With a brand new coaching staff and the loss of several players to the NFL, it’s been quite the makeover for USF football over the last eight months.
And Saturday’s opener against Stony Brook on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. couldn’t have come soon enough.
“It’ll feel good,” sophomore receiver Evan Landi said, “to put all of our work we’ve done through spring, summer and finally put it all together through (fall) camp. I feel like we’ve all come together and we’re ready to go this Saturday.”
For the Bulls, redshirt sophomore B.J. Daniels returns, but the rest of the team is filled with question marks.
In the opener, coach Skip Holtz said many will play, as the competition at several positions is close. The team is mired in youth and a lack of depth at certain positions, meaning some unfamiliar names will get a chance to prove themselves this weekend.
Take freshman walk-on Steven Bravo-Brown, who has put himself on the cusp of the two-deep at receiver, taking advantage of the stretched-thin depth.
Sophomore linebacker Mike Lanaris, who had one tackle last year, is a good bet to start at middle linebacker.
Senior Donte Spires, who wasn’t even with the team last year, is part of the regular linebacker rotation.
“The key to this season is going to be the maturity of this football team and the way some of the underclassmen step up,” Holtz said. “We have to replace a huge amount of talent that left a year ago.”
The Bulls lost seven defensive starters (most to the NFL), their first and fourth leading receivers and two of their top running backs. Meanwhile, two of their top three receivers – senior A.J. Love and sophomore Sterling Griffin – are sidelined with injures.
With the loss of talent and personnel on defense, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is stressing a by-committee approach to his new scheme, which has worked out well in camp.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” he said. “I think we have some depth on defense. I think we have some speed on defense.”
The Bulls are young in most areas, especially linebacker. Other than senior Sabbath Joseph, no other linebacker in USF’s regular rotation started more than one game last season.
“You watch players that go through their entire spring and have great spring practices for 14 days and you put people in the stands, you just don’t know how they’re going to react,” Holtz said. “That’s the thing with all these young names. It’s such an unknown.”
How a young player performs against Stony Brook could be entirely different from how he performs against the No. 3 Florida Gators, who the Bulls play next week.
But Holtz said this past week if the Bulls struggle with Stony Brook, it won’t be because anybody’s looking ahead.
“I think some people have it in the back of their mind, but I don’t think anybody’s looking past this first game,” senior defensive end Craig Marshall said.
“We kind of take the approach that we have to win today,” Landi said. “Whether it’s practice or a game, you have to go 1-0 for the day. You know, Saturday’s our first one, and we have to go 1-0 on Saturday.”