TAMPA — As USF football seeks an elusive Big East championship in 2010, two things missing from this past season should help the Bulls in their pursuit: a huge senior class, and an advantageous league schedule.
The Bulls haven't finished better than 4-3 in their first five years in the Big East, but the senior class — which could be as big as 27 players — is a source of optimism for coach Jim Leavitt.
That starts on offense, including top WRs Carlton Mitchell, Dontavia Bogan and A.J. Love, RB Mike Ford and OL Sampson Genus, Zach Hermann and Jake Sims.
Take the offensive line, which opened the season with a combined 29 career starts. This coming year, with everyone back, that number will be 93 career starts, with former Florida State starter Daron Rose joining the group.
One concern is finding backup quarterbacks behind starter B.J. Daniels since this year's top backup, Evan Landi, looks to be moving full-time to receiver. The Bulls have a commitment from Bradenton's Brion Carnes and expect to sign a second quarterback next month, but that means a pair of freshmen would be the main options should anything happen to Daniels.
On defense, the Bulls lose a group that should include four or five NFL draft picks, but a young nucleus will be built around LB Sam Barrington and CB Kayvon Webster, who will step in to replace key seniors Kion Wilson and Jerome Murphy.
Leavitt is as excited about the Bulls who redshirted as freshmen this fall, a class highlighted by DLs Julius Forte of Boca Ciega and Ryne Giddins of Armwood.
The conference's unbalanced schedule swings back in USF's favor next fall, with four home games and just three on the road. Cincinnati and West Virginia won't be easy, and Louisville gets even tougher with Charlie Strong breathing new life into the program.
Seeing how Miami dominated the Bulls in November in Tampa, USF will have its hands full visiting the Hurricanes this fall, and there's a long-awaited September trip to Gainesville. The Gators might be vulnerable in the first month with a new starting quarterback and key defensive losses from the NFL draft.
FIRST STEP: S Nate Allen, another potential high draft pick, has signed with agent Todd France, whose NFL portfolio includes Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown, Eagles RB Brian Westbrook, 49ers TE Vernon Davis and Ravens RB Ray Rice.
THIS AND THAT: Leavitt said that sophomore walk-on long snapper Mike Walsh, a Plant graduate who just finished his first season as starter, is now on scholarship for the Bulls. … USF is hoping to build up a big crowd for its home men's basketball game Jan. 13 against West Virginia, selling tickets for as little as $1 in the past week. … Leavitt said he expects to talk Thursday with junior DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who is considering skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft. Leavitt won't say what the NFL's advisory board for underclassmen has told Pierre-Paul about where he might be drafted, but he said he'll support his decision whether he decides to come back or not.
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.