NCF Nation: Joel Miller

We continue our team position rankings today with receiver. This is an area of great potential for plenty of teams around the league, especially with some of the high-octane offenses that we are going to see. Only three teams return their leading receiver from last season. The overriding theme seems to be this: there is a lot of talent, but much of it is unproven. So how are these receivers going to step up?

To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential.

[+] EnlargeMark Harrison
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonMark Harrison caught 44 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have proven talent and depth at this position, putting them at the top spot in these rankings. When healthy, Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu form one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire league. Add in Brandon Coleman, who had an outstanding spring, along with Tim Wright returning from injury and the top four looks as solid as it gets. Let's not forget incoming speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, who have the potential to play as well.

2. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and a whole bunch of questions at the position. But with the new offense Dana Holgorsen is bringing in, other receivers have a chance to be more effective. Austin is about as close as you can come to a surefire first-team All-Big East player. Ryan Nehlen had a nice spring and could be the surprise of the season. So could Tyler Urban, a converted tight end. How will Brad Starks do after shoulder surgery? Will Ivan McCartney live up to his potential? There is talent here and great potential if everybody lives up to expectations.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are stocked with talent, but many of these skill players have got to gain experience and fast with Armon Binns, Marcus Barnett, Vidal Hazelton and Ben Guidugli gone. D.J. Woods is expected to be a first-team All-Big East selection. But beyond he and Anthony McClung, you have got young guys -- junior college transfers Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian, redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, freshmen Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Alex Chisum and Max Morrison. Thompkins showed great promise in the spring.

4. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose their leading receiver in Jon Baldwin, but the duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could each be 1,000-yard receivers. Behind them, though, there are some questions and inexperience. Junior Cameron Saddler is going to have to step up. Redshirt freshmen Salath Williams, Drew Carswell, junior college transfer Josh Brinson and true freshman Justin Jackson are all young but have a chance to be big contributors. Pitt also is waiting to hear whether UNC transfer Brendon Felder will have his petition for immediate eligibility granted.

5. Syracuse. The Orange have plenty of solid returning receivers in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon but what this team is really lacking is big-play potential. In five games last season, Syracuse failed to complete a pass that went longer than 30 yards. In fact, Ryan Nassib averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt. A healthy Jarrod West could help those numbers improve. Dorian Graham has to work on his hands, too.

6. USF. The Bulls lose leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, but they return injured players Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love to the mix, which is going to be huge. Lindsey Lamar and Evan Landi also return, along with Terrence Mitchell, Joel Miller and Faron Hornes. Deonte Welch had a nice spring game and is listed as a backup behind Landi. True freshman Andre Davis has the potential to contribute as well. The Bulls have plenty of depth here but there are still some questions about this group, especially with Griffin and Love coming off injuries.

7. Louisville. The Cardinals lose their top two receivers, and have got to figure out a way to make big plays and stretch the field with a young group. Josh Bellamy appears to be the go-to man headed into 2011, and much is going to be expected of Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris. Both are coming off injuries and were unable to practice in the spring. True freshmen are most likely going to be relied upon, giving Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker and opportunity to play.

8. Connecticut. A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.

Previous rankings:

Big East spring preview

February, 23, 2011
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Spring practice is just around the corner -- South Florida will be on its new practice fields next week, while other Big East teams will follow suit shortly after.

So here's a look at what to expect from each league team this spring.

Cincinnati

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Fixing the defense: There's little doubt that improving the defense is the first order of business in Clifton. The Bearcats ranked last in the Big East last season while giving up 28 points per game. The good news is that all 11 starters on that side of the ball are back. The bad news is those are the same guys who couldn't get it done a season ago. An extra year of maturity should help, and Butch Jones expects more depth and competition on defense, including the arrival of junior-college import Malcolm Murray at safety.
  • Restocking the Binns: Cincinnati should still be strong on offense with the return of senior quarterback Zach Collaros and senior Isaiah Pead, the leading returning rusher in the Big East. Yet the loss of the league's most productive receiver in 2010, Armon Binns, means the Bearcats need to find a few more guys to make plays at receiver. D.J. Woods is an obvious choice as the new go-to guy, but he'll have to solve his fumble problems. Transfer Kenbrell Thompkins, who couldn't get eligible last season, will look to step forward. Another sidelined receiver, freshman Dyjuan Lewis, won't be cleared to join in team activities until the summer.
  • Looking for leaders: One of the problems during the 2010 4-8 season, as voiced by departing senior Jason Kelce and implied by Jones, was a lack of leadership on the team. Hey, it happens sometimes when your program has been to back-to-back BCS games and young players feel an undeserved sense of entitlement. Jones has been trying to change that, and we should be able to tell during the spring whether some new leaders have emerged.
Connecticut

Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Back to the future: For the first time since the end of 1990s, and for the first time ever as an FBS-level program, the Huskies will have someone other than Randy Edsall leading them through practice in March. Former longtime Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni took over when Edsall left for Maryland, and Pasqualoni hired new coordinators (George DeLeone on offense and Don Brown on defense) to mix in with the holdovers from Edsall's staff. UConn has been doing things the same way for a long time, and with pretty strong results. How will the team react to Pasqualoni's new-look, old-school ways?
  • Backfield in motion: Quarterback Zach Frazer is gone. Star tailback Jordan Todman left early for the NFL. Fullback Anthony Sherman graduated. Everything behind center is new. The quarterback position looks pretty wide open, with sophomore Michael Box perhaps having the edge after making one (very unsuccessful) start in 2010. Early enrollee Michael Nebrich is one to watch. How will the Huskies replace Todman? Good question. Robbie Frey decided to concentrate on graduate school, leaving USC transfer D.J. Shoemate as the only experienced ballcarrier. Freshman Lyle McCombs' status is unclear for spring after his offseason arrest, and the two running backs in the signing class won't arrive until summer. Right now, it's anybody's guess as to who might carry on the UConn running back tradition.
  • Reloading at linebacker: The Connecticut defense brings a lot back, but one position that needs refilling is linebacker. Lawrence Wilson, who led the Big East in tackles the past two seasons, and Scott Lutrus, a four-year starter and solid leader, both exhausted their eligibility. Sio Moore looks like a rising star and had some huge games in 2010, but the other two positions have large shoes to fill.
Louisville

Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 15

What to watch:
  • Smooth sailing for Bridegwater?: The Cardinals' most pressing issue is at quarterback, where senior co-starters Justin Burke and Adam Froman are gone. Highly-touted recruit Teddy Bridgewater will participate in the spring, and how quickly he picks up the college game and coordinator Mike Sanford's system could go a long way to determining what happens this fall. If he needs more time, senior Will Stein will happily take the reins.
  • Rebuilding the O-line: The key to Louisville's offensive success was its senior-laden line, which proved to be the best in the Big East a year ago. But now four new starters must be found to go along with center Mario Benavides. The new guys must get up to speed and develop chemistry quickly for the running game and presumed new starter Jeremy Wright to duplicate last season's progress.
  • Last line of defense: Louisville's defense was most vulnerable at its back end at times last season, and now the Cardinals must replace both starting cornerbacks (including All-Big East first team performer Johnny Patrick), no to mention two senior linebackers. An obvious candidate to take over some leadership is safety Hakeem Smith, who was the Big East rookie of the year. The plus side is that Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford will have more young talent to work with.
Pittsburgh

Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Golden Graham?: There will be no more drastic change in the Big East this spring than the offense at Pittsburgh, which will go from a run-based pro-style attack to Graham's no-huddle, wide-open, points-per-minute machine. Can the Panthers get this new offense up and running this spring? Does Graham have the players to make it work? And how will his offense, so successful in Conference USA, translate into the more rugged Big East? All those questions will be fascinating to follow.
  • Quarterback competition: Junior Tino Sunseri started every game in his first year at the controls in 2010, and he played well at times. But a new style and new coaching staff means that he might have an edge, but not necessarily an insurmountable one, in this spring's competition. Redshirt freshman Mark Myers is multi-talented and will be given a look, along with classmate Anthony Gonzalez and Kolby Gray. The current staff has no loyalty to Sunseri, so he'll need to perform at a high level this spring to keep his job.
  • Shoring up the 'D': It's no secret that Pitt struggled in defending the pass last season. Graham's offense may be more explosive, but he doesn't want to have to get into shootouts all the time. He and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson have experience running 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 formations and may go to more of those kinds of looks to counter the increasing spread offenses throughout the league. First Pitt will have to get better play from its secondary and linebackers in pass coverage, and that starts this spring.
Rutgers

