The South Florida football program still is an infant in many ways. The school started football in 1997 and joined the Division I-A big boys in 2001. The Bulls have been part of the Big East only since 2005, after a few years each as an independent and Conference USA member.
So it’s hard to be harsh about USF, but I believe that no school has underachieved more in the Big East in recent years than the Bulls—who have never even shared a conference title.
For one thing, South Florida has had the conference all to itself in terms of recruiting in Florida—of course, every school recruits the talent-rich Sunshine State, but USF was the only one that could offer recruits a chance to stay close to home.
Former Coach Jim Leavitt did land a few diamonds, and for a few years there (2007-08) USF started hot and climbed into the Top 10 of the rankings...only to fade late in the season.
Last year was the latest disappointment for this program, which was expected to be a top contender to West Virginia for the Big East title. Typically, USF started strong. The Bulls went to ranked Notre Dame in the opener and stunned the Irish before rolling off three more wins against terrible competition.
But then—also typically—the Bulls came crashing back to earth by losing their first four Big East games; and just that quickly, any conference hopes were gone. USF did then win at Syracuse to improve to 5-4 and keep its bowl hopes alive, but a season-ending three-game skid put an end to that.
One could argue that USF is close to being a conference contender. Throw out a 44-17 loss in the Big East opener at Pitt, and the Bulls’ other five conference losses were by a combined 25 points (the other was a 3-6 setback to Miami).
One problem all season was the fourth quarter. USF outscored its opponents by 110 points in the first halves of games in 2011 but was outscored by 31 in the fourth quarter—no wonder there were so many close losses.
Leavitt was canned after the 2009 season amid reports he grabbed a player by his throat and slapped him and then lied about it. Skip Holtz, the son of Hall of Famer Lou Holtz, led the Bulls to an 8-5 record and a Meineke Car Care Bowl win over Clemson in 2010 before last year’s team fell off. Many still believe Holtz eventually will land a job at a higher-level program, but USF just gave him a three-year extension through 2017 to try and prevent that.
Holtz had to hire a new defensive coordinator this offseason, tabbing Kansas State assistant Chris Cosh to run that side of the ball. Cosh is the third D-coordinator in four seasons at USF. The Bulls run a similar 4-3 scheme to what Cosh ran at Kansas State last season, and Cosh and Holtz have a long history together.
Cosh replaced Mark Snyder, who left for Texas A&M.
South Florida has what could potentially be the top playmaking QB in the conference (now that WVU’s Geno Smith is in the Big 12) in B.J. Daniels. The senior, who missed one game with an injury last season, threw for 2,604 yards and 13 scores and rushed for 601 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six scores last year. He does need to improve on his 58.9 completion percentage of last season, even though that was a career high.
Leading rusher Darnell Scott is gone, and USF will likely use a committee at running back headed by senior Demetris Murray (503 yards, eight TDs in 2011).
The group of receivers could be the best in school history. Andre Davis showed signs of stardom as a freshman last year; Sterling Griffin played in only eight games last year but still led the Bulls with 43 receptions and three scores; and the best of them all could be former top recruit Chris Dunkley, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.
The offensive line welcomes three starters back, including both tackles. If you throw out West Virginia, USF led the Big East in yards per game in 2011 and may well again this year.
Cosh will have some talent to work with here as the Bulls return seven starters, including five of their top six leading tacklers. The line suffered a blow when starting tackle Cory Grissom broke his ankle this spring, and it’s questionable whether he’s ready for the opener. End Ryne Giddins has star potential after 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year.
USF is totally set at linebacker with all three starters back, led by DeDe Lattimore, who led the team with 94 tackles. The secondary will be led by senior Keyvon Webster, a second-team all-Big East pick a year ago. Two starters were lost in the defensive backfield.
This unit must buckle down at the end of games. Last season, the Bulls surrendered late, game-deciding drives in losses against Cincinnati, Rutgers, Miami and West Virginia.
2012 South Florida Bulls Schedule Analysis
USF always plays at least one FCS cupcake, and that’s true again this year with an opener vs. Chattanooga. So at least the Bulls can use that as an exhibition game before traveling to semi-dangerous Nevada in Week 2.
Should the Bulls win that, they should be 4-0 following wins at Ball State and vs. Rutgers when they welcome Florida State to Tampa for the first time. The last (and only) time they played was in 2009, when USF won 17-7 at No. 18 Florida State in arguably the biggest win in school history. That was Daniels’ welcome to the world game.
South Florida should win at Temple—which replaces West Virginia on the schedule—and then the Bulls have the benefit of an off week before traveling to Big East favorite Louisville. Win there, and the conference title definitely should be in USF’s grasp, as there is only one more conference road game: at Cincinnati.
The Bulls do visit Miami (Fla.) the week prior to facing UC in a nonconference tilt, and USF has played the Canes essentially to a standstill in recent years.
2012 South Florida Bulls Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, USF is +42500 to win the BCS title. The Bulls are +375 to win the Big East title (second favorite), with field against them at -515. “Over/under” win totals: 7.5 (over a -150 favorite), eight (under -150 favorite) and 8.5 (under a -250 favorite).
2012 South Florida Bulls Football Predictions
There will never be a better chance for this school to win the conference and get its first BCS bowl berth than in 2012 with WVU out. Next year, USF will have to deal the addition of powerhouse Boise State along with good programs at Houston, SMU and Central Florida (Memphis and San Diego State are also coming to Big East).
I believe that USF gets it done only because I am not a very strong believer in preseason conference favorite Louisville. That Oct. 20 game will likely determine the champ.
As for the wins total, it looks like 8-4 to me.
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