Greg Auman chat transcript

28

August

Times USF beat writer Greg Auman fielded your questions for 1-1/2 hours this afternoon. Here is a full transcript:

Q: Greg, USF has some excellent weapons in Ford, Taylor, and Williams I would think since the front line dropped weight that USF will be using a lot of moving screens this year what do you think? The weight means downfield blocking and rolling line. -- Jim Risler

GA: The talk in spring football was about USF returning to a power running game, with linemen on the move and springing big runs. The receivers have talked a ton about downfield blocking, and I think 270-pound tight end Trent Pupello is a guy who could be a solid run blocker as well. It might be vanilla the first week or so, but I think you'll see a lot more of that.

Q: What's the status of some of the athletic facility upgrades? Its great to see the track & field improvments. I saw an article about the dinning hall going through approval with some student funds - is that going to happen? What about the upgraded football practice area in which USF had already received the $3 million seed money (with softball). When are they going to start this project? I'm sick of hearing about UCF's facilities. -- Russ

GA: Russ, about the facility upgrades, there hasn't been a lot of progress in the past year. The only shovel hitting the dirt has been the joint-used track facility at the soccer field, which is getting wrapped up now. I think you'll hear more news this fall -- softball, as Russ mentioned, got a big donation to get halfway there, and the new field will ultimately be just east of the baseball stadium right now, with football's practice fields moving closer to the athletic facility where softball is now. The only hurdles are financial ones, and it's something USF is working on. The Sun Dome upgrades are being figured out right now, with one of the country's leading arena architects evaluating the costs of different models for renovation, with a practice facility on one side, a new facade and a more closed bottom level without the open areas in the corners.

Q: Given the number of posts by the illustrious Nick Lachey this offseason, is there any indication we might see him at one of the home games, or possibly the bowl game? -- RR

GA: RR, I can look up IP addresses, but I'm not entirely sure that's the real Nick Lachey. If he were to attend a USF game, my money would be on Cincinnati, since that's home for him. Again, I'm somewhat ashamed that I know that.

Q: Hey Greg, with all the talk about UCF's stadium having a sway when the fans jump up and down. When USF stampedes over the Knights, is there any chance we actually "bring down the house"? -- Rob

GA: Rob, I was wondering how long it would be before I got a UCF question. I had a link the other day to $400,000 in stadium renovations for the 1-year-old facility, but again, UCF folks stress that there are no structural or safety concerns. I didn't make it over to Bright House Networks Stadium last year, but look forward to seeing the last game of the series there -- in just eight days. Even Leavitt has pointed out that last year's lopsided score -- 62-14 -- came at a time when USF was playing at a very high level. That said, UCF has to find an answer at running back in a hurry against South Carolina State this week ...

Q: Does Leavitt have a connection at Ellsworth from his days back in Iowa?

GA: Leavitt has found a walk-on pipeline at Ellsworth, getting RB Walt Smith from there a few years back and adding safetise Dexter Baldwin and Mistral Raymond this fall. I had been told last week that Ellsworth's QB last year, Jessie Bundrage, was to join the team this week, but I haven't seen him yet.

Leavitt does have ties to small colleges in Iowa, having coached at Dubuque and Morningside in his early days, but it has more to do with the lack of junior college football programs in Florida. Florida kids who can't get in to four-year schools have to go far from home for juco ball, so they want to come home after that. Smith was from Bartow, Baldwin's from Bradenton Southeast, and Raymond is from Palmetto, so all within an hour or so of Tampa and USF.

GA: I think the question I've gotten the most in the last week or so is about the running backs, and especially Mike Ford. Why, you ask, is Ford not listed as the No. 1 running back, especially considering the big role he played in USF's three wins at the end of the regular season last year? There's not a simple answer, other than a reassurance that Ford will get plenty of carries, and a reminder that coaches have the highest respect for senior Ben Williams and how well he does all the things they ask of a running back. Ford is much bigger, but Williams can pick up blitzes as well as anyone -- USF's coaches call him the best blocking back in America. I think you might see a lot of two-back sets this fall, where Williams can flare out to catch passes or stay in for protection, and a bigger back -- either Ford, Jamar Taylor or Richard Kelly -- would be available as a bigger running option in the same backfield.