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Line change: The first thing to focus on this spring for the Scarlet Knights is the front five on offense. The offensive line has been a mess for the past two years and was an utter disaster a year ago. Head coach Greg Schiano is counting on junior-college center Dallas Hendrickson to provide some immediate help, and that another year will lead to better things for the returnees. Rutgers needs answers at right tackle, especially, and if the line can't block its own defense in spring practice, you'll know there's trouble.
  • A Frank re-assessment: Former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti takes over the Scarlet Knights' playcalling duties this spring, and his pro-style background seems like a perfect match for what Schiano likes to do. Look for Cignetti to try to establish a stronger running game this spring (while waiting for mega-recruit Savon Huggins to arrive this summer) and abandon the Wildcat formation and other gimmicks that Rutgers desperately turned to the past two years. His work with sophomore starter Chas Dodd will also be critical, since there are no other experienced quarterbacks on campus.
  • Recharging the defense: You always expect a Schiano-led defense to be rock solid, but that defense wore down last season and ended up allowing more points in conference play than anybody. Three of the starting four defensive linemen are gone, as well as the team's leading tackler -- linebacker Antonio Lowery -- and safety Joe Lefeged. Schiano has recruited well and has lots of young players ready to step into bigger roles. Spring will be the time we start to learn who's ready to handle increased responsibilities.
South Florida

Spring practice starts: March 3
Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Transfers accepted: Running backs Darrell Scott and Dontae Aycock have strong credentials; Scott was one of the more sought-after recruits in the country before disappointing at Colorado, while Aycock was set to play for Auburn. Both become eligible this year and will show their stuff this spring. The two big-bodied ballcarriers could add some power and explosiveness to the Bulls offense. Notre Dame transfer Spencer Boyd should bring depth, at the very least, to the secondary.
  • B.J. still the main Bull?: Junior B.J. Daniels seemed to reassert himself as the starter with a big performance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl win over Clemson. But before that, there were serious questions about whether sophomore Bobby Eveld might unseat him. Daniels goes into the spring with an obvious edge, but he'll be pushed by Eveld and redshirt freshman Jamius Gunsby. He'll need to perform at a consistent level to stiff-arm questions about his job security.
  • Receiver reconstitution: No doubt, receiver was the position that needed the largest upgrade a year ago. The bad news is, the Bulls lost leading pass-catcher Dontavia Bogan, who was nearly a one-man show at wideout in 2010. On the flip side, A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin return from injury. And Skip Holtz hopes getting thrown into the fire last season sped the development of guys like Evan Landi, Joel Miller and Lindsey Lamar. At the very least, the position has a lot more experience and depth than it did a year ago at this time.
Syracuse

Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Displacing Delone: Senior Delone Carter brought the thunder to the Syracuse running game the last two years, and he may have been the least favorite ballcarrier for opposing tacklers to bring down. With him gone, it remains to be seen whether the smaller Antwon Bailey can be an every-down back, or if youngsters like Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith are ready for an increased role in the offense.
  • Linebacker makeover: It would be hard for any team to lose a more productive linebacker tandem than the Orange did with seniors Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. They were both crucial to what defensive coordinator Scott Shafer liked to do. The lone returning starter is Marquis Spruill, who played as a true freshman last year. Could a newcomer like junior-college transfer Siriki Diabate be ready to help immediately?
  • Wideout wonders: Marcus Sales helped rescue an ailing passing game with his breakout performance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Is Sales ready to play like that all the time now, or was he a one-game wonder? Will Van Chew continue the improvement he showed last season before getting injured? Can the Orange get more out of Alec Lemon? What new faces might help at receiver? The answers to these questions will be key to the attack under Nathaniel Hackett, who was promoted to offensive coordinator this offseason.
West Virginia

Spring practice starts: March 28
Spring game: April 29

What to watch:
  • Dana days: Mountaineer Nation is salivating at the thought of what Dana Holgorsen will do to revive the offense. Holgorsen has had an immediate and incredible impact at the last two places where he called plays, and some solid work in the spring is required to do the same in Morgantown. A couple of things are for sure: the Mountaineers will be throwing it around a whole bunch during practice, and fans will breathlessly gobble up every small detail. Another thing to watch will be the chemistry between Holgorsen's hand-picked offensive staff and Bill Stewart, the man he'll replace at the end of the season. That relationship will also be dissected relentlessly.
  • Defense reload or rebuild?: Most people assume West Virginia will continue to field an excellent defense because of coordinator Jeff Casteel. That may be true, but no team lost more defensive talent than the Mountaineers, who must replace frontline players like tackle Chris Neild, linebacker J.T. Thomas, safety Robert Sands and cornerback Brandon Hogan, among others. There's still a lot to like here, including ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin and corner Keith Tandy, but for Casteel must find new contributors to keep his 3-3-5 humming along.
  • Who's in the backfield?: It's not yet know just how much quarterback Geno Smith will be able to do during spring practice after his offseason foot surgery. Obviously, the more reps he can take, the better he'll be able to get Holgorsen's system down. And there's no experience behind him. West Virginia will be cautious with Smith, though, because the fall is way more important. With Noel Devine gone and Tavon Austin seemingly making his move to receiver permanent, there will be competition for the starting running back spot. Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke are bulldozers who could add an interesting wrinkle to Holgorsen's spread if they get the job done.
Here is Part II of my pre-spring interview with South Florida coach Skip Holtz, in which we look forward to spring practice and the 2011 season. You can read Part I here. And if you missed Holtz's comments on his quarterback situation, you can find those here.

