TAMPA — USF will honor 17 football seniors Thursday before the final home game, against West Virginia, and the small number of graduating players in key positions is an encouraging sign for fans looking to 2012.
The class has two every-week starters on offense — C Chaz Hine and G Jeremiah Warren — and four on defense: T Keith McCaskill, E Patrick Hampton, S Jerrell Young and CB Quenton Washington. That's half as many starters leaving as last year, meaning coach Skip Holtz will have fewer holes to fill for his third season in Tampa.
"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."
Other seniors are 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 WR A.J. Love has played well when not limited by injuries. But established backups are in line to step in at arguably all but one opening that will be left by graduation: Warren's spot will go to a player with little or no college experience.
The unusually large number of returning players makes a win more important Thursday, not so much for the bowl-eligibility that would come with it but for the 15 practices the NCAA allows bowl teams, giving them essentially an early spring in preparation for next year.
NOT SURPRISED: Holtz and Urban Meyer have been good friends since Meyer joined Lou Holtz's staff at Notre Dame 15 years ago, and the Bulls coach said he wasn't surprised to see Meyer back at Ohio State after a year away from the sideline.
"It's in his blood. It's what he loves to do," Holtz said. "I know his passion is coaching. The biggest reason he got out of it was from a health standpoint, to get his feet on the ground."
THIS AND THAT: With the Sun Dome being renovated all basketball season, USF has minimized its costs in hosting 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 schools has the Spartans essentially charging 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 the women have their next home game Dec. 17 against Maryland-Eastern Shore. … The men's soccer team is part of a strong NCAA showing for the Big East. With USF, Louisville and Connecticut, the league has three teams in the Elite Eight. No other league has more than one. The seventh-seeded Bulls (13-3-4), unbeaten on the road, play at No. 2 seed Creighton (20-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday.