Beware of the Bull in 2009

By Darrell Laurant  |   Monday, January 26, 2009  |  Comments( 1 )

South Florida Bulls
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South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt said the usual nice things about offensive coordinator Greg Gregory when he fired him earlier this month, stating only that the team needed to move "in another direction."

Like, forward.

At some point in the 2008 season, the Bulls' offense went off the tracks. After charging out of the gate with five straight victories, including a 37-34 upset of Kansas, USF lost five of its next seven, scoring a total of 73 points in those defeats. The offensive line began leaking, forcing quarterback Matt Grothe to put on his best (and, at times, worst) Michael Vick imitation. The Bulls became ineffective in the red zone. It was a total reversal.

But that was 2008. This fall, it's hard not to look at USF as the favorite in the Big East.

Pitt may have been a strong contender, except that the Panthers lost Heisman-caliber running back LeSean McCoy to the NFL. Rutgers will have to reinvent its offense with the departure of QB Mike Teel and WR Kenny Britt -- ditto West Virginia, with Pat White finally graduating. Connecticut, Louisville and Syracuse are all in rebuilding mode, which leaves only Cincinnati as a strong challenger.

The Bulls have at least five four-star prospects among their latest recruiting class, but some of Leavitt's best recruiting was done in-house. Grothe, who put up more than 3,000 yards in total offense last season, will return for his senior campaign, along with defensive end George Selvie. Safety Nate Allen, another All-America candidate, is also apparently coming back.

True, there are self-serving reasons for the decisions of both Grothe and Selvie. The former had an off-year in 2008, especially in the area of interceptions, occasionally winging off-balance passes into triple coverage like Brett Favre. Selvie, meanwhile, struggled with double teams and injuries and managed "just" 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, far off his otherworldly sophomore numbers (13 sacks, 40-plus TFL). Both now need to prove themselves again.

USF also had problems at running back, especially with Mike Ford hurt a lot of the time. This season, three of the top four ball-carriers return, along with a quartet of prolific wide receivers. Only Jarrett Buie departs from the defensive line, and the Allen-led secondary looks strong.

The biggest task in the spring will be forging an offensive line that can provide better protection for Grothe and create more holes for the running backs (no superstars, but a solid group). The Bulls' 41-14 rout of Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl (not exactly the highlight of the college postseason) definitely sent a message.

True, the 2009 schedule looks to be tougher, especially with Miami and Florida State added. But the Bulls have Cincinnati and West Virginia at home, and a fire in the belly. Especially after last season.
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