You don't bring back a lot of starters. But considering how many guys you played last year, how comfortable do you feel with your returning experience this season?


Skip Holtz: I do feel like we return quite a bit of experience. You look at a guy like Mark Popek on the offensive line, who didn't start but played quite a bit, and Danous Estenor played quite a bit. Obviously Bobby Eveld started one game. I'll just use the quarterback position: last year in the spring, we had one quarterback on scholarship; this spring we're going to have four. I look at the improvements we've made there from a competitive standpoint.

[Tight ends] Andreas Shields and Jeff Hawkins played. We had a number of running backs play. I look on the defensive line and we played four defensive ends and even though we graduated two of them, Ryne Giddins, Patrick Hampton and Julius Forte played just as much as the starters did. We played about seven linebackers a year ago, so even though we lost three, you return four with a significant amount of experience. I think we redshirted some really good players. We return all four of our safeties a year ago. We played three cornerbacks and two of them return.

So I think we have a great nucleus to build on. I definitely feel like we're much farther ahead than we were a year ago at this time.

You brought in three transfers from other BCS programs last year. Can you tell me about each of them?


SH: I'm really excited, and I'll start with the running backs. When we came in here a year ago, all of a sudden [Mike] Ford and [Jamar] Taylor were dismissed from the team. You start looking ahead and say Mo Plancher is going to graduate, and we're going to have a hole at the running back position. So we brought in some transfers in Darrell Scott from Colorado and Dontae Aycock from Auburn, and I think they're both very very talented players who are working extremely hard. They were both very impressive on the scout team with their attitudes and their work habits.

Darrell Scott came in about 240 [pounds]; he's down to about 226 and looks great. I think both of them are definitely going to be guys who make an immediate impact, and that's why we didn't sign a lot of junior college guys -- there was only one junior college player in our class. I think guys like Aycock and Scott are going to make a huge difference. And then a young man who transferred from Notre Dame, Spencer Boyd, is going to bring some depth to us in the secondary, where we graduated Mistral Raymond. He's a great athlete, and he's going to have an opportunity to come in and compete for time.

You had a good running game but not a lot of explosive gains there last season. How much can the new guys help that?


SH: We didn't have a lot of big plays there, you're right. Both Dontae Aycock and Darrell Scott are bigger running backs. Mo Plancher was about 200, Demetrius Murray was about 200 pounds, where Darrell Scott is 226 and Dontae Aycock is about 230. I think they're bigger, stronger running backs who are going to be able to break more tackles maybe than we have in the past, and when I watch those two guys run, they've shown me some big-play potential. So I'm really excited to see how they develop and mature as we go through spring practice and fall camp.

How are receivers A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin coming along from the injuries that kept them out all of last season?


SH: Well, it's nice to have them both back. A year ago we had four players returning with any type of experience at receiver, and Carlton Mitchell left early for the NFL before we got here. All of a sudden A.J. Love gets injured in the spring game, and Sterling Griffin gets injured in the summer. Dontavia Bogan had a great year for us, and what happened was a lot of these young guys got a chance to get experience last year. And then when you add A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin back to the mix, I think we'll be much deeper there. Plus, I'm excited about a couple of young signees we have that are coming into the program this season. But I think we'll be much deeper at that position, we'll be more experienced and we'll have more playmakers than we had a year ago.

Did it feel like, offensively, you were playing with one arm tied behind your back at times last year?


SH: It really did, with our limited big-play potential in the running game and how inexperienced we were at the receiver position. But Evan Landi came on and gained some great experience. Terrence Mitchell converted over to wide receiver halfway through the year and made an impact. Steven Bravo-Brown got better, Joel Miller had a great game against Miami. And with those guys gaining that kind of experience and then being able to throw A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin in there, it may be one of the most experienced positions on our football team.

