A trendy pick to win the Big East title last season in Skip Holtz’s second year in charge, the Bulls seemed to take a hefty step backwards; after five straight seasons of playing either eight- or nine-win ball, they won just five games last fall and missed a bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, their fifth at the FBS level.
The problem was that USF lost so many close games. The Bulls had four losses by three points and another by six — after a 4-0 start. USF must play better in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter. USF outscored rivals 213-103 in the first halves of games last year but was outpointed 166-138 after intermission, including 101-70 in the fourth quarter.
Some coaches might make wholesale changes after a tough year like that, and Holtz did shuffle the deck some once the disappointing 5-7 campaign was over. The biggest switch comes at defensive coordinator, where Chris Cosh takes over for Mark Snyder, who moved on to the same spot at Texas A&M. Cosh, who was most recently at Kansas State, spent five seasons with Holtz at South Carolina, so there is likely to be a smooth transition, even though he is now the Bulls’ third DC in the last four seasons.
What to watch for on offense: The wide receivers to drag QB B.J. Daniels to a new level of efficiency. While Daniels is not a stellar passing quarterback, his numbers might suggest otherwise this fall. Not only does he enter his fourth season in the program, but he’ll have access to his best collection of hands since winning the job in 2011. The Bulls are loaded with speed, quickness and athleticism in the form of Andre Davis, Sterling Griffin and Victor Marc. Plus, rookie D’Vario Montgomery and touted Florida transfer Chris Dunkley should become more dangerous as the season unfolds. Daniels finally has the weapons to hurt defenses through the air; now he has to go out and fully maximize their big-play potential.
What to watch for on defense: New coordinator Cosh to keep things simple. Cosh has inherited a lot of talent in Tampa … and he knows it. He’ll run a 4-3 base, and essentially get out of the way so that his players can, well, make plays. The coach wants his Bulls to be aggressive, smart and fast to the ball. In other words, just do what they’ve been doing for the last five years or so. Cosh won’t have to coach up this group, which returns a ton of starters, and doesn’t expect to have more than one underclassman in the starting lineup in Week 1.
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 3
Top returners: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetris Murray, WR Sterling Griffin, WR Andre Davis, LB DeDe Lattimore, LB Sam Barrington, DE Ryne Giddins, DT Cory Grissom
Key losses: C Chaz Hine, OG Jeremiah Warren, RB Darrell Scott, DE Patrick Hampton, DT Keith McCaskill, S Jerrell Young, CB Quenton Washington
Odds to win Big East: +290