NCF Nation: Terrence Mitchell

Miscues don't slow B.J. Daniels, USF

September, 1, 2012
The good and the bad of B.J. Daniels was on display in South Florida's opener Saturday night.

The senior completed 17-of-26 passes for 265 yards and had four total touchdowns, but he also threw an interception and fumbled on a sack, which led to 10 Chattanooga points.

It was still more than enough in a 34-13 Bulls win over the Mocs, as USF built an 18-point first-half lead and took it from there. But Daniels will have to be more careful offensively next week when the Bulls travel to Nevada, fresh off an upset of Cal.

Sterling Grffin and Terrence Mitchell were the receivers of choice Saturday, with Griffin catching two passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, and Mitchell adding five catches for 78 yards and a score.

Kicker Maikon Bonani became the school's all-time leading scorer with his extra point following Mitchell's second-quarter score, which put USF up 21-3.

The Bulls' defense was stifling, holding the Mocs to just 151 total yards and recording six sacks on the night.
We have come to the final group in the 2011 postseason position rankings: special teams. This one is all encompassing -- kickers, punters, returners, and team coverage -- which has made it quite the task to evaluate as one group. Some teams had returns that excelled and kickers that were so-so. Some had great kickers but a so-so return game.

I tried to give equal weight to all parts. In the end, I took the rankings in several special-teams categories and used an average ranking to help determine these. Special weight was given to game-changing plays as well.

1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats ranked in the top two in four of the five statistical categories I used to evaluate special teams as a whole. The only area lacking was field goals, but I thought overall Tony Miliano had a decent year for a true freshman, even considering his missed kick against West Virginia. Ralph David Abernathy IV emerged as a dynamite kickoff man, and Pat O'Donnell was the best punter in the Big East again. Kickoff coverage was solid as well. Preseason ranking: 5.

2. UConn. Nick Williams averaged just 5.6 yards a return on punts. He was not particularly dynamic on kickoff returns, either, ranking No. 4 in the Big East after going into the season as one of the top returners in the league. UConn was one of two Big East teams without a kickoff return for a touchdown. But still, the Huskies were solid in every other category. Dave Teggart once again was the Big East first-team kicker, and Cole Wagner averaged 41.1 yards a punt. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireTavon Austin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
3. West Virginia. Tavon Austin was hands down the best returner in the Big East this season, and one of the best in the nation. But since this is an evaluation of special teams as a whole, everything is taken into account. West Virginia had the worst punting situation in the Big East, and ranked last in kickoff coverage. There were several critical blocked field goals as well. Special teams absolutely improved as the year went on, and some players made big plays -- Eain Smith comes to mind. But Austin alone wasn't enough to elevate the group higher. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Rutgers. Once again, the Scarlet Knights were highly effective at blocking kicks -- a staple under coach Greg Schiano. Jeremy Deering was solid in the kickoff return game as well. But San San Te had the worst field goal percentage in the Big East (64.5 percent), and kickoff coverage ranked No. 7 in the conference. Rutgers only had an opportunity to return 16 punts last season, averaging about 6 yards a return. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. Pitt. The Panthers lost their punter and field goal kicker from a year ago and did perhaps better than expected in special teams overall. Punter Matt Yoklic was second in the league in punts, though Kevin Harper did struggle at times with his field goals. Losing Cameron Saddler really hurt the punt return game as well. Preseason ranking: 8.

6. Syracuse. Ross Krautman led the Big East in field goal percentage (78.9) but he only had 19 attempts on the season, second fewest in the Big East. Punt returns were essentially nonexistent -- with only 12 attempts for an average of 3.1 yards a return. Jeremiah Kobena was a nice addition at kickoff returner, but the Orange still ranked No. 6 in the Big East in that category and kickoff return coverage as well. Preseason ranking: 4.

7. Louisville. Chris Philpott had a disappointing season, ranking No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage (66.7). He and Josh Bleser averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Punt returning ranked No. 7 in the Big East as well, and aside from Adrian Bushell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, that category was just average for the Cardinals. Preseason ranking: 3.

8. USF. I think the Bulls were the biggest disappointment in this category. Lindsey Lamar, who was the first-team Big East selection at returner last year, had zero this year and ranked No. 9 in the league in kickoff return average. His average was down some six yards from last season. When Terrence Mitchell got hurt and missed the second half of the season, no one was dynamic at punt returner, either. Maikon Bonani ranked No. 3 in field goal percentage but fairly or not is going to be remembered for missing a field goal that would have beaten Rutgers, and eventually gotten the Bulls bowl eligible. Preseason ranking: 2.

Final: USF 52, UTEP 24

September, 24, 2011
The Bulls could be the only undefeated team left in the conference after tonight, following a 52-24 win over UTEP.

No. 18 USF (4-0) has scored 50-plus points in consecutive games for the first time in school history, and dominated on the ground, racking up 373 yards on the ground and nearly setting a school record. B.J. Daniels had yet another terrific game -- scoring on a 71-yard touchdown run -- to help him lead the team with 130 yards rushing.

He added 202 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air as he continues to impress through the first four games of the season. There was not much to complain about on the offense. The defense gave fans some heart palpitations early in the game, and was within two touchdowns until the Bulls blew the game open in the fourth quarter.

USF did get three interceptions, including one returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Sam Barrington to close out the victory.

One injury note: USF receiver Terrence Mitchell was carted off the field after a head-t0-head collision on a UTEP fake punt attempt. The school says he has feeling in his extremities and was carted off as a precaution.

The Bulls now have five days to get ready for the Big East opener at Pitt on Thursday night.

Pregame: USF-Notre Dame

September, 3, 2011
Greetings from South Bend, Ind., where the weather is warm and the living is fantastic! Here are my three things to watch for USF headed into its game against No. 16 Notre Dame.

1. USF offensive line. The Bulls have three new starters, and also have moved guard Chaz Hine to center. I will be watching to see how the center-quarterback exchange goes, especially with the loud crowd noise early on. Hine has plenty of starting experience, but has never started a game at center so this one should be something for Bulls fans to watch. Redshirt freshman Quinterrius Eatmon is starting at right tackle in his fist career start there as well.

2. B.J. Daniels. Much has been made about wanting to see more consistency out of Daniels now that he is going into his third year as a starter. That is a must. But watch for him to run more this season. Perhaps USF will have some designed runs for him in this game to keep the defense honest. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said earlier this offseason that he wants to get Daniels more involved in the run game because they have to take advantage of his athleticism. He was limited there last season as he learned a new offense, so he could be turned loose to do more this season.

3. Speedsters. USF has plenty of speedy players on its roster. There will be more of an effort to get fast guys like Terrence Mitchell and Lindsey Lamar more involved, either out of the backfield or in the receiving game. But Notre Dame keeps the field long, so the grass could slow these players down and potentially neutralize them. So keep an eye on whether the Bulls can play as fast as they want.
We wrap up our look at team position rankings with special teams. There are plenty of strong kickers and returners in the league. I did not separate them, though, because those would be more like individual rankings. Those are coming soon.

[+] EnlargeNick Williams
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireNick Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season.
1. Connecticut. The Huskies have one of the best kickers in the league in Dave Teggart and one of the best kickoff returners in the league in Nick Williams putting them in the top spot here. Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season with 35.3 yards per kick. Teggart was the Big East first-team selection, making 25 of 31 field goals. They should be better this year, even with the loss of Robbie Frey.

2. USF. The Bulls also have an excellent kicker-returner duo in Maikon Bonani and Lindsey Lamar. Bonani made 17 of 21 kicks last year, while Lamar was the first-team All-Big East selection, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaging 26 yards per return. Add in punt returner Terrence Mitchell and this is one of the best units in the league.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals have one of the best in the league in Chris Philpott, who punts and kicks. Josh Bleser is solid in splitting the punting duties with Philpott. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright are back as kickoff returners -- both averaged 30-plus yards per return last season. Wright's kick return helped the Cardinals win the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl last year. Doug Beaumont is gone as punt returner, but he is the only loss. This unit has a chance to be No. 1 at year's end.

