2010 Schedule will be Skip Holtz's Big Test

With NSD now past, USF Head Coach Skip Holtz next big test will be on the field, and he'll have to do it with a 2010 schedule that features seven teams that went to bowl games, including two OCC games on the road against Florida and Miami in 2009. While the Bulls 2010 schedule appears tough, it's also features seven home games, and an opportunity to make a statement.

USF already knew who the opponents they were facing, and with the 2010 schedule released on Wednesday, Bulls new Head Coach Skip Holtz now knows the where and when his first season will take place. Holtz has his work cut out for him, but he isn't taking over a train wreck of a program. In fact the USF football program hasn't had a losing season since 2004, and has gone to five straight bowl games, with some huge key victories and two top ten rankings including a No. 2 ranking in 2007 over that span.

As much success as the USF program has had in their 13 years they're not without their share of bumps and bruises. In 2007 USF became the first team in the modern era of the BCS to go from the #2 ranking to completely falling from the polls in the same season. The 2008 season was the first in which the team had ever been ranked in the preseason rankings, climbed to No. 10, to falling out of the polls by season end. The Bulls overall record is an impressive 94-57, but their Big East record has been another story. In five years of BIG EAST play under former coach Jim Leavitt, the Bulls posted a 26-25 record and never finished higher than third in the conference.

Next season, new coach Skip Holtz will take a crack at ending South Florida's mid season swoons and BIG EAST woes against a schedule that features seven teams who went bowling in 2009, with tough out of conference match-ups at Florida and at Miami. While the Bulls' 2010 schedule appears tough, it's also workable with seven home games.

Since arriving at USF, Holtz has rekindled fan enthusiasm with his outgoing personality and promise of and doing what it takes to get the Bulls to the next level. Not to mention bringing in some key new additions to the coaching staff and saving the 2010 recruiting classes with some big gets in the final week. His first few weeks has been very promising, but it remains unseen what impact Holtz will have on the field. From what we've seen so far, I expect it will be significant and very positive.

USF opens spring practice March 16 and Holtz will begin installing his new offensive and defensive systems. USF has plenty of returning talent-level and had a huge amount of young players ready to make their mark as Bulls.

Holtz will most likely rely next season on several key returning players including on offense QB B.J. Daniels, receivers A.J. Love, Dontavia Bogan, and Sterling Griffin, running backs Mike Ford, Jamar Taylor, and a full returning o-line. On defense he'll count on veterans like Sabbath Joseph, Terrell McClain, Craig Marshall, David Bedford, Jaquian Williams, Jerrell Young, and first year players like Sam Barrington and Kavon Webster to lead the rest of the young Bulls on the field.

The Bulls head coach will also look to several members of his first recruiting class to help at defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, running back, and possibly quarterback. Players like Claude Davis, Curtis Weatherspoon, Mike Hayes, Terrence Mitchell, and Todd Chandler could be key players this upcoming season.

South Florida will open the 2010 campaign with four straight non-conference games. Three of those games are at home and one is a brutal match-up at Florida in week two. The Bulls should enter conference play with a 3-1 record, as Stony Brook, Western Kentucky and FAU are very winnable. Not that the Bulls can't compete against the Gators, but a trip to the swamp in week two appears to be a very difficult challenge for a young team with a new coach.

Here's the good news for South Florida, once Big East play begins with Syracuse, they'll play four of seven conference games at home, including Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and UConn. The bad news is that Bulls face Cincinnati and West Virginia on the road. The Bulls have just a 25-16 overall conference record, and haven't had much success in the Big East the last two years, going just 5-9 in Leavitt's last two seasons.

Holtz gets a fairly easy opener at home against Syracuse, a team the Bulls are perfect against, but will get a good gauge of where his program stacks up in the three Big East games that follow. They go on the road Oct. 14 at West Virginia, a team they've had success against going 3-2, including a 30-19 win at home last year. The Bulls then travel to two-time defending league champion Cincinnati, a team they lost four straight to. The Bearcats soundly defeated the Bulls last season, but Cincinnati will also be breaking in a new coach after Butch Jones replaced Brian Kelly, who is now at Notre Dame. This game could provide a glimpse about the direction these two programs are headed under new coaches.

After a bye week, the Bulls return home for a rare Wednesday night game to face a Rutgers team that has been a thorn in the Bulls BIG EAST title hopes over the last few years. The Scarlet Knights have won the last four match-ups and derailed the Bulls in 2007, 2008, and embarrassed USF in a 31-0 shut-out last season. The Bulls then have 10 days before a road game against Louisville, a team that the Bulls are 3-2 against since joining the Big East, but also has a new coach that has reenergized the Cardinals.

The Bulls final three games will be big a test for Coach Holtz as they host a Pitt team who's on field play has finally caught up to their recruiting efforts. The Panthers 26-21 loss derailed title hopes in 2007, and the 2009 41-14 was loss was a debacle. Then a road game at Miami is going to be one of the tougher tests of the season. They close out with UCONN, who's also been a difficult team for the Bulls, with the Huskies holding a 3-2 edge since joining the conference, but having this one at home to close the season give Holtz and the Bulls a nice advantage.

If Holtz hopes to change the Bulls fortune in the BIG EAST in his first season, he's going to have to figure out a way to beat teams like Cincinnati, Rutgers and Pittsburgh. USF played these teams tough under Jim Leavitt early on, but could never find a way to beat them the last few years. That was a problem for Leavitt, who steadily lost ground against the Big East's top football programs. They did well against a top ranked Mountaineer team, but lost games to UConn that they should have won.

Finding wins against that foursome next season won't be easy with West Virginia and Cincy on the road, but they do get Rutgers, Pitt, and UCONN at home. If USF can win their home games against those three, than they'd probably only have to secure one win against West Virginia or Cincinnati on the road to have a good track to the elusive BIG EAST Crown.

The OCC games against Florida and Miami won't affect the Conference race, but its good gauge of where the Bulls sit at the table with the States big three. They just need to have to be competitive, but a win on-the field will help immensely in closing the gap to get the state's top recruits.

If you're trying to find wins on the schedule, the most winnable games on paper are Stony Brook, Western Kentucky, FAU, Syracuse, Louisville, and Connecticut. If the Bulls can secure wins in those six games, home games against PITT and Rutgers, and road contests against Cincinnati, and West Virginia will determine the Bulls fate.

Clearly, Holtz has a tough task on his hands. He's already playing catch-up against in-state teams UF and UM, but also with most of the Big East as well. The Bulls 2010 schedule presents challenges, but also an opportunity for Holtz and the Bulls to win enough games to get to another bowl game for the sixth time, and make a run in the BIG EAST.

That would be a major accomplishment in Coach Skip Holtz first season.

2010 Schedule
Saturday Sept. 4 Stony Brook
Saturday Sept. 11 at Florida
Saturday Sept. 25 Western Kentucky
Saturday Oct. 2 FAU
Saturday Oct. 9 Syracuse
Thursday Oct. 14 at West Virginia
Friday Oct. 22 at Cincinnati
Wednesday Nov. 3 Rutgers
Saturday Nov. 13 at Louisville
Saturday Nov. 20 Pitt
Saturday Nov. 27 at Miami
Saturday Dec. 4 UConn

Home games are bolded and will be played at Raymond James Stadium.

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