Thu Aug 06 07:52pm EDT
No one has a clue who's going to win this league. So the Doc's logically crossing off the contenders, one by one. Part of Big East Week.
Up for grabs. Matt Grothe is one of the most dynamic players in the league, and with Pat White gone at West Virginia, maybe the most valuable -- since taking over the starting gig as a redshirt freshman, he's taken almost every significant snap, led the team in rushing three years in a row and last year accounted for more total yards per game than any other player in the conference, in large part because he had the ball in his hands so much more often than anyone else, including White.
The issue with Grothe, though, is exactly what it was three years ago: Turnovers. As a freshman, he threw 14 interceptions; as a sophomore he threw 14 interceptions; and as a junior he threw 14 interceptions. He has 14 multi-interception games in his career, including three in a row last year in losses to Louisville (two picks), Cincinnati (three) and Rutgers (three), and another in the regular season finale at West Virginia (two) two weeks later. Even after 35 career starts, that's 11 picks in his last five regular season games. To make the trend worse, 32 of his 42 career interceptions -- more by far than any other active quarterback -- have come against Big East defenses.
Things fall apart. If Grothe has an excuse, it's that he's had to carry too much of the offense without enough protection from his line -- when I recall watching South Florida, in fact, the image is always of Grothe looping outside of a pass rush that's barreled quickly into the backfield, scrambling around in schoolyard fashion and looking to unload the ball downfield before getting crushed. The line allowed 29 sacks last year, and that was with four returning starters up front; with four new starters this year, things might be even more chaotic. The one returnee, Jacob Sims, isn't sure yet exactly where he'll line up in the new shuffle.
When all else fails, check the record. The Bulls have earned a lot of respect for three straight eight-win seasons and fast climbs into the top-15 each of the last two years. But they seem to be a very different team inside the conference than outside -- they're 16-2 in non-conference games since 2006, but only 10-11 against the rest of the Big East -- and have faded badly after those hot starts. In '07, USF beat Auburn and West Virginia en route to a 6-0 start, then promptly lost three Big East games in a row the last two weeks of October and the first week of November. Last year, the Bulls beat Kansas en route to a 6-1 start, then promptly lost three Big East games in a row the last two weeks of October and the first week of November.
The '08 slide was more perplexing for the sudden shriveling of the offense: After hanging 45 on Syracuse, USF failed to top 20 in any of its last five regular season games, and subsequently went 1-4 down the stretch. Against this year's other top contenders -- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia -- USF was 0-4. It would probably have to turn three of those to take the conference crown, which is way more optimistic than I'm willing to be.