4. Syracuse. The Orange have one of the best kickers in the league in Ross Krautman, who missed just one of his 19 field goal attempts last season. They do lose their top punt returner in Mike Holmes, along with punter Rob Long so there are questions at some of the most important spots on special teams. But Krautman, and the return of Dorian Graham and Prince-Tyson Gulley returning kicks puts this unit just ahead of the Bearcats.

5. Cincinnati. This is a mixed bag for the Bearcats. They have the best punter in the league in Pat O'Donnell, who also happens to be a physical freak in the weight room. They should be decent in the return game with the return of D.J. Woods, who will compete with Anthony McClung, Shaq Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins to return kicks and punts. Darrin Williams is in the mix for kickoff returner, too. But kicker is a huge question mark. Jacob Rogers was solid last season. Now there is uncertainty in the competition between Tony Miliano and Danny Milligan. Coach Butch Jones says he won't name a starter until game week.

6. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights also have question marks here. Kicker San San Te returns, but he needs to be better from longer distances (2-of-7 from 40-plus yards). Punter Teddy Dellaganna is gone and so is kickoff returner Joe Lefeged. True freshman Anthony DiPaula enrolled early and takes over at punter. Mason Robinson is back at punt returner, and Jeremy Deering and Mark Harrison make a good combo returning kicks.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers need more consistency from kicker Tyler Bitancurt, who missed his final four kicks of last season. He made just 10 of 17 attempts and looked shaky in the spring. West Virginia has a new holder and a new punter in Corey Smith, and hopes for improvement in the return game.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have to replace both kicking specialists, including Big East first-team punter Dan Hutchins. At punter, you have walk-ons Matt Yoklic and Drake Greer, neither of whom has punted in a collegiate game. Kevin Harper takes over as kicker and had a good spring game. The Panthers also replace their long-snapper, so there will be a period of adjustment for this unit when the season starts. Cameron Saddler is a bright spot at returner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous rankings:

Looking back: 2010 ESPNU 150

June, 7, 2011
Wednesday marks the release of the 2011 ESPNU 150, naming the nation's top 150 recruits. Today, we take a look back at the players who made the list in 2010.

Biggest impact from the class: No. 144 Terrence Mitchell, WR, USF. Mitchell ended up being switched from cornerback to receiver and became a special teams standout, returning 21 punts for 232 yards. His 11.0-yard return average was tops among all freshmen in the nation, and he is penciled in to start at receiver in 2011.

The jury's still out: No. 109 Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia. McCartney came to the Mountaineers with high expectations but only caught one pass for 4 yards last season. You have to wonder whether or not he should have been redshirted. But now that Dana Holgorsen has taken over as offensive coordinator, hopes are much higher for McCartney to have a breakout season.

Redshirted last season, but look out: No. 67 Todd Chandler, DT, USF. Chandler spent last season bulking up and learning the defense, and is listed as a backup behind Cory Grissom at nose tackle. But he should see plenty of reps as part of the two-deep rotation.
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.

South Florida recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

2011 signees: 21

Top prospects: Local receiver Andre Davis has a solid understanding of the position and was very productive in high school. Linebacker Edsel Caprice is active with a high motor, though he needs to put on some weight. Defensive tackle Elkino Watson picked the Bulls late over Miami and Louisville and should be solid inside.

Needs met: South Florida needed to bring in some receiver help and got that with Davis and Ruben Gonzalez. The Bulls also had to restock the offensive line and linebacking corps that were hit hard by graduation, and nearly half the class can play one of those positions.

Analysis: The Bulls didn't reel in any true blue-chip Florida athletes a la Terrence Mitchell or Todd Chandler last year, which is a bit surprising given Skip Holtz's success in his first year in Tampa. Ultimately, all that matters is if these players fit Holtz's system and lead to the Bulls' first Big East championship during their career. They will need these guys to develop and have the drive to be great. More success by Holtz should lead to better in-state recruiting efforts down the line.

What Holtz said: "When you look at a position standpoint, the biggest two needs that we had in this class and the answers we needed to solve were five offensive linemen and five linebackers. That was the main emphasis in this recruiting class as we hit the road recruiting and I think we did an awful lot to answer those questions.

Scouts Inc. grade: C

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?

The Big East's all-bowl team

January, 14, 2011
Let's put a final bow on bowl season with the Big East's All-Bowl team:


Quarterback: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Nassib, who struggled down the stretch of the regular season, took advantage of Kansas State's shaky defense to complete 13-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Delone Carter
William Perlman/US PRESSWIRESyracuse's Delone Carter ran over Kansas State for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Running backs: Delone Carter, Syracuse, and Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

Carter ran 27 times for 198 yards and two scores in the Pinstripe Bowl. Lewis rumbled for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the BBVA Compass Bowl before declaring for the NFL Draft.

Wide receiver: Marcus Sales, Syracuse

Sales came almost out of nowhere to record five catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State. No other Big East receiver had even a fraction of his stats in the postseason.

Tight end: Cameron Graham, Louisville

The league's best tight in the regular season kept it up in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, catching three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive line: Jacob Sims and Sampson Genus, South Florida; Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh; Mark Wetterer, Louisville; Justin Pugh, Syracuse.

Sims and Genus were part of a USF line that pushed back Clemson's talented defensive front in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; Sims in particular helped keep Da'Quan Bowers quiet, which is not an easy thing to do. Pinkston showed some fire in protecting his quarterback after Tino Sunseri was hit late, and the Panthers ran for 261 yards while surrendering zero sacks against Kentucky. Wetterer and Pugh helped open holes for their high-scoring postseason offenses.


Defensive line: Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh; Terrell McClain, South Florida; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia.

Lindsey stepped up his game in the regular season when Greg Romeus was hurt and did so again in the bowl with Jabaal Sheard out. McClain didn't record many stats but was his usual dominant self in the middle against Clemson. Irvin had two sacks and a forced fumble against NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Linebackers: Derrell Smith, Syracuse; J.T. Thomas, West Virginia; Brandon Heath, Louisville; DeDe Lattimore, South Florida.

I went with a 3-4 look on defense to recognize the many strong performances by linebackers during bowl. Just about all of these guys had double-digit tackles and/or a couple TFLs.

Cornerbacks: Johnny Patrick, Louisville; Quenton Washington, South Florida

After getting burned on a play early, Patrick was all over the field. He forced a fumble and blocked a punt. Washington also blocked a punt and had a 45-yard interception return.

Safeties: Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh, and Robert Sands, West Virginia

DeCicco had nine tackles and a forced fumble, while Sands had eight tackles and a sack.


Punter: Cole Wagner, Connecticut

Wagner punted seven times for an average of 46.9 yards -- with a long of 52 yards -- against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Placekicker: Chris Philpott, Louisville

Philpott only got the call once, but he made the game-winning 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Kick returners: Jeremy Wright, Louisville, and Robbie Frey, Connecticut

Both Wright and Frey returned kickoffs for touchdowns in their bowl games. Wright's was especially crucial, as it tied the score in the fourth quarter.

Punt returner: Terrence Mitchell, South Florida

Mitchell had a 34-yard punt return against Clemson.
You could say that Big East freshmen were special. Or, you could say that the best freshmen in the Big East were specialists. Or something like that.

Two Big East players were named to the Football Writers Association of America's freshman All-America team on Monday, and they are both special teams performers.

South Florida's Terrence Mitchell was recognized for his work on punt returns, and Syracuse's Ross Krautman was the team's kicker.

Krautman tied the Syracuse single-season record for field goal percentage, connecting on 18-of-19, field goals made in one season with his 18th against Kansas State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and for consecutive field goals made (16). He tied Gary Anderson’s marks from 1981 in all three categories.

Mitchell returned 27 punts for 232 yards (11.0 yards per return) to lead the nation's rookie punt returners. The mark also ranked 23rd nationally and second in the Big East. Mitchell’s long return of the season, a 67-yarder, came against WKU. He also had a 47-yard return against Rutgers and a 34-yarder in USF’s Meineke Car Care Bowl victory against Clemson.

