TAMPA, Fla. -- It's the one question that hangs over South Florida football. New coach Skip Holtz says that, by far, it's the most-asked question he's gotten since taking the job.
Why do the Bulls always start off so strong and then fade once Big East play starts in October?
"Right now, I don't know," Holtz said. "I'm trying to learn how we did things, go through it every step of the way."
There is probably not one easy answer, or else the previous staff would have found it. However, I thought something defensive coordinator Mark Snyder told me was pretty interesting.
In discussing his side of the ball, Snyder noted how his players were fast but undersized, a characteristic of Jim Leavitt's defenses. That's great for stopping spread teams, but not bulky, run-oriented offenses.
"Some of the teams in this conference play big," Snyder said, "and that's where we had some of our struggles. Against teams that spread us out and let us run, we've done pretty well."
Just look at the results. The three Big East teams you'd most associate with big lines and run-first mentalities are UConn, Pitt and Rutgers. All three beat the Bulls in 2009, averaging 33 points in those games. Rutgers has beaten South Florida three straight times, while Pitt and UConn are 2-1 against the Bulls in the last three years.
Conversely, South Florida has had success against West Virginia, a team that loves to spread the field, by winning three of the last four against the Mountaineers. The outlier here is Cincinnati, which has won four straight against South Florida despite playing a spread offense. Then again, the Bearcats have beaten a lot of teams the past few years.
Snyder, a who cut his teeth as a Big Ten assistant at Minnesota and Ohio State, said he would like to recruit bigger players for the D-line going forward. He says the defense has to get better fundamentally against the run going forward.
And maybe that would help the Bulls avert their midseason slides.