Onward we march with the Hope and Concern series, looking at each Big East team's top reasons for optimism and pessimism in the 2011 season. We've reached the South Florida Bulls.
Biggest reason for hope: Defensive depth
If you asked a casual, non-Big East-centric college football fan to name one South Florida defensive player, you'd probably be greeted by a blank stare. Skip Holtz called this a no-name defense last year, and that side of the ball lost arguably its top player last year in NFL draftee Terrell McClain. So why is this listed as the biggest reason for hope? Because the Bulls still have a whole lot to work with on defense. As usual, the defensive line is well stocked all over, with potential breakout years by ends Patrick Hampton and Ryne Giddins. The team needs to find some reliable backups at defensive tackle but has many candidates. Linebacker is in good shape with Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore returning as starters, and guys like Mike Jeune, Reshard Cliett stepping up this spring. And the Bulls have all of their top safeties and a returning starter at cornerback. Add all of that up plus whatever contributions some fresh faces can offer, and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should have the talent to challenge opposing offenses.
Biggest reason for concern: The passing game
The running game will likely improve from last year with the addition of Colorado transfer Darrell Scott and the return of Demetris Murray. But the Bulls probably are only going as far as their passing game goes. It was often brutal at times last season, thanks both to inexperience at the receiver position and poor decision making by quarterback B.J. Daniels, as USF finished ahead of only UConn in passing yards per game. Another year in the system should help Daniels grow and show the poise he did in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Clemson, but the receivers did not take a step forward this spring to Holtz's disappointment. Perhaps A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin can add more if they continue to heal from injuries, and Terrence Mitchell looks like a future difference-maker. It's difficult to win in college football without a passable passing game, and South Florida won't live up to its potential until that part of its game comes along for the ride.