Position breakdown: Quarterback
Last year, we led up to the season opener by breaking down USF's roster one position and one day at a time -- you can find all the links for nostalgia here. It's fun to look back and see how far a player can come in one year - Brouce Mompremier entered last season with a career high of five tackles; now he's indispensable as the starting weakside linebacker. We'll start this year's position breakdowns with the area probably least up for grabs: quarterback, where junior Matt Grothe enters his third year as starter, a dual threat to pass and run and largely the identity of USF's offense in the last two seasons.
THE STARTER: Grothe's ability to make highlight-reel plays is part of the allure of USF -- he has led the Bulls in rushing in each of the last two seasons, showing himself to be durable as he is elusive. Barring a change in strategy, he'll move up to No. 2 on the Big East's career rushing yardage list for quarterbacks. He's already fourth after just two seasons with 1,494 yards, and he should pass Syracuse' Donovan McNabb (1,561) in the first few games. He'll need 547 yards to pass West Virginia's Rasheed Marshall (2,040) and won't catch West Virginia's Pat White, who enters the season with 3,506 yards. (White has the three best rushing seasons by QBs in Big East history; Grothe has the fifth and eighth-best).
USF insists Grothe will continue to get plenty of called running plays, despite the depth and talent at running back. The talk this fall is in trying to limit his turnovers -- he already has USF's career record with 28 interceptions, just one fewer than his 29 career touchdown passes. Grothe said that passes that worked for him as a freshman didn't work last season, as defenses were more aware of him and more likely to stay on routes long after plays should have ended. His improvement will start with better decision-making, with being content to throw a ball out of bounds and not trying for big plays when they're not there. USF's speed and experience at receiver should allow for more downfield passing, and it'd be surprising if his completion percentage wasn't up from 59.2 percent last season.
NEXT IN LINE: Freshman B.J. Daniels arrived on campus with high expectations, a celebrated recruit from Tallahassee seen as a potential successor to Grothe in 2010. His athletic talents are already obvious, so the priority, as with most freshmen, is on learning USF's offense and getting comfortable with all aspects of running the team. The big question is whether USF can afford to redshirt him -- assuming Grothe and senior Grant Gregory stay healthy, there's little need for a third quarterback, other than having him prepared in the event of unexpected injuries. Redshirting him would give him three years of separation from Grothe, but playing this year would give him valuable experience to help him challenge Grothe in 2009. Fellow freshman Evan Landi, a left-hander who is athletic enough to be considered as a safety, has drawn high praise from Jim Leavitt this fall.
THE REST: Gregory, the son of offensive coordinator Greg Gregory, has shown himself to be tough and elusive in his brief stints of game action. He threw just 30 passes last season but passed for 280 yards and four touchdowns, including a 75-yard score to Carlton Mitchell in USF's 64-12 win against Central Florida. He was held out of the second half of the 2006 season because of injuries and USF will petition for a sixth year for him after this season, but it's unknown whether such a waiver will be, er, granted. Gregory will also handle holding duties on kicks this fall, and expect him to see game action if USF's early games get lopsided, just to have a second quarterback familiar with the offensive cast this season. A fifth quarterback, true freshman Tyler Stowell of St. Petersburg's Northside Christian, is expected to join the team as a walk-on when school begins next week. Stowell was one of the state's best hurdlers in high school, so he's a capable runner, but it's hard to tell if he'll stick around or move on, as walk-on Matt Piloto did last fall.
Up next: A deep and talented group of running backs vying for carries.