NCF Nation: Mo Plancher

Mo bowls, mo fun for USF's Mo Plancher

December, 29, 2010
Before South Florida left for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Bulls players peppered running back Mo Plancher with questions about Charlotte and the experience at the game.

[+] EnlargeSouth Florida Bulls running back Moise Plancher
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireSouth Florida running back Mo Plancher is attending his sixth postseason game for the Bulls.
Plancher has been on this trip before -- way back in 2005. In fact, he might be one of college football's foremost experts on postseason travel.

Mo knows bowls.

Win one for the thumb? Nah, Plancher is already on his second hand when it comes to bowl rings. Having been redshirted and granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, the senior is now attending his sixth straight postseason game. Not many current players can say that.

"I've gotten a ring for every single one," he said. "I let my brother wear one, and I gave one to my dad. I let them sport it."

Plancher has picked up some pretty good swag along the way, too. He got a portable DVD player way back at that first Meineke game -- "that was a pretty good gift at the time," he says -- and later picked up a flip video camera "before they became popular." Yes, Plancher has been at this so long that his high-tech bowl gifts have become outdated.

Or to put it another way, Plancher remembers watching NC State's Mario Williams play in that first bowl game. The future No. 1 NFL draft pick is completing his fifth pro season.

But Plancher hasn't just hung around South Florida. Like a fine wine or Betty White, he's gotten better with age.

He was the team's top running back last year, though quarterback B.J. Daniels was the main ball-carrier. This season, as new coach Skip Holtz went to a more conventional running approach, Plancher split time with sophomore Demetris Murray at tailback. He leads the team with a career-best 743 rushing yards heading into Friday's game against Clemson, averaging a solid 4.6 yards per carry. His 162 carries this year are only 40 fewer than his career number of attempts coming into 2010.

"It's definitely better than sitting back as we're throwing the ball 50 times a game," he said. "As a player, you always want the ball in your hands with a chance to help the team win."

After several injuries earlier in his career -- he tore his ACL as a redshirt freshman and dealt with other bumps and bruises along the way -- Plancher has become much more durable, appearing in all 25 of the Bulls' games the past two years. He says he has done a better job of staying on top of the little aches and pains that could lead to something more serious, while also doing a better job managing his nutrition.

"My career has definitely had its ups and downs," he said. "But I felt like the times I was healthy and able to produce, I helped the team as best I could. Looking back on it, it's been a great experience."

Plancher will play an important role for South Florida against Clemson's physical, fast defensive front. He can help slow down the Tigers' pass rush with some effective running, and he'll be needed for extra protection on passing downs against guys like Da'Quan Bowers.

He surely won't be distracted by the setting. After a half-dozen of these things, Mo knows bowls.
Major development in Miami, as South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels began the second half on the sideline. True freshman Bobby Eveld is under center for the Bulls, who lead 3-0.

We don't know yet whether this is injury-related -- Daniels was really struggling to move late in the first half -- or performance-based. Either way, what a big spot for Eveld to come in, as he has barely played since Big East play began. And remember he was a walk-on.

The Bulls drove to the Miami 10 on the first series with Eveld, but Mo Plancher then fumbled. Still, this might be the right move at quarterback.
1. South Florida is on the rise: The Bulls looked bad in losing their first two Big East games with pathetic offensive production. Since then, quarterback B.J. Daniels has cut down on his turnovers and made better decisions, and South Florida has won two straight while averaging 33 points. Seniors like Mo Plancher, Jacquain Williams and Terrell McClain are leading the way. Skip Holtz's 5-3 team is sitting pretty for a bowl game now and is still alive in the Big East hunt.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Wright
AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli Coach Charlie Strong has Jeremy Wright and Louisville racing toward a bowl bid.
2. Louisville is on the rise, too: The Cardinals stopped their 11-game conference road losing streak and stopped Syracuse's momentum with a 28-20 win at the Carrier Dome. They did what most teams haven't been able to do in picking up the Orange pressure and scoring multiple touchdowns. They also did it with backups starting at quarterback and running back. Charlie Strong might overtake Doug Marrone for Big East coach of the year honors, and he's got his 5-4 Louisville team on the verge of returning to a bowl for the first time since the 2006 season. The Cardinals actually have a case as the league's second-best team.

