The Big East Dark Horse: South Florida Bulls
Jim Leavitt and his Bulls burst into the national spotlight in 2007 and have been a solid member of the restructured Big East. The Bulls have made four straight bowl appearances and in 2009 will likely make that five. Leavitt’s squad enters the season picked to finish behind Pitt, Cincinnati and West Virginia.
3 Biggest Reasons They Can:
-The most obvious reason is also the most important; quarterback. Matt Grothe enters his fourth season as a starter and the dual threat QB has a chance to become USF’s career leader in both passing (951 yds needed) and rushing (646 yds needed). Grothe should be confident as the Bulls return 4 of their top 5 rushers and 4 of their top 5 receivers. There’s a wealth of experience on the perimeter for Grothe to work with.
Grothe has three JUCO transfers on the offensive line that should shore up a unit that was hampered by injuries and inexperience just a year ago. With the line gelling on the backs of RG Zach Hermann, LT Daron Rose and LG Jamar Bass the Bulls should be able to return to running the football in a tremendous fashion.
-The Bulls defensive line will return to its form of 2007. In ’07 George Selvie burst on to the scene amassing 14.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss. The ’08 season saw Selvie suffer an early season injury against FIU and between injury and constant double teams the defensive line’s statistics suffered immensely, netting just 23 sacks.
2009 will see a revamped defensive front. The Bulls return three starters and add a JUCO transfer in Jason Pierre-Paul who will serve as Selvie’s bookend. Look for South Florida to take advantage of the Bulls speed on the edges with innovative schemes from co-defensive coordinators David Blackwell (from Clemson) and Wally Burnham (from Iowa St).
-Finally the Bulls biggest reason they can steal the Big East title in a Dark Horse run is the simple fact that their toughest games are non-conference contests with Florida State in Tallahassee and a late November date with the Canes in Tampa. Compared to these two in-state contests the Bulls schedule is a highly workable ordeal. They open the season with three tune-up contests before tackling the Noles and have two bye weeks built into the schedule to regroup.
Biggest Roadblock To Their Dark Horse Dreams:
The offensive line may prove problematic and they only return one linebacker BUT the biggest roadblock for the South Florida Bulls will be the mid November contest in Piscataway. The last time the Bulls traveled to New Jersey to take on the Scarlet Knights they became the third straight second ranked team to fall in as many weeks. Leavitt’s squad has averse to cold conditions and if the Bulls can navigate their favorable schedule to this juncture the cold in combination with Schiano’s hard hitting Knights will be the biggest test for USF.