Saturday, June 24, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: SOUTH FLORIDA
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Growing up fast, but it's still just one step at a time by eager young USF
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 34-22 (12-11 C-USA/Big East) - 2005: 6-6 (4-3 Big East)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Every story about da Bulls seems to begin with their rapid climb from aluminum shed-dwellers to Big East solids, but since USF finally got its first bowl bid last year, enough with the upstart business. So South Florida was picked after just four I-A seasons to jump straight into a conference with an automatic big-money bid for its champion and the bigger payouts/budgets/recruits that go with the association over certain other mid-size/small conference schools that were toiling, building respectable teams in the boonies and occasionally knocking off SEC squads for decades before USF's program even existed while also, for example, winning more championships than any other school in a league in which the Bulls never qualified for the postseason - so what? Who cares? Nobody cares. Certainly not SMQ.
Substantially, the lousy marketable bastards wave sionara to running back Andre Hall, pretty easily the top recruit and best overall player in school history. Hall had more than 2,800 yards rushing in two seasons, led the team in receiving as a senior, averaged more than 150 total yards per game and was almost the exclusive reason USF scored at all - which it actually did at a respectable rate until it met the killer defensive triumverate of UConn, West Virginia and NC State in the last three games. Hall's departure, along with the potential rise of the only USF recruit to match his expectations, QB Carlton Hill, could also signal a philosophy shift for the offense; more on that directly.
WHAT'S THE SAME: South Florida has played 100 games in its history, every one under coach Jim Leavitt, who was tagged for the job in his old Kansas State digs before he re-upped on a contract that will make him a millionaire in his hometown. He welcomes back 14 entirely anonymous starters.
ON ONE HAND: Damn, the linebackers can kinda play: the three starters, Ben Moffitt, Patrick St. Louis and Stephen Nicholas, had 212 total tackles between them last year and 40.5 tackles for loss. All three have pretty good size, too. Plus both cornerbacks return. Plus free safety Danny Verpaele, a freshman all-American in '04 who missed all of last season, returns. So even if there are three smallish new starters on the defensive line, the defense - 17th total, 14th scoring, though it should be noted Big East offenses were wonderful for defensive stats and passing numbers in particular - has a chance to finish in the top 20 again.
WAIT, AREN'T THESE GUYS, LIKE, OMG EXPLOSIVE OR SOMETHING?: To watch the highlights of them hanging six touchdowns on the league's preseason behemoth favorite last October, one could have gathered as much. Hell, these guys are from Florida, right? And Florida=speed, baby, and athletes! Pundits were briefly agog with the likes of Amarri Jackson, a recently converted basketball player whose untapped, raw talent led to 138 total yards, two touchdowns on end arounds and even a TD pass in the 31-point stunner over Louisville. For the entire season, though, Jackson scored only once more - on another reverse, against Cincinnati - and put up perfectly anonymous backup receiver numbers (29 touches, 318 total yards) while playing six games - that's half - in which he did not touch the ball more than once, if at all. And he was the leading pass-catcher among the receivers; even for a team that didn't spread the field with four wide outs as its base offense, the 107th-ranked passing offense would be atrocious. So, no, the Bulls were not particularly explosive or high-octane or any other such adjective.
OVERLY OPTIMISTICAPPROPRIATELY UNEASY POST-SPRING CHATTER: In the interest of changing those mostly plodding ways, Athlon reported Jim Leavitt and Co. were one of many staffs flocking to rival West Virginia for insights on the spread option, and to Texas, too, presumably in preparation for putting Hill's by-all-reports frightening speed to its maximum use behind center. In the meantime, Hill did his best Corso - not so fast, my friend! - by failing utterly to get a hold on anything, be it the offense or his grades, in the Spring, leading to grim speculation that senior Pat Julmiste, de facto starter the past two seasons, may creak off the bench, Rohan Davey-like, to complete 46 percent of his passes one final time. Even Julmiste probably doesn't want this. Because Hill is just...so...talented!:
That assessment comes from The St. Petersburg Times' USF beat guy, Greg Auman, who prefered Julmiste and even freshmen Matt Grothe and Anthony Severino to Hill.
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Entering the Fall, Carlton Hill has nowhere to go but up
Also: LSU transfer Amp Hill, who never did a whole hell of a lot for the Tigers, had a big Spring, was one of the stars of the Green-White Game and will likely start in Game One. Could immediately be the team's best player on offense.
REASON FOR HOPE: The back seven rocks again; In the right offense, can Carlton Hill get his speed on? Experienced Julmiste and wide outs have had plenty of time to get timing and chemistry down.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Andre Hall meant everything to the offense, experienced or not; still no quarterback looks up to coming close to putting the team on his shoulders for more than a possession at a time, if that.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Married: With Children - Never the most exposed or successful, but quickly able to find its niche and settle in for the long haul on the fringes of the big time.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Five wins, possibly six again, just outside bowl picture. Much depends on the quarterback, but the prospects there, without Hall around to pick up the slack, aren't promising. The way 2005 ended is a bad omen, too.
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...April 11: Boise State...April 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon...June 21: Colorado
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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