3. Pitt is really in the driver's seat: The Panthers didn't play this week, but have to be smiling after the results. With Syracuse's loss, every team in the Big East has two conference losses except for Pitt, which is 3-0. While Dave Wannstedt's team still has to play three of its final four games on the road, starting this Thursday at Connecticut, it has an enviable cushion with which to work.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 6, 2010
Mo Plancher, RB, South Florida: The sixth-year senior carried 21 times for 135 yards in the Bulls' 28-27 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday night. Plancher also had three catches for 45 yards.

Jacquain Williams, LB, South Florida: The senior had 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks against Rutgers.

Jeremy Wright, RB, Louisville: The redshirt freshman stepped in for Bilal Powell and career highs of 19 carries, 98 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-20 win over Syracuse.

South Florida knocks off Rutgers

November, 3, 2010
South Florida finally got past Rutgers after four straight losses to the Scarlet Knights.

The Bulls scored a touchdown with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter and then held on for a 28-27 win in Tampa. That was more points than I expected from two offenses that have struggled much of the season, but special teams helped out. Rutgers scored on a punt return, while the Bulls benefited from a safety and a touchdown set up by a long punt return.

The Scarlet Knights had owned South Florida in part because the Bulls had pretty much stuck to the same game plan the past few years. The new staff under Skip Holtz added a lot of wrinkles, including multiple formations on offense designed to help the running game. Tailback Mo Plancher had his best game of the year, running for 135 yards on 21 carries. He did fumble twice, but both were recovered by teammates -- including the game-winning touchdown that offensive lineman Jacob Sims pounced on.

B.J. Daniels continued his resurgence, throwing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He did have one interception but played a lot better than he had earlier in the season.

Rutgers looked better on offense but couldn't come up with big plays in the fourth quarter when needed. Chas Dodd completed 19 of 22 passes but only had 139 yards as most of his throws were safe and short. The offensive line got dominated by South Florida's defense in the crucial fourth quarter. The Scarlet Knights finished with just 238 total yards, and they weren't able to pounce on several fumbles that seemed to bounce right into South Florida players' arms.

This was a big game for both teams' bowl hopes. South Florida improved to 5-3 and 2-2 in the Big East and now is in pretty good shape for making the postseason. The Bulls are technically still alive in the conference race, too, as they still get to play Pittsburgh.

Rutgers is basically out of the Big East race as it fell to 4-4, 1-2. The Scarlet Knights would need to win out and have Pitt to lose three times to have a real chance at the league title. A more realistic goal now is just to get to a bowl again. This team has been through a lot with the Eric LeGrand situation, and it would be nice to see a good finish for these players.

Louisville, USF up at halftime

October, 2, 2010
Both Louisville and South Florida are leading at halftime of their games. Of the two, the Cardinals are in more control.

Despite some issues at receiver, Louisville is dominating Arkansas State 31-7 on the road. Adam Froman has already tossed three touchdown passes, and Bilal Powell has run for 97 yards and caught a 57-yard touchdown pass. Remember this is the same Arkansas State team that gave Louisville trouble at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last year. But Louisville is obviously much better coached right now with Charlie Strong and really taking care of business.

South Florida leads only 14-3 at half over Florida Atlantic. The Bulls have scored on a punt block and a Mo Plancher touchdown. Demetris Murray, who hurt his ankle early last week but still rushed for 115 yards, has not played. Donatavia Bogan is back and has three catches for 24 yards.

This is what USF is right now: a team that does enough on offense to beat bad opponents. We'll see what the Bulls really are next week against Syracuse. Meanwhile, Louisville is looking like a team that could cause some noise.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
1. TCB Weekend: It's a rare week when every Big East team is favored and expected to win, with only UConn's game against Vanderbilt featuring a major-conference opponent. The league has been battered and bruised for its September performance, so this is a time to pick up some wins and confidence -- provided that everybody takes care of business.

[+] EnlargeCody Endres
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamCody Endres completed 7 of 11 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Zach Frazer last week.
2. Endres enters: Cody Endres looked good in relief of Zach Frazer at quarterback for Connecticut last week, and now he gets his first starting assignment since October of last season. Can he keep it up against an SEC defense? And can the Huskies passing game continue to show improvement?

3. UConn's rush to victory: Notice I called Vanderbilt an SEC defense in the last item, and technically that's true. But the Commodores rank 105th in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 206 yards per game. We don't know yet if Jordan Todman will play after missing last week's game with an arm injury. But clearly there should be some running room for a team that loves to move the ball on the ground.

