March 13, 2010

South Florida begins anew under Holtz

Jim Leavitt won't be the only familiar face absent from USF's spring practice. The Bulls fired the only coach in school history after allegations of mistreatment of a player, and they also move on without perhaps the best offensive and defensive players in the program's short history.

USF already has experienced life without quarterback Matt Grothe, who played only three games in his senior season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Bulls may be equally prepared to move on without George Selvie because of a deep but young group of defensive ends.

In Leavitt's place is Skip Holtz, who won the past two Conference USA championships at East Carolina. Holtz won't be able to say he built the program, but he'll try to lead the Bulls to their first Big East title.

Here's a look at USF as it prepares to open spring drills.

SOUTH FLORIDA AT-A-GLANCE
Budding star B.J. Daniels returns at quarterback for the Bulls.
THE BASICS
Coach: Skip Holtz
Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-4 in the Big East. Defeated Northern Illinois 27-3 in the International Bowl.
Spring dates: March 16-April 17
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (11): T Jamar Bass, WR Dontavia Bogan, QB B.J. Daniels C Sampson Genus, WR Sterling Griffin, T Zach Hermann, G Chaz Hine, WR A.J. Love, RB Mo Plancher T Jake Sims, T/G Jeremiah Warren.
Defense (4): LB Sabbath Joseph, T Terrell McClain, CB Quenton Washington, CB Kayvon Webster.
Special teams (1): K Eric Schwartz.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

USF's gaudy number of returning starters on offense (11) is somewhat misleading. True, 11 offensive players started at least six games, but only two (RB Mo Plancher and G Chaz Hine) started every game. The Bulls do have plenty of experience on the offensive line, as six returning linemen started at least six games. QB B.J. Daniels could be a star in the making after earning Rivals.com second-team Freshman All-America honors. Despite losing George Selvie and projected first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul, the Bulls have depth at defensive end thanks to seniors Craig Marshall and David Bedford plus a few newcomers.

HELP IS NEEDED

The Bulls will look to build depth at wide receiver and running back, especially if they hope to run a balanced offense. Plancher started every game last season but rushed for only 581 yards and five touchdowns. USF's backfield took a hit with the dismissal of TB Mike Ford, who dealt with off-field problems in his time in Tampa and never lived up to the high school hype. The top three returning receivers - A.J. Love, Dontavia Bogan and Sterling Griffin - are not proven game-breakers. Beyond those three, depth is uncertain. USF also will look to replace the leadership at linebacker provided by Kion Wilson (105 tackles).

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

LB Sam Barrington: He came on near the end of last season as Wilson's backup at middle linebacker. After recording 41 tackles last season as a true freshman, he'll get a crack at taking over the starting job.

DE Claude Davis: USF may not have the star power it did at defensive end a year ago, but the Bulls won't helpless, either. Davis is a three-star transfer from junior college who is expected to compete right away. Touted redshirt freshmen Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte are worth watching at this spot, too, this spring.

RB Lindsey Lamar: A member of the track team, Lamar could become a needed offensive playmaker. A 5-foot-9, 160-pound sophomore, he could develop into USF's version of West Virginia RB/WR Jock Sanders - who, coincidentally enough, grew up in St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay from Tampa.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DE David Bedford: There is a crowded field at defensive end. Marshall had four sacks last year. Davis is a three-star JC transfer. Giddins is a former Rivals100 recruit and Forte was a touted three-star recruit. Bedford (one sack last season) is a senior, but he could be left behind if he does not produce this spring and into the fall. Coaches thought enough of him last fall that he replaced Pierre-Paul in the starting lineup for three games late in the season, but Bedford's production came up short.

THE BUZZ

Holtz's hiring was met with praise from local and national media. The fans should have reason to be optimistic, too. His East Carolina team won the past two Conference USA titles, and he could provide the boost USF needs to get into the Big East elite. This spring, he needs to oversee the continued development of Daniels and fill some holes on defense.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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