Statistically speaking, there were no obvious reasons why South Florida had a successful season in 2010. But one of the Bulls' main strengths came from the guys who don't generate many stats for themselves.
A veteran offensive line that stayed healthy for the most part played a key role in the eight-win campaign. Sampson Genus was a first-team All-Big East center, while tackles Jamar Bass and Jake Sims were very solid, holding off Clemson star Da'Quan Bowers in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
With those three guys gone, the Bulls have some reshaping to do up front this spring.
"It's very much a work in progress," USF offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. "I think this group has a chance to be pretty competitive, but we're replacing those three with guys who have not played very much."
Let's start with the known quantities. Jeremiah Warren and Chaz Hine are two seniors who have the guard positions locked down. In fact, the only real problem at those spots is they don't have a lot of competition behind them. Shankweiler said he's challenging both to be leaders and to motivate themselves.
"Sampson, Jamar and Jake were great leaders, so it will be fun to try and follow in their footsteps," Warren said.
At left tackle is junior Mark Popek, who started four games last year. Kevin McCaskill is Genus' replacement at center, a role he's undertaken before.
"He came into the Miami game when Genus got hurt, and you never noticed a difference," Shankweiler said. "On our touchdown to tie it and the touchdown to win it in overtime, we were running right behind him."
The most intriguing story among the current first unit is right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon, a redshirt freshman. He has dropped nearly 65 pounds since arriving on campus, now weighing in at 297. Shankweiler loves his potential.
"He's committed to working hard," Shankweiler said. "Last year, I made him the second-team right tackle the whole season, so I got him ready to play every game. He doesn't have wide eyes like most freshmen. He's a very bright kid. He probably learns better than anybody I've got."
So the Bulls feel good about their first-team front five, and head coach Skip Holtz said after Saturday's spring game that he's confident the Bulls will be able to run the ball well. It's depth that has Shankweiler a little nervous. Unless South Florida can avoid the injury bug again, it will have to rely on some untested linemen this fall.
"Our depth is not very good, truthfully," Shankweiler said. "We signed five high school linemen this year, which is more than most people do. We just don't have any. Our numbers were down when we got here, for whatever reason, and it takes two years to get caught back up."
Shankweiler is cross-training players at different positions to help the depth, and he said there's a good chance that an incoming freshman will crack the two-deep this fall. That means the veterans will have to be really good and the youngsters will have to come along in a hurry. If so, then the Bulls can count on the offensive line as a strength again in 2011.
"We can be one of the best around, I believe," Warren said. "We just have to fix some little things here and there and get better."