4. Macho Man Savage?: Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage is dealing with bruised ribs, and if you ever experienced an injury there, you know how painful that can be. It remains to be seen whether Savage, who has gotten off to a rough start while healthy, will play or be able to be effective against Tulane. If he can't go, then true freshman Chas Dodd may be forced into action, or Mohamed Sanu will see a whole lot of Wildcat time. That could make an already scuffling Rutgers offense even more sketchy.

5. Pitt's new-look line: Pittsburgh shook things up this week with its offensive line, moving tackle Lucas Nix inside and installing Jordan Gibbs at right tackle. The Panthers are desperately trying to get the line right and open up room for their running game, which is key to everything they want to do. The reshaped line gets its first challenge against Florida International, which gave Rutgers all it could handle in Week 2. FIU likes to blitz from different angles and has Florida athletes, so this will be a good litmus test for Pitt's makeover.

6. Sunseri in the spotlight: Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri did not look good against Miami, and when reserve Pat Bostick came in during the fourth quarter some fans were ready to make the change permanent. Dave Wannstedt isn't ready to make a switch and still believes in Sunseri. But clearly, the first-year starter needs to get on track, because the Panthers don't have much room for error. And they have a veteran in Bostick waiting in the wings.

7. Bulls on the run or in the air?: South Florida escaped Western Kentucky last week by running the ball almost exclusively. Now the Bulls play a Florida Atlantic team that ranks last in the country in rushing defense. So expect some more of the power I-formation look, and potentially a big day for Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher. At the same time, however, receivers Dontavia Bogan and Sterling Griffin could be back from injury, and both could use some work before next week's Big East opener against Syracuse. So USF needs to air it out a bit, too.

8. New Cardinals catchers: Louisville has suffered all kinds of injuries at the receiver position, the latest knocking out leading pass catcher Doug Beaumont. The Cardinals need to find people to make plays in the passing game this week at Arkansas State, and they could look to junior college transfer Josh Bellamy, sophomore Andrell Smith or freshmen Kai Dominguez and Jarrett Davis. None have much experience, and Louisville will likely need to get plays out of them against a Red Wolves team that's averaging 28 points per game.

USF's Demetris Murray is on the rise

September, 29, 2010
South Florida running back Demetris Murray turned his ankle during a spring practice and laid on the ground for several seconds.

While Murray was on the turf, head coach Skip Holtz ambled over and said he was looking for backs who could play through bumps and bruises. Murray almost immediately popped up and announced, "I'm your guy."

"Ever since then, I've tried to live by that motto," Murray said. "I want to be an every-down back and not just a guy who lays on the ground."

[+] EnlargeDemetris Murray
J. Meric/Getty ImagesDemetris Murray has rushed for 223 yards through the Bulls' first three games this season.
Murray wasn't about to stay down with the opportunity that arose in front of him. When seniors Mike Ford, Jamar Taylor and Aston Samuels all left the team, it opened the door for the sophomore to rise up the depth chart and earn more carries this season.

So far, he's making the most of the chance. Last week against Western Kentucky, Murray rushed for a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown. Here's what made that performance even more impressive: Murray rolled his ankle on his first play in the game, and it has been swollen all week. But he stayed in and pushed through it.

"It was pretty tough," he said. "But I felt like I didn't want to let my brothers down."

The Bulls have morphed into a team that relies heavily on the running game; they've rushed 115 times this year compared to only 70 passes. That's bad news for this week's opponent, Florida Atlantic. The Owls have the worst rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 275 yards per game on the ground this season.

South Florida is maintaining a tailback tandem approach with Murray and Mo Plancher, who had 17 carries against Western Kentucky. But Murray has given them a nice burst of energy.

"The thing that's impressed me from Game 1 to Game 3 is that he enjoys playing the game and he's passionate about it," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "He plays with excitement and fun. When players play that way, they tend to be successful.

"He's not a blazer by any means, but he does a nice job of seeing things. The first game, I didn't think he made enough people miss. But in the Florida game, he had two really nice runs where he beat a guy to the hole."

The Florida game was Murray's first real exposure to a wide audience. He had 11 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown in that 38-14 loss. Yet, he also lost a key fumble as the Bulls were driving in the second half to slice the Gators' lead. While Murray said he got down on himself as he walked to the sideline after that turnover, Holtz didn't have to say anything to him about that play.