[+] EnlargeTerrell McClain
Kim Klement/US PresswireSouth Florida's departing defensive tackle Terrell McClain leaves big shoes to fill this coming season.
Defensively, it seems like Terrell McClain will be the hardest guy to replace. I know Bruce Feldman had some nice words about Todd Chandler the other day. How do you see the defense being able to replace McClain?


SH: It's hard to replace a guy like Terrell McClain as a senior, whom they're talking about as a possible first-day draft pick, with a redshirt freshman. Keith McCaskill was solid for us last year and he's going to have to play more for us. Cory Grissom is going to be a year older as a starting nose guard. We're going to have to get a little more out of him. Anthony Hill is a guy who played a limited role for us a year ago that's going to be a junior; both him and Luke Sager, I expect more out of them. And then you hope Todd Chandler continues to mature into that position. And then there's a signee like Elkino Watson, who came in with an awful lot of accolades and is a talented player.

There are an awful lot of players there, and I don't think we're going to ask just one player to pick up that slack, that hole in the bucket left by Terrell McClain. We're going to ask a number of players to step their game up and fulfill that void.

Your season opener this year is at Notre Dame. How much does that help motivate everybody this offseason?


SH: I think it's huge as a far as a motivational factor. I remember being at Notre Dame, and we used to open with Michigan every year, when I was at East Carolina, we opened with Virginia Tech. And what that does for your players' focus as they go into winter workouts and spring practice and summer conditioning and fall camp, it just keeps their focus maintained with what's on the horizon. Having the opportunity to play Notre Dame as a young football program like we are, I think it creates an awful lot of excitement in our program, and it's something I know the players are looking forward to.

Have you talked much with your dad about that game yet?


SH: No, not enough yet. We'll get into that more as we get into summer breakdown. Right now, as we started winter workouts and are getting into out new practice facility, we're just trying to see where our players are and what we can do. Every team has a life expectancy of one year, and this time of year you start to put the pieces together. We're working on our own strengths and weaknesses before we start looking at our opponent and what they can do.

But I know they finished the season with wins at Southern Cal and a lopsided win against Miami. So I know it's going to be a great challenge, it's going to be a tall order. But it's going to be something as a young program that our players and fans are really looking forward to. It's going to be interesting to see what colors Dr. Lou is wearing that Saturday.

The team is drawing some offseason buzz because of how you finished. How do you address that, if at all, with the players?


SH: I think it's a huge compliment to what this team has accomplished and a huge compliment to this program for what we've been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. The thing for us is, we've just got to stay focused on the task at hand. You start sitting around reading the newspaper articles and drinking the Kool-aid and start believing what everybody starts writing about you, your focus isn't where it needs to be as far as getting a team ready, getting it focused and getting ready for a season. I think it's nice to be able to have that type of exposure for our program, for our fan base and for our players, that they've earned and deserved.

But I think there are two aspects of building a program: I think you have to start by learning how to win, and then once you learn how to win as we started to do toward the end of last season, I think there's a whole another process that goes into being able to handle winning. That becomes maintaining your focus and not getting sidetracked by the circus of college football that goes with the media exposure and everything else.

I suppose that's a nice problem to have.


SH: I'd much rather be here than still trying to learn how to win.
Almost a year to the day he was fired by South Florida, former Bulls coach Jim Leavitt and the school reached a settlement for $2.75 million on Tuesday night.

It's a hefty price tag, but Leavitt had been seeking to regain nearly $7 million that was left on his contract. He and his attorneys had planned a long, protracted fight that would have had Leavitt and the school air a lot of grievances in a public setting, which wouldn't have left either party looking good.

Now everybody can move on. The Bulls just completed a promising eight-win season under new coach Skip Holtz. Leavitt, who's been in coaching exile for a year, might now look less toxic to potential employees. Heck, even Joel Miller -- the player Leavitt was accused of grabbing at halftime of a 2009 game -- has moved on and played a key role in the team's win over Miami in November.

It's sad that things had to end this way between Leavitt and the program he built from scratch. But at least now this episode can be put to rest.

South Florida takes down Miami

November, 27, 2010
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Hello, Big Four.

OK, that may be overstating it a bit, but South Florida at least belongs in the discussion with the state's big boys now. The Bulls won at Florida State last year, and on Saturday they registered another program milestone by winning at Miami, 23-20 in overtime.

It's the first signature win of the Skip Holtz era, and that sure will help him on the recruiting trail this winter. The way that South Florida got it done was even more amazing than the result.

