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul as a freshman. He developed into a solid player of the second half of last season and is poised for a breakout campaign this year. Patrick Hamption is another DE who will make noise. If Grissom isn’t able to hold his own at NT, look for heralded recruit Todd Chandler to get his chance.
There is not much to report in the secondary. South Florida returns three starters from a unit that ranked 40th in passing defense nationally. Pre-Snap Read did a great job of summarizing the unit:
“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.”
Outlook: USF has four troublesome games on the schedule this season. They start the year by traveling to South Bend to play Notre Dame. They also face Pittsburgh on the road but catch Big East favorite West Virginia in Tampa Bay. Miami makes the cross state travel to play in Raymond James Stadium as well.
The offense has playmakers and the defense is stout. Splitting those four tough games down the middle and marking a match against Cincinnati as a win pits USF at 10-2. They are certainly capable of winning double digit games this season, but winning the conference will depend on which of the four teams they split with.