The USF football team is a mystery to insiders and outsiders alike. Sports Illustrated has the Bulls finishing third in the Big East with an 8-4 record. ESPN predicts they will win the Big East, as two of their four experts — ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd and college football analyst Rece Davis — picked South Florida to dethrone West Virginia as the Big East champion.
Even Oracle staff writers are unsure of what this team could do: Staff predictions range from a mediocre 7-5 finish to an upshot 11-1.
As for me, I believe the following will be five keys to success for a team that is ranked 19th in the AP poll and No. 1 by Bulls’ fans.
Grothe needs to get rid of the ball
Matt Grothe is an undersized quarterback who is quick on his feet, as evidenced by his ability to scramble in the pocket and create magical plays like the 80-yard touchdown run in the 2007 season finale against Pittsburgh. The thing is, sometimes those plays don’t happen, and Grothe’s Brett Favre-like desire to make every play count can turn into a seven-sack fiasco like last year’s game against Rutgers.
Grothe’s 14 TD’s and 14 interceptions last season are not going to be enough for a team with BCS bowl aspirations. Grothe makes a lot of positive plays for the Bulls, but in just two years, he has tied former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell’s career interception mark (28).
Throwing the ball away and facing third-and-10 is much better than scrambling across the field and ending up with third-and-24, even if it means an incomplete pass on the stat sheet.
If Grothe can go to his check down man under pressure and keep drives alive, the Bulls will score more points and an already outstanding USF defense will be rested when they take the field.
Put pressure on the opposing quarterback
Senior defensive end Jarriett Buie and preseason All-American junior defensive end George Selvie will wreak havoc in the trenches, hunting down opposing quarterbacks as soon as the ball is snapped.
Selvie was thought to be undersized for a defensive end, but his 14.5 sacks in 13 games last season made him a national sensation and an opposing scout’s nightmare.
Buie had only 1.5 sacks last season, but this 6-foot-4, 249-pound presence will provide plenty of experience.
Put it through the uprights
USF kicker Delbert Alvarado made only 19 of 29 field goals last season, going just six for 11 from 40-plus yards.
The fans questioned him as a sophomore last season, and they won’t be afraid to voice their frustration if Alvarado delivers another mediocre season.
Senior punter Justin Teachey has challenged him this preseason for the kicking job, while Alvarado has continued to struggle.
If Alvarado can prevent USF fans from shielding their faces under a pillow with the Bulls trailing by two with three seconds left in the game as they yell out, “I don’t want to watch! Please make it, if you do I’ll give up beer forever, I promise!” that will be the sign of a solid season for a kicker who needs one.
Last season, USF wasn’t a disciplined team. The Bulls racked up 112 penalties for 937 yards, compared to 95 penalties for 780 yards by their opponents.
USF averaged 72 penalty yards per game, while opponents averaged 60. Ironically, the most undisciplined game came in a 41-10 blowout of the Syracuse Orange, as the Bulls were called for 16 penalties that totaled 144 yards. The Bulls need to avoid lapses like that to improve upon last year’s nine-win season.
Beat the teams they are supposed to beat I’m talking about teams like Tennessee-Martin, Central Florida and Florida International University.
USF is still fighting for respect in the polls, and one upset loss could mean a catastrophic drop in the rankings.
Last year, the loss to Rutgers that dropped the Bulls from national title contention carried over into two more consecutive losses against Connecticut and Cincinnati, but one loss this season can’t translate into a “hangover effect” that could make the season crumble.