On the one hand, USF fell short of expectations last season in the third season under coach Skip Holtz. On the other, USF did exactly what it always does.
As usual, the 2011 Bulls started fast, including a season-opening victory at Notre Dame. The upset of the Irish was part of a 4-0 start. That followed on the heels of a 3-1 start in 2010, 5-0 starts in '08 and '09, a 6-0 start in '07 and a 3-1 start in '06
|Coach: Skip Holtz (3rd season)
Last season: 5-7 overall, 1-6 in Big East
Spring practice dates: March 21-April 21
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (6): QB B.J. Daniels, T Quinterrius Eatmon, G Danous Estenor, WR Sterling Griffin, TE Evan Landi, T Mark Popek
Defense (7): LB Sam Barrington, E Ryne Giddins, T Cory Grissom, LB Michael Lanaris, LB DeDe Lattimore, SS Jon Lejiste, CB Kayvon Webster
Special teams (2): K Maikon Bonani, P Justin Brockhaus-Kann
Alas, as usual, USF faded after the fast start. The Bulls won just one other game the rest of the way last season, a blowout of Syracuse, and finished 5-7. That meant its six-season string of bowl appearances was snapped.
The Bulls were wildly inconsistent on both sides of the ball. There were huge outputs on offense (519 yards against Ball State, 745 against FCS member Florida A&M, 575 against UTEP, 508 against Cincinnati, 490 against Syracuse). But there also were inept offensive performances (254 yards against Notre Dame, 17 points against Pitt, 10 points against Connecticut, three points and 249 yards against Miami, 311 yards against Louisville).
There were some good defensive performances (253 yards allowed vs. UConn, 228 against Rutgers, six points and 316 yards against Miami). But there also were head-scratchingly bad defensive outings (523 yards surrendered to Pitt, 501 to Cincinnati, 405 to Syracuse, 373 to Louisville).
The Bulls return 13 full-time starters, and it's obvious that a spring priority will be trying to develop some consistency.
USF started the same five offensive linemen in every game last season, but two of those guys, C Chaz Hine and G Jeremiah Warren, are gone. Filling those holes and developing some depth up front will be important this spring. So will finding a new starting tailback. While Darrell Scott didn't live up to expectations, he still rushed for 814 yards (but then he unexpectedly turned pro). In addition to a new starter, USF also needs to find some depth at the position.
Determining if there is a legit go-to receiver on the roster would help QB B.J. Daniels, who has suffered through numerous drops by his receivers in each of his three seasons as the starter.
Daniels deserves some blame, too. He can look great, then clueless – on back-to-back plays, much less back-to-back games.
Defensively, USF has the best linebacker group in the Big East, and they'll play behind a line that should be one of the two or three best in the league.
That leaves the secondary, which struggled at times last season and is looking for two new starters. Depth is an issue in the defensive backfield, too.
If enough progress is made this spring, USF should be in the Big East title hunt in the fall. With West Virginia's departure to the Big 12, the league appears to be wide open.
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- Skip Holtz