"I think he's just one of those young men who's loving what he's going through right now," Holtz said. "He has waited for his turn since his freshman year, and he has said, 'This is what I've waited for.'"

Murray, a Georgia native who is a cousin to former NFL running back Garrison Hearst, believes he could be an every-down back if the Bulls wanted to go that direction. But he's also happy splitting time with Plancher, a sixth-year senior.

"I call him Old Man Wisdom," Murray says. "He talks to me a lot about the ins and outs of the position. He's been a really big influence on me."

South Florida will continue to use both backs as it tries to develop its passing game. But the Bulls already know one thing for sure: it's hard to keep Murray down for long.

Bulls, Gators see where they stand

September, 11, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For South Florida, Saturday's game at The Swamp was about measuring up against one college football's gold standards.

For Florida, it was about trying to recapture that standard after a shaky opening week.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Daniels
Kim Klement/US PresswireB.J. Daniels ran for 107 yards against Florida, but he made just five completions and had four INTs.
Both teams got answers, but not necessarily the ones they were seeking. Florida won 38-14 with a lot of help from the mistake-prone Bulls. South Florida left thinking it might be able to play at Florida's usual level by cleaning some things up. The Gators learned the same.

"Outside of the turnovers, it would have been a great football game that went down to the wire," first-year South Florida coach Skip Holtz said.

The Bulls had five turnovers to none by the Gators. Meanwhile, Florida had one Jeff Demps, which proved just as valuable.

South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels showed what's both tantalizing and maddening about his still-evolving game. The sophomore ran for 107 yards but completed almost as many passes to the defense (four) as he did to his teammates (five). Holtz called him a "tremendous competitor" who's still a "true freshman in this offense."

But Daniels also made mistakes even a rookie should know to avoid. His included a momentum-killing interception with one minute left in the first half with his team up 7-0. He tried to force a screen pass to Mo Plancher even though Florida's defense had busted the play into pieces. Over and over in training camp, Holtz had instructed him to throw the ball in the dirt in that situation. Instead, he let the Gators' still-struggling offense get a tying score before halftime.

Daniels also gave up a second-half pick-six to defensive lineman Justin Trattou on a floater as he escaped from heavy pressure.

"Under duress, the best thing to do is tuck it and take the loss," said Daniels, who finished 5-for-20 for 84 yards and those four interceptions. "It's definitely something I can learn from. I just need to do things to help the team versus just trying to make every play."

But it's understandable why Daniels would feel like he needed to make every play, because he had precious little help. His shiftiness in the zone-read option kept the Bulls in the game, and Holtz said his quarterback put the team on his shoulders early on.

The passing game, though, was virtually nonexistent. South Florida entered the season with one experienced receiver in Dontavia Bogan, and he turned an ankle early in the game. Daniels completed just two passes to receivers all day as Florida's defensive backs simply manhandled them.

"Their corners are better than I thought they were," Holtz said. "We were challenged outside, and those young guys did not respond very well."

The Gators' defense had the passing game locked down, but the Bulls still averaged 6.3 yards per carry. South Florida executed a 17-play, 96-yard scoring drive on its opening series as its offensive line controlled matters. If an also-ran Big East team can do that, shudder to think what Alabama will do.

"We have to get that corrected," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "You don't win SEC games like that."

Florida Gators
AP Photo/Phil SandlinAfter Florida's offense struggled to get in sync in the first half, the Gators scored 31 second-half points.
As for the Florida offense, Tim Tebow was clearly on a plane en route to Jacksonville rather than under center in Gainesville. The bad-snap issue that plagued the Gators in Week 1 against Miami of Ohio disappeared after a botch on the first series. But quarterback John Brantley and his receivers struggled to get in sync for most of the first half.

"It took us a while to get into the game offensively," receiver Deonte Thompson said. "Once we got a feel for the game, we got the offense running."

More specifically, Demps got the offense running. His 62-yard touchdown sprint put Florida ahead for good in the third quarter. He finished with 139 rushing yards and another 95 yards on two kick returns. Even if Florida's offense is scuffling, it can always just keep giving it to Demps and wait for a big play.

"We had a game plan just for Demps," South Florida linebacker DeDe Lattimore said. "But he's a great player. I like how he plays."

