South Florida Bulls
Skip Holtz first season at USF didn’t start out that well as South Florida meandered through the early part of 2010 going 3-3 before finishing the year on a 5-2 run including a 31-26 victory over Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. That only proved that it’s not how you start but how you finish but with the Bowl win combined with solid play in the second half of the season the expectations have risen and the fans would like nothing more than a better start in 2011 culminated with the Bulls first ever Big East Championship.
The success and failures of the South Florida offense are usually in direct correlation to the play of quarterback BJ Daniels. In a nutshell, when the offense struggles to move the ball and points on the board he is usually contained in the running game and forced to throw from the pocket where he is least effective. Daniels is best suited to throwing on the move which forces defenses to decide if he is going to run or pass. The Bulls might have to rely even more off the ability of one of the top playmakers in the conference with just four starters back in 2011. That said the cupboard is not bare with a solid running back corps that include Demetrius Murray and transfers Dontae Aycock and Darrell Scott. The passing game has ability as well with Terrence Mitchell, AJ Love and Sterling Griffin but there is always a question of whether the notoriously inaccurate Daniels can hit them with the ball on a consistent basis.
Despite the Bulls reputation as a dangerous offensive team with Daniels at the helm, those who follow South Florida know this group needs their defense to play well to win consistently. The Bulls lost their share of players to the NFL and return six overall but this unit has experience waiting to fill any void. The defensive line is set with Elkino Watson and Todd Chandler on the inside with pass rushing defensive ends Ryne Giddens and Julius Forte rounding a young unit with tons of potential. Two of their three linebackers return but Jacquain Williams is playing on Sundays so the Bulls need somebody to step up in his spot. In the secondary, safety Jerrell Young should be the best of the lot but overall this group needs seasoning that comes with playing. That puts a magnifying glass on the performance on the guys up front and whether they can pressure the quarterback without constantly blitzing to give the secondary time to grow in their positions.
Maikon Bonani is as solid as any kicker in the Big East and beyond, connecting on 17 of 21 attempts last season. Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann Jr started 2010 strong but eventually tailed off to average just 37.6 yards per boot. Lindsey Lamar is back to return kicks and is the reigning Special Teams Player of the Year.
The talent is there in South Florida to improve upon last season’s finish which will require a quicker jump out of the gate than we saw in 2010. The Bulls have the right man at the helm to get the most out of this team in Holtz and if he can get better decision making out and fewer mistakes out of Daniels this team has a huge upside. If the pieces fall in to place I can see the Bulls challenging for the Big East title and finishing in the top three at worse.