Notes: Bulls send off smaller senior class Thursday
TAMPA -- USF will honor 17 football seniors Thursday before their final home game against West Virginia, but the small number of graduating players in key positions for the Bulls is an encouraging sign as fans look ahead to 2012.
The senior class has just two every-week starters on offense -- center Chaz Hine and guard Jeremiah Warren -- and only four on defense, in defensive tackle Keith McCaskill, defensive end Patrick Hampton, safety Jerrell Young and cornerback Quenton Washington. That's half as many as last year's Bulls, who lost 12 regular starters to graduation, meaning much fewer holes to fill in Skip Holtz's third season in Tampa.
"It's a very small class -- when you look at the guys who are playing, you don't have the 12 and 13 seniors that you do in most of your better football teams that have a lot of upperclassmen," Holtz said Monday. "You don't have that with this group, but it's a great group of young men."
There are other seniors in key roles -- Mike Walsh is a three-year starter at long-snapper, Claude Davis is second on the team with seven sacks in a third-down pass-rusher role, and receiver A.J. Love has played well when not limited by injuries. But there are established backups in line to step in at arguably all but one opening left by graduation -- Warren's spot on the offensive line will go to a player with little or no college experience.
The unusually large number of returning players makes it all the more valuable if USF can pull off a win Thursday night -- not so much for the bowl that would come with it, but the 15 practices the NCAA allows a bowl team to have, essentially an early spring in preparation for next year.
THIS AND THAT: With the Sun Dome under renovation all season, USF has been able to minimize its costs in hosting basketball games off campus -- one game at the Lakeland Center cost the Bulls about $12,000, and University of Tampa athletic director Larry Marfise said the good relationship between the two schools has the Spartans essentially charging the Bulls enough to cover their expenses in hosting games at the Martinez Center. ... With time off for exams next week, USF won't have home basketball games for some time -- the men don't play in town again until Dec. 11 against Florida A&M at UT and USF's women have their next home game Dec. 17 against Maryland-Eastern Shore. ... USF is part of a strong NCAA showing for the Big East. With Louisville and Connecticut, the league has three teams in the men's Elite Eight -- no other league has more than one team remaining. The seventh-seeded Bulls play at second-seeded Creighton on Saturday afternoon, with the confidence that comes with an unbeaten road record this season.