The offensive line opened bigger holes in the second half as the South Florida defense seemed to tire on a sweltering day (the heat index on the field soared well past 100). The Gators piled up 251 rushing yards, and their backs are averaging eight yards per carry through two games.

"That's the hardest our running backs have run here in quite a while," Meyer said. "Our receivers aren't where we need to be, but they're better."

The measure of Florida's improvement demanded a measured response from Meyer. Meanwhile, Holtz saw the possibility of his team's potential.

"I think they showed they deserved to be on this field," Holtz said. "As long as we learn from this experience, it may be one of the best things that happens to us this year. Because we can put on the film and say we deserved to be here."

Both the Gators and the Bulls had questions coming into Saturday. Both got the answers they deserved.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's impossible to miss B.J. Daniels at a South Florida Bulls practice. While his teammates are wearing green or white jerseys, Daniels sports a bright red top, the kind of color you might picture on a overcompensating, middle-aged man's sports car.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Daniels
Kim Klement/US PresswireDaniels finished last season with 23 touchdowns and more than 2,700 yards.
"I kind of wish I blended in a little more," Daniels said.

Even if the team didn't need an obvious visual reminder that Daniels can't be hit this spring, he still wouldn't just fade into a crowd. He is the most important player on the field, and the Bulls know they're only going as far as he takes them.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback led them to five wins in 10 games as a starter last year in what amounted to a baptism by fire. Four-year starting quarterback Matt Grothe tore up his knee in the third game, thrusting Daniels into the spotlight. His first start came at Florida State, where he led South Florida to a program-rattling victory. A star, it seemed, was born.

While Daniels performed admirably in his first major college exposure, he also suffered some inevitable freshman ups and downs. He pulled off some highlight-worthy big plays while amassing more than 2,700 total yards (772 of them rushing) and 23 touchdowns. He also completed just 53.7 percent of his passes, threw nine interceptions and struggled in blowout losses to Pitt, Rutgers and Miami.

"I would say I did OK last year," Daniels said. "Looking back on it now, there are a lot of things I wish could have done differently. But I don't regret it at all."

Daniels was not only the leading ball carrier for the Bulls in 2009, he was continually running around in the pocket trying to avoid the rush and make something happen. He either ran or passed the ball on almost exactly half of all South Florida's plays. The new coaching staff would like to reduce some of that workload this year, especially since there is no other scholarship quarterback on the roster this spring.

Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch plans to put Daniels under center more and ask him to hand off to the running backs instead of calling his own number all the time.

"B.J. is so talented that he could be one of our top running backs if we really wanted him to be," Fitch said. "With his feet and his ability to improvise, we'll use him in certain situations like that. But we don't want him to be the leading ball carrier. We want to take some of the running pressure off him with backs and maybe some receivers."

Like Grothe, Daniels has the uncanny ability to elude trouble. But he also has a stronger arm than Grothe, and he has often said he'd prefer to be a pocket quarterback. So he's excited about the possibilities of a new system.

"As far as running around, I don't think that will happen too much," he said. "It's not what I look forward to doing."

Right now, he's limited in what he can do. Offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder necessitates that red jersey, and he says he still doesn't have full range of motion in the arm. He can throw, of course, but it will be another few months before he's capable of doing any contact work.

So he's focusing on the mental part of his game this spring, which requires a lot since he's learning a new offense. There's little question about his ability to handle that, because his makeup and character excite the coaching staff as much as his physical traits.

Daniels' calm, cool demeanor throughout the Florida State game -- which he played in his hometown, no less -- showed that he does not rattle easily. He's always been mature and is becoming confident as a leader. Running back Mo Plancher says that when other players are sentenced to extra running as punishment, Daniels usually joins them to show support.

"He's off the charts," head coach Skip Holtz said. "He has all the intangibles, to go along with all the talent."

That bright red jersey is a red herring. B.J. Daniels already stands out from the rest.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Skip Holtz has finally emptied the moving boxes in his office.

Now he has to find some time to actually organize the contents of those cardboard carriers instead of just throwing old playbook binders on whatever shelf space was available. Framed pictures still sit on the floor, leaning against walls and bookcases. And those boxes? They're empty, but they haven't managed to leave the office yet.

J. Meric/Getty ImagesNew South Florida coach Skip Holtz has gone out of his way to accommodate both players and media alike since arriving in Tampa.
Interior decorating must wait for Holtz, who hasn't had many spare minutes since being named South Florida's second-ever head coach Jan. 14. He had to quickly assemble and retain a recruiting class, charm the local media and boosters and learn something about the guys he'd be coaching. Spring practice is now in full swing.

