Top 50 Countdown: No. 30 South Florida

Coach: Jim Leavitt | Staff
In 2006: 9-4, defeated East Carolina 24-7 in PapaJohn's.com Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 8. Defense: 8.
Key losses: LB Stephen Nicholas, DB Jeremy Burnett, WR/KR Ean Randolph, TE Will Bleakley, LB Pat St. Louis.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: South Florida's offense last year featured the inconsistency you'd expect from a team with a redshirt freshman starting at quarterback. The Bulls averaged just 10.3 points per game in their four losses, but they compiled 28.7 points per game in their nine wins. The return of quarterback Matt Grothe and all five starters on the offensive line should allow the Bulls to develop more consistency this fall.

SOUTH FLORIDA TOP 10
Matt Grothe, 2006 Big East Rookie of the Year, led the Bulls in rushing and passing.

1. LB Ben Moffitt
2. QB Matt Grothe
3. DE George Selvie
4. CB Mike Jenkins
5. WR Taurus Johnson
6. CB Trae Williams
7. WR Amarri Jackson
8. DE/LB Chris Robinson
9. OT Marc Dile
10. DT Allen Cray
Best player: Grothe. The 2006 Big East Rookie of the Year led South Florida in passing and rushing yardage last year on his way to ranking second among all freshmen in total offense. It will be interesting to see if Grothe runs the ball quite as often this season or becomes more of a conventional quarterback after gaining 622 yards on 178 carries last year.

Most overrated: WR Amarri Jackson. He remains one of South Florida's most recognizable players on the basis of his huge performance in an upset of Louisville two years ago. Jackson is a solid receiver capable of making spectacular plays, but his inconsistency has prevented him from realizing the promise he showed in that Louisville game.

Most underrated: WR Taurus Johnson. While Jackson tries to live up to his potential, Johnson has developed into arguably the Bulls' top all-around receiver. Johnson caught 37 passes for 494 yards last year and also scored touchdowns on three of his five carries.

Must step up: Jackson: The Bulls need someone to step in for Ean Randolph and S.J. Green, who combined to catch 69 passes for 834 yards. A breakthrough season from Jackson could prevent the Bulls from missing Randolph and Green too much.

Shoes to fill: The entire receiving corps. Randolph is the most talented offensive player South Florida lost from last year's team. His combination of receiving and kick-returning skills could make it tough for the Bulls to replace him with just one guy.

Impact newcomer: RB Mike Ford. This former five-star prospect from Sarasota (Fla.) High originally signed with Alabama and enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy before ending up at South Florida. Ford is talented enough to provide an immediate burst to South Florida's rushing attack. Ford and current Denver Broncos running back Travis Henry are the only Florida high school players in history to rush for at least 200 yards in 11 consecutive games.

Position battle: Running back. Although they love Grothe's ability to run the ball, the Bulls would love to have a running back lead them in rushing this season. Benjamin Williams returns after rushing for 436 yards last year, but he will have to hold off challenges from Moise Plancher and Ford. Plancher was expected to win a starting job last year, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament knocked him out for the season.

New in 2007: South Florida has a new offensive coordinator (Greg Gregory), passing game coordinator (Mike Canales), offensive line coach (Mike Simmonds) and tight ends coach (Larry Scott).

Grade the units:
QB: B-plus. Grothe threw 14 interceptions last year, which is the only thing keeping this talented sophomore from earning an A-minus or an A.
RB: C. There's too much uncertainty here to warrant a higher grade.
WR/TE: B. Even without Randolph, the Bulls have plenty of talented pass catchers.
OL: B. Offensive tackle Marc Dile and center Nick Capogna lead a line that returns all five starters.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: South Florida returns most of its top players from a unit that ranked 11th in the nation in pass efficiency, 18th in scoring defense and 25th in total defense last year. Although the Bulls had major defections in their offensive coaching staff, they welcome back defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. USF has also brought former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney aboard as the defensive line coach.

Best player: LB Ben Moffitt. Moffitt collected 112 tackles last year. He also had two fumble recoveries in the upset of West Virginia. He has started 30 consecutive games and will have to provide more leadership now that Stephen Nicholas has moved on to the NFL.

South Florida Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Auburn
Sept. 22 North Carolina
Sept. 28 West Virginia
Oct. 6 at Florida Atlantic
Oct. 13 Central Florida
Oct. 18 at Rutgers
Oct. 27 at Connecticut
Nov. 3 Cincinnati
Nov. 10 at Syracuse
Nov.17 Louisville
Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh
Most overrated: CB Trae Williams. Williams earned first-team all-Big East honors and led the conference with seven interceptions last year, but the reason he picked off so many passes is because South Florida opponents didn't want to throw in the direction of fellow cornerback Mike Jenkins. Although Jenkins is the Bulls' true shutdown corner, Williams earned the majority of the acclaim because he made all those picks.

Most underrated: DT Allen Cray. This senior has been a part-time starter the last three years and has more career starts than any other South Florida defensive lineman. Although he only started the first eight games last year, Cray still finished with eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks to lead all interior linemen in both categories.

Must step up: DE Jarriett Buie. The dismissal of Josh Julmiste will force Buie into a featured role. The Bulls are counting on this senior to team up with George Selvie to provide a pair of pass-rushing threats.

Shoes to fill: All the linebackers but Moffitt. South Florida must replace Stephen Nicholas and Pat St. Louis, who combined for 184 tackles last season. The arrival of Iowa State transfer Tyrone McKenzie should help in that regard.

Impact newcomer: McKenzie. After ranking eighth in the nation with 10.8 tackles per game last year, this former Iowa State star was granted a hardship waiver that allowed him to transfer to South Florida without sitting out a season. He should immediately fill the void created by Stephen Nicholas' departure.

Position battle: Linebacker: Moffitt is certainly starting in the middle and McKenzie will likely fill another starting role, but who will earn the third spot remains to be seen. Candidates include junior college transfer Donte Spires, junior Brouce Mompremier and sophomore Chris Robinson.

Grade the units:
DL: B. Selvie's huge performance against West Virginia last year showed he has the potential to become a big-time pass rusher.
LB: A. Moffitt and McKenzie give the Bulls two guys who recorded at least 112 tackles last year.
DB: A-minus. South Florida has one of the nation's better cornerback tandems in Jenkins and Williams.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: South Florida had one of the game's top special-teams performers last year in Ean Randolph, who ranked fourth in the nation in punt return average and also helped out on kickoff returns. His departure could have serious field-position ramifications. South Florida would love to shore up a field-goal unit that struggled with consistency throughout last season.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
The good news is that South Florida returns the nucleus of a team that closed the 2006 season with plenty of momentum. The bad news is that these players won't have much time to adjust to a revamped coaching staff. USF faces Auburn, North Carolina and West Virginia in the first four games of the season. South Florida might not be quite ready to challenge the Louisville-West Virginia-Rutgers triumvirate for Big East supremacy, but there's no reason why South Florida can't go 9-4 again with a postseason appearance in the Texas Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Best player: P Justin Teachey. This junior punter also will handle the Bulls' kickoff duties this fall.

Grade the units:
K: C. Sophomore Delbert Alvarado and junior Mike Benzer shared the job last year and went a combined 7-for-15 on field-goal attempts.
P: B. Teachey only averaged 38.2 yards per punt last year, but he showed his ability to deliver in big games by improving that average to 44 yards per attempt against West Virginia.
KR: C-plus. Taurus Johnson was the Bulls' main kickoff returner last year and averaged 22.6 yards per attempt.
PR: C. The Bulls can only hope they can find someone who was half as productive in this area as Randolph was last year.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Jim Leavitt remains the only head coach the South Florida program has known, but he had to do more shuffling than usual with the rest of his staff. The Bulls are operating with a new offensive coordinator, receivers coach, offensive line coach, tight ends coach and defensive line coach.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: A-minus. South Florida fans should count their blessings that Leavitt hasn't left for a more established program.
Offense: C. The Bulls made so many changes in their offensive coaching staff that it's almost impossible to grade them. Since Cs are generally given out for average units, we'll go with that until they can prove they deserve something better or worse.
Defense: A-minus. Burnham deserves a grade at least this good for being the only guy in the nation who has figured out how to slow down West Virginia's potent offense.

Special teams: C. The Bulls still need to find someone who can provide consistency in their kicking game.

Rivals Radio: USF coach Jim Leavitt | Tampa Tribune writer Brett McMurphy

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 29.

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