Bounce-back season leaves hope for future

In the ever-changing landscape of college sports, predicting teams that are rising and falling is next to impossible. USF fans know this better than most.

If theres one school that has learned not to trust predictions from general college athletics experts, it is USF. Time after time, a team from USF is expected to have a breakthrough season or see a drop in wins, and time after time, the predictions are totally wrong.

There was the 2011 USF football team, a team that was expected to finally make the jump to a BCS bowl game. Many of the so-called experts predicted the Bulls to be a dark horse candidate for the Big East championship. Fans of the Bulls know what happened next: frustrating loss after frustrating loss left the team out of a bowl game, altogether.

On the other end of the spectrum was the 2011-12 mens basketball team, which was expected to end up once again in the cellar of the Big East, looking forward to the 2012-13 season when it would be getting four impressive recruits. What resulted was the greatest season in USF history, when the Bulls made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years and won two games when they got there.

Despite the inability to predict any teams peaks and valleys in the unpredictable world of college sports, fans of the USF baseball team have plenty to look forward to after an impressive rebuilding season that left them just short of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002. Despite a premature end to the season, the Bulls show the traits of a team ready to explode.

A pitching staff led by mammoth ace Andrew Barbosa,whose 6-foot-8 stature and vicious fastball intimidated batters all season and placed him on the all-Big East first team in his final season at USF, will continue to be strong with contributions from Derrick Stultz, an all-Big East Tournament team member, and Joey Lovecchio,who took an interesting path to USF but fit right in when he arrived.

The two juniors combined to pitch 166.2 innings and win 17 games this season, shoring up the Bulls weekend rotation. Along with strong pitching, the Bulls will also have a strong defense behind their core arms, led by freshman Kyle Teaf, who solidified the USF infield with his strong play in his debut season at shortstop. The outfield will be led by James Ramsay, who was named to the all-Big East second team, while the Bulls are set behind the plate with the freshman Blake Sydeski and junior Chris Norton.

Thanks to the strong returning defense, the main concern for the Bulls will be replacing the senior contribution for the offense. USF will be losing 106 of their 251 RBIs from last season from the bats of seniors Daniel Rockhold, Todd Brazeal,Luis Llerena and Andrew Longley. Despite the losses, the Bulls can look toward Ramsay, Jimmy Falla and Alex Mendez, who combined for eight home runs and 85 RBIs in the 2012 season.

But the Bulls will not have much to worry about for on-field production. The main concern will be leadership in the dugout, which walked across the stage at the Sun Dome in May along with the senior members of the team. It will be vital for USF to find new emotional leaders early in the season to avoid a slow start something which plagued the 2012 edition of the team and may have been the reason they arent playing in an NCAA Regional this weekend.

With a strong returning class and the always-consistent managing of coach Lelo Prado,the USF baseball team has all the potential of a team on the rise. As USF fans have learned in the past, however, potential wont win games on the field.