In three months, redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels has become entrenched enough as USF's starting quarterback that it's easy to forget that Saturday will be his first bowl experience.
Last year, Daniels didn't participate in the St. Petersburg Bowl or any practices leading up to it, leaving the football team after the regular season finale at West Virginia to begin his time as a walk-on guard for USF's basketball team.
"I'm just taking it all in," Daniels said Monday before the Bulls flew to Toronto to face Northern Illinois in the International Bowl.
"This is all new to me. It's exciting to play in my first bowl. All the guys are really showing me the ropes."
When the Bulls and Huskies kick off, it will be four weeks since USF last played — a last-second loss at Connecticut. Daniels scored a go-ahead touchdown with 40 seconds left — his third rushing score of the night — but Connecticut hit a field goal as time expired.
The month between games has allowed Daniels to evaluate his first season as starter, one in which he threw for 1,766 yards and rushed for a team-high 798 — within reach of Matt Grothe's team quarterback rushing record of 872, set in 2007. Much like Grothe, Daniels' success has gone hand-in-hand with limiting turnovers — in seven wins, he has thrown for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions; in five losses, he has two touchdowns and seven picks.
"I've had more time to focus on what I've done this season and try to get better," Daniels said. "It was okay. We still have this last bowl game. To come out with a win in this one, I could say my season was all right."
Northern Illinois' defense has only eight interceptions (of 68 bowl teams, only four have fewer). But NIU forced six turnovers in its two games against BCS opponents, a 28-20 loss at Wisconsin and a 28-21 win at Purdue. Turnover margin is one statistic where the Huskies have a significant advantage on USF.
Fans can't be sure which Bulls team will show up Saturday, the one that opened the season 5-0 with a win at Florida State, or the one that lost five of its last seven.
Daniels still plans on joining the basketball team after Saturday's game, though he's not likely to play a significant role.
"I don't know when I'll be on the court," he said. "I know I'll be out working with them right after the bowl game."
For now, there's football, and with very few seniors on offense — tight end Ben Busbee and receiver Jessie Hester are the best players not expected back next season — Daniels sees Saturday's game as a sneak preview of 2010 as much as an end to this season.
"It'd be fun for guys to step up in our last game and show what we have to look forward to next year," he said.
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.