If I had to pick a leading rusher right now, I'd give Ford a slight edge over Matt Grothe, but coaches say they'd be stupid not to call designed runs for their quarterbacks. Last year, USF averaged better than 6 yards per carry on designed QB runs ...

Q: How much playing time will David Bedford see this season, and do you see him garnering enough attention to offset double teams on Selvie? -- lurker

GA: Lurker has a good question about David Bedford, the highly touted juco transfer who joined the Bulls this fall.Bedford has had a lot of catching up to do, first physically, in that he had a busy summer taking 20 hours of classes to get into USF with three years of eligibility. As a result, he wasn't here for summer conditioning and is behind others in that department. Dan McCarney was absolutely elated when the Bulls got Bedford, and he saw him as the opposite-site pass-rusher the Bulls needed to exploit double-teams on George Selvie. Bedford's working with the third team right now and even saw work on the scout team Monday. He's a guy who will spend the next month getting acclimated to major college football. By the time the Big East season starts against Pittsburgh that first weekend in October, it's entirely possible that he's in the rotation as a big, quick rush end and making plays. He just have work to do between now and then ...

Q: Just out of curiosity, do you have any particulars on how the Trop will be configured for the new St. Petersburg Bowl? It seems to me that it will be difficult to get a regulation 100-yard field, plus end zones and sidelines, in the dome. Are you aware of any compromises being made for this game? -- g-man

GA: G-Man asks about the logistics of playing football in Tropicana Field in December when the St. Petersburg Bowl makes its debut. I think they're still working out the details on how the field and seats will be situated. The bowl's new executive director, Brett Dulaney, has his last day at USF on Friday, and then he'll be leading the bowl's efforts locally and working in conjunction with ESPN Regional. The early plan for the Trop was to nest the football field with one corner at home plate, with the field running down the first-base line, if I recall correctly. You'd basically have a huge majority of the fans on one side of the field -- there hadn't been decisions made on whether to have seats on the "shallow left field" side of the football field, if you will.

I'll try to get an update on the St. Pete game in the next week or two ...

Q: I know Ben Williams is the starter, with Taylor and Ford as second string. The coaches always say they love BW's work ethic. Are they sticking with him as starter out of respect and will they phase him out like last year, or has he truly proven to be the feature back in practices? -- cg

GA: CG asks about Ben Williams again. You might have seen where he was voted one of four game captains for the opening week. I did a breakdown on the running backs a few days back where we looked at Williams' role in the offense during Big East play -- after that huge game against FAU, he really wasn't a big factor carrying the ball, getting about as many yards receiving as he did rushing. I've heard nothing but good things about Williams this preseason, and I think he'll continue to be on the field a lot because the coaches trust him more than anyone else to be able to do everything they want backs to do. Will he be their leading rusher, or get the most carries? I don't think so, but the coaches have made it clear how much he means to the position and the offense

Q: Any chance that USF will internally look into the hiring practices of the sports teams more closely following the latest Stan Heath hire?

GA: Reality asks about USF looking into hiring practices, after news this week that Stan Heath has hired Terrelle Woody, the trainer and friend of freshman Gus Gilchrist, to be the team's new video and conditioning assistant. I'll answer first by saying that Heath wouldn't have hired Woody without getting approval from USF's administration. Men's basketball is a sport that athletic director Doug Woolard has direct administrative supervision of, and he's a basketball guy. Bill McGillis, the school's executive associate athletic director, checked up on Woody extensively before the hire was made.

I don't think it changes the way USF will hire people, but it might lend a closer level of scrutiny from the public and from the media to future hires.

Q: Greg, Do we have any big prospects on the verge of committing?

GA: Anonymous 1:28 (just take the time to make up a name, right?) asks whether USF has any big prospects on the verge of committing. The easy answer is no, just because USF's coaches are focusing all their attention now on this team and this season -- the Bulls don't do a lot of official visits during the fall, instead bringing in a ton of kids for unofficial visits, which allow them to be on the sidelines before games and watch from the stands.

What's more, USF has a ton more commitments right now than in any year before. Most years, USF has just a few commits before the season, not the 15 or more they have right now. As a result, the Bulls have pulled back a bit, making sure they really make the most out of the last 10 scholarships or so, allowing for the possibility they may have a big season that puts them in contention for kids they might not be in the mix for right now.

