BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS CO-FOUNDER
2006 RECORD: 9-4, BIG EAST: 4-3
Won PapaJohn’s.com Bowl vs. East Carolina 24-7
LOCATION: Tampa, Florida
STADIUM: Raymond James (65,000)
HEAD COACH: Jim Leavitt
OVERALL: 70-43 (10 seasons)
AT SOUTH FLORIDA: 70-43 (10 seasons)
Jim Leavitt has done an excellent job after taking on a heck of challenge in 1996. There are not too many coaches around who can claim to be the program’s lone headman in its history. Two years ago he upset Louisville led by Bobby Petrino who now mans the post in Atlanta (NFL). Last season, they took care of Rich Rodriguez, coveted by Alabama and he is 1-1 against Rutgers and Greg Schiano, Miami’s first choice to replace Larry Coker. Their loss to Rutgers came last season when they dropped a two-point conversion, which could have forced overtime. They are no longer knocking on the door folks, they are in the house and everyone must recognize.
WHEN THE BULLS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Greg Gregory (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Ean Randolph
The Bulls possess what it takes to have an explosive offense, which begins with the reigning Big East Newcomer of the year Matt Grothe, who threw for 2576 yards and 15 TDs (14 INTs), while running for 622 yards and nine scores. Grothe was on pace for an even bigger season on the ground until injuries in the second half of the season slowed him down. With a year of service, he should become a better passer, cutting down on his interceptions. They add Mike Ford at tailback, a difference maker. The highly touted prospect was set to roll in Alabama last season until he did not qualify, prompting him to attend a Prep School in 2006 before moving on to the college game. Last season injuries forced Ben Williams, a walk on, into a starting role. The offensive line will improved as well, returning five starters, which should lead to more cohesiveness after it took a few rounds of musical chairs to settle in last season. Ability is not lacking at the receiver position either, as they look for the talented Amarri Jackson to finally put together a complete season. Philosophically they like to spread the field horizontally, allowing them to take advantage of their speed in one-on-one matchups.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Matt Grothe (SO), 2) Amarri Jackson (SR), 3) Mark Dile (JR), 4) Mike Ford (FR), 5) Walter Walker (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL:
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Wally Burnham (7th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Stephen Nicholas, Pat St. Louis, Jeremy Burnett, Josh Julmiste, Danny Verpaele (Ineligible)
USF had one of the most underrated defenses in the nation last season and should be even better in 2007. It all begins with a pair of lockdown corners. Trae Williams (7 INTs) was an All-Big East First Team selection, while Mike Jenkins (15 PBUs) has already caught the eye of NFL scouts. Few teams can leave both corners on an island, making the Bulls the envy of the Big East. Although they lost their best overall player in Stephen Nicholas, their linebacking crew should be just fine led by MIKE Ben Moffitt who returns for his fourth year as a starter. One of the players flanking him should be Iowa St. transfer Tyrone McKenzie (129 tackles in 2006) who comes over with Dan McCarney (D-Line Coach) taking advantage of the hardship rules which will allow him to play at USF without sitting out a season. Sophomore Chris Robinson, who came in as a safety, can play linebacker or defensive end. Either way his job will be to attack after posting seven sacks and four forced fumbles as a freshman. Defensive end George Selvie (84 tackles, 5.5 sacks) is also coming off a special redshirt freshman campaign adding to the Bulls long list of defensive playmakers.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Mike Jenkins (SR), 2) Trae Williams (SR), 3) Chris Robinson (SO), 4) George Selvie (SO), 5) Ben Moffitt (SR)
The Bulls have always been the small fish in the big pond, whether it is in comparison to the top Florida schools or as they stepped into the Big East. Now with big wins over West Virginia and Louisville, it is doubtful anyone will look past USF again. If the team is to take the next step, Grothe must avoid the sophomore jinx, as his expectations are infinitely bigger than last season.
The Bulls host both Louisville and West Virginia, the two clubs favored to win the Big East Conference. They must play Rutgers away from home (won in Jersey in 2005), while a visit to Auburn on September 8 could be their coming out party if everything clicks.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
It is hard to believe that South Florida is only in their 11th season playing football and seventh at the Division I level, as their surge has also included a jump from Conference USA to the Big East, where they are a legitimate sleeper. Not only are they moving up in the world, they are getting better at the same time, making their first bowl appearance in 2005 and winning their first bowl in 2006. Coach Leavitt knows he has some work to do before he is competing with Sunshine State powerhouses Florida, Florida St. and Miami. However, when he looks at the Big East, including Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers…he has to be thinking…why not us? Located in one of the richest states in terms of Division I talent, Leavitt picked the right spot to set up shop proving the business axiom…location, location, location.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #24 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown