We are quickly approaching the start of the 2012 college football season and the build up to opening day is palpable. With that said we continue the Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews today with the number 54 team on our list, the South Florida Bulls.
Last season the Bulls surprised the college football world by beating Notre Dame in their first game and then earning W’s in their next three games to start the season 4-0. However, after that is was all down hill as they would only win one more game the rest of the season to finish 5-7 (1-6). Head coach Skip Holtz is entering his third season with a little peace of mind in the form of a contract extension through the 2017 season that will pay him $2 million annually. He has even more confidence and peace of mind in his 2012 roster with 18 returning starters. It’s probably the most talented team that Holtz has had since he took over the program two years ago and it has the potential to win their first ever Big East conference championship.
There are some significant question marks for the Bulls heading into this year but quarterback is not one of them. Three-year starter B.J. Daniels enters this season as the unquestioned starter and looks to have a career year. He has shown decent improvement in each of his seasons under center and is expected to fully develop and put it all together for the 2012 campaign. Daniels is a duel-threat quarterback that is at his best when on the move and in the option game. If he is able to put it all together he can turn the Bulls’ offense into one of the best in the conference.
Daniels will be able to rely heavily on senior tailback Demetris Murray to lead their offense. Murray rushed for 503 yards and 8 TD’s last season and was one of the most productive offensive weapons. Behind Murray, converted wide receiver Lindsey Lamar and junior Marcus Shaw will share time as his backup. Along with the senior quarterback, Murray was tagged by Holtz to be one of the leaders on offense and will be one of the key contributors in 2012.
Sterling Griffin should be the main target this season as he was the leading receiver on the team last year. Besides Griffin, Andre Davis is a name to watch after having an impressive spring game where he caught two touchdowns. After those two guys Deonte Welch and Victor Marc should be contributing players in the passing game.
Three returning starters will highlight the offensive line, two seniors, OG Danous Estenor and OT Mark Popek, and one sophomore OT Quinterrius Eatmon. The three have combined to start 65 games over their careers and their leadership will help keep the offense focused.
Seven players are returning to the Bulls’ 2012 defense and they will look to improve on their solid 2011 campaign where they gave up an average of 22.7 points per game. Their defensive line is a bit of a question mark due to the unsure timetable for the return of starting tackle Cory Grissom after he suffered a broken leg this spring. Other than Grissom the only notable starter will be junior defensive end Ryne Giddens who was named one of the leaders on the defense by coach Holtz.
They will be veteran heavy at linebacker with all three starters returning. Seniors Sam Barrington and Michael Lanaris will anchor the group with Barrington being the better of the two. The other starter is junior DeDe Lattimore who is arguably their best linebacker and one of the better backers in the conference. He should rack up over 100 tackles this season and be among the league best at his position.
USF has three talented safeties that will vie for playing time this season. JaQuez Jenkins (junior), Mark Joyce (junior) and Jon Lejiste (senior) make up a talented deep secondary. Along with corner Kayvon Webster the Bulls’ pass defense should be solid.
Schedule and Prediction
The Bulls have a pretty tough schedule, especially out of conference. They play at Nevada and Miami while they “host” Florida State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Once they get into conference play they should win the majority of their games and contend for the Big East championship. However, USF has had a tough time living up to expectations in the past but I think this year can be different. I see the Bulls going 8-4 and winning the Big East this season. It’s a bit of a long shot but I finally think that USF will overcome the failures from years past and take that next step.