One of the most intriguing questions surrounding USF athletics is how the football program will fare in the Big East in the first year of the Skip Holtz era.
If preseason magazines are any indication, USF fans shouldn’t expect much.
The Bulls, who finished a>combined 5-9 the past two seasons>in conference play despite strong starts, are picked to finish in the lower half of the Big East by most media despite hiring Holtz as coach and returning one of the best quarterbacks in the Big East in sophomore B.J. Daniels.
“Look for Holtz to tap into South Florida’s resources – the Tampa Bay area’s fertile recruiting ground – to ensure a bright future. For now, just holding ground with a winning record and bowl berth is the realistic goal,” Athlon Sports wrote, ranking USF No. 45 in its preseason poll.
A potential roadblock for the Bulls in 2010 is their schedule, which is arguably the toughest it’s ever been.
Tough non-conference road games at Florida and Miami, plus back-to-back league trips to West Virginia and Cincinnati make the Bulls’ schedule one of the most challenging in the country. Home games against Connecticut and Pittsburgh also loom.
Experience could also pose a problem, as the Bulls lost six>starters (most to the NFL) on defense last season.
“Inexperience will be an issue all over the defense, especially if USF needs to turn to its>backups,” rivals.com’s David Fox wrote, also giving USF a No. 45>preseason ranking. “Half of the defensive two-deep consists of sophomores and redshirt>freshmen. CB Quenton Washington is the only definite starter in the secondary. Part-time starter Kayvon Webster seems like a good pick as the other>cornerback, but safety remains a question mark.”
The Bulls also head into fall camp with little depth at receiver after injuries to projected starters A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin and the loss of Carlton Mitchell to the NFL. USF’s offense ranked No. 71 nationally with 365.6 yards per game last year.
“The USF offense still needs work,” the Orlando Sentinel wrote, ranking the Bulls No. 59. “… The combination of inexperience, a new coaching staff installing a new playbook and a challenging schedule that includes games at Florida and Miami will make it tough for Holtz to win big in his first year leading the Bulls.”
Phil Steele isn’t so harsh on USF’s chances this year,>noting Holtz’s East Carolina squads had success with far less talent than USF. The Pirates won the Conference USA title under Holtz in 2008.
“Skip Holtz steps into a great situation,” Steele wrote, predicting USF to finish tied for third in the Big East. “USF is a team that is loaded with speed and talent that has underachieved the past two years and actually gone 5-9 in Big East play … A couple of times in recent years, USF appeared headed to a Big East title but disappointed. Holtz’s teams rarely disappoint.”