NCF Nation: Ryne Giddins

South Florida season preview

August, 15, 2013
South Florida Bulls

Coach: Willie Taggart

2012 record: (16-20 career)

Key losses: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetri Murray, LB Sam Barrington

Key returnees: LB DeDe Lattimore, WR Andre Davis, DT Luke Sager

Newcomer to watch: TE Sean Price

Biggest games in 2013: at Michigan State (Sept. 7), Miami (Sept. 28)

[+] EnlargeWillie Taggart
AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Daniel WallaceOne of the top priorities for first-year USF coach Willie Taggart: finding the right fit at quarterback heading into the season opener.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: South Florida is the only American Athletic team that doesn’t return its quarterback from last season. Under Taggart’s new reign, the Bulls will look to Bobby Eveld, Matt Floyd, incoming freshman Mike White or Steven Bench -- a Penn State transfer. Taggart has been mum on who’s leading the quarterback race thus far, telling the quarterbacks he won’t make his decision until later in training camp. Having lost the three top rushers from last season, the Bulls are looking for an identity on offense under Taggart and the quarterback that will lead the young unit.

Forecast: While many teams in the American Athletic boast a powerful offense with a rebuilding defense, South Florida has the opposite. In Taggart’s first year, the Bulls have two senior defensive ends with Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch. Lattimore was third on the team last year with 76 tackles and is on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, and USF returns both of its starting safeties. In contrast, the Bulls have just three returning offensive players who started at least half of USF’s games last year. Taggart will set the tone offensively, having four quarterbacks to choose from for the starting role. The most established player will be Davis, who tallied six touchdowns on 534 receiving yards.

With some of USF’s players on their third coach with Taggart, he said one of the challenges has been getting players to buy into his training regimen and his system. With a schedule that has the Bulls traveling to Michigan State in the second week of the season, then hosting the Hurricanes in the same month of September, USF needs to find its chemistry sooner rather than later if it wants to capitalize on its challenging schedule.

“If we're going to be big time like I say we are, we got to play big-time people,” Taggart said. “And we have great opportunities this year to do it.”

In the preseason media poll, the Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the conference, just behind in-state rival UCF. Taggart took Western Kentucky from a 20-game losing streak to the school’s first bowl appearance, and he wants to build the program at USF in similar fashion.

“We're a program that really hadn't lived up to our potential,” Taggart said. “But it's on us. And a big reason why I'm the head coach there now is to try to get our guys to live up to the potential.”

Big East helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 2, 2012
Here's the best of the Big East (so far) in Week 1:

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: The senior set school records with 44 completions (on 65 attempts) and 470 passing yards Saturday. Down by 22 in the second half, Nassib threw four touchdowns passes, leading the Orange to 28 unanswered points before the defense ultimately let them down in a 42-41 home loss to Northwestern. Still, you can't ask for much more than what Nassib left out there, and his resilience facing an early deficit has to rub off on the rest of the team down the road.

Ryne Giddins, USF: Can Giddins be the next in the line of great Bulls defensive ends? He certainly looked the part Saturday, recording 1.5 sacks on the first three plays of the game, leading a defense that sacked Chattanooga six times in what turned into a 34-13 rout.

Matt Brown, Temple: Nineteen carries, 145 yards, a touchdown. All behind an offensive line replacing four starters. Montel Harris' hamstring injury forced a heavier workload upon Brown, and he delivered in a 41-10 rout of crosstown rival Villanova.

Khaseem Greene, Rutgers: What else did you expect from the reigning Big East defensive player of the year? In a rugged 24-12 win over Tulane, Greene led the way with 14 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup, keying a defense that held Tulane to just 8 rushing yards.

Chad Christen, UConn: No Dave Teggart, no problem. Don't laugh. Christen, who held for Teggart when he broke every career kicking record in school history, stepped right up to the plate in his debut Thursday, going 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 47-yarder in a 37-0 win over UMass.
Here are my picks for the Big East all-conference team.

QB B.J. Daniels, USF
RB Lyle McCombs, UConn
RB Ray Graham, Pitt*
RB Montel Harris, Temple*
TE Ryan Griffin, UConn
OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse
OT Martin Wallace, Temple
C Mario Benavides, Louisville
OG Chris Jacobson, Pitt
OG Mark Popek, USF
WR Alec Lemon, Syracuse
WR Andre Davis, USF

DE Trevardo Williams, UConn
DT Scott Vallone, Rutgers
DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
DE Ryne Giddins, USF*
DE Walter Stewart, Cincinnati*
LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB DeDe Lattimore, USF

LB Sio Moore, UConn
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers
CB Adrian Bushell, Louisville
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S Duron Harmon, Rutgers

Special teams
PK Kevin Harper, Pitt
P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
RS Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati

* = tie

Notes: About those ties. Graham is a no-brainer all-conference back when healthy. The only problem is I have no idea how healthy Graham is right now or how healthy he is going to be when the season ends. He could start slow and finish fast. Or maybe he won't regain his old form. So I am hedging my bets a little and putting him on there with Montel Harris of Temple. Harris has the potential for a 1,000-yard season.

Defensive end: I really think Williams, Giddins and Stewart have the potential to hit double-digits in sacks this season. That is how highly I think of them. And if the Big East coaches have ties on their all-conference team at the end of the year, so can I!

Tight end: This was a tough one. Griffin is in my preseason Top 25 countdown, but I was a little worried when I saw he would not be starting against UMass. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said not to pay attention to the depth chart because he and John Delahunt are interchangeable. Still got me to thinking that Hubie Graham of Pitt could very well be the first-team tight end at the end of the season.

Receiver: This is a toss-up. I really love Davis' potential. I know a lot are going to clamor for Devin Street to be on the list. He is my next man up. I went with Lemon over Street because I have more confidence in the Syracuse passing game than Pitt.

100 Days Countdown: Big East

May, 22, 2012
As part of the “College Football Live” 100 Days 'Til Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Big East. For those wondering, the Big East blog will still have its annual preseason Top 25 player countdown a little later in the summer.

Without further ado:

[+] EnlargePitt's Ray Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham could be the Big East's best player if healthy.
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Taking a calculated risk here, considering we have no idea how Graham is going to look a year after tearing his ACL. Coach Paul Chryst says Graham will be ready for fall camp. If Graham is able to return to form, he should be the best player in the league.

2. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene goes into the season as the preseason favorite to win Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season after sharing honors with Derek Wolfe in 2011. Though he broke his ankle in the bowl game, he will be ready for fall camp. Side note: Isn't it a neat that he and Graham are brothers?

3. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald emerged last season, finishing second in the league with 11 sacks. He has shifted inside to tackle this year, but he is the most productive and experienced player returning to the Pitt defensive line and should continue his upward trajectory.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater had a sensational freshman season, winning league newcomer of the year honors. Hopes are high for him to build off his impressive campaign in his second year as a starter. Louisville will do more to take advantage of his athleticism, with plans to install some hurry-up offense.

5. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan led the league with 16 passes defended -- 13 breakups and three interceptions last season. Defensive back is one of the strongest positions across the league, and Ryan leads the way as the Big East's best cornerback.

6. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville. Smith has gotten better in each of his seasons with the Cardinals, so this season should feature more of the same. In 2011, he had 84 tackles, tied for second in the league, with nine pass breakups. He also tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and made the Big East first team.

7. Ryne Giddins, DE, USF. Giddins emerged in the second half of last season (yes, I know many of you still remember him for his personal foul against West Virginia) and is in line to have a breakout year for the Bulls, who should have one of the stronger defensive lines in the Big East.

8. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Daniels should be the best quarterback in the Big East, considering he is going into his fourth year as a starter. Is this the year he finally lives up to expectations and delivers a long-awaited -- and first -- league title?

9. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati. Coach Butch Jones says he has not been around a player as focused as Stewart in a long time. That is saying something, considering the defensive stars the Bearcats had last season. Stewart is poised to give Cincinnati a huge presence at rush end.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season and returns for 2011 with much more confidence -- and the Huskies hope a better offensive line. He goes into the season as the unquestioned featured back.
With the season coming into view, let's take a look at what we learned in the Big East this spring.

1. Running backs have to prove themselves. Isaiah Pead is gone. Antwon Bailey is gone. Ray Graham is coming off a serious knee injury. There are some major question marks at virtually every Big East school at this position headed into the fall. Chief among them -- how does Graham do a year removed from ACL surgery? How do Cincinnati, Syracuse and Louisville spread the ball to their various running backs? How does Temple replace the production of Bernard Pierce? Does Savon Huggins improve on his injury-shortened freshman season at Rutgers? How is Lindsey Lamar used in the backfield at USF? Can Lyle McCombs repeat as a 1,000-yard rusher for UConn?

2. Next sack leader? The Big East generally has some of the top leaders in sacks in the country. Last year, it was Trevardo Williams and Aaron Donald who emerged to finish in the Top 10. The year before, it was first-year Big East player Bruce Irvin. So who is the next Big East player to lead the charge? USF defensive end Ryne Giddins, Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart and UConn tackle Ryan Wirth all had terrific springs so keep those names in mind as the season begins.

3. Earth to offense. We had an inkling that the Big East defenses would be way ahead of the offenses this spring, and that all came to fruition once the spring games were played. Defenses essentially dominated at nearly every school. Syracuse did not score a point on offense; UConn had two total offensive touchdowns; USF quarterback B.J. Daniels went 9-of-26 for 88 yards in the Bulls' spring game; Chris Coyer and his receivers struggled in the Temple spring game; and the Pitt passing game was just so-so in its final scrimmage. While it is true defenses are usually ahead of the offenses in the early going of practices, it is obvious most every offensive unit needs to get much better this offseason.

4. Bridgewater: Rising star. It was apparent that Louisville had a special player in Teddy Bridgewater last season. But worries about a potential "sophomore slump" have been temporarily put to rest after the spring he had. Bridgewater was stellar in the spring game, going 19-of-21 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Afterward, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said that Bridgewater completed about 70 percent of his passes in the spring. "I know he's been lights out," Watson said. "He's really played very well. I challenged him with the things he needed to get better with and use all the tools he has available to him. As a young player, he didn't quite get it. Now he's getting it. You're seeing a lot more completions now. He's worked hard. He's doing a lot of good things with his eyes and playing well."

5. Athletes (almost) everywhere. One trend to watch is the conversion of quarterbacks to running backs/receivers. Cincinnati moved Jordan Luallen to receiver, and he is expected to see time as a Wildcat quarterback as well. Ashton Broyld has been moved to running back, though he also played receiver in the spring game. Louisville converted quarterback Dominique Brown to running back last fall, and he is in contention to win the starting job. Temple running back Jalen Fitzpatrick was recruited as a quarterback out of high school. Those four players have the potential to be huge assets to their team. There were a few other notable position switches as well -- Lindsey Lamar is now at running back at USF; and Jeremy Deering is now a receiver at Rutgers.

Weekend Rewind: Big East

December, 5, 2011
Time to take a look at the week that was in the Big East:

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia
Kim Klement/US PresswireWest Virginia had plenty to celebrate after rallying to defeat South Florida last week.
The good: Defense ruled the day in all three games this past weekend. Four teams combined for five defensive scores. You can see more about that in my One Good Thing video later today. West Virginia is the new "cardiac team" of the Big East, after needing last-minute wins in its final three games of the season to get a share of the Big East championship and a BCS spot. The Mountaineers faced late deficits in all those games, and found a way to win. Against South Florida, it was Najee Goode with a forced fumble by B.J. Daniels that allowed Tyler Bitancurt to make the field goal to win the game 30-27. Running back Dustin Garrison had a 5-yard touchdown run for his sixth touchdown of the season -- but his first since the UConn game Oct. 8. Pat Miller had an interception return for a touchdown, the third defensive score of the season. The last time West Virginia got three defensive scores in a season was 2007. ... Cincinnati coach Butch Jones earned his third conference championship as a head coach (2007, 2009 Central Michigan) after the Bearcats claimed a share of the Big East. The Bearcats had two defensive scores, giving them six this season. That is the most since Cincinnati got seven defensive scores in 2002. Linebacker JK Schaffer has 103 tackles this season, becoming the fifth Cincinnati player to eclipse the 100-tackle plateau for three consecutive seasons. ... Pitt forced six turnovers against Syracuse, a season-high for the Panthers. The six turnovers are the most for Pitt since is recorded six against Ohio on Aug. 31, 2002 (five interceptions, one fumble recovery). Freshman running back Isaac Bennett got his first career start. The Panthers burned his redshirt once Ray Graham was lost for the season. ... Though Syracuse lost, Antwon Bailey went over 1,000 yards rushing this season, giving the Big East three 1,000 yard rushers (Isaiah Pead, Lyle McCombs).

The bad: The season could not have ended worse for USF and Syracuse. The Orange lost five straight to close out the year, and had six turnovers against the Panthers, essentially dooming their chances of making a second-straight bowl game. Syracuse played without defensive end Mikhail Marinovich, who sat out with an injury. That ended his team-best streak of 36 consecutive starts. The last time the rst-string defense took the eld without Marinovich was on Nov. 29, 2008 at Cincinnati. ... USF was able to get quarterback B.J. Daniels to start despite a bruised shoulder, but his late fumble against the Mountaineers proved costly. Daniels seemed hesitant to run all night and favored his shoulder, but he did have some good plays that sparked a Bulls rally in the second-half. But as has been the theme this season, the defense could not come up with a critical stop when it mattered most. Ryne Giddins was called for a personal foul penalty on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Had he not attempted to punch a player, USF would have gotten a stop on West Virginia. The Bulls ended their worst season since 2004. ... UConn moved to 0-5 in games at Cincinnati, though the Huskies gave it a valiant effort after trailing 28-6 at halftime. The Huskies had several wasted opportunities to score touchdowns inside the red zone, and close the season without winning consecutive games. UConn also was 0-3 on the road in Big East play, with losses to West Virginia, Pitt and the Bearcats. This is the first season the Huskies will not be in a bowl game since 2005.

