We continue our look at Big East title chances for each team in the league. Up next: USF. There are plenty of reasons to believe the Bulls could win the league this year. Skip Holtz has a history of doing well in Year 2, B.J. Daniels has the potential to have a breakout season, the defense returns Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore and they get West Virginia at home to close the season.
Why USF will win the league title
1. B.J. Daniels takes charge. Holtz expects much out of Daniels this season after seeing improvement at the end of the year. Daniels was bowl MVP against Clemson, going 20-of-27 for 189 yards with two touchdowns and one interception and ran for another. Holtz saw a continuing progression into spring football and believes the time is now for a breakout season. "B.J. is not only starting to pick up the offense, this was his first year going through spring practice in the same offense he ran the fall before," Holtz said. "Watching him take the next step in growing through that, I use the analogy all the time: He’s taken French I, Latin and Spanish I and now he’s going into Spanish II. To see the steps he’s taken has been exciting."
2. Better running back production. USF has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005, but hopes are high for that to change this season with the addition of Colorado transfer Darrell Scott. Dontae Aycock also is eligible after transferring in from Auburn, and you also have second-leading rusher Demetris Murray returning. Marcus Shaw is back, too. This position has depth and could be one of strength.
3. Solid D. USF returns six starters on defense and should be stronger at each position. Big things are projected for defensive end Ryne Giddins. Lattimore and Barrington anchor the linebacker group after combining for 134 tackles last season, and Mike Jeune and Reshard Cliett provide excellent depth. The secondary returns three of four starters, including Jon Lejiste. This unit could be the best in the league.
Why USF won't win the league title
1. Daniels regresses. What if Daniels takes a step back and does not continue to improve the way he should? Then USF will be in big trouble. What the Bulls need most out of him is consistency, and he has yet to show that during a full season. A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin are back from injuries, so that should help, but the pressure to get the passing game going and efficient rests on Daniels, who ended last season with 13 interceptions to 11 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 58.
2. Inexperience. Yes, the Bulls only lose 15 letter winners, but a majority of those were starters. Only 11 starters return, and USF loses big-time contributors in leading tackler Jacquain Williams, leading rusher Moise Plancher, leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, Terrell McClain, Mistral Raymond, Sampson Genus and Jacob Sims. The offensive line only has two starters returning and is going to rely on a redshirt freshman at one of the tackle positions.
3. Schedule. USF has had a history of losing games late in the season and has to turn that trend around in order to have a shot at winning its first conference title. The last time the Bulls posted a winning record in their final four games was 2007. The Bulls do close the season with three home games, so that is a positive. But on the other hand, they only get three conference games at home. Its first conference game is at Pittsburgh, quite an early season test.