Meineke Car Care Bowl keys for USF

December, 30, 2010
Here are three keys for South Florida when the Bulls take on Clemson in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl:

Control Da'Quan Bowers: Maybe Bowers will be weighed down from carrying all those trophies he won this season. Not much else has worked. Bowers leads the nation with 15.5 sacks and should command a tremendous amount of attention from the South Florida offensive linemen, tight ends and backs. The Bulls have had enough trouble passing the ball under ideal circumstances and will have almost no chance of success if Bowers is in the face of B.J. Daniels and Bobby Eveld all afternoon. If they can keep him contained, they could find some big plays against the much more vulnerable Clemson secondary.

Stop the Clemson running game: The Tigers' Jamie Harper is a load at 230 pounds, and he ran for more than 140 yards against both Florida State and Wake Forest late in the year with Andre Ellington injured. But the Clemson offense really struggled when the running game wasn't working. The Bulls did a great job slowing down UConn All-American back Jordan Todman in the regular-season finale. They need that same kind of effort in this game to force Kyle Parker and/or Tajh Boyd to beat them.

Create unorthodox opportunities: Odds are that neither offense is going to march up and down the field in this one. The Bulls could use something big out of the return game, where Terrence Mitchell and Lindsey Lamar have been tremendous this season. Or perhaps the defense can come up with a turnover to step up a score. Somehow, some way South Florida needs to find other ways to put points on the board.

Week 12 review/Week 13 preview

November, 22, 2010
Looking back on the biggest Big East week thus far:

Team(s) of the week: (tie) Connecticut, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. All three went on the road to hostile environments, and all three shut down opponents who had a lot to play for. This trio allowed only one offensive touchdown in Week 12 while separating itself from the rest of the Big East pack.

Best game: Not a lot of instant classics in Week 12. I'll go with Pitt's 17-10 win over South Florida, which at least had some second-half drama. West Virginia beat Louisville by the same score, but that game never felt more out of reach because of how the Mountaineers' defense shut everything down.

Biggest play: In the second half at Louisville, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith turned to call timeout at nearly the same time as the ball was snapped and hit him in the back. Officials awarded Smith the timeout to the dismay of the home crowd. On the next play, Smith hit Noel Devine for a 48-yard pass play to the Louisville 2. That led to a Ryan Clarke touchdown, and the Mountaineers never trailed after that.

Best call: South Florida couldn't get much going offensively against Pittsburgh. But in the third quarter, the Bulls pulled off a beautifully-executed end around with true freshman Terrence Mitchell, who sprinted 45 yards for a touchdown that tied the score at 10. Unfortunately for USF, it was not enough.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati. There are career nights, and then there are video-game nights. Pead had the latter, scoring five touchdowns and rushing for 213 yards in a 69-38 destruction of Rutgers.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Kendall Reyes, DE, Connecticut. Created two turnovers with an interception and a forced fumble, and both led to scores in the Huskies' 23-6 win at Syracuse.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Gregg Pugnetti, P, West Virginia. Bill Stewart called his punter "our player of the game" after the win over Louisville. Pugnetti averaged 44.9 yards on seven punts and downed two inside the 20 as the Cardinals brought the house at him over and over again.

Worst hangover: Rutgers. Sure, Syracuse and South Florida were virtually eliminated from the Big East race, and Louisville lost its second straight chance at a bowl. But how do the Scarlet Knights give up 69 points to a Cincinnati team that had been struggling for weeks? Things are not good in Piscataway these days.

Strangest moment: In the second half of the Syracuse-Connecticut game, Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib had one of his passes batted into the air by a Huskies defender. Nassib caught the ball himself, and then proceeded to throw another pass. Um, that's a penalty. My favorite part was the referee's explanation: "The quarterback cannot throw two forward passes on the same down." Insert quote from Dazed & Confused's Wooderson here: "It'd be a whole lot cooler if you could."

Now let's look ahead to the penultimate regular-season game for most and -- can you believe it -- already the final regular-season game of 2010 for Louisville and Syracuse (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance; all games Saturday except where noted):

West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East) at Pittsburgh (6-4, 4-1): The Backyard Brawl as it should be: full of meaning for the Big East title. (ABC, Noon ET Friday)

Cincinnati (4-6, 2-3) at Connecticut (6-4, 3-2): The Huskies have to win to stay alive in the Big East title race. Bearcats have to win to stay alive for a bowl game. (, Noon ET)

South Florida (6-4, 3-3) at Miami (7-4): The Bulls have accomplished many firsts this season. Winning a Big East title won't be one of them. But beating Miami would serve as a nice consolation prize. (ESPNU, Noon ET)

Boston College (6-5) at Syracuse (7-4, 4-3): The Orange's season will be judged a success no matter what happens the rest of the way. But 8-4 sure looks better than 7-5 with an 0-for-FBS record at home, doesn't it? (ESPN, Noon ET)

Louisville (5-6, 2-4) at Rutgers (4-6, 1-4): Loser is eliminated from bowl contention. Cardinals should be more prepared than they were two years ago in a humiliating season-ending loss. (ESPN2, 11 a.m. ET, Friday)

Big East season predictions

August, 30, 2010
The season is upon us.

Games begin Thursday, and we'll be full bore into college football by the weekend. So it's a final chance to make some predictions, and here are my picks for some various Big East 2010 awards/honors:

Big East winner: Pittsburgh

The schedule is downright frightening. The Panthers have some question marks, particularly along the offensive interior. And the league is as balanced as it's ever been. But I've been picking Pitt all offseason, and this is a team with as much or more high-end talent as anybody in the Big East, led by Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Greg Romeus. If the Panthers are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green might say, then they should be able to navigate their difficult schedule and win their first outright Big East title.

Offensive MVP: West Virginia running back Noel Devine

Lots of candidates here, including last season's winner (Lewis), Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, Rutgers' Tom Savage, et al. I just feel like Devine is primed for a huge year as a senior, eager to prove he can do it all to satisfy the NFL scouts. And with a more experienced offensive line and potentially a more consistent passing game, he could find even more running room for his explosive bursts. It's awfully tough to go against Lewis; then again, winning an award like this two years in a row is hard for any player because the expectation levels increase.

Defensive MVP: West Virginia safety Robert Sands

Again, I'm going away from conventional wisdom here in not picking Romeus, last year's co-defensive player of the year. Sands was a play-making monster in the second half of last season and should continue to build on that with a veteran defense around him. And if you're wondering why I would pick the offensive and defensive players of the year from West Virginia and then choose Pitt as the champion, there is precedent: last season, Pittsburgh had the offensive and both co-defensive players of the year, yet finished second.

Surprise team: Connecticut

A strong season by UConn wouldn't surprise anyone who follows this blog or the Big East in general. Still, there are a lot of people who don't know much about the Huskies, and Randy Edsall's team could very well win the league's BCS bid for the first time. Remember that UConn gets West Virginia, Pitt and Cincinnati at home this season.

Team most likely to disappoint: Cincinnati

Only because expectations have been built so high. It's pretty hard to top 12-0, especially when you change coaching staffs and play a schedule that includes road games against N.C. State, Fresno State, West Virginia and UConn and a home-away-from-home matchup with Oklahoma. The Bearcats are a definite Big East contender, but many of their fans might be disappointed with a 9-3 type of season.

Newcomer of the year: Cincinnati receiver Vidal Hazelton

Hazelton comes into an offense tailor-made for receivers to put up huge stats, and the talented former USC Trojan should be ready to make a major impact in his one and only season in the Big East.

Freshman of the year: Rutgers receiver Jeremy Deering

Taking a stab at a wild card here. With injuries to the Scarlet Knights receiving corps, there is opportunity for the speedy Deering, who can also make a major impact on special teams and with some Wildcat stuff. I also seriously considered West Virginia's Ivan McCartney and South Florida's Terrence Mitchell.

Coach of the year: Randy Edsall, Connecticut

With Brian Kelly and his Vulcan death grip on the coach of the year award gone, Edsall will be the popular choice if he leads the Huskies to the breakthrough season many are predicting.

Can't-miss game: West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 26

The Backyard Brawl is always an event, and this year it could be for the Big East title. Pitt and WVU enter the season as the only two ranked teams, and look at the scores of the past three years to see just how close this rivalry has been: 13-9 (Pitt in '07), 19-15 (Pitt in '08) and 19-16 (WVU in '09).