Quick bowl look:

Belk Bowl, Dec. 27: Louisville vs. NC State. The Cardinals are the hottest team in the Big East, having finished the season 5-1, while the Wolfpack are probably one of the most inconsistent teams in the ACC. Louisville barely lost to UNC, which did lose to NC State. Cincinnati smacked the Wolfpack earlier this year, too.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Rutgers vs. Iowa State. Fans might not be happy about not getting a vacation destination, but at least they get to stay close to home to see Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been good in bowl games -- 4-1 under Greg Schiano -- and get a team that has lost two straight since pulling one of the biggest upsets of the season.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt. The Bearcats lost to Tennessee this season, but this is a vastly different team than the one that dropped that game. Vanderbilt is absolutely much improved, but the Bearcats are going to be motivated to post another 10-win season.

Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 4: No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Clemson. An offensive shootout is expected in this one between two of the more fun groups to watch. Love the matchup between Geno Smith and Tajh Boyd in this game. I still can't believe this is the first trip to the Orange Bowl for the Mountaineers.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 7: Pitt vs. SMU. How about the all-disappointment bowl in this one? The Panthers won a share of the Big East title last season and dropped to 6-6 under first-year coach Todd Graham. SMU won the West Division in C-USA last season, but finished 7-5, with losses in four of its final six games.

Final: No. 23 WVU 30, USF 27

December, 2, 2011

Wow, what a wild finish.

No. 23 West Virginia came from behind to beat USF 30-27 on Thursday night when Tyler Bitancurt made a 28-yard field goal with no time left, clinching at least a share of the Big East title. Should Cincinnati beat UConn on Saturday, there would be a three-way tie atop the Big East standings between the Bearcats, Mountaineers and Louisville.

West Virginia (9-3, 5-2) would almost certainly earn the BCS berth because they would be the highest Big East team in the BCS standings (the three teams are 1-1 against each other). Louisville needs Cincinnati to lose in order to secure the Big East BCS berth, because the Cardinals have the head-t0-head advantage over West Virginia.

For USF, it was yet another heartbreaker -- the third game it lost this season on the final play of the game. USF has lost five games this season after taking leads into the fourth quarter, and finished the season with losses in six of its final seven games. The Bulls (5-7, 1-6) completed their worst season in Big East play and will miss a bowl game for the first time in seven seasons.

But as they have done all season, they got their fans' hopes up in the second half. USF erased a 20-10 third-quarter deficit thanks to some major mistakes from West Virginia. The Mountaineers were unable to do much of anything on offense, turning the ball over three times. USF translated those mistakes into 13 points. B.J. Daniels, who started the game despite a bruised shoulder, tied the game at 20 early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run.

On the next play from scrimmage, JaQuez Jenkins returned an interception for a touchdown and the Bulls led 27-20, sending hopes soaring in Cincinnati. The Bearcats desperately needed West Virginia to lose the game.

But USF decided it would make its own bad mistakes, and those ended up costing the Bulls. After stopping West Virginia on a third-and-long, a drive was kept alive when Ryne Giddins was called for a personal foul for throwing a punch. Then Dustin Garrison scored on a 5-yard run to tie the game.

After a terrific kickoff return from Lindsey Lamar, USF was able to drive into West Virginia territory. But Daniels fumbled with three minutes to go and West Virginia recovered. Playing with no timeouts, Geno Smith somehow led the team down field, and made an incredible 26-yard throw on fourth-and-10 to Stedman Bailey to get the Mountaineers into field goal range with only second remaining.

Tyler Bitancurt nailed the 28-yard field goal and the Mountaineers won. It was not pretty -- USF had more total yards and first downs, but the Mountaineers found a way to win. Defensive and special teams scored helped -- Tavon Austin had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Now they wait to see what happens Saturday with the Bearcats. A berth in the Orange Bowl is riding on that outcome.

