South Florida will enter the year after a rather disappointing season in 2011, winning only 5 games, after being picked by many to win the Big East. Now, a year removed from such a poor showing, Skip Holtz has seemed to rally his team, and his 16 returning starters (8 on both sides) and one of the deepest Defenses (next to Rutgers) to take another shot at the Big East crown and a BCS Bowl birth.
It will begin and end with returning starting Quarterback B.J. Daniels and his ability to grow and lead his team, rather than faltering much like last season, despite better numbers. He is going to get a lot of help up front, by a pair of experienced bookend tackles in Popek and Eatmon. And unlike last season, B.J. wont have to do everything on his own and may be able to save a few hits with the transfer of Running Back Michael Pierce. The biggest question will come from the interior of the Offensive Line holding up and if the youngster Deonte Welch can handle a full load being the #1 Receiver for the Bulls. Defensively they are led by 3 year starter Cory Grissom coming from the Tackle spot. They offer a plethora of Defensive End and Linebacking options, but will need to wait a year for the return of Aaron Lynch, who will have to sit out after transferring from Notre Dame.
B.J. Daniels, QB – B.J Daniels will enter the year as one of the few “Old Guys” on a young core on the Offensive side of the football. His dynamic dual threat abilities have placed him on both the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas Award Watch lists. B.J. is a 3 year starter (33 career) and has played in 38 total games. He ended 2011 with 2,585 yards and a 13-7 TD-INT ratio, while rushing 132 times for 601 yards and 6 touchdowns. I don’t see B.J. being selected in the draft, for one, he is small (listed 6-0 and 215 pounds) with an average arm and decision making ability. He could make a roster going the undrafted route and staying as a third option.
Chris Breit, FB/LB – Chris is a former Linebacker who switched to Fullback starting in 2011. He is a core special teamer for the Bulls and can make a roster as such, but will be in UDFA. However, if he shows he can block and move on the run, he can make an impact as a full back at the next level, as he has the size and built like an NFL Fullback (5-11 235).
Michael Pierre, RB* - Michael is a first year player at USF, after transferring from Golden West College. He is only a Junior (5-10 and 210 pounds), but has great experience being a Two Year starter, totaling 1,150 yards on 227 carries (5.0 career average) and 9 touchdowns. He should garner plenty on playing time both as Running Back and on Special Teams (returner).
Evan Landi, TE – Evan is a former Receiver turned Tight End after the 2010 season with a log jam at the Receiver position for the Bulls. He is undersized, only 6-3 and 235 pounds, and looks smaller than that on the field. He is a Receiving option from the Tight End spot (29 catches for 297 yards and 1 touchdown last year), as he offers little to nothing blocking on the line. He isn’t strong enough, and looks like he can add weight/muscle to his skinny frame. He also doubles as a Special Teamer, receiving kicks and punts.
Deonte Welch, WR** - After being Redshirted in 2010, Deonte made his move in 2011 breaking out for 31 catches for 433 yards and 1 touchdown. Deonte is only a redshirt Sophomore but is a name to keep an eye on. He is a well built 6-0 205 pounds, who will only get stronger in the South Florida program. Deonte should be the starter by the end of the year and needs to show he can stay healthy and keep his stamina throughout the season.
Mark Popek, OT – Mark is a 6-7 300 pound Left Tackle that started 21 games (32 total), who should see the switch to Right Tackle at the NFL level. Just as his size indicates, he is underweight, and looks as though he can carry more in his core and legs. Needs to add strength and work on his technique, he could surprise people and be a late round selection if he can finish blocks and work on his bend.
Quinterrius Eatmon, OT**- Quinterrius is another underclassmen (Redshirt Sophomore) who started all 12 games at Right Tackle, and was named a Second Team Freshman All-American by Yahoo!. Much like Mark, he needs to put a bit more weight on, but this should come as he finishes growing into his body. Plays with a mean streak, it will be interesting if his play in 2012 warrants a move to the left side after Popek graduates.
Aaron Lynch, DE** - Forced to sit out a year after blazing a trail for the Fighting Irish this past season (33 tackles, 7 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 14 pressures), Lynch will likely be a force to be reckon with for the Bulls in 2013. He has a rare blend of size (6’6 and 265 pounds), athleticism, and speed (4.75 projected). Look for Lynch to hit the weight room and gun for a top-10 selection in either the 2014 or 2015 draft.
Cory Grissom, DT – Corry is a 2 year starter (28 starts), 3 year (34 games played) contributor for the Bulls. Standing 6’2 and 320 pounds, he is more of a plugger than a penetrater, only averaging 1 sack a year (but 33.5 tackles). Cory looks the part of either 34 or 43 Defensive Lineman, and should grade out in combine/pro day drills. Look for Cory in the Mid Rounds of April’s Draft going to a team needing a rotational player who can moved up and down the Defensive Line.