Position breakdown: Quarterbacks
Quarterback is home to USF's most recognizable player, sophomore Matt Grothe, but is also one of the thinnest positions on roster. Coach Jim Leavitt has made it clear two true freshmen will redshirt, leaving two veteran backups who have been in USF's system for years but haven't thrown a college pass.
Before we get to the current group, I want to jump back to December 2005, when the Bulls projected to have SEVEN quarterbacks on scholarship for the 2006 season. Then USF encouraged junior college standout Jimmy Oliver to sign elsewhere -- he threw for 1,906 yards last season at Jackson State. Another commitment, Miami Washington's Alwan Lee, failed to qualify, then Carlton Hill left, came back and ran into academic issues.
So here you have the current three. Jim Leavitt has had high praise for his depth, saying he's as comfortable with the position as he's been in a long time. That speaks to his comfort level with both Grothe's progress and the backups' improvements.
THE STARTER: Grothe, as you all know, was last year's Big East Rookie of the Year, leading the Bulls with 2,576 passing yards and a team-best 622 rushing yards. Grothe could see both of those numbers drop off this season and it could mean a better season from him, as long as he can cut back on the 14 interceptions he threw last season. He accounted for 24 touchdowns last year, throwing for 15 and rushing for nine; that number could easily drop slightly and it'd only be an indication of USF's improved running game. Grothe has put on about 10 pounds since the end of last season, has overcome a hip injury that sidelined him for a week in preseason and now can play with even more confidence with a year as a starter under his belt. He could exceed his expectations and still only be recognized as the Big East's third-best quarterback, but that says more about Brian Brohm and Pat White being stars leading top-10 teams. Remember, the kid's only a sophomore.
THE TOP BACKUP: I get regular e-mails that ask how Grant Gregory can go from getting a try at safety in spring 2006 to being USF's top backup. It's a case of USF wanting to get his athleticism on the field then, and wanting to have that athleticism and smarts at a key position now. Gregory is basically where Grothe was a year ago -- very little experience but enough promise that he's a strong No. 2. Again, a lot of e-mails point to his father, Greg, being promoted to offensive coordinator; Gregory would be USF's top backup if his dad coached the tight ends, or coached at Ohio. Today's Elon game should afford fans the first chance to see him healthy and leading this offense, and coaches consistently point to him being a smart passer with a legitimate running threat when he decides to take off. The main concern is shaking off three years of rust, but Elon should give him a chance to address that.
THE NEXT IN LINE: Senior Anthony Severino wasn't supposed to still be on the team this fall. When the walk-on was put on scholarship last year, the plan was for him to graduate and move on to law school. He's shown himself to be too valuable, first as the team's holder on special teams and as a quarterback who's in his fifth season at USF, spanning three coordinators. Leavitt said this fall that he had a new trust in Severino, that he was capable not only of closing out games, but of starting them if necessary. And Greg Gregory said he has always had an allegiance to his seniors, so if today's game is as lopsided as I expect, don't be surprised at all if Greg Gregory gives way to Severino in the final quarter.
THE REDSHIRTS: Gulf's Alton Voss was one of USF's more respected signees, and Leavitt has made it clear he won't play this year. His comments look like a harsh knock on Voss, but there's not a position that requires more learning and more lends itself to redshirting the first year on campus. Despite moving Louis Gachette and Nate Allen to defensive back in their first year on campus, Leavitt has said the plan is to keep Voss at quarterback, where he'll have scout-team duties this fall. This week, he's worn No. 16 to simulate Elon true freshman Scott Riddle for the Bulls defense. The other true freshman is walk-on Matt Piloto (pill-LOT-to) of Englewood Lemon Bay, who has great size at 6-foot-5 but probably lacks the mobility USF is used to having at the position. It's a position USF will continue to recruit heavily, knowing a signee who redshirts would be a freshman during Grothe's senior year.