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Oracle Insight: USF 2009-10 fall season preview

The USF 2008-09 athletics season saw the Bulls win three postseason championships. The women’s basketball team won the WNIT, and the men’s tennis and soccer teams won Big East championships.

Coming off one of the most successful years in school history, USF is ready to kickoff a new year.

The Oracle Editor-in-Chief Kerry Klecic and Sports Editor Phil Neary sat down for an electric chat to preview the entire season. Here’s the transcript of what transpired:

Kerry Klecic: So Phil, it’s that time of year again. Any chance USF can one-up last year’s three postseason titles in athletics?

Phil Neary: There’s always a chance, but I don’t see USF winning three titles again.

KK: The best chance has to be with men’s soccer again, you would think.

The Bulls landed a huge recruit in forward Hasani Sinclair, but I’m not sure if that’s enough to combat the loss of Jordan Seabrook and Yohance Marshall, who were two big losses on offense and defense, respectively.

PN: Those were huge losses, yes. USF soccer is in that stage where they reload every year, though. I think with the class they have coming in they have as good a chance as any sports team to take home another title.

It’s incredible what coach George Kiefer is doing with that program. I think they just reeled in a top 10 recruiting class last year. Sinclair was player of the year in the state, wasn’t he? I see them having a very successful season.

KK: Phil, Sinclair was Gatorade player of the year in Florida last year. The guy scored 47 goals, which is remarkable. He’ll take time to grow.

Kiefer can rely on Zak Boggs up front as well, who should help bring Sinclair along. There is experience in the rest of the team, returning goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, defender Javed Mohammed and midfielder Francisco Aristeguieta.

St. John’s was the preseason No. 1 selection in the Big East. The Red Storm could walk away with the Big East – and perhaps the NCAA title. I don’t see USF having enough firepower to win the conference, but certainly a NCAA appearance is possible.

The real question is this: Can the Bulls win a Big East title in football?

Do the Bulls have the ability? Sure. Does any other team return a four-year starter at quarterback? Not to mention one of the best defenders in the country in George Selvie. You can’t say one team in the conference will win it for sure – you just can’t.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if USF doesn’t make a bowl this year. It’s that type of year where they could go 3-9 or 10-2. There’s a lot of parity in the conference this year, and the games against Miami and FSU are potential roadblocks.

Wow. I don’t think you’ll see the Bulls going 3-9, Phil. But, I get your point – it’s really wide open this year in the Big East.

Having two Division I-AA opponents will hurt USF because one won’t count toward bowl eligibility. And with FSU and Miami in non-conference, that could be a big thing..

You never really answered the question, though. Can USF finally win the Big East in football? I mean, coach Jim Leavitt lost a lot last season – 22 seniors to be exact.

PN: Maybe 3-9 was a bit harsh. I was just making a point. I foresee anything between 6-6 and 9-3. Yes, I believe USF has as good a shot as anybody to bring home a title. That speaks for the mediocrity of the conference more than the type of team Leavitt has.

KK: I think you bring up a good point: How good is the Big East this year?

It seems like every team has its problems. USF lacks experience in the offensive line. Rutgers and West Virginia are in need of an experienced quarterback. Pittsburgh lost running back LeSean McCoy to the NFL. Cincinnati lost a bunch of defensive players … the list goes on and on. It’s turning out to be a Royal Rumble – everyone in the ring on their own.

The Bulls will be hurt big time with the loss of Jamar Taylor to injury for another eight weeks or so and Mike Ford being suspended for the first two games. Wofford with an upset?

PN: Does Wofford even have a stadium? Appalachian State over Michigan – heck – USF struggled at FIU last season, which was one of the worst teams in the country at the time. I wouldn’t count anything out of the question.

KK: Well, I was somewhat being lighthearted when I said Wofford would upset USF, although the Terriers did go 9-3 last season and only lost to South Carolina on the road by 10 points.

It’s been really interesting to see how defensive coordinator Joe Tresey’s secondary is shaping up. He’s said numerous times he’s going to stick to the nickel quite a bit. USF will be young back there with sophomores Quenton Washington and Jerrell Young and even freshman Kayvon Webster seeing playing time.

We all saw how shaky things were for USF last year with the deep ball … I’m sure fans out there are wondering if the Bulls will be in for the same deal…

PN: Don’t forget redshirt freshman cornerback George Baker. He’s been pretty impressive in camp and has just as good a shot as the other guys to lock down a starting position.

I really like what I see out of Tresey’s unit. Defensive backs Jerome Murphy and Nate Allen have been pretty reliable throughout their careers, and I’m sure the coaching staff can find two other quality starters out of the myriad of options.

Don’t think the Bulls will get beat by the deep ball this year. I’d be more concerned with the offensive line. You can have as much talent at quarterback and running back as you want, if you can’t block, you can’t run an offense.

KK: True … there are just ends and ends to talk about as the start of the football season inches closer.

I’m ready to talk some women’s soccer, though. I heard a lot from coach Denise Schilte-Brown at USF soccer media day about not having high expectations this year, which is the right approach. Last year the Bulls were so young with 20-plus newcomers on the squad.

There’s a lot of game experience coming back, but I still think USF is a year away from really having a conversation about contention for a Big East title.

Goalkeeper Mallori Lofton-Malachi is one of the top keepers in the country. She’ll probably have a lot to keep her busy in goal this year.

Don’t forget about volleyball, either. The Bulls barely clinched a spot in the Big East tournament last year. With preseason Big East player of the year Marcela Gurgel coming back, I think USF should do the same.

So, are we pretty much writing Schilte-Brown’s squad off this year? The season hasn’t even started? I don’t think it’s ever the right approach to have low expectations. Anytime you return a goalkeeper like Lofton-Malachi, you can contend for a title.

KK: Well, I don’t think she necessarily said that. She basically said she didn’t want to know any of the preseason predictions, so the team wouldn’t get caught up in any of it. No coach would ever just write their team off.

There’s a lot of questions to be answered in defense after losing Jeannette Dyer and Melanie Sutherland from last season, who were key elements in the back.

Tying everything back to the top of our discussion, I find it unlikely that any USF team will leave this fall with a Big East championship. But then again, I’ve been wrong before. Final thoughts?

PN: It was unlikely the USF men’s soccer team would win it last season but look at what happened. Not saying they will, it just wouldn’t surprise me if it happened.

Schilte-Brown’s squad scored two goals in a game twice last year. USF scored two goals in its first game this year. Yes, it was an exhibition, but that has to make Schilte-Brown a little optimistic.

KK: Good point. The moral of any sports story is anything can happen. The 2009-10 season will be full of surprises, I’m sure. The only surprise left here is that we’re out of time. Talk to you later.

PN: You mean out of space?

You know what I mean.

Bye bye.