With No. 16 South Florida traveling to Pittsburgh for their Big East opener this evening, it only seemed appropriate that we track down Ken DeCelles of our favorite South Florida website VoodooFive.com to discuss the Bulls in advance of tonight's game.
Amongst the topics Ken discusses with us, include the development of B.J. Daniels, the importance of Skip Holtz, and why some nice schedule breaks could lead the Bulls to their first Big East title in school history.
1) Before we get into what has already happened this season, I was hoping to ask you a big picture question. About 18 months ago, Jim Leavitt had a nasty departure from the school, but one that I think that most people who followed the program closely felt was necessary. The program seemed to us outsiders to have hit a plateau and the job itself had probably outgrown Leavitt. So with that, here's the question: What has the first year and a half of the Skip Holtz era been like so far? More importantly, do you believe he's the one that can take this school and help it reach it's full potential as a football power?
I honestly don't think the Skip Holtz era could have gone any better than it has. Holtz came in at a pretty tough situation after Leavitt's departure, and he did a great job mending what was a toxic lockerroom. His idea of having a two week camp across the state at the old DodgerTown complex was the perfect place to build team chemistry and get everyone back together without dealing with outside distractions.
Skip already has wins against big programs in Notre Dame and Miami, has been fantastic reaching out to the community, and is starting to produce a quality recruiting class with kids who should have no problem with eligibility issues. The team has been mentally prepared for every game, and its nice to see a unique gameplan each week instead of the exact same set of plays we were accustomed to in the Leavitt era. They were great against non-conference games like FSU and Auburn, but schools like Rutgers and Cincinnati knew exactly what to do against us and it showed during conference play.
If the program can find a BCS conference to land at, then yes I can see Holtz turning USF into a consistent Top 20 program. If we are somehow locked out and are forced into a non BCS AQ, then I can see Skip bolting for the first major school that offers.
2) Obviously, the big storyline so far this season was the win at Notre Dame. Given the program's early season successes and previous upsets (including at Auburn amongst other wins), why are we to believe that this one is different? Can we say definitively that is or is not yet?
I guess we will have to wait until about halfway through the conference schedule before we can say anything one way or another. There is a pretty daunting run of only 1 home game in two months, but if the team can get through that, than its clear sailing until West Virginia.
3) Since that Notre Dame win, the Bulls have quietly just kept chugging along, with three dominating wins, against what can only be assumed to be inferior competition. For those of us who haven't seen South Florida since the Notre Dame game, what is different in the three weeks since the win in South Bend? What's improved? What still needs some work?
The offense has been let loose following the conservative gameplan against Notre Dame, averaging 613 yards of offense and 53 points a game over the last three weeks. Even then, the playbook has still been pretty vanilla and Daniels only started running the ball last week.
There really isn't much to be concerned about at this point, with some missed assignment by our backup corners as the only glaring thing.
4) Talk about the development of B.J. Daniels. Early in his career he seemed to just be an "athlete playing quarterback," but this year seems to finally have evolved into just "a quarterback who is really athletic. Is that assessment fair?
I think there are two big reasons for Daniels' evolution this year. The first is that Daniels has a quality group of players who he can rely on this year. Last year the WR rotation was Dontavia Bogan and the Island of Misfit Toys. We had a true freshman walk-on and a converted running back, cornerback, and quarterback in the Top 5.
WRs Sterling Griffin and A.J Love are back after missing last year, and Griffin in particular has emerged as Daniels' favorite target. TE Evan Landi has thrived since moving from WR this fall, and RB Darrell Scott has become the workhorse USF has lacked since Andre Hall left the program 6 years ago.
More importantly though, is that Daniels finally has the playbook down. Its been said numerous times down here in Tampa that this is the first time Daniels has had the same offensive coordinator for two years in a row and it really shows. Coach Holtz had a great quote last week on Daniels' understanding of the playbook last week and it pretty much sums up the difference between this year and last year.
"When B.J. comes off the field, I ask him all the time, ‘B.J. tell me what you saw.'" Holtz said. "He'll tell me he saw the safety rotated up, or the linebacker dropped so he looked off the receiver and went to his next read."
And last year?
"He'd look at me like, ‘What safety? Which one's the safety?'"
5) Finally, given the schedule (not a lot of cold weather late season games), plus the sheer average-ness of every Big East team outside of West Virginia so far, it seems like this league is quickly turning into a two horse race. Give us one strong reason you think that this team will end up as Big East champs, and one reason that they might fall short of that goal.
I think the schedule plays out nicely for us this year. USF's last outdoor road game of the year is November 2nd at Rutgers, and the Bulls finish the season with three straight home games. Another big advantage USF has this year is having the assumed Big East Championship game with West Virginia game in Tampa on a weeknight. The last time the two schools played a weekday game was in 2007, and I've never heard Raymond James as loud as it was that night. Add in the fact that its going to be right after the Backyard Brawl which should have a little extra juice after Pitt's defection to the ACC, and the Bulls might jump out to a fast start against a flat WVU team.
I'm a little worried about our secondary and how they'll matchup against WVU's great group of wideouts. The only position that's been plaqued by injuries this year has been in the secondary with Quenton Washington, JaQuez Jenkins, Tyson Butler, and Ernie Tabuteau all missing at least one game this year. If they can't get close to 100% soon, we might get torn apart by Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Follow Ken on Twitter @SBNVoodooFive