With B.J. Daniels' USF career probably over, how will we remember his time in a Bulls uniform? Could he have ever truly lived up to the expectations he was presented with?
I wish I could be writing this post a few weeks from now, or a few months from now, after a USF bowl game. But unfortunately, here we are, and it's time to try and figure out what kind of legacy B.J. Daniels leaves at USF. I can't think of a more polarizing football player that's ever worn green and gold, or someone who took more blame for things that weren't really his fault.
Maybe the worst thing that could have happened to Daniels, as far as his career goes, was winning at Florida State in his first-ever college start. He ran for over 100 yards and hit two long passes (to Theo Wilson and Sterling Griffin) that accounted for almost 75% of his passing yards that day. So much of USF's offense in his freshman year was, "Here B.J., take the ball and go do something, or just jack it up deep and let's see what happens." Sometimes it worked, like against West Virginia and UConn. Sometimes it blew up spectacularly, like against Pittsburgh and Rutgers. But because Daniels had made it work in Tallahassee, I think people always expected more than they were ever going to get from him. Maybe they remembered what Matt Grothe had been able to do in his career, decided that Daniels was a more physically gifted version of Grothe, and projected all of that onto him.
The problem was that expecting him to be Grothe 2.0 ignored the things that Daniels couldn't do consistently. He threw a nice deep ball, but he was always better throwing on first and second down than he was on third down, when the defenses were waiting for it. He could make plays with his feet and keep plays alive when they broke down, but he was never really a pocket passer. When Todd Fitch came in and tried to make him into one in the first half of 2010, Daniels had the worst stretch of his USF career. At another school, he might have been replaced. At USF, though, there were no scholarship quarterbacks to replace him with. (Not to mention Daniels had hardly anyone to throw to.) So they made do that year, slowly adjusting the offense into something that made him more comfortable, and finally Daniels turned the corner in a bowl win against Clemson.
Even so, "turning the corner" really just meant that the offense evolved into a system that could play to his strengths. Daniels didn't lead the team in carries or yards in 2011, but he was still the focal point of the running game, which gained nearly 200 yards per game in his 11 starts. And he had his best passing season with almost 2600 yards. Unfortunately, USF started finding ways to lose game after game. Some of those losses were his doing (for example, both losses to Rutgers), but he was hardly the only culprit.
Daniels also had the bad timing of being the most visible player on the team when things went bad and the fans finally tired of the constant preseason hype, of buying into the idea that, no seriously, USF could REALLY DO SOMETHING this year. Message board types and newspaper blog commenters, weaned on 30-some years of blaming all the Bucs' problems on the quarterback, glommed on to Daniels as a scapegoat. Like it was his fault that he was always USF's best option at that position, despite his limitations. Like it was his fault the team kept coughing up game-losing drives. Like it was his fault the offense couldn't score touchdowns on every single drive and keep up with the increasingly porous USF defense. Like it was his fault the national spotlight shriveled up on the entire conference and he didn't get Rob Stone following him around telling everyone what his favorite Chick-Fil-A combo was. Daniels had his legitimate faults, of course, but he had a lot of "faults" that didn't belong to him.
So where does that leave him in the USF history books? I think he ends up being better than his national perception (a glorified running back who was seemingly a 15-year starter at USF), but not as good as Bulls fans hoped he would be. He had some passing skills, but he also showed that putting your best athlete at QB and trying to figure it out later doesn't always work. Most importantly, though, he'll be in the record books as USF's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, third in passing yards, and second in total offense. And the one thing Daniels never, ever did was stop playing hard. Many of his mistakes and all three of his injuries, including the broken ankle that's going to end his USF career, were because he was trying to make something extra happen. He never stopped trying, and he was always interesting to watch, for good or bad. That's all you can ask for.