I think it's with that in mind that USF hasn't worried too much about current commitments saying they want to visit elsewhere -- there's some confidence that the best commits might still be ahead for this class. Commitments should pick up again in December and January ...

Q: What, if any, contingency plans are in place in the event a hurricane forces a game to be cancelled? If USF was not able to reschedule the game, what implications might that have on national title game implications if USF goes 11-0? -- bully pulpit

GA: Bully, good question about the schedule and contingencies if a hurricane were to delay a scheduled game, as it did on my first two years on the beat. USF has its three bye weeks all in the second half of the season, so it has a couple windows where a game could be rescheduled. In past years, the final week of the season was open for such a contingency, but this year, USF has West Virginia that week. I think you'd see an effort made to move a game to one of the first two bye weeks if a game were postponed by a hurricane.

Q: Do you see Delbert keeping the starting job through the entire season? -- BullsI

GA: BullsI, how did we go 45 minutes without a Delbert question? Will he keep both jobs the whole year? The one thing I can say is that Delbert was held out of the preseason for more than a week with a groin issue, so there's naturally some concern that if you use him on both punts and kicks, there's more of a chance of aggravating an injury and losing him from both jobs. Leavitt's praised his punting work from last season more than his kicking, and there's a viable option in freshman Maikon Bonani, who has a strong leg but obviously has never kicked at this level. Senior Justin Teachey, who will handle kickoffs, could do either job, as he was the rugby-style punter (and occasionally, fake punter) in 2006.

So what I would say about Alvarado is that his healthy is probably a more pressing concern than his kicking accuracy entering the season. Leavitt is a fiercely loyal coach, as fans learned in the Auburn game last year, so it could go either way and wouldn't surprise me.

Q: Which game, other than the final one, do you consider to be a pivotal game for the season?

GA: Lots of questions all the sudden. JohnBull asks what the most pivotal games are beyond the West Virginia finale.First, in a big way, is Kansas, which will establish one of two teams as a top-15 team and push the other to the fringe of the rankings. It's home, and USF gets to throw George Selvie against two rookie tackles, two things that work in USF's favor. The Pitt game, as a Thursday opener to conference play, again will establish one team as the top challenger to West Virginia. Pitt doesn't play much of anybody before then, so they could be 4-0 but won't have shown too much.Lastly, I'll point to back-to-back road games at Louisville and Cincinnati in a five-day span in October. It's their only road games in a span of nine weeks, but it's two places where they've played poorly, so they're still big hurdles to clear ...

Q: Greg, has Matt Grothe improved as a passer this offseason?

GA: Lurker asks if Matt Grothe has improved as a passer, which is a huge question toward USF's success this season. Grothe's talked a lot about trying to limit his turnovers -- he's already USF's career interceptions leader with two seasons to play. Coaches are careful, however, not to rein him in too much, because his biggest plays come when he's scrambled and kept plays going long after most QBs would be done. Greg Gregory wants him to make good decisions, to be OK throwing the ball out of bounds, to be content punting and trusting his defense rather than trying to make a play that could go the other way. Grothe's 20 pounds lighter -- 199 he said Tuesday -- so he'll be quicker as a runner, and that role will certainly continue to be a big part of his job.I'd say if Grothe can get himself down to like 8 to 10 interceptions while still passing for 15-18 touchdowns, staying a threat as a runner, he'll be much improved this fall ...

Q: thanks greg for not answering my ques about how many tickets have been sold for the kansas game.... or u could have just replied i don't know

GA: Easy, Kansas ticket guy. USF hasn't said how many tickets have been sold for that game yet. As long as USF is 2-0 and building momentum, I'd expect a huge crowd, potentially a sellout if the buildup is there. I'd think that and Pittsburgh are most likely to sell out of the home games this season ...

Q: Do you think we will see Quavon Taylor back at practice on monday?

GA: Now, the chat encore ... BullsI asks about Quavon Taylor, the freshman linebacker who missed some meetings and the practice Monday night and got suspended by Leavitt for a week. I expect him to be back Monday. We're not allowed to talk to the newcomers until they've played a game, so that probably means all season for Taylor. I'm a little more familiar with his situation than we've elaborated on in the paper, so I'll just say what Leavitt has said, that he's a good kid who's going through a big transition and is just trying to figure out his way around. I expect him back Monday and think he's probably a guy who helps the Bulls on special teams in 2009 ...

