USF BULLS Head coach: Jim Leavitt Last season: 9-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big East; lost 56-21 to Oregon in the Sun Bowl. Spring practice: Began March 5. Re-starts March 18 and ends April 12.
South Florida won't be overlooked this season. For the first time since joining the Big East, the Bulls will enter a season as one of the favorites. The Bulls were a trendy sleeper pick last season and more than delivered early, winning their first six games and reaching No. 2 in the polls. They eventually faded, though. But while their league rivals are replacing key players on offense – Louisville's Brian Brohm, West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Rutgers' Ray Rice – the Bulls are making their biggest changes on defense. Coach Jim Leavitt must replace defensive stalwarts Ben Moffitt, Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. The Bulls also lost defensive line coach Dan McCarney, the former Iowa State coach, to Florida. Here's a look at the Bulls during spring drills.
Matt Grothe figures to be one of the Big East's best QBs in 2008.
USF returns the only quarterback in the Big East who comes close to West Virginia's Pat White for star power and value to his team. Grothe enters his third season as a starter with 5,246 passing yards and 1,494 rushing yards. Grothe has led USF in both categories in each of the past two seasons. His completion percentage dipped in 2007, but more was put on his shoulders as a sophomore. Grothe will run the offense behind an offensive line that returns four starters, three of whom are seniors. Defensive end will be a strength as long as Selvie, who led the nation in tackles for a loss, is on the roster. Buie, one of the strongest players on the team, also returns.
HELP IS NEEDED
Replacing starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams is no small task. Senior Tyller Roberts and junior Jerome Murphy take their place. Finding a go-to wide receiver and a feature tailback is important this spring.
KEEP AN EYE ON
NT Terrell McClain: McClain played as a backup as a true freshman last year, but will compete for a starting job with Richard Clebert gone. He'll have plenty of veteran support around him with starters Selvie, Buie and Harris returning.
LB Alonzo McQueen: He's trying to replace Ben Moffitt, who left as one of the top defensive players in school history. McQueen is a sophomore with seven career tackles. He and Wilson, a junior college transfer who already has enrolled, will battle for the middle linebacker spot.
OT Jacob Sims: Sims, a sophomore, is the favorite to replace right tackle Walt Walker - the only starter who needs to be replaced on the offensive line.
HIS TIME IS NOW
After sitting behind Jenkins and Williams, Murphy and Roberts get their time in the spotlight as the Bulls' next cornerback duo. Murphy served as a nickelback and returned kickoffs last season, and Roberts was a backup corner.
USF enters 2008 with the most stability of perhaps any Big East contender. West Virginia has a new coach, and Rutgers and Louisville must replace their best players. Coach Jim Leavitt has built USF into a player on the national stage and was rewarded by becoming the Big East's highest-paid coach when he was given a seven-year, $12.6 million contract. Leavitt now must prepare his team to play as a conference favorite rather than an underdog.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.