They played the entire second half with true freshman quarterback Bobby Eveld, who walked on to the program because the team was so desperate for depth at the position. Stepping in for B.J. Daniels, who was limited with a quad injury, Eveld completed 8 of 15 passes for 120 yards. He calmly led a scoring drive with two minutes left to tie it up in regulation, delivering two clutch throws to Dontavia Bogan. He also hit Joel Miller at the Miami 1 in overtime before Demetris Murray leaped over the plane for the victory.

And how about Miller? A former walk-on himself, he was the key figure in the Jim Leavitt abuse allegations that changed the course of this program. He led the team with four catches for 59 yards, including a 15-yarder on the drive that tied the game.

There will be questions all week now whether Eveld should start over the erratic Daniels in the finale against UConn next week. It doesn't just have implications for South Florida; the Big East's BCS bid will be at stake for the Huskies. Jarrett Brown filled in for Pat White in 2006 to lead West Virginia past Rutgers in the finale and send Louisville to the BCS. Might history be repeating, this time with a fill-in helping West Virginia get the prize?

But that's a story for another day. The South Florida defense played a terrific game. It wilted a bit once Jacory Harris came on in the second half, but Jerrell Young saved the game with an interception with five seconds left deep in Bulls territory. Miami fans have seen that story over and over again with the mistake-prone Harris. The defense also held the Hurricanes without a first down in the first overtime possession, setting up the win.

South Florida simply wanted this game more. Granted, this was a Miami team that didn't have much to play for, with a head coach on the hot seat and a stadium that was three-quarters empty. Still, the Bulls got it done and registered arguably the biggest nonconference victory of any Big East team this year (not that there's much competition; only West Virginia's win over Maryland is even in the conversation).

More importantly, it's another big milestone for this young program and for Holtz. The Big Three had better watch out for this upstart.

Leavitt's lawsuit was inevitable

March, 15, 2010
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It rates as no surprise that Jim Leavitt is suing South Florida in an effort to recover the millions of dollars that were left on his contract.

The school had to know this was coming when it decided to fire the only coach it ever had on Jan. 8. The Bulls terminated Leavitt's deal with cause because of the allegations that he slapped walk-on player Joel Miller, thereby allowing school officials to avoid paying him for the five years left on his contract.

But of course Leavitt was going to turn to the court system to try to recoup that money. Just as Mike Leach did at Texas Tech. Just as Billy Gillispie did when he was fired as basketball coach at Kentucky. Who would leave that kind of money on the table without a fight?

The interesting thing now will be to see if South Florida decides to contest this in court or merely ponies up for a settlement with Leavitt. If the lawsuit makes it to open court, the whole Miller investigation will once again come under scrutiny.

Both sides would likely try to paint a pattern of behavior by Leavitt on both sides of the fence. That could be uncomfortable for all parties involved, and don't forget that Miller is still a member of the team, as are several witnesses quoted in the initial investigation.

None of this is really something USF wants, as the school would much prefer to move on under new coach Skip Holtz. But it also inevitable in a situation like this.

Miller demands apology from Leavitt

January, 14, 2010
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Reports are coming out that East Carolina coach Skip Holtz has called a team meeting at the top of the hour and is expected to accept the South Florida job. As that develops, the continuing drama around the Bulls program took another turn today as Joel Miller demanded through his attorneys that Jim Leavitt apologize for slapping him -- or else Leavitt may be slapped with a lawsuit.

You can watch the video of attorney Barry Cohen's news conference here.

"It's time to stand up now, coach, and do the right thing," Cohen said, "because if you don't, Steve Romine [Cohen's legal partner] and I might not know much about football, but we know a lot about hardball."

Miller told the assembled media that he changed his story after the initial report of his allegation in order to try and protect Leavitt. Miller also told school investigators that Leavitt did not strike him.

"I'm here to tell you the truth about what really happened," Miller said. "He grabbed me by the neck and he hit me twice."

Leavitt, through his attorney, told the St. Petersburg Times that he has no intention of apologizing to Miller.

As the Bulls turn

January, 14, 2010
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The South Florida/Jim Leavitt soap opera continues.

Today, the attorney for walk-on Joel Miller -- whose original accusation that Leavitt slapped him at halftime of the Nov. 21 Louisville game led to the coach's dismissal -- will hold a news conference. About what, we're not quite sure. Miller's family could be pursuing a civil action against Leavitt or the school.

Meanwhile, Leavitt had his post-termination hearing on Wednesday in which he pleaded to get his job back. In the least shocking development ever, South Florida has not reinstated him.

