As the Bulls prepare to play Notre Dame, they'll be facing many obstacles, including going against the Irish defense.
Besides the traditions and mystique of Notre Dame a big task for the Bulls and USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch to move the offense against the touted Irish defense.
After a month of training camp and preseason practice, Coach Fitch can see the difference in the team's attitude heading into the season opener
"Our whole camp has been very productive, but now that we're in game week you can see the focus of the team," said Fitch. "The focus on meetings, the attention to detail is back, and there's an excitement of playing this game with our players."
After watching the offense go against the Bulls defense Fitch is ready to see what they can do in live action
"What it gets to as a coach, I want to go see them play," Fitch said. "We've been doing this for 20-some-odd practices now, it's like Christmas. It's time to open the presents. There's going to be good, there's going to be bad, but it's time we find out exactly where we're at, at all positions, and where our strengths really lie."
Fitch will face a Notre Dame defense that returns several key players including Irish leading tackler inside linebacker Manti Te'o, sack leader outside linebacker Darius Fleming and safety Harrison Smith, who led Notre Dame with seven interceptions.
"I think they're physical, and I think they have a really good player at all three levels. Fleming, the defensive end, Te'o is as good as a inside linebacker as there is in America and Harrison is very opportunistic," said Fitch. "When you have what they probably feel are three All-American candidates' at all three levels of the defense surrounded by other really good football players, you're going to have to earn what you get."
Big scoring plays are something offensive coordinators love to see, but against the Irish they could be tough to come by.
"If you watch the big play tape from last year, there's not a ton of them out there," said Fitch. "They don't allow a lot of cheap plays, so you're going to have to bring your lunch because it's going to be an all day affair.
Notre Dame's defense came on at the end of the 2010 season, allowing only 39 points in the last four games and Fitch believes they'll pick up where they left off..
"When they turned on at the end of the season, their defense really was the catalyst for them," Fitch said. "The last four or five games of the year, it was the best defense they've had since 1993, statistically. They just really gelled. I expect them to pick off where they left off."
Playing at an historic venue with a tradition rich program like Notre Dame could be daunting, but Fitch Believes the Bulls are dialed in an up to the task.
"It's a big deal, but this program has played in similar situations," said Fitch. "They went to Gainesville and the year before went to Tallahassee, so the guys that are in our program have played in some really tough spots but with all the hype they can sense that this is different, so I think Coach Holtz has done a good job with them to keep them focused."
The Bulls are no strangers to playing in big road games and have come away with big victories over the years, including beating Miami and Clemson last season. Fitch believes those experiences will help when they face the Irish.
"Historically this team has done that very well and in my brief history here, our guys have played hard, and played in every game last year hard," said Fitch. "They haven't always done what we'd like efficiency wise, but I didn't walk off the field one time and thought we didn't give it our all. These players love to play the game of football, and I don't expect to see anything different."
With all the hype concerning the Irish player's talent level, Fitch thinks that actually helps the team as they head north.
"They've had great players historically," said Fitch. "But I think our kids watch the tape and they believe I'm as good as him, so I think they're excited about proving their talent level versus Notre Dame's."
The Bulls are underdogs heading into the game, but Fitch has several reasons why he's confident in the Bulls ability to perform well.
"I think it obviously starts with the quarterback play, because you're only as good as your quarterback and your line, So we have experience back at quarterback, so that gives you hope that's there's going to be growth at that position," said Fitch. "Offensive line was a bit of a question mark, but the first five have really jelled well and we believe they're going to be a pretty good unit. I think we have more athleticism than last year and we have more playmakers on the outside and at running back Darrell Scott brings big play potential. So our overall speed, playmaking, and maturity level is vastly improved."
Coming away with a victory Saturday would be huge, but it's not what will define the Bulls season.
"It's a big game and it will be great to win it, but then you're just 1-0, and if you come back and lose the next week, than its all for naught, if we don't win the Big East, it's for naught, and that's the point we have to stress."The Bulls face the Irish at 3:00 pm this Saturday to kick off the season