USF looks to rebound from disappointing season

B.J. Daniels feels a sense of urgency to lead South Florida to

the top of the Big East.

The Bulls are coming off a disappointing 5-7 finish that ended a

string of six consecutive bowl appearances, and the senior

quarterback is eager to prove he and a talented supporting cast not

only are a year older, but a team that’s learned from costly

mistakes that undermined last season.

”Everybody’s joking, saying I’m the old man of the team now,”

Daniels said. ”It means I’ve got to hurry up and do something.

It’s my last opportunity to try to help out the team and do

whatever we can to try to win the Big East.”

USF concluded its second season under coach Skip Holtz by

dropping seven of eight following a 4-0 that included a win at

Notre Dame.

That attention-grabbing road victory propelled the Bulls into

the Top 25 for a four-week stay that ended when they lost their

conference opener. Four of the team’s seven losses came in the

closing seconds of games the Bulls easily could have won, leaving

Holtz and his players with an empty feeling that lingered in the

offseason.

With 15 starters returning, including eight on offense, the

Bulls think they have the experience and depth it’ll take to make a

run at their first conference title.

Holtz cautioned, however, that games are not won on paper.

”You look at the way we finished the second half of last

season. We can talk about it, we can make a lot of improvements,

but we can’t do anything about it until we step on the field Sept.

1,” Holtz said, looking forward to this year’s opener against

Tennessee-Chattanooga.

”So regardless of what people are writing or projecting, who’s

back and what type of team you have, none of that is really

relevant. We’ve got to go get it done on the field,” the coach

added. ”The last time we played is not anything we want to beat

our chests about. That’s a huge motivating factor for me and this

football team.”

Daniels threw for 2,585 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven

interceptions a year ago after struggling as a sophomore in his

first season in Holtz’s offense. Holtz felt the numbers may have

been even better if a group of talented receivers and running backs

had been able to remain healthy.

A lack of depth also hurt the Bulls on special teams, where

several gaffes contributed to losses.

”When you look at the improvements we made offensively last

year, statistically we made huge strides. That was a tribute to

B.J. and the way that he played,” Holtz said.

”If we can get some things going around him, then I’m very

comfortable that he can have success,” the coach added. ”I don’t

think anybody can do it alone. In a lot of respects, he was asked

to do that.”

Seven starters are back on defense, including end Ryne Giddins,

cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebackers Sam Barrington, Michael

Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore.

The biggest question mark in fall camp is who will wind up as

the second starting cornerback, although Holtz doesn’t sound

concerned because ”there’s an awful lot of talent to decide

between.”

Offensively, Demetris Murray is poised to become a full-time

starter at running back, and Holtz said there’s more depth on the

line and at receiver than at any point since he took over in 2010.

In fact, the biggest battle in camp is to determine if red-shirt

freshman Matt Floyd or junior Bobby Eveld will be the No. 2

quarterback.

”Both had good springs, but I don’t think either one had the

type of spring to take over that position,” Holtz said.

A year ago, Holtz had the entire offseason to prime the Bulls

for a season-opening test at Notre Dame. This season, he’s counting

on the way last season ended to set the tone for a strong

start.

After facing Tennessee-Chattanooga, USF will sandwich road trips

to Nevada and Ball State around its Big East opener at home against

Rutgers. Florida State visits Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 29,

wrapping up what Holtz expects to be a challenging first month of

the season.

”I don’t think we need a big game to motivate us,” Holtz said.

”I think right now the challenge is within us, not against our

opponent. … We’ve got to play to become a better football

team.”