And what about the coaching search? It still looks like East Carolina's Skip Holtz is the front-runner. Greg Auman reports in the St. Petersburg Times that the Bulls have interviewed Doug Williams, the former Super Bowl winning quarterback and ex-Grambling coach.

Another interesting name to watch may be Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. He was the Philadelphia Eagles' playcaller before going to the Hurricanes and was head coach at UMass before that.
The strange times at South Florida continue.

Ex-coach Jim Leavitt held a news conference with his attorneys today in which he proclaimed his innocence in the Joel Miller choking/slapping incident while vowing to fight to get his job back.

"Why shouldnt I?" he said. "I'm going to fight for it, y'all. I know what's right. I know what's right in my heart, and I'm not going to back down because I know what I'm saying is right."

You can watch video of the entire press conference here.

Leavitt wouldn't discuss the incident with Miller or his actions in the subsequent investigation except to say that the "allegations are misreported."

"I've said that from day one, and I don't care how long it takes," he said. "I'm in this for my life."

Leavitt's lawyers argued that he wasn't allowed a "pre-termination" meeting to argue his case and that his "post-termination" meeting was scheduled this afternoon with little notice, giving Leavitt inadequate time to gather evidence to support his claims. Of course, Leavitt was interviewed during the school's investigation, and the report found that his statements weren't corroborated by other witnesses. That report criticized Leavitt for lying and interfering with the investigation, perhaps even threatening witnesses. But Leavitt said he wouldn't do anything differently if he had it to do over again.

Leavitt talked about how he built the team from the ground up since 1995 and how much he loved all his players. He said he nearly broke down when a player texted him over the weekend, asking how he could play for another coach.

Leavitt spoke about how South Florida was the best job for him. He did not, however, make a strong case for why he's still the best man for the job.

We've seen coaches fight terminations with lawsuits, but I can't recall too many times where the coach passionately argued to have his job back.

There is no way, though, that Leavitt regains his position. Can you imagine the circus surrounding the program if he were somehow reinstated? This is more about trying to restore his reputation and recoup some of the lost salary from his contract.

This obviously is not what the Bulls need right now with signing day less than a month away. It would be best for all parties involved if South Florida can hire a new coach quickly and start to move forward.

video

The investigation into allegations that South Florida coach Jim Leavitt grabbed and slapped walk-on player Joel Miller took more than three weeks, comprised 29 interviews and ended with a 33-page report. The investigators concluded that Leavitt did in fact slap Miller, which is the basis of the school's firing of Leavitt today.

"Despite Coach Leavitt and Student Athlete A’s denial that any inappropriate contact had taken place, the reviewers find it more likely that contact did, in fact, occur to the face and throat/neck area of Student Athlete A," the review reads. "This report was substantiated by multiple reports from credible direct eye witnesses whose recollection was corroborated."

You can view the entire USF report here.

There is a lot of conflicting information in the report, not the least of which is Miller's own denials of his original allegations. But the investigators reported that several other players who had the best view of the incident that happened at halftime of the Nov. 21 Louisville game agreed that Miller had been slapped. None of the 20 players interviewed are identified by name in the report.

"Student Athletes B and C had seen the entire event and described it as involving Coach Leavitt grabbing Student Athlete A by the throat with one hand and 'slapping' or 'striking' Student Athlete A’s face with his other hand," the report reads.

The report says another player saw Leavitt put his hand "high" on Miller's jersey, "indicating that it could have been on Student Athlete A’s throat. At this point, Student Athlete D turned his head because he “did not want to ‘catch anything himself’ or see anymore."

Another player said Leavitt "tapped" Miller's face twice "to get his attention," according to the report.

Leavitt has denied all wrongdoing and told investigators that he approached Miller while on his knees. He said Miller appeared down and he asked him what was wrong in an encouraging manner.

But the investigators said no one could corroborate Leavitt's version of events and that every other account had him talking to Miller "in a direct, aggressive, and disturbed fashion." The investigators also found conflicting statements from Leavitt on whether he'd ever shaken a player and whether he'd apologized to Miller. And though he was specifically told not to speak to anyone about the incident or the investigation, the report said Leavitt had talked to Miller during the review. One player told investigators that several on the team feared retaliation from Leavitt.

In athletic director Doug Woolard's letter to Leavitt informing him of the dismissal, he cites the report's findings and says the coach offered conflicting and misleading statements while interfering with the investigation. That, he said, gave the university the right to fire Leavitt with cause.
The South Florida investigation into allegations of player abuse by coach Jim Leavitt is now stretching into its fourth week. Meanwhile, another player has come forward to back the original accusation by walk-on Joel Miller.

