We have reached the penultimate edition of our best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big East team. As always, this is a serious exercise mixed in with some fun.
Time to check out South Florida's picture.
Call it a giant Skip ahead.
South Florida has been on the cusp of greatness the past few years, winning some big games but not showing the consistency needed to compete for championships. A big reason for that was coaching. Now the Bulls have a guy who knows how to win league titles in Skip Holtz, and that makes a huge difference.
No one would deny that there's plenty of talent in Tampa. B.J. Daniels is a force of nature at quarterback. The offensive line is a veteran group. Young stars like Ryne Giddins, Sam Barrington and Terrence Mitchell are ready to emerge on defense. These are the guys who will lead the program over the hump.
The rest of the Big East is put on notice in Week 2, when South Florida goes into The Swamp and shocks Florida, which is still adjusting to life after Tim Tebow. Daniels reminds people more of Saint Tim than John Brantley does as he racks up 500 all-purpose yards.
Easy wins follow over Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Syracuse for a 5-0 start, which has become familiar to Bulls fans. One thing Holtz doesn't change is the team's ability to beat West Virginia, which happens again in Morgantown on Oct. 14 as receivers A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin make triumphant returns from injury. The Bulls climb to No. 2 in the polls but are beaten the following Friday night in Cincinnati.
Uh-oh, USF fans think, here we go again. But this time it's different. Holtz recharges his troops over the bye week, and they come back to beat Rutgers at home. They get their first-ever win at Louisville and knock off Pitt at home to reach 9-1.
The roll ends at Miami on Nov. 27 on a last-second field goal by the Hurricanes. But the Bulls close out the year by beating UConn on a perfect December Florida day to wrap-up the Big East title. They go to the Orange Bowl for a rematch with the ACC champion Hurricanes. This time, they reverse the previous outcome, completing a two-year stretch where they have beaten Florida, Florida State and Miami. There's no question that a Big Four now exists in Florida.
Holtz is crowned national coach of the year, and the Bulls begin 2011 in the top five.
Skip ahead to 2011, and South Florida may be a power. Just not yet.
The Bulls have talent, but it's awfully young. Daniels and Barrington are sophomores, while Mitchell and Giddins are freshmen. There are no proven standout running backs. Dontavia Bogan is the only receiver who's ever produced anything, and he hasn't done it at a go-to-guy level. The defense is replacing four NFL players, including sack artists George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul.
All that youth, plus the adjustment to a new coaching staff, is way too much to overcome at Florida in Week 2. The Gators take a huge bite out of the Bulls with a 35-point win, and even worse, their defense batters Daniels around. He'll be gimpy the whole year, forcing Holtz to turn to either a walk-on or a true freshman at quarterback.
South Florida still gets to 4-1 thanks to a light early schedule, but it can't compete with a revenge-hungry West Virginia in Morgantown. Cincinnati continues its recent mastery over the Bulls even without Brian Kelly, and Rutgers pounds away for a third straight blowout victory over USF.
Holtz also can't reverse the team's sorry history in Louisville as a banged-up Daniels sits out. Pitt and Miami prove to be too much for the Bulls as well, but they do rally to upset Connecticut at home in the season finale. Yet a 5-7 record leaves the team at home for the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Big Four? USF can't even claim to be one of the Big Five in the Big East.
Meanwhile, Jim Leavitt wins his lawsuit against