A seasonal gift: Grothe’s success

All of this is going to sound obvious to nearly everyone – from the causal fan to those ballistic Bull Backers looking to score a free ticket to the Papajohns.com Bowl.

But let me pose this question even before USF travels to Birmingham later this month:

Was this season a success?

To coach Jim Leavitt, probably not. Sure, he’s happy with a bowl game, but you can see that certain things didn’t pan out the way he wanted.

Leavitt said Sunday after accepting the invitation to the bowl game that every season the team shoots for the Big East Championship – well, at least the past two seasons.

He says that a bunch. I’m sure it’s a goal, and for the past two seasons it’s actually been a realistic one, but that’s not the point.

A success can be judged in different ways.

For example, a winning record? Check.

A win over a ranked team? Check.

A bowl berth? Check.

As it is, the Bulls had better seasons than Miami and Florida State and, in my mind, better than both combined. USF superseded many expectations, and any fan should be proud of that, especially with a team Leavitt has called “very young” about as many times A Christmas Story will be on TNT this holiday season.

I’m going to be honest with you and tell you why this season has been a success, and it boils down to one thing, even if USF wins its bowl game. Even if the Bulls some how miraculously become ranked after the bowl season, and even if someone like North Fort Myers running back Noel Divine decides to attend USF, their success is personified in one star player.

He wears No. 8, he likes to hunt and he sort of resembles Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Ah, the early Christmas present, Matt Grothe. The player people are already worshipping – and he’s only 20.

This season is a success because Grothe was found, and found early. He’s got a potential three years left, but will he leave early? Doubtful.

He emerged to make USF’s offense a scoring threat, to give it life – to bring home bigger and better prizes such as a stronger run at the Big East title.

Not only did Grothe hit the scene, make heads turn and have people asking for – nay, demanding – No. 8 jerseys, he nabbed the Big East Rookie of the Year award, which was about as big a no-brainer as a freshman-level exam.

The funny thing about Grothe is that when he was recruited in 2005, he came in with Carlton Hill and a bag the size of Santa’s sack full of problems. People kept asking Leavitt, “When’s Carlton getting in? What about Carlton?” No one asked any questions about Grothe, and even Leavitt tried to give the 6-foot quarterback some credit by saying, “Matt Grothe can really throw the ball.”

That was it. That was all the praise Grothe got until he made a good showing in spring practice earlier this year.

Grothe redshirted and was dismissed as a backup this season to Pat Julmiste, who had his third chance to solidify himself as a certified starter.

There were numerous names on the 2005 recruit list that held more sway than Grothe, but not anymore.

And now, after the game – the bowl game some might not find all too eye-popping or glamorous or worthwhile to wake up at the crack of noon to watch – comes Grothe’s future with USF.

He has the whole offseason to get better. Any one of his coaches, including quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, will tell you that. Leavitt still doesn’t praise him much, but now it’s to keep Grothe the humble country boy he so casually brags about being.

He goes into his third year at USF knowing he’s starting – barring any freak accident over the summer. He won’t have to listen to the song and dance Leavitt does when there’s a dead heat for the starting job during August.

Grothe will grow, obviously.

Grothe gets better, the Bulls get better. It’s that simple.

Now, in retrospect, Grothe seems the obvious choice.