Receiver Colby Erskin tells Fanhouse's Brett McMurphy -- who broke the original story -- that Miller had told him Leavitt grabbed and slapped Miller at halftime of the Louisville game. However, Erskin was not in the locker room at the time.

Erskin's father said he decided to speak out "when he learned Leavitt cleaned out his son's locker Monday and threw the contents, including Colby's personal items and International Bowl jersey, into a trash bin. Equipment manager Jeremy Lees told Colby Erskin that Leavitt had personally removed everything. Colby said he found his belongings in a trash bin in USF's football equipment room."

Joel Miller and his father have publicly rescinded the original accusations. But Miller's high school coach told McMurphy the original report was accurate.

This, clearly, needs a resolution quickly. If South Florida decides to make a change, it's getting late in the game to find suitable head coaching candidates. If not, then this story can only hurt recruiting. The investigation needs to be complete and accurate, obviously, but a month should be enough time to wrap this up one way or another.
1. The longer the University of South Florida investigates head coach Jim Leavitt’s altercation with special teams player Joel Miller, the more uneasy that Leavitt and the Bulls coaching staff becomes. It would seem as if the quicker the university makes a decision, the smaller the effect on recruiting. If Leavitt stays, no worries. If the university forces him out, mid-January is not a good time to make a coaching change.

2. Ran into UConn coach Randy Edsall as we exited the No. 1 Huskies’ 80-68 women's basketball defeat of No. 2 Stanford at the XL Center in Hartford on Wednesday night. Edsall’s Huskies play South Carolina in the Papajohn’s Bowl on Jan. 2. Edsall said UConn must stop big plays and make the Gamecocks drive the length of the field. Good news: South Carolina’s minus-3 turnover margin. Bad news: UConn allowed a 67.1 completion percentage. The Huskies must make more plays than that.

3. Todd Berry returns to an FBS head coaching position at Louisiana-Monroe, which means a former Army coach is replacing a former Navy coach (Charlie Weatherbie). It’s surprising that Berry got a second chance after going 5-35 at Army from 2000-03. Ball State coach Stan Parrish needed 21 years to get another head coaching job after going 2-31-1 at Kansas State. Parrish’s Cardinals went 2-10 this season.

Is Leavitt in the clear?

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
10:19
AM ET
South Florida's investigation is continuing into whether coach Jim Leavitt struck a player at halftime of the Nov. 21 Louisville game, as originally reported by AOL Fanhouse.
Leavitt
Leavitt

But the player in question -- Joel Miller -- told ESPN's Joe Schad that it never happened.

"I don't think anything should happen to him," Miller said. "Me and Coach Leavitt are fine. People can say different things but he only grabbed my shoulder pads to motivate me."
Miller's father originally made the allegations public in that Fanhouse story but backed off of them in subsequent reports. Joel Miller told Schad that his family's story had been "misrepresented" and that he told school officials that earlier this week.

Leavitt, meanwhile, declined to address the issue at all after Wednesday's practice in his first scheduled meeting with reporters since the report.

It's hard to see how this investigation is going to lead anywhere if the person who was alleged to be abused -- and his family -- are now saying nothing happened. And Leavitt has adamantly denied the allegations.

This whole thing has to be a giant distraction for the Bulls as they prepare for the International Bowl, but at least the game is still pretty far away on Jan. 2. Unless further information arises in the investigation, it looks like Leavitt will be coaching the team in that game.
1. It’s one thing to be a coordinator at one school while preparing to be a head coach at another. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen juggled jobs nicely a year ago as Florida won the BCS title. It’s another to be a lame-duck assistant coach trying to find a job while preparing for the Gator Bowl. If I’m one of the three Florida State assistants who won’t be retained by Jimbo Fisher, am I going to work the phones for a job or watch video of West Virginia?

2. AOL Fanhouse quotes multiple witnesses who saw USF coach Jim Leavitt attack player Joel Miller. The story also quotes Miller’s father discussing the incident. Leavitt denies striking Miller. And now that the university is investigating the incident, Miller’s father is backing off his account. Where are the multiple witnesses? Did all of them disappear, too? USF brought in an outside investigator. Here’s hoping he figures out what really happened.

3. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said that the league will take a fresh look at expansion. Don’t get excited. It’s hard to imagine two schools that would make sense for the league that would be willing to come. The new members have to bring markets with them that are large enough so that 12 slices of the pie would be as lucrative as 10 slices are now.

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