Q: Can the Bulls win a National Championship in 2008?

GA: Andrew asks the big question, as to whether USF can win a national championship in 2008. Is it possible? Absolutely. Last year showed that USF can move up in the polls as high as they need to be to play in such a game, and the Kansas game is the kind of thing that could help USF if the Big East isn't perceived as being a strong conference nationally. USF will likely be favored in the first 11 games, all the way to Morgantown on Dec. 6. There's a ton of football to be played between now and then -- can USF win on the road at Louisville and Cincinnati in cooler temperatures? Can they beat Rutgers, as they've been unable to do in recent years? Can they avoid the Army-type loss, that game the Bulls shouldn't have lost but just didn't win when they needed to? The opportunity is certainly there, but it's still a lot, even for an experienced, talented team like USF has.

Q: To elaborate on Ari's question: Do you think it would be possible for the BEast to wiggle up the SEC later in the Papajohns.com bowl? I mean wouldn't it be more prestigious to play the Big East 4th over what the SEC 6, 7, or 8 plays?

GA: BullMartin asks about the Big East and its bowl situation -- remember that the current bowl cycle was negotiated when the Big East wasn't in a position of power, having lost three teams to the ACC but not yet enjoying the resurgence of the last two seasons. I think you'll see bigger, better bowls for the Big East in the next bowl cycle -- I don't know if Birmingham will be part of that lineup or not. No telling what new games could pick up Big East affiliations ...

Q: Now that he has to live up to expectations made of his own success. What would the local media do if Leavitt wins 6 or 7 games? While I respect (and rely) on the 4th estate, I think Leavitt's 45 second pressers with the local media are not forgotten by the local scribes. Which begs this question, what is your opinion of Leavitt compared to other coaches?

GA: Bri ... I think 6-7 wins would be a disappointment with this team, but one underachieving seasons really wouldn't have anyone asking for somebody's jobs. There's still some resentment of Leavitt from 45-second pressers and restrictions and access and such, but he's been well-behaved so far this season, downright chatty at times. Again, that could change with a single story, or a loss, or just the natural buildup of stress from football season beginning. I've only dealt extensively with a handful of college football coaches, but I have no problem with Leavitt right now. You start to get used to his quirks, take him within a certain context, and it's just part of the job. He's not always forthright with answers, but lots of coaches are that way. If I'm doing a player feature, I don't go to Leavitt expecting candor or personal insights or anything like that. But I can talk to assistants, and they fill in the gaps pretty well.

Again, this could all change by this afternoon's practice ...

Q: I thought if you were a schollie athlete in track that playing for the football team automatically made you a football schollie guy. Am I wrong? -- DELdaBULL

GA: DeldaBull, if you are playing football at all, you cannot be on scholarship for another sport. They call it the Bear Bryant rule, designed so coaches don't put 40 guys on track scholarships and just happen to have them stop by the football field every Saturday or 12. If you're asking about Hanks, he was a walk-on in track as well -- had the school record in the 400 meters at one point, if I remember right.

Q: Will CJL be at Moe's in New Tampa tonight, or when will that be?

GA: Leavitt's weekly radio show will be at Moe's this season, starting tonight. USF's official site will have a live blog going from Moe's, giving Leavitt questions from online

Q: Your prediction for the TN-Martin game? -- BullsI

GA: Prediction for Tennessee-Martin? I think USF wins real easily. UTM's offensive line is tiny by I-A standards -- some 240-pound guys on there -- so I think USF could pile up a ton of sacks. USF has struggled early in recent openers like McNeese and Elon, but I think this is a game where the Bulls will not have to show much of anything on either side of the ball -- no new wrinkles for a week or two. I think you could see starters resting in the fourth quarter if not the second half. It really should be a tuneup ...

GA: Guys, thanks much for all the good questions. We should be able to do more of these during the season, and as always, if you have a question that isn't answered on th blog, shoot me an e-mail at auman@sptimes.com and I'll do my best to answer it.

Lots more to come on the blog before Saturday's game, and we'll be blogging live from RayJay on Saturday night, so if you're not there yourself, keep a browser open near the TV and follow along ...

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 12:45pm]

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