Published August 22, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2011 season started with such promise for South Florida but the wheels came off, as the Bulls struggled to win close games and found themselves on the outside, looking in at the postseason.
The Bulls won their first four games last year and looked like a team set to contend going into conference play. That's when the season began to take a downward spiral. South Florida went 1-7 over its final eight games with the lone win a 37-17 win on the road over Syracuse, which finished tied for last in the conference with South Florida.
All those losses are a bit misleading though, as South Florida lost five games by six points or less, four of which were by just three points including a 30-27 heartbreaker in the regular season finale to West Virginia that knocked the Bulls out of the bowl season.
"Wins were elusive for us in a lot of different ways," head coach Skip Holtz said of the season after the loss to West Virginia.
Having the experience of playing in close games should help Holtz's squad, but the Bulls must be able to turn those experiences into wins if they hope to ride the talent on the roster back into Big East contention.
OFFENSE: The offense took a sizable hit with the departure of leading rusher Darrell Scott to the NFL, but the rest of the squad remains largely intact. That's good news for a team that ranked 30th overall in total offense last season, compiling 432.8 yards per game.
At the forefront of the development is quarterback B.J. Daniels, who is one of the best dual-threat signal callers in not only the Big East but the nation. Daniels threw for 2,604 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, while also rushing for 601 yards and 6 more scores. Daniels has had some injury issues in the past two years, but when healthy he makes the offense flat out dangerous.
Consistency at wide receiver should be expected in 2012 with the return of Sterling Griffin and Victor Marc. Griffin missed a great deal of 2011 campaign with a shoulder injury, but still led the team in every major receiving category including receptions (43), yards (530) and touchdowns (3). Marc also returns as a starter and finished second in receptions (32) last season, while Andre Davis and Terrence Mitchell should also contribute.
Tight end is an area of depth as well, with converted receiver Evan Landi a solid target (29 receptions, 297 yards in 2011) and Jeff Hawkins a sizable force on blocking downs.
"He's as big, as physical and probably as true a tight end as we have," tight ends coach Peter Vaas said. "He's got some physicality to him and we all want to get to that point."
Vaas moved over from coaching the centers the past two season but his absence doesn't mean the offensive line will be weaker. Both tackles will return in Quinterrius Eatmon and Mark Popek while Danous Estenor will return to right guard.
Replacing Scott and running behind the line will be a difficult task but presumed starter Demetris Murray (121 carries, 503 yards, 8 TDs) is as good a substitute as the Bulls could ask for.
"Demetris is as solid as it gets," running back coach Larry Scott said, "He understands the offense and understands what we want to get done."
DEFENSE: Chris Cosh, who spent the last three seasons at Kansas State, is taking over as defensive coordinator and has an experienced group to work with. The Bulls are returning seven starters from a defense that ranked 39th in total yards last year and was especially effective against the rush.
The linebackers will have a great amount of depth and a wealth of experience. Sam Barrington and Michael Lanaris are both seniors returning as starters, while DeDe Lattimore, a junior, may be the best player in the unit. Lattimore was the defense's star last season, leading the team in total tackles (94), tackles for loss (13.0) and sacks (7.0). Lanaris finished second on the team in total tackles (87) while Barrington had 72 total tackles and 6.5 for a loss.
South Florida has been a factory of late for defensive linemen that effectively disrupt the backfield and defensive end Ryne Giddins looks poised to fill in again in that role. The junior returns as a starter after having 11.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2011. Defensive tackle Cory Grissom will also be back, but the Bulls will be trying to fill the other two spots among a rotation that includes Julius Forte and Elkino Watson.
The secondary should make up for its lack of experience with added depth. Fidel Montgomery is a junior college transfer that impressed in the spring and looks to have locked up a stating cornerback spot. Another corner, Kayvon Webster and safety Jon Lejiste will each return as starters, while Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins will also compete for time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Maikon Bonani will enter his senior season with three years of experience as the starting place-kicker and with a solid 40-for-53 mark during that span. Freshman Mattias Ciabatti may take over at punter for Justin Brockhaus-Kann, who had just a 38 yards-per-punt average as the starter last season.
Terrence Mitchell has the speed to be an effective returner and Lindsey Lamar, who served as the primary punt returner last season (20.4 yards per return), will be back.
OUTLOOK: A year ago the Bulls missed out on a 7th straight bowl appearance with an epic collapse down the stretch. Still the Bulls were in almost all of those games and will try to take the lesson from last year and begin a new postseason streak in 2012.
That will be a tough task with a challenging schedule. The Bulls' first four games include matchups with FCS squad Chattanooga and Ball State of the MAC, but a game with Rutgers and a road contest at Nevada will keep the Bulls honest. Then South Florida has an in-state matchup with powerhouse Florida State before a pair of conference road games (Temple and Louisville). Things settle slightly from there with three of the last five games at home, but a road trip against Miami-Florida and Cincinnati make for a schedule that will rarely allow the Bulls to get comfortable.
There are still question marks about health and development, but the offense has a chance to be explosive and the defense has veterans and a proven coordinator in Cosh. If things fall into place, South Florida will be a tough team all season, not just early on.