NCF Nation: Zach Hermann
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
But there were also players who missed all or part of the spring because of injuries, suspension, academics or whatever. And several of them are key parts to their team. Here's a look at some players who need to come through this fall after being absent for at least part of spring ball.
Cincinnati: Linebacker Andre Revels was held out of most of the spring after minor offseason knee surgery. The senior is one of the few experienced players on the Bearcats' defense and will be counted on this fall. Young defensive back Dominique Battle was expected to compete for a starting cornerback job this spring but was sidelined at times with an ankle injury.
Connecticut: The Huskies were remarkably injury- and issue-free this spring. They'll hope that continues this fall.
Louisville: The Cardinals are a different team offensively when receiver Scott Long is healthy. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season with injuries and sat out the spring following ACL surgery. He should be good to go in the summer.
Pittsburgh: Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was suspended for the final part of spring drills for violating team rules. Pitt needs him to have his act together and be on the field.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had a lot of important players miss time this spring with various injuries, including safety Joe Lefeged, leading returning rusher Kordell Young, running back Jourdan Brooks and several of their young receivers.
South Florida: Seemingly every offensive linemen the Bulls missed time with an injury or another problem this spring. Obviously, Jake Sims (finger), Zach Herman (concussion), Sampson Genus (knee) and Jeremiah Warren (academics) all will be needed in the fall for South Florida to contend.
Syracuse: First-team all-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones tore his pectoral muscle before the spring and was unavailable. The timetable for his return isn't clear, but Syracuse would have a hard time without him.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could use Jock Sanders back in the lineup. The speedy receiver/running back was suspended for the spring after a DUI arrest. He will try to return to the team once he completes his court case.
|J. Meric/Getty Images|
|Coach Jim Leavitt this spring will need to plug holes in the offensive line.|
TAMPA -- South Florida has the two biggest returning stars in the Big East in quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie. But players you probably haven't heard of yet will likely determine how far these Bulls run this season.
"People will say we've got a shot to be decent because of Matt and George," head coach Jim Leavitt said after Tuesday's practice. "It seems like that's the way it will alway be. But there are question marks."
Heck, Leavitt isn't even sure how he's going to field a team for Saturday's spring game because of his offensive line situation.
The Bulls lost four starters from last year's offensive front and have been hampered by injuries this spring. Jake Sims, who started 10 games a year ago, has been out with a hand injury. Zach Hermann, another expected starter, is dealing with a concussion. Jeremiah Warren, who Leavitt figures will at least be a part of the rotation, is concentrating on his academics. And Sampson Genus, who was playing center with Sims out, hurt his knee. On Tuesday, Leavitt had every available offensive lineman snapping the ball.
"Those four might be our starters," Leavitt said. "Right now, we're practicing with a lot of guys who will probably be on our scout team. You take away four starters last fall and with four out now, we might be working third-team guys."
All of the missing starters should be back for the fall, and Leavitt said incoming junior college transfers Jamar Bass and Carlos Savala and true freshman Steve Jacques will compete for playing time right away. But the offensive line has missed a key chance to build chemistry this spring.
"That's been a real negative," Leavitt said. "On the other hand, we're building some depth, if you want to look at the silver lining. We're making our quarterbacks work really hard, which is probably good. But we're probably getting a false sense of confidence on defense.
"When it's all said and done, can we put a good group together (on the offensive line)? I don't know. That's the big question."
This spring has a much different feeling for the Bulls. Leavitt said that in the past two years, he felt like the team was ready to start playing games in April because it had so many experienced players back. This year, they're counting on several young players to step in and contribute.
On the other hand, Leavitt said that maybe this current situation will help prevent the team from going through the midseason backslide that has plagued it the past two seasons. The Bulls climbed to No. 2 in the country in 2007 and No. 10 last season before tumbling into losing streaks.
"We plateaued the last few years and didn't get better," he said. "It will be real interesting to see how it plays out. This team will get a lot better than the last few years. That I know, because we're not as elevated right now, today. So we will get better. That's encouraging to me."
A lot will depend on this summer, when the majority of South Florida's large and highly-touted recruiting class arrives. Leavitt has said that as many as 20 first-year players could see time right away. And he's not afraid to unseat more experienced players who aren't performing up to his standards.
"If it's even, we're going to go after the guys coming in this summer," he said. "It's really important that some of these guys realize that in the fall, there's not going to be as much patience. If you're not at the top of your game then boom, all of a sudden, you might not see the field again."
The Bulls could have the best defensive line in the league, the most experienced quarterback, a cadre of weapons at receiver and running back and as much overall athletic talent as anyone in the Big East. They have holes to fill at linebacker and cornerback, as well as the offensive line. And it remains to be seen if a team relying on so many new players can truly contend for the conference title.
So even with Grothe and Selvie, South Florida has a lot of questions.
"But there are questions all over the Big East," Leavitt said. "There really are. It's going to be a really interesting year again.
"I think this program has a chance to make a move this summer. I really do."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Cincinnati: Coach Brian Kelly says that strong safety Aaron Webster has added toughness to the Bearcats since he moved into a starting role after the Akron game. "He's brought a physicality to our defense that we were lacking," Kelly said. "And having him on our defense has elevated everybody." The only non-senior starter on defense, Webster was named Big East defensive player of the week after he recorded 13 tackles, including two for loss, in last week's win at West Virginia. Also for the Bearcats, senior Dustin Grutza is expected to serve as the No. 2 quarterback for Friday's game at Louisville. Grutza hasn't played since breaking his leg in Week 2 at Oklahoma.
Connecticut: The job of replacing the irreplaceable Darius Butler begins this week. Butler, who played cornerback, wide receiver and returned kicks for the Huskies, is out perhaps as long as the regular season with a knee injury. Junior Robert McClain will start at corner and will be backed up by Terry Baltimore. Freshman Jordan Todman will take over the primary kick-return duties. Butler had been playing about 12-to-15 snaps on offense and provided an electric presence that will be hard to match.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers' short-yardage woes resurfaced in the Cincinnati game, and some of that can be blamed on injuries. Fullback Will Johnson couldn't play because of a quad injury. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, who had been used as a blocker and short-yardage specialist earlier in the season, was still nursing shoulder and leg problems and couldn't go. Coach Bill Stewart said he planned to "turn him loose" for the Louisville game on Nov. 22. Center Mike Dent missed the Cincinnati game with a neck injury, and Stewart described him as "week-to-week."
South Florida: The banged-up Bulls could get running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor back for the Rutgers game. Neither made the trip to the Cincinnati game because of injuries but were working out in drills earlier this week. The status of offensive lineman Zach Hermann (foot) and tight end Trent Pupello (concussion) remains unknown. Quenton Washington took over starting cornerback duties from Tyller Roberts for the Cincinnati game and is listed as the starter there again this week.
Syracuse: Orange coach Greg Robinson will stick with Cam Dantley as his starting quarterback this week against Connecticut, but backup Andrew Robinson will see time. The coach hasn't specified how much or what role Andrew Robinson would play. Third-string quarterback David Legree told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he feels he's ready to play after two years in a back-up role. Tailback Delone Carter returned for the Louisville game after a four-week absence with a hamstring problem. He did not play against Rutgers, but Greg Robinson said that was not a health issue.