SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  South Florida Bulls

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Jim Leavitt (7th year, 44-22)
2002 record: 9-2
C-USA finish: Independent in '02
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 134.6 ypg (75th in nation)
Pass: 252.0 ypg (32nd)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 87.2 ypg (7th)
Pass: 221.7 ypg (65th)
Projected Starters
Offense (5 returning starters in bold)
WR  15  Huey Whittaker  Sr. 
WR  20  Quinton Callum  Fr. 
WR  16  Brian Fisher  Jr. 
WR  Chris Iskra  Sr. 
LT   66   Derrick Sarosi   Jr.  
LG   65   Shelly Houston   So.  
C   71   Alex Herron   Jr.  
RG   74   Chris Carothers   So.  
RT   79   Levi Newton   Jr.  
TE  44  Mark Feldman  Jr. 
QB  14  Ronnie Banks  Jr. 
RB  28  Clenton Crossley  Jr. 
Defense (6)
DE  99  Tim Jones  Jr. 
NT  93  Lee Roy Selmon  Sr. 
DT  55  Cedric Battles  Sr. 
DE   56   Terrence Royal   So.  
WLB   6   Maurice Jones   Sr.  
MLB  51  Devon Davis  So. 
SLB   31   Courtney Davenport   Sr.  
CB   3   Ron Hemingway   Sr.  
CB  42  D'Juan Brown  So. 
SS   17   Kevin Verpaele   Sr.  
FS   32   J.R. Reed   Sr.  
Special Teams
Santiago Gramatica  Jr. 
47  Brandon Baker  So. 
KR  20  Quinton Callum  Sr. 
PR  16  Brian Fisher  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  #Alabama 
Sept. 6  Nicholls State 
Sept. 27  at Army 
Oct. 4  Louisville 
Oct. 10  TCU 
Oct. 18  Charleston Southern 
Oct. 25  at Southern Miss 
Nov. 1  Cincinnati 
Nov. 8  at East Carolina 
Nov. 22  UAB 
Nov. 29  at Memphis 
   #Birmingham, Ala. 
South Florida's football program began six seasons ago, ushering in a rapid ascension to unexpected prominence. The days of working in trailers and playing a gypsy-like schedule quickly vanished. With a $20 million football-driven facility, membership in Conference USA and a realistic shot at bowl games, USF has a chance to tap into the stature of big-time college football in Florida.

Everyone is praising the job done by coach Jim Leavitt. Everyone, that is, except Leavitt himself.

"All that did was help us to lay a foundation," says Leavitt, who is trying to stay grounded. "I imagine we'll be picked near the bottom [of C-USA], which is probably about right. Nobody thinks we're going to come in and tear up the league. And they shouldn't. We've been picked low before, and surprised some people. We're going to have a good team. But the fact is we have to replace so many productive players. I can't see past that right now. We've got some work ahead."

The Bulls were 9-2 last season and nearly accomplished the unthinkable -- a bowl bid without an automatic conference tie-in.

Now the Bulls must replace the program's cornerstone players: do-everything quarterback Marquel Blackwell and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

With the departure of Blackwell, Leavitt is placing his faith in junior Ronnie Banks, who has been in South Florida's system for three years as Blackwell's unknown backup. Banks is bigger but less mobile. Still, he will play into the existing system, which emphasizes a quick-rhythm, no-huddle passing game.

Banks has a fleet of returning receivers, including huge target Huey Whittaker, who could become an impact player in C-USA. The entire offensive line returns as well.

South Florida also has four returning running backs: Clenton Crossley, Vince Brewer, DeJuan Green and Quinton Callum. Leavitt says he wants to run the ball more often and may even employ more standard use of the two-back set.

More likely, though, South Florida's offensive hopes will begin and end at quarterback. That's the way it was with Blackwell. And despite early questions about his experience and ability, Banks will slip into that prominent role.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The Bulls were up and down defensively, limiting opponents to 308 yards per game, but they too often surrendered the big play. Overall, though, it was an area of strength. Now the Bulls will be tested because they must replace Mitchell and most of the defensive line.

Leavitt says the line was probably his team's most underrated unit because its athleticism set the tone for a speedy, ball-hawking approach. The returning leaders figure to be defensive end Terrance Royal, who started as a freshman, and senior defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon, who's back after redshirting due to a torn ACL.

"It starts up front," Leavitt says. "Once again, I think that's going to dictate the direction of our defense. It's wait and see because we've got to replace a lot of players."

The Bulls must get productivity from sophomore Devon Davis, who steps in for Mitchell at middle linebacker. The return of Maurice Jones and Courtney Davenport, coupled with Davis meeting expectations, will keep the linebacking corps at a high level.

The defense's true strength is the secondary, where J.R. Reed and Kevin Verpaele already form one of C-USA's most productive safety tandems. Starting cornerback Ron Hemingway should return from off-season shoulder surgery.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Placekicker Santiago Gramatica became more of a factor by making 16-of-21 field-goal attempts following off-season ACL surgery. The Bulls like new punter Brandon Baker, but they need a return specialist to replace DeAndrew Rubin, one of the nation's best.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

South Florida deserved a bowl trip in 2002. The Bulls were 9-2, losing only at Arkansas and Oklahoma. Without a conference affiliation, their hopes realistically were doomed from the start. That's no longer a problem with full membership in Conference USA.

Expect the Bulls to maintain their high-octane offensive system, leaving pressure on a defense that must retool its line and replace Mitchell. If the defense can do its part, the Bulls should be in line for a winning season, putting them on the cusp of the program's first bowl bid. One thing is certain: Leavitt has taken full advantage of his program's geography. The Bulls have become a serious player for key recruits in talent-rich state of Florida.

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