So unpacking remains a low priority. But Holtz has already handled perhaps the toughest transition he'll face.

The former East Carolina coach arrived in Tampa amid a cloud of controversy, taking the job a week after the school fired Jim Leavitt following an investigation into accusations he grabbed and choked walk-on Joel Miller at halftime of a late-season game. Several players were interviewed for the university's report into the incident, with some supporting Leavitt's side and others saying he did assault Miller.

Add in the fact that Leavitt was the only coach South Florida has ever known, and the potential for a divided locker room or for players to resist a new coach seemed ripe.

It's telling, then, that no players have left or transferred since Holtz took over. The attitude around the team and the entire South Florida community appears to be one of unison and enthusiasm.

"Change is different for everybody," Holtz says. "Some people are comfortable with change and some are not. But I don't feel like we had anybody here who didn't want to get on board because of everything that transpired here."

To be sure, the team played a large role in that. Quarterback B.J. Daniels said the players held several closed-door meetings before Holtz was hired, where they talked about staying together no matter who the next coach would be.

Still, Holtz knew the players would be anxious to hear from him, which is why he told athletic director Doug Woolard that he needed to address team as soon as possible after the hiring. Woolard acknowledges that "it was probably not an easy thing" for Holtz to do, and Holtz offered no easy solutions.

"I didn't have any, 'Hey, everything is going to be OK' type of talk with them," Holtz said. "It was all about where we're going. I told them, 'We've got two choices. We can be negative and mope, groan, gripe and complain. Or we can look forward, be positive, upbeat and energetic and make some decisions to be good.'"

After that, Holtz had to hit the road for recruiting. But during the week of signing day, he set aside 10 minutes to meet with each player individually over the course of three days. The players appreciated that personal touch.

"He has an open-door policy, and the way he talks to you makes you feel better as a person," running back Mo Plancher said.

Woolard says he didn't go looking for someone with great PR skills to replace Leavitt, who often acted like he who was late for a flight during his media sessions. But Woolard could have scarcely found someone better at changing the conversation than Holtz. He is, after all, the son of Lou Holtz, one of the best motivational speakers in coaching history. And his first job in coaching came under another great communicator, Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Holtz's people skills have been on display ever since he came to Tampa. He has filled his schedule with nearly nonstop appearances in the community. Every day the Bulls practice, he blocks out an hour in his office for any reporter who wants to come by and chat, in addition to talking after practice. South Florida has marketed his personality, with billboards around town featuring his picture and the slogan, "a Holtz new era."

Ultimately, though, his popularity will stem from how much he wins on the field, not whether he wins the news conferences. It's not lost on the Bulls that Holtz is coming off two straight Conference USA championships, while South Florida has never lost fewer than three league games in a season.

"We want to get over the hump we've been stuck on the last couple of years," senior defensive end Craig Marshall said. "We're ready to try whoever can get us there."

This could be the perfect marriage of coach and opportunity. At his last two stops, Connecticut and East Carolina, Holtz says people had to work to find Storrs and Greenville. Prospects and coaches routinely drop by South Florida, which is located in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country. The school is in a major media market, boasts a rapidly growing alumni base and has facility upgrades on the way.

"We feel like this is a place that's ready to explode, if we do a good job recruiting and coaching and teaching," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said.

It's up to the second coach in Bulls history to build on what the first one established. Holtz has not spoken to Leavitt since taking the job because of the continuing controversy (Leavitt has filed a lawsuit against the school). He often says he hates the situation that led him to South Florida, but he loves the fact that he's there.

Imagine how comfortable he'll feel when his office is organized.

Ford never put it all together

February, 24, 2010
As players, they had nothing in common. But when I heard the news about Mike Ford's dismissal from South Florida, I immediately thought of Elijah Fields.

Like's Pitt's talented but troubled safety, Ford had a world of potential but simply couldn't meet the requirements necessary to stay on the field. And like Fields, he won't be around for his senior season.

[+] EnlargeMike Ford
John E. Sokolowski/US PresswireMike Ford never lived up to his potential after his breakout year as a freshman.
Bulls fans dreamed of big things from Ford when he rushed for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. He was a big back who could plow it in at the goal line, but he also had speed.

But Ford would never run for as much as 500 yards in a season again. He had problems with injuries and maintaining his weight. He was arrested twice. He got suspended for a game in 2007 and for the start of the 2009 season. He never could seem to get out of Jim Leavitt's doghouse and, for long stretches, it seemed like he had disappeared.

Then there was the breakout game in the 2010 International Bowl when he ran all over Northern Illinois in the second half and finished with 207 yards. I -- and I'm sure many Bulls fans felt the same way -- was looking forward to seeing what Ford could do as a senior under new coach Skip Holtz, who may have made more of a commitment to using running backs than Leavitt's staffs ever did.

An in-shape, motivated Ford getting 20 to 25 carries a game would have been intriguing to say the least. He was one of those players that fans always asked me about in chats and e-mails, because his talent was so obvious when he was on the field.

We don't know yet what Ford did to earn his dismissal. But, like Fields, he must have known he was on a very short leash, even with a new coaching staff in town. For him to commit even a minor transgression shows a recklessness and foolishness that is mind-boggling.

Sometimes it's good for a new head coach to dismiss a player for a rules violation, especially one as talented as Ford. That shows the rest of the team that the new sheriff means business. I'm sure, though, Holtz would rather had Ford in the backfield this spring, even though he still has a lot of available options there. The Bulls could go with Mo Plancher, Lindsey Lamar, Jamar Taylor, Richard Kelly ... the list goes on and on.

None had quite the package of potential that Ford had. It's a shame he could never fully realize all his skills had to offer.
Spring football in the Big East kicks off March 16. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:

  • Building depth: New coach Butch Jones said this is the biggest key for the spring. The Bearcats have a lot of top-flight players with starting experience back, like Zach Collaros, Armon Binns, Isaiah Pead and JK Schaffer. But there's a lot of youth and inexperience in potential backup roles, especially at positions like offensive line, linebacker and receiver. All slates are clean with the new coaching staff, and the spring will be a time when new names can emerge in key roles.
  • Defensive line retooling: Jones will switch back to the 4-3 after a year in the 3-4 scheme. Both starting defensive ends from last year are gone, but the smallish line was overpowered at times near the end of the season anyway. Derek Wolfe should be a fixture inside, Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and John Hughes step into more prominent roles. Jones will have to decide whether to make Walter Stewart a defensive end or keep him at outside linebacker. The Bearcats could use a little more strength and bulk up front against the bigger Big East offensive lines.
  • Vidal's arrival: USC transfer Vidal Hazelton is eligible after sitting out last year. He reputedly dominated practices last season, and now he'll get to go full time with the first string. A lot of people will be watching closely to see how he and Collaros connect during the spring. A big year by Hazelton will lessen the loss of star wideout Mardy Gilyard and could keep Cincinnati as the Big East's best offense.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:

  • Secondary matters: UConn returns a truckload of starters and looks rock solid in most areas. But the defensive backfield will be an area of emphasis starting in the spring. Gone are stalwarts Robert McClain and Robert Vaughn from a secondary that got picked apart much of the season by opposing passing games. Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson showed progress by the end of their redshirt freshmen seasons and should be the starting corners. The Huskies need someone to replace Vaughn at safety and overall better performance from the unit.
  • Frazer vs. Endres: Zach Frazer and Cody Endres have been splitting starts since the second half of the 2008 season at quarterback. Endres took over early last year and played well until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Frazer picked things up late after a slow start. The competition should be back on this spring, with Frazer probably holding the edge given his late-season improvement.
  • Catch as catch can: Receiver was a major question for UConn going into last spring, when walk-on senior Marcus Easley surprised everybody with his giant leap forward. He became the go-to guy in 2009, but now he's gone, along with starter Brad Kanuch. So the Huskies are basically back in the same position as this time a year ago, needing to find some reliable pass catchers. Kashif Moore may be the next to break out after some good, late-year performances. And perhaps former highly-touted recruit Dwayne Difton will emerge. UConn hopes to catch lightning in a bottle again like it did with Easley.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:

  • Switching to Strong: The Cardinals will have their first practices under new coach Charlie Strong, who promises to bring a much different style than former coach Steve Kragthorpe. Strong is known as being an intense guy on the field, and as a former top-flight defensive coordinator, he will likely be particularly demanding of players on that side of the ball. There will be new terminology to learn, new assistants and new standards to which the Cardinals must adjust in a hurry.
  • The quarterback shuffle: Louisville had three quarterbacks -- Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein -- start games last year. All three will be given the chance to win the job in the spring, and mid-year enrollee Luke Woodley might see some snaps as well. Don't be surprised if this competition goes into the fall and if other newcomers like Dominique Brown get a look. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford wants to run a Florida-style spread offense, which might favor the more mobile Froman if he chooses to go with a veteran under center.
  • Line play: The trenches have not been a particularly strong suit for Louisville the past couple of seasons, one of the reasons why the program has fallen out of annual postseason play. The Cardinals have gotten very little pass rush from the defensive line and not enough of a consistent push from the offensive line. Strong asked the offensive linemen to rework their bodies to prepare for the spread, and he'll need replacements for two senior defensive tackles. Junior-college imports Randy Salmon and Tyler Harrell will have a chance to impress on the defensive line. If the holdovers don't step up, we could see more newcomers in key spots by the summer.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Brian Bennett

If I told you Syracuse had four turnovers in the first half, you'd probably think South Florida would have a comfortable halftime advantage.

Instead, the Bulls have turned it over three times themselves -- including an awful fumble inside their own 20 by Mo Plancher in the final two minutes. That allowed Syracuse one more crack, and Greg Paulus found Mike Williams for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-13. South Florida is officially in a dogfight.

The Bulls' defense had started to take over in the second quarter, getting pressure on Paulus and forcing his second interception. But the offense has had trouble getting going, other than a couple of big plays. I'd like to see B.J. Daniels run more in the second half.

A Syracuse win would be huge for that program, but it would also be a little deflating for the Big East, as the Bulls are the only other league team knocking on the Top 25 door right now, and the Oct. 15 Cincinnati game in Tampa would lose its luster.

Big East stock report

September, 18, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Our weekly look at who's up, who's down and who's leading the player of the year races in the Big East:

Stock up

1. Jarrett Brown: We knew the guy was good. But 334 yards, four-touchdown good? Brown made some throws against East Carolina that not many other college quarterbacks could pull off.

2. Mo Plancher: The South Florida back had his first career 100-yard day against Western Kentucky, and coach Jim Leavitt said, "We trust him a lot."

3. Dorin Dickerson: It took Pitt and Dickerson four years to figure out how to use his talent, but better late than never. The senior tight end has four touchdowns already this season.

4. Jock Sanders: Coming back from his offseason suspension for a DUI arrest, Sanders leads the Big East with 17 catches in two games.

5. Yankee Bowl: The Big East should announce within the next couple of weeks that it will send one of its top teams to Yankee Stadium for the new bowl game starting in 2010.

Stock down

1. UConn's offense: Remember Zach Frazer's spring quote that the Huskies would average 40 points a game? Now he's hurt, and the Huskies are hurting for points. They've scored 33 in two games combined.

2. Syracuse receivers' hands: After bobbled catches cost the Orange a touchdown and led to an interception at Penn State, coach Doug Marrone minced no words. "We have to get away from the dropped passes," he said. "That's hurting our program right now."

3. Delbert Alvarado: The South Florida kicker is once again making Bulls' fans very nervous after he missed two field goals at Western Kentucky. Darn those amusement park rides!

4. Pitt's pass defense: The Panthers were torched for 433 yards by Buffalo, making you wonder how they're going to stop Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

5. Bowl games in nice football stadiums: The addition of the Yankee Bowl means the Big East will have two of its five postseason games in baseball stadiums (the other being Tropicana Field for the St. Petersburg Bowl) and two others (the Champs Sports and bowls) in badly-aging facilities.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB,Cincinnati: Has completed 77.2 percent of his passes for 591 yards and six touchdowns.

2. Jarrett Brown, QB, West Virginia: Has completed 75.4 percent of his passes for 577 yards and four touchdowns.

3. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh: Has run for 319 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

4. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 14 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

5. Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Has completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: His numbers keep changing, but he's now credited with seven sacks, which leads the nation.

2. Adam Gunn, LB, Pittsburgh: Ranks second in the league in both tackles (19) and sacks (5).

3. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Numbers not impressive yet -- just 10 tackles and one sack -- but he remains a force.

4. Aaron Webster, S, Cincinnati: Has grabbed an interception in both games this year.

5. Reed Williams, LB, West Virginia: Leader of the Mountaineers' defense will be a factor in this race if he stays healthy.