Bulls leaned on defense in transition season
TAMPA -- In matching last year's 7-5 regular-season record and 3-4 mark in Big East play and in landing a signature win at Miami two weeks ago, the first season under USF coach Skip Holtz has been a more seamless transition than with most first-year coaches. Of the 23 head coaches who took over programs this season, only one -- Florida State's Jimbo Fisher -- finished with fewer losses than Holtz.
The area where the coaching change has been easiest to see -- on the field and on the scoreboard -- has been the offense, where a new scheme and a badly depleted receiving corps combined to have the Bulls take a step back in their productivity. USF is averaging 23.5 points per game (including a 59-point opener against I-AA Stony Brook), within a point of being the lowest scoring Bulls in 11 seasons.
The losses in the passing game cannot be understated -- seven of the top eight Bulls in receiving yards in 2009 didn't play this season, due to either graduation, early entry to the NFL or injury. That, and the decision to make sophomore B.J. Daniels more of a pocket passer, led to Daniels having 1,022 fewer yards of total offense this season (he could lessen that difference in a bowl game).
Daniels' lack of scrambling -- he went from 772 rushing yards last year to 237 this season -- took away a major big-play threat. Daniels' longest run this season was 16 yards; last year, he had runs of 23 yards or longer in eight different games.
USF lost four games in which held opponents to 20 points or less, the most of any team in I-A football. That's as many such losses as the Bulls totaled in the previous six seasons. All 12 SEC teams combined to have four losses in which they allowed 20 points or less, as did the 11 teams in the Big Ten.
You could argue that no team out of the 66 teams in BCS conferences got more wins out of less offense. The Bulls ranked 54th out of 66 BCS schools in scoring, and none of the 12 schools ranked lower than USF mustered more than the Bulls' seven wins; they ranked 58th in total offense, and again, no teams lower than them won more than seven games.
USF will have another off-season of turnover on offense, as graduation will take three starters on the offensive line, the team's leading rusher (Mo Plancher) and receiver (Dontavia Bogan), as well as the starting fullback (Richard Kelly) and tight end (Kevin Gidrey).
BIG BILL: One difference between the Meineke Car Care Bowl and USF's last two bowls is a higher expectation of ticket sales -- teams in Charlotte are obligated to buy 12,500 tickets each, as opposed to 10,000 each for recent bowls in Toronto and St. Petersburg.
When USF made its first bowl appearance in Charlotte in 2005, the Bulls sold about 6,100 tickets -- they'll be fortunate to sell that many this time around -- and still had to spend $380,000 on unsold tickets, the single-largest bowl expense that season, just short of the combined cost of travel, lodging and food for USF's entire athletic department travel party.
USF will get a check for $1.1-million from the Big East as its bowl payout, as well as a smaller payment to defray travel costs, expected to be between $100,000 and $200,000.
THIS AND THAT: Holtz's opponent in Charlotte is a familiar one -- he faced Clemson every year while as an assistant on father Lou's staff at South Carolina from 1999-2004. Clemson won five of six meetings against the Holtzes, including a 29-6 game in Lou's final game as head coach that was marred by a huge brawl in the fourth quarter. ... Men's basketball's scoring is down enough that junior Augustus Gilchrist leads the team with 10.7 points per game. If that held up, it'd be the second-lowest average ever to lead the Bulls -- Dave Niemann averaged 10.3 points to lead the 1975-76 squad.