Countdown to Kickoff 2009: The Preseason Top 50—No. 43 South Florida Bulls
Spring practice has wrapped up across the country and we are a little over four months away from kickoff. To make the time go a little faster, I will count down my top 50 teams one team at a time.
No. 44 Wisconsin Badgers
No. 43 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS
There may not be another team in the Big East with such clear-cut leaders on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie, both seniors, will have one more chance to lead their team to the Big east title. The thought of reaching that goal was enough to make Selvie, a two-time first-team All-American, forgo the NFL for one last try.
In order for that dream to become reality the Bulls must solve the ground-hog day like mid-season collapse that has plagues the squad the past two seasons.
Last season, much like in ’07 (when a six-game streak to open the season elevated USF to a No. 2 in the national rankings), the Bulls started hot only to meltdown in October, losing four of five en route to a disappointing next-to-last finish in the Big East Conference with a 2-5 record.
“The last couple years, we win five or six games and all of sudden it becomes like a job and we’re not having fun anymore,” Selvie told the Orlando Sentinel.
It's called pressure and by George, Selvie may have figured that out. Now the Bulls must figure out how to quit choking on it.
Head coach Jim Leavitt is hoping that the arrival of two new coordinators—Mike Canales on offense and Joe Tresey on defense—will be a step in the right direction.
There is a lot of skill-position talent back on offense for Canales to work with.
In addition to Grothe, the Bulls return experience at running back with Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor, and at wide receiver with returning starter A.J. Love, Jessie Hester, Carlton Mitchell and Dontavia Bogan.
Without a doubt, the offense will live and die with Grothe. Barring a disaster, Grothe will pass Pat White as the Big East's all-time leader in career total offense this season, but his Achilles' heel has been interceptions the previous three years.
This spring Grothe and Canales tackled the problem together and Grothe's performance this spring (he did not throw an interception until the last week of spring drills) could be an omen of good things to come in the fall.
"I love the new offense," Grothe told The Tampa Tribune. "It's kind of hard to explain. There are a lot of new ideas. I think I'm getting pushed more than I ever have been. I feel like I'm learning a lot."
Defensively, rebuilding the secondary will be the highest priority for Tresey, whose defenses at Cincinnati were known for creating turnovers. The return of free safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy and a change in philosophy should help the cause.
The return of Selvie, plus tackles Aaron Harris and Terrell McClain, make the Bulls' defensive line—for the first time in school history—the strength of the defense. Kion Wilson is the only regular back at linebacker, which is has usually been a position of strength for the Bulls.
This is the Bulls' fifth year in the Big East and USF is one of only two schools (woeful Syracuse is the other) that has not finished either first or second in the league in the past four seasons.
With their return of their two best players on both sides of the ball, plus the addition of the best recruiting class in school history, much will be expected of the nation’s fastest-rising program.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Evan Landi: The freshman was in a battle with B.J. Daniels to be USF's backup quarterback. Leavitt said Daniels will enter fall drills at No. 2, but only because Landi made an impact at wide receiver and they are looking for ways to get him on the field.
Aaron Harris: The senior had a strong spring and despite starting 23 career games at defensive tackle, Harris was given a look at defensive end opposite Selvie.
Donte Spires: The senior left the team after the 2007 season, but has returned and already claimed a starting spot after spring drills. Spires needs a big season to help offset the losses of starters Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
George Selvie, Matt Grothe, and USF's other seniors will honor the memory of 19-year old, running back Keeley Dorsey, who died Jan. 17, 2007 while participating in a weightlifting exercise. Dorsey would have been a senior this season.
A different USF senior will wear No. 10 without a name on the back during every game this season. Selvie has already chosen USF's final home game against Miami, while Grothe will wear it on homecoming against Louisville.
"That's somebody, when he died, he was a big part of our team," Selvie told The Tampa Tribune. "It's great to honor him. We play for him every time we go out there. He's supposed to be with us [the 2009 senior class] right now."
Now he will be.
UP NEXT: The Pac-10 checks back in at No. 42. Can this desert team get back in the postseason?
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