Bulls have big cleats to fill

Last season, their goal was to grab attention, turning heads toward a team that was never considered a true contender in the college soccer landscape. Just one season later, the USF mens soccer team can no longer consider themselves underdogs.

After a breakthrough year when the team enjoyed its first ever undefeated conference season in Big East history on its way to a spot in the Elite Eight, the Bulls entered 2012 ranked fifth in the nation.

Despite the losses of Big East player of the year Dom Dwyer and senior defensive anchors Aubrey Perry and Chris Blais, the Bulls were reloaded, and had the target on their backs.

But the loss of underdog status could be a disadvantage for George Kiefers team. Instead of entering each game with a chip on their shoulders, looking to mark their spot among the nations elite, the Bulls are already considered elite, and will face the pressure of keeping their ranking.

Many teams that have breakout seasons and do not lose a large amount of talent are expected to stay at or near the top of the mountain, and some of those teams are unable to meet high expectations, both because of pressure, and because of increased exposure.

When the Bulls entered 2011, they had a secret weapon that teams across the Big East and beyond could not have an accurate measure of. The addition of the Tyler Trio transfers Dom Dwyer, Brenton Griffiths and Kyle Nicholls along with the transfer of senior keeper Chris Blais, who took Michigan to a Final Four berth in 2010, brought plenty of new faces across the roster, and teams were not sure who would become impact performers.

After a long postseason run in 2011, the Bulls have indirectly provided excess film and game tape for future opponents. With just three major departures from the successful run a season ago, the Bulls will have to work harder to gain an advantage and surprise opponents, as a majority of their players have retained their position from the previous year.

Along with the obvious struggles, in looking to replace the production of Dwyers 14 goals last season and the defensive leadership of Perry and Blais, the team will also have to deal with the pressure of high expectations and high rankings.

The same recipe has doomed teams across the sports landscape.

In 2010, the highly touted Florida Gators, looked to win a second consecutive national championship, this time as the top-ranked team in the country on and the absence of athletic receiver Percy Harvin. After struggling to beat overmatched opponents all season, the Gators unraveled in a blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

There were the NBAs Los Angeles Lakers in 2011. After three straight NBA Finals appearances and two straight championships, the Lakers entered the 2011
season following the loss of versatile forward Lamar Odom to trade. Despite being the favorites for a majority of the season, the Lakers were swept out of the
playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.

With three key losses on offense and defense, and an increased pressure thanks to more national attention, the USF mens soccer team is at a key fork in the road of its 2012 season, which will test if it can live up to the hype.