Whether positive or negative, the USF football teams Big East opener will have a sizable impact on the fate of its 2012 season.
National TV audience, increased exposure and a chance to turn the heads of coaches voting in the weekly Top 25 polls? Check. A short week returning from a cross-country road trip and the famous Thursday night curse? Check. Good or bad, the Bulls will define the tone of their season when they play Rutgers at 7:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.
Its cool to be able to play on ESPN, senior quarterback B.J. Daniels said. Its nice for all the people from back home to be able to see you on TV, and they call you after the game and let you know how you did.
While players are excited to showcase their talents with the nation watching, coach Skip Holtz and his staff understand the challenge the team faces. With a short week made more difficult by the long trip from the week before, Holtz said he is concerned about the state of his team.
You love the exposure, because you know youre the only team playing and the country is watching, but I do not like the short week, he said. I do not like the travel that we went through. Right now were a tired football team. Im worried, Im concerned. Its not to the point where Im throwing up red flags and making excuses, but its something that we need to be leery of.
Daniels echoed his coachs sentiments, explaining that a tough game against the Wolf Pack took a toll on the squad.
Were just trying to get rid of all the soreness from the short week, he said. A lot of us feel like we just got out of a car accident, so its important that we just make sure that were there mentally, and maybe not go too hard physically.
If the emotional road trip was not enough of an obstacle, the four days of practice forced the team to speed up their preparation for the Scarlet Knights, a virtually opposite opponent from the previous week.
While the Wolf Pack offense used sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, Rutgers relies on the play of sophomore running back Jawan Jamison of Starke, Fla. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said Rutgers size is his main concern.
First thing that comes to me is size, he said. Theyve got great length, and youd think Im talking about receivers, but their offensive line is very long. Theyve also got great size on the perimeter, which helps them block on runs and screen plays.
Though the USF offense saw great success against the Wolf Pack, completing three passes of 50 or more yards, Holtz said the Scarlet Knight defense, which has held the Bulls to 17 and zero points in two of the last three years, will be an entirely different challenge.
They are fourth to sixth in most defensive statistical categories, and theyre very consistent with what they do, he said. They blitz, they pressure you and they play a lot of man-to-man defense…Youve got to be prepared to win a baseball score.
Along with the national audience, Daniels said he sees another potential positive from tonights matchup.
After starting Big East play in week five of the last two seasons, and coming out with losses both times, he said the Bulls have a chance to change their conference struggles early on.
It gives us an advantage, he said. In years past we were kind of behind the eight ball. When I say that, I mean other teams would already have a couple of conference games and wed be starting four or five weeks in. To have one
early will help us to understand that we need a sense of urgency.
Based on the past two seasons, when the victor has won by an average margin of 1.5 points, the match-up will likely be close and decided in the fourth quarter.
We beat em in a close game two years ago, we lost in overtime there, so I think its going to be a dog fight, Holtz said. Everyone is excited to come back home because when you travel across the country you appreciate playing at home and what a great home arena we have.