This year, instead of rolling out a USF football preview that would last for weeks, if not months on end, I decided to pack it all into one frantic five-day stretch. This way all the information we provide you with is as current as it can be. Plus I'm a procrastinator, and this suits my style better. And besides, the first day of classes got canceled, so why not dig in and read all this while you have some time?
Well, obviously a lot rides on senior starter B.J. Daniels (6'0", 217 lbs., Tallahassee Lincoln). He's the third USF quarterback in the last seven seasons to become a four-year starter, but unlike Pat Julmiste (who started a total of 24 games between 2003-06) and Matt Grothe (41 consecutive starts from 2006-09), Daniels has become a completely different player than the one who first took the field after Grothe's season-ending injury in 2009. Back then, Daniels' first instinct was to chuck it downfield. And his second instinct was to start running. Maybe he'll never become the big-time breakout star that a lot of people expected him to become after the attention-grabbing win against Florida State in his first start. But B.J. has evolved into a much more careful quarterback who still has the ability to carry the offense when they ask him to.
It was a painful process at times, especially in 2010 when he had an abysmal first half of the season and was more or less handcuffed in November. But he had his best game of that year against Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and then had a pretty good season in 2011 with nearly 2600 passing yards, 601 rushing yards, and a total of 19 touchdowns. He racked up a school-record 409 yards against Cincinnati and he only threw seven interceptions, but like many of his teammates, Daniels made mistakes at especially bad times. There was a fumble near the goal line against UConn on a botched option play, and an unforced fumble on what ended up being USF's last offensive play of the year, against West Virginia. There were also some times when the ball was taken out of his hands, like around the goal line, and... well, let's not talk again about the stream of excuses that came out after the Bulls blew the UConn game last year.
Daniels has had two injuries that forced him out of the lineup the last two years. In 2010, a lingering quad injury finally sent him to the sidelines against Miami. Then-true freshman, then walk-on backup Bobby Eveld (6'5", 215 lbs., Tampa Jesuit) came off the bench to lead a wildly unlikely touchdown drive to tie the game, and then won it in overtime. Last year, a hard hit by the Hurricanes' Brandon McGee injured Daniels' shoulder joint, causing him to miss the remainder of that game and the Louisville game the following week. Eveld started against the Cardinals and had a decent passing game, but the running game suffered because Bobby is a pocket passer (he's a converted baseball catcher) and not much of a threat to carry the ball.
This year, the backup quarterback is currently redshirt freshman Matt Floyd (6'1", 206 lbs., Milton), who has a stronger arm and is fast enough to keep USF's option running packages going. Eveld is the #3 quarterback, and may even be redshirted if Floyd ultimately ends up winning the backup job.
(Running backs and wide receivers after the jump. We'll cover the tight ends tomorrow.)
After Darrell Scott's probably ill-advised early departure for the NFL, this position is left with one stalwart, one speedster, and several promising newcomers and almost-newcomers. The stalwart is fifth-year senior Demetris Murray (6'0", 215 lbs., Buford, GA), who doesn't have any truly elite skills but is a well-rounded back who can play in almost any situation. He's split time with Moise Plancher and Scott the last two years, and has over 1100 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to his name. The majority of his playing time last season came when USF was running out of their zone read and veer option package, which he was a better fit for than the pile-moving Scott. Murray can excel as a traditional runner as well, and he's useful when the Bulls dial up some trickeration -- he threw a touchdown pass against Louisville.
We haven't seen much of Marcus Shaw (5'9", 189 lbs., Arcadia DeSoto) the last two years, some of which was his own doing. But he's one of the promising runners backing up Murray. He broke out in his very first game in 2010, running for a 63-yard touchdown against Stony Brook. Unfortunately his academics also broke down, and Skip Holtz took him out of the lineup for a few weeks to take care of them. Shaw hasn't been heard from a lot since then. He only had 20 carries last season, mostly in garbage time. He did get off a 79-yard kickoff return against UConn, USF's longest of the season. (Which promptly went to waste, but still.)
Speaking of kickoff returns, Lindsey Lamar (5'9", 180 lbs., Tampa Hillsborough) moves back to running back for his senior year after having been a wide receiver the last two seasons. His position really isn't that important, though. The goal with Lamar in the USF offense is to get in open space, hopefully with blockers in front of him, and turn him loose. Lindsey had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2010, but never seemed quite right last season. Whether it was some unknown injury, better scouting, or something we'll never find out about, Lamar lacked the speed and elusiveness that made him so dangerous as a kick returner the year before.
Other new Bulls who will look for carries include redshirt freshman Willie Davis (5'9", 205 lbs., Lithonia, GA Stephenson) and junior college transfer Michael Pierre (5'10", 206 lbs., Golden West College and Winter Garden Agape Christian). While Pierre should start the season in uniform, he may redshirt if it doesn't look like it will be worth burning a year of his eligibility.
This is the deepest position on the roster. A number of talented options will be available to B.J. Daniels in the passing game, all of whom can be used in specific ways.
Sterling Griffin (6'0", 194 lbs., Opa Locka Monsignor Pace) clicked with B.J. Daniels almost immediately. Against Florida State in 2009, and playing as a true freshman, Griffin hauled in a 73-yard touchdown pass. However, that chemistry has been interrupted by two major injuries. He dislocated his ankle in an informal workout during the summer of 2010 and was ultimately redshirted. And last season, his right ankle broke when he landed awkwardly near the goal line against Cincinnati, costing him five games. It interrupted a season in which Griffin was on pace to break USF's single-season records for receptions and yardage -- he still ended up with 43 catches for 530 yards and three touchdowns, including a spectacular catch when he returned to the lineup against West Virginia.
On the other side of the formation will be sophomore Andre Davis (6'1", 207 lbs., Tampa Jefferson), who received much of the playing time after Griffin's injury. While not as explosive as some of the other receiving options, he's already proven to be a steady passing target who can keep the chains moving. Before seeing regular playing time on offense, Davis contributed on special teams, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown against Florida A&M.
There are several options to line up in the slot when USF goes with three wide receivers. Terrence Mitchell (5'10", 164 lbs., Tampa Hillsborough) is the Bulls' primary punt returner, but the converted defensive back also made all seven of his receptions as a wide receiver last year against Ball State. His season ended after he suffered a concussion making a tackle against UTEP, and his absence on punt returns caused a lot of problems. Most notably for his replacement, senior Victor Marc (5'11", 220 lbs., Hallandale). Marc was actually second on the team with 33 receptions last year, but he had issues with ball security and had a string of crucial lost fumbles, both as a receiver and as a returner. Another potential slot receiver is speedy sophomore Chris Dunkley (6'0", 180 lbs., Pahokee), a former five-star recruit who transferred from Florida in May 2011 and sat out last season.
Other targets for Daniels include sophomores Deonte Welch (6'0", 202 lbs., Williston), and Ruben Gonzalez (6'3", 202 lbs., Tampa Robinson), who each saw some action as true freshmen last year. A possible X-factor is talented true freshman D'vario Montgomery (6'5", 204 lbs., Winter Park), who can give the Bulls' offense a big new target in the red zone and in the middle of the field.