Weekend rewind: Big East

October, 17, 2011
Let's take a quick look back at Week 7:

[+] EnlargeGary Nova
AP Photo/Mel EvansGary Nova helped rally Rutgers to a win over Navy.
The good: If you are UConn, the offense was not so good but at least the defense was better in a 16-10 win over USF. After giving up back-to-back 400-yard passing games, the Huskies held USF to 164 yards through the air. For the second straight week, they failed to score an offensive touchdown. But the defense created four turnovers and returned one fumble for a score to even the Huskies' Big East record at 1-1. ... The Bearcats continued to play well on defense, shutting out Louisville in the second half of a 25-16 comeback win. Cincinnati has held its last three opponents to a combined 41 yards rushing, and has surpassed last season's win total with six games remaining. Rutgers is winning the same way -- its defense now ranks No. 1 in the Big East -- and also has surpassed its win total from a year ago. Gary Nova rebounded from a shaky first half to lead a 21-20 comeback win over Navy. Kudos to the Scarlet Knights for getting their first 100-yard rusher of the season. Jawan Jamison had 101 yards and a touchdown. ... Louisville has been bad on offense this year, and that has overshadowed a defense that has been one of the most solid in the league. The Cardinals have held their last 18 opponents to fewer than 300 passing yards, and the most points they have given up all year is 25 (to Cincinnati). They rank No. 17 in the nation in total defense.

The bad: Take your pick of the best way to describe the Pitt offense on Saturday: dismal, embarrassing or terrible. Coach Todd Graham used all three in the wake of his team's 26-14 loss to Utah. Pittsburgh rolled up more than 500 yards against USF three weeks ago. But against the Utes, it had 120 total yards, a season low. The offensive line allowed six sacks, raising its season total to 34. That is 11 more than the next worst team (UNLV, Akron each have 23). At this rate, Pitt is on pace to allow 58 sacks this season. Not quite as bad as Rutgers last season (64) but completely unacceptable. Meanwhile, Ray Graham had season lows for carries (12) and yards (46). If you take away a 21-yard run, he averaged 2.3 yards a carry. Pitt has now lost four of its last five games after a 2-0 start. ... USF also is on a two-game slide after a 4-0 start. QB B.J. Daniels had one turnover in five games. In the loss to UConn, he had three, and saw a streak of 129 consecutive passes without an interception snapped. Perhaps the most painful for Bulls fans was his failed option pitch inside the UConn 10-yard line. USF has never won at UConn.


Ryne Giddins, DE, USF. Giddins had career highs with 11 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against Connecticut. Giddins also had a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

Eli Rogers, WR, Louisville. Rogers had career highs with seven receptions for 106 receiving yards against Cincinnati.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers. Sanu moved into sixth place in school history in career receptions (150) after catching 10 passes for 100 yards against Navy.

Dave Teggart, K, UConn. Teggart had three field goals against USF, moving him into third place on the Big East career chart with 63.
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 7?

1. The offense went missing. West Virginia and its prolific offense took a seat on the couch this week, leaving the rest of the league in the spotlight. Most of us had to hide our eyes at what passed for offense Saturday. UConn, Louisville and Pitt failed to score offensive touchdowns. USF had one. The highest scoring team -- Cincinnati with 25 points. That would be 20 points below its season average. Only the Bearcats and Rutgers went over 20 points. It was the ugliest weekend of the season.

[+] EnlargePitt's Ray Graham
Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIREWith almost no passing game, Utah was able to key on Pitt running back Ray Graham.
2. Pitt is in trouble. The Panthers have now scored 10 points of offense in the past two games combined, reaching rock bottom in a 26-14 loss to Utah in which they scored on a kickoff return and a blocked punt. Simply put: they have no quarterback. Tino Sunseri has had one good game out of the seven he has started. True freshman backup Trey Anderson has looked totally overwhelmed. Teams know they can key in on Ray Graham when there is no threat to pass. Pitt finished with 50 yards passing, and starting receivers Devin Street, Mike Shanahan and Cam Saddler combined for -- NO catches. What is supposed to be a "high-octane" offense is sputtering like a clunker that is running on molasses. If Pitt continues to play this poorly, its bowl prospects will be in serious jeopardy.

3. The USF Bulls teased. Again. This is a team that starts off hot, but then disappoints. With 16 days between games, you would have thought the Bulls would have played a bit better against UConn. Four turnovers -- including three from B.J. Daniels -- cost them big time in a 16-10 loss. So did nine penalties and an inability to convert on third down for the second straight week. After a 4-0 start that featured three wins against cupcakes, the Bulls are now 0-2 in conference. Their two losses are to teams that currently have losing records (Pitt, UConn are each 3-4).

