Big East Week: One Big Question for USF, Are The Bulls Ready for Primetime?


USF is a favorite of Phil Steele, college football publisher and prognasticator extraordinaire. Steele’s preseason magazine has slated USF to win the Big East three times in the last five years, including 2012. USF joined the Big East as part of the mass migration from Conference USA in 2005, and has been unable to win a league title. Whether Jim Leavitt or Skip Holtz, the Bulls have struggled establishing offensive consistency and had difficulty in road games, particularly late in the season.

Both were the case in a trying 2011. So what’s different in 2012?

Daniels is well tenured. USF has had previous seasons with an experienced quarterback coming into the season — one such campaign was B.J. Daniels’ first as the Bull starter. Matt Grothe tore his ACL early into the 2009 season, which forced two-sport athlete and freshman Daniels into the spotlight. Daniels exhibited flashes of brilliance, and has continued to do so in the two seasons since. But for USF to compete for its first Big East championship, Daniels must sustain those flashes into something more substantial.

After roaring to a 4-0 start including a Week 1 road defeat of Notre Dame, the Bulls went 1-7 down the stretch and finished out of the postseason after a three-year stretch of 8-5 finishes. Both offensive inconsistency and last season games posed USF problems. The Bulls averaged a healthy 29.2 points per game, but Daniels was erratic. He cut down on his interceptions, from 13 in 2010 to seven last year, but his completion percentage remained under 60 and his passing touchdown total was still a paltry 13.

Holtz took over as USF head coach from Leavitt in 2010, and brought with him offensive coordinator Todd Fitch. Fitch maintained schematics similar to those of Mike Canales in the latter years of Leavitt’s tenure. The quarterback has been used as a dual option. Daniels accrued the second most rushing yards on the team last season with 601, and his six TDs via the ground were also second most. Leading rushing touchdown scorer Demetrius Murray returns to the backfield, but gone is Darrell Scott (814 yards, five TDs). Quizzically, Scott declared early eligibility for the NFL, but went undrafted this past April.

Daniels and Murray could take on more of the running responsibility, but offsetting Scott’s production could also fall on the passing game. Daniels has an experienced receiving corps at his disposal, including Victor Marc (33 receptions, 357 yards) and Sterling Griffin (43 receptions, 530 yards, three TDs). Returner/third down back/slot receiver Lindsey Lamar is a pass catching option as well, having hauled in 11 balls and tying Griffin for most scoring receptions.

Defense has been a consistent strength over recent seasons. The Bulls have boasted some of the best defensive linemen in college football, between George Selvie and Jason Pierre Paul. End Ryne Giddins could be the next great pass rusher off the USF line, and linebacker DeDe Lattimore provides a second wave of trouble for opposing backfields. How the defense reacts to the guidance of new coordinator Chris Cosh will prove interesting.

Cosh was hired to replace Mark Snyder, who departed in January to join fellow C-USA alum Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Cosh worked alongside Holtz at South Carolina, and was defensive coordinator at Kansas State the past three seasons.

The talent is certainly there for Cosh, and as mentioned defense is rarely the Bulls’ issue. Learning to win in the cold weather climates and down the season’s stretch are crucial to the program’s success.

USF hosts the majority of its Big East games, though ironically won its sole conference game last season on the road. Then again, the win is less ironic considering it was Syracuse, a team that went winless in conference games at the Carrier Dome throughout 2010. This season’s three conference road games are against opponents that went a combined 26-13 last season: Temple (Oct. 6), Louisville (Oct. 20) and Cincinnati (Nov. 23).