Bulls open season in legendary South Bend

The Bulls are getting ready to open the season against tradition rich Notre Dame, and without a doubt, this is the biggest opener in USF's relatively young history. The Irish enter the game ranked 16th in the country in the AP poll, while the Bulls are unranked. TSX takes a look at the USF-Notre Dame Match-up. From strengths to weaknesses and player reports, to keys for victory.

South Florida has wins over Florida State and Miami in each of the last two years, and there's no doubt those were landmark accomplishments for the program.

But a victory over Notre Dame, their opening foe for 2011, would be an extra special moment for the Bulls.

The Bulls didn't start playing football until 1997 and didn't move to the FBS level until 1999. Notre Dame is one of college football's iconic programs.

Just playing in the legendary home of the Irish in South Bend has caught the Bulls' attention.

"It's giving me chills in my stomach just thinking about it," junior linebacker Sam Barrington said.

The Bulls are underdogs to the Irish and go into the game unranked. The Irish are No. 16 in the preseason AP poll and 18 in USA Today's coaches' poll.

But Barrington is looking at the Irish like they are at the top of the polls.

"For that first game, you're always going to prepare like it's the No. 1 team in the country," he said. "You have to because you don't know what you've been doing in the offseason compared to another program."

The game has an even more special meaning for USF coach Skip Holtz. He played as a walk-on and coached as an assistant there under his dad, Lou Holtz.

"It'll be an emotional day," Skip told the St. Petersburg Times, "but I have to make sure we maintain our focus. It's a bigger day for South Florida than it is for Skip Holtz."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The trip to Notre Dame marks the end of a run from 2006 to 2010 that saw the Bulls opening against FCS opponents. The last time the Bulls, who beat up on McNeese State, Elon, UT-Martin, Wofford, and Stony Brook over that span, opened against an FBS opponent was in 2005 against Penn State. The Nittany Lions won 23-13. Next year the Bulls are scheduled to open against UT-Chattanooga.

--Quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas says he has seen marked improvement in the play of QB B.J. Daniels in the preseason. "I think B.J. has elevated his play quite a bit," he told the Tampa Tribune.

--After opening on the road at Notre Dame, the Bulls will have three consecutive home games, all against non-conference foes. They are host to Ball State on Sept. 10, Florida A&M on Sept. 17, and UTEP on Sept. 24 before opening Big East play at Pittsburgh in a Thursday night affair on Sept. 29.

SERIES HISTORY: This is the first meeting between USF and Notre Dame.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Daniels is the guy who makes the offense go, but he should have more help in the running game with the addition of transfer RB Darrell Scott to go with veteran Demetrius Murray. The key is going to be at wide receiver, where two players returning from injury, Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love, could make a big difference.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Veterans DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington make linebacker the strongest unit on the defense, but there is experience in the secondary, too, with FS Jerrell Young (three interceptions), CB Quenton Washingon (one pick, 65 tackles), SS Jon Lejiste (four sacks), and CB Kayvon Webster (29 tackles) return. DEs Ryne Giddens and Patrick Hampton are good pass rushers, but can the guys up front stop the run?

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Somebody said you're picking an upset. I said, 'That's not an upset. Upset is what his mother would be if I picked against her son.' There is no way in this world I would ever cheer against my son. Make no mistake, I want the world to know I am for the South Florida Bulls." -- Former coach Lou Holtz, on picking USF to beat the Irish, predicting against his former team, Notre Dame, for the first time as a TV analyst.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: USF at Notre Dame, Sept. 3 -- Without a doubt, this is the biggest opener in USF's relatively young history (14 seasons), surpassing even the trip to Penn State to start the 2005 season and the journey to Birmingham to play Alabama in 2003. The Irish enter the game ranked 16th in the country in the AP poll. The Bulls are unranked.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Get a big effort out of QB B.J. Daniels. The Bulls don't have to play mistake-free -- few teams ever do that -- but they need to avoid the big turnover that plagued them last year. Depth is going to be an issue, particularly on defense, for the Bulls.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB B.J. Daniels -- Daniels topped off an inconsistent 2010 season with an outstanding performance in the bowl win over Clemson, and the hope is that kind of play will carry over into his junior year. He may go back to running a bit more than he did last year, but the big thing will be improving his completion percentage and avoiding interceptions.

LB DeDe Lattimore -- Lattimore came up big in the spring of 2010, earning a spot with the first unit defense as a redshirt freshman. He has done nothing but strengthen his grip on his position since then as he heads into his sophomore season.

RB Darrell Scott -- The transfer from Colorado is a backup for junior Demetrius Murray, who came out of the spring No. 1, but Scott could play a much bigger role than that. He is looking to make up for lost time after two disappointing years with the Buffs.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Sophomore WR Stephen Bravo-Brown, a walk-on, has been put on a scholarship, coach Skip Holtz announced a week before the season opener. As a true freshman last year, Bravo-Brown played a key role when veterans A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin were out with injuries. Bravo-Brown had 11 catches for 104 yards in 13 games, two of them starts.

--QB B.J. Daniels was slowed by a hamstring injury early in fall camp but is expected to be ready for the opener.

--RB Dontae Aycock was among those who were being counted on to provide depth who have left the team. Aycock sat out last year after transferring from Auburn and went into spring competing with Scott for time. Other significant departees were WR Faron Hornes (11 catches, 135 yards and a touchdown in 2010) and DE Brandon Wilkinson.


Bulls Daily Top Stories