4. Rutgers, Cincinnati nearly bowl eligible. Two teams nobody picked anywhere near the top of the conference are now one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Both were 4-8 last season; both sit at 5-1 headed into next week. Both hit the road next week: Rutgers is at Louisville; Cincinnati goes to USF.

5. Defensive fronts dominated. Well, maybe the offense was bad, but the defensive lines had nice showings Saturday. Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe had a career-high 11 tackles and the Bearcats had four sacks. Rutgers had four sacks -- on a triple-option team. Pitt had seven sacks against Utah. USF tied a school record with seven sacks -- Ryne Giddins set a career high with two sacks and Sam Barrington set a career high with 1.5 sacks. Louisville had three. The only Big East team that did not have a sack this week was UConn -- the No. 2 team in the conference in that category headed into Week 7.
Much is expected of USF defensive end Ryne Giddins this season as he becomes a starter.

He already is known as a good speed rusher. So what did he focus on this summer to make himself even better? Hand-eye coordination was huge. So Giddins did extra activities outside of football to help him in that area.

[+] EnlargeRyne Giddins
Kim Klement/US PresswireRyne Giddins took karate classes during the offseason to work on technique and balance.
Giddins’ father signed him up for some karate classes. He threw tennis balls against a wall, and also did work with a bandana tied around his eyes.

“Karate helps with your technique and balance, when to attack, when not to attack,” Giddins said in a recent phone interview. “When throwing the tennis balls against the wall, that helps you stay focused on the tennis ball and catch with your hand. With the bandana tied around my head, it helps you work a move with your eyes closed because every defensive and offensive lineman blinks when they make contract. You only get that split second to see who’s going to be the one getting that edge.”

Giddins explains that while his speed was good last season, his hand-eye coordination was not.

“I used a lot of speed,” said Giddins, who had 3.5 sacks as a backup last season. “Every time I hit the hole, my eyes were closed and I was still in the same spot. Now, I’m working on moving and getting around the corner, watching the offensive lineman’s his hands, swiping them at the right time. I need to get in the threatening range of the offensive lineman.”

In addition to working on his hand-eye coordination, Giddins put on 15 pounds and is up to 262. He also credits new strength and conditioning coach Mike Golden for improving his work outs and getting him a little faster. They concentrated on specific areas in the weight room like bench work, speed work and grip work.

“You can lift weights and go in there, but sometimes you’re hurting your body more than you think you are, and not making your body better,” he said. “The way Mike Golden did it was awesome. I feel in shape, and having him in there is the key to my success.”

As for the increased expectations, Giddins is ready for them. He understands USF has turned out successful defensive ends that have made their way to the NFL. Maybe his turn is next.

“I worked my butt off this summer,” Giddins said. “I’m ready for this role. It’s not really pressure to me. I feel real comfortable with where I’m at right now. I know the defense and I know the scheme. There’s no pressure for me to do what I’m supposed to do.”

Big East impact underclassmen

August, 10, 2011
Which first- or second-year player can make a big impact this year? Let us take a look in the crystal ball ...

Impact freshmen

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: There has been plenty of hype surrounding Bridgewater, who came to Louisville after decommitting from the University of Miami. In fact, Bruce Feldman listed Bridgewater as a top 10 impact true freshman. The big question now is how much he will play and whether he will assume the starting quarterback job. Will Stein went into camp as the starter, but the Cardinals are preparing for Bridgewater to get into games. He is mature beyond his years and has the poise of a leader already. No doubt Louisville fans are hoping he can step up and have a big impact right away.

[+] EnlargeHuggins
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI As a high school senior, Savon Huggins rushed for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers: Perhaps the best recruit in school history, Huggins already is in the mix to win the starting running back job for the Scarlet Knights. Feldman also listed him as a top 10 impact freshman. Indeed, Rutgers has been looking for the next Ray Rice since Rice left school. Last season, leading rusher Jordan Thomas finished with 452 yards -- the lowest total for a lead rusher since Markis Facyson had 398 in 2002. Yes, this running game is in need of help.

Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia: This was a tough choice because of the boatload of freshman talent the Mountaineers have at running back. Vernard Roberts was in for spring and had an edge over Buie and Dustin Garrison going into fall practice. But from accounts out of Morgantown, Buie had a terrific summer and should definitely be a player to watch. Running back cannot be ignored in the Dana Holgorsen offense.

Impact underclassmen

Ryne Giddins, So., DE, USF: Giddins had a terrific spring and has the potential for a double-digit sack season as a terrific speed-rush specialist. He played in 12 games last season, recording 19 tackles with six for loss. But now that he is a starter, the opportunity is there for him to make a bigger name for himself.

Marquis Spruill, So., LB, Syracuse: Spruill emerged as a true freshman last season but now moves to the middle with the departure of Derrell Smith, who led the team in tackles last season. Spruill has a chance to really emerge as the leader of the defense even as a true sophomore and will be a key piece in helping the Orange match the level they played at defensively last season.

Devin Street, So., WR, Pitt: You have to love having a deep threat in the Todd Graham offense, and Street delivers in that area. Last season, he had 25 catches for 318 yards and two touchdowns. But now that Jon Baldwin is gone, the opportunity is there to emerge as the top receiver for Tino Sunseri, and possibly get 1,000 yards.
We continue our look at team position rankings today, and start up with the defense. First up are the guys in the trenches, the defensive line. This has got to be one of the strongest positions from team to team in the Big East. Four different teams could probably make an argument for the No. 1 spot. There are lots of standout defensive ends and tackles in the league, but I also am judging experience, returning starters and depth here.

[+] EnlargeKendall Reyes
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaUConn's Kendall Reyes' had 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss last season.
1. Connecticut. The Huskies have good players and depth this season, and get the nod as the top line in the league. Defensive end Jesse Joseph and defensive tackle Kendall Reyes return. Reyes turned down a shot at the NFL for one more season, and is the only first-team Big East selection on the defensive line returning to his team. Both Reyes and Joseph are defensive player of the year candidates. Five players return who started seven or more games last season, giving the Huskies plenty of experience along the line.

2. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose defensive player of the year Jabaal Sheard and are switching to the 3-4. But they do have another candidate for that award in Brandon Lindsey. We have to count him half here, though, because he is transitioning to the new hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. Still, the Panthers have solid players in Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein on the line, along with depth in Aaron Donald, Tyrone Ezell, Kaynin Mosley-Smith and Bryan Murphy. Even without Sheard, this is one of the strongest lines in the league.

3. West Virginia.You have got to love the tandem of Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, who combined for 23 sacks last season. They are the best returning tandem in the league. But they are ranked here for a few reasons. First, how does Irvin transition from spot player to full-time starter? Will he be as effective as last season, when he led the league with 14 sacks? How does Miller transition to defensive tackle? Losing noseguard Chris Neild is a huge blow, too. Josh Taylor is penciled in to start, depending on what happens with Jorge Wright. Junior college transfer Shaq Rowell will be in the mix, too, with high expectations.

4. USF. The Bulls might be losing three starters, including Terrell McClain and Craig Marshall, but this unit has the potential to be even better than the group in 2010. Hopes are high for Ryne Giddins to step in at defensive end and be an immediate difference-maker. Cory Grissom and Keith McCaskill are veterans inside, but if there is one question mark here it is depth at tackle. True freshman Elkino Watson could make a big impact.

5. Louisville. Three starters return, and there is potential for this group to be very productive. Defensive end Greg Scruggs is in line for a breakout season. Eight linemen have starting experience, so there is depth, though there is youth here. Players like BJ Butler, Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon have a chance to take big-time leaps, but this unit is still relatively unproven compared the ones ranked ahead.

6. Syracuse. No question the Orange have excellent defensive ends in Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich. But the Orange lose their starters on the inside. Deon Goggins and Cory Boatman are penciled in to start at tackle but they are undersized. So are some of the other players who will rotate in. The line as a whole is pretty undersized when you think about it, and a big reason why Syracuse is ranked here.

7. Cincinnati. The Bearcats were solid against the run last season but struggled to get a consistent pass rush. They hope to remedy that now that Walter Stewart has moved to defensive end. Last season, the Bearcats lacked depth but that is no longer the case in 2011. The top eight players in the rotation return, and there is nice size in the middle -- especially with defensive tackle Derek Wolfe returning. Still, the Bearcats have a lot to prove this season.

8. Rutgers. Aside from nose tackle Scott Vallone, there are some questions on this defensive line, which has to show significant improvement over a unit that was so-so in 2010. Rutgers was one of the worst teams in the nation in sacks last season, with just 17. Manny Abreu moves from linebacker. How does that transition go? Justin Francis had a nice spring at end. Does that continue in 2011? Will Michigan transfer Anthony La Lota have an impact next to Vallone? There is a lot of inexperience along the entire line.

Previous rankings
Over the next couple of days, I'll be asking you to give your opinion on a variety of burning questions in the Big East.

You'll get a chance to vote in a poll right here and let your voice be heard. We'll tally up the results and react to your decision once the vote it over.

