ESPN's Rece Davis likes USF to win Big East
USF has a national platform on Thursday night for the Bulls' Big East opener against Rutgers, and ESPN's Rece Davis will lead the network's broadcast crew from Raymond James Stadium. He took a minute to talk with the Times about the Bulls, his expectations for them and their struggles on Thursday nights.
Greg Auman: I'm not sure how much of USF you've been able to see these first two weeks, but first, your initial thoughts on the Bulls.
Rece Davis: "I'm in the studio with Lou (Holtz) all day on Saturdays, so you can believe USF is on one of the monitors, unless they start losing, at which points he starts screaming at me: (in Holtz voice) "TURN THAT OFF!" ... But he actually stuck with it Saturday. I went back and watched the Nevada game again. I think they're very talented. They have big-time wide receivers, as was evident by their performance against Nevada.
"In terms of Thursday night, we did them a couple of times. The debacle at Pittsburgh where Ray Graham just gashed them, and we did the heartbreaker against West Virginia. I don't know if there's anything to it being on Thursday night, but I thought the West Virginia game was indicative of their entire season. They played well enough to win the game but made critical errors that kept them from doing so. If you could take one sentence to sum up their entire season, that would probably be it. That's the biggest thing Skip and the guys are trying to change from last year. I'm not trying to be mean, but they found ways to screw up games.
"I think they're right there on the edge, and Skip's said several times, if you change four or five plays, they win nine or 10 games. So I think the maturity they gained, hopefully the lessons they learned from that will give them a better opportunity to have a lot more success this year. I'm sort of counting on that. Not that my predictions matter, but they always ask us to predict the conference winners in the preseason for ESPN.com, and I picked South Florida. I think they should be the best team in the conference.
GA: Louisville was generally the consensus pick to win the league, but you've seen a number of national people picking USF, guys like Phil Steele and others.
RD: "That's not to say I don't think Louisville is good. They're very good. To me, those are the two best teams, though I'm certainly impressed with Cincinnati last Thursday night (in beating Pittsburgh). Cincinnati had a lot of unproven commodities, some still unproven. In my judgment, I thought those were the two best teams going in, and nothing I've seen has changed my mind about that. I think, not to digress too much, but the (Teddy) Bridgewater kid at Louisville is fantastic. He throws a beautiful ball. I've been really impressed by him.
GA: It seems the winner of Thursday's game will be seen as the best challenger to Louisville for the league title moving forward.
RD: "I would agree with that. There's a great deal of significance to it. I believe South Florida has lost at least three conference games every year they've been in the Big East. This is the type of game they have to win. Not because Rutgers isn't good enough to beat them, but simply because if you're going to win a conference championship, you've got to beat the decent teams at home. I think even though it generally won't spell doom for either side if they lose the game, if South Florida's going to take the next step to win a conference championship, this is the type of game they have to win.
GA: How does having Lou up in Bristol on Saturdays frame your perspective on USF? They're something of an adopted program when he's in the room, I'm sure.
RD: "He's awfully proud of Skip, as he should be. Whenever you have a personal relationship with someone, you're happy when they do well. I consider Skip a friend, and certainly Lou and I are very close. You have to take a step back when you do what I do and try to be fair about it. You're friendly, you'd think, with a lot of guys and hopefully they understand you have a job to do. In terms of knowing what they expect from certain units, position groups, certain games or struggles they might have, Lou is a wealth of information about South Florida particularly, but a number of teams also.
GA: Is there one positional battle you think will be a pivotal one in Thursday's game?
RD: "To me, I think the best matchup will be South Florida's wide receivers and Rutgers' cornerbacks. That will be one I think will be key. The other one will be South Florida's defensive line agains Rutgers' offensive line. Rutgers hasn't really thrown the ball well. They like Gary Nova and think he's capable, but they're a program whose offense is built on running the football. If South Florida's defensive line can keep them from doing that and force them to be predictable, that will be huge as well.