The latest poll question is about most improved players. I've tried to pick some guys I think could really break out and turn into superstars this year. Here are my nominees:
  • Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Inherits the starting job from two-time 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and showed this spring that he can do lots of different things with the ball.
  • Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers: Really came on at the end of last year and has a chance to be the best receiver in the Big East if he plays like that over an entire season.
  • Josh Bellamy, WR, Louisville: First had to adjust from junior college and then had to deal with a concussion; was clearly the Cardinals' best receiver this spring.
  • Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida: A big-time recruit who is now moving into a full-time starting role; could he be the next George Selvie or Jason Pierre-Paul?
  • Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh: Had an up-and-down first year of starting and now will be asked to lead a high-powered, no-huddle offense.

There are your nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard.

Over the next couple of days, I'll be asking you to give your opinion on a variety of burning questions in the Big East.

You'll get a chance to vote in a poll right here and let your voice be heard. We'll tally up the results and react to your decision once the vote it over.

The latest poll question is about most improved players. I've tried to pick some guys I think could really break out and turn into superstars this year. Here are my nominees:

Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Inherits the starting job from two-time 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and showed this spring that he can do lots of different things with the ball.

Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers: Really came on at the end of last year and has a chance to be the best receiver in the Big East if he plays like that over an entire season.

Josh Bellamy, WR, Louisville: First had to adjust from junior college and then had to deal with a concussion; was clearly the Cardinals' best receiver this spring.

Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida: A big-time recruit who is now moving into a full-time starting role; could he be the next George Selvie or Jason Pierre-Paul?

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh: Had an up-and-down first year of starting and now will be asked to lead a high-powered, no-huddle offense.

There are your nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard.

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.

How buzzworthy is South Florida?

January, 20, 2011
I put South Florida atop my way-too-early 2011 Big East power rankings this month. Do the Bulls deserve such hype? Let's examine some of the factors that determine how much offseason buzz USF should garner.

[+] EnlargeSkip Holtz
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonSouth Florida coach Skip Holtz, right, and QB B.J. Daniels have some momentum for next season.
2010 finish: The Bulls won five of their last seven games, including solid wins against Miami and Clemson away from home. That's the kind of finish that gets people talking about a program heading into the following season.

Coaching: It's often a good bet that teams will improve in their second year under a new coach, as they become fully familiar with the new system. Skip Holtz has won everywhere he's been, and his staff has not suffered any defections in the offseason. Given that he came in under difficult circumstances last January and installed a different type of offense, there's every reason to suspect progress in Year 2.

Schedule: South Florida has only one road nonconference game, though it's a doozy. The Bulls open the season at Notre Dame, a team that will draw some considerable offseason buzz for many of the same reasons. A win there would put the program in the spotlight. The next three out-of-league games at home against Ball State, Florida A&M and UTEP shouldn't pose too many threats. A Nov. 26 home date against Miami will be interesting as the Hurricanes will be looking for revenge and playing under a first-year coach. All in all, it's a manageable schedule with a couple of opportunities for marquee wins.

The drawback is that USF has four away games in Big East play and only three at home in 2011.

Returning players: The Bulls return just 10 starters (four on offense, six on defense) from their Meineke Car Care Bowl lineup, which is a small number for a buzz team. But while many seniors leave, the team still has a lot of returning players who saw valuable time.

The Bulls will have to replace three starting offensive linemen and three of the four starting defensive linemen, along with their leading rusher and receiver and top defensive back (Mistral Raymond). But they were deep on defense and have ready-made replacements up front with guys like Ryne Giddins, Julius Forte and Patrick Hampton. Finding someone to take over Terrell McClain's run-stuffing role might be the most difficult task.

Dontavia Bogan is gone, but A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin return from injury, and the Bulls will hope players like Evan Landi, Lindsey Lamar and Terrence Mitchell evolve as playmakers. Mo Plancher led the team in rushing but operated in a tandem with Demetris Murray, who is back. Colorado transfer Darrell Scott and Auburn transfer Dontae Aycock become eligible and should add to the running game.

Once again, the fortunes of the team might rest on quarterback play. B.J. Daniels looked very good in the bowl game, and he'll have Bobby Eveld to push him all offseason. Daniels will be the most experienced quarterback in the Big East in career starts in 2011, for what that's worth.

Conclusion: South Florida has a lot of factors you like to see when determining a buzz team. More returning starters, especially on the offensive line, would help, and there are several players who need to take a step forward in the offseason. Is Daniels the guy we saw in the bowl game or the one who struggled much of the season? Overall, I think USF deserves heavy consideration as one of the league favorites in 2011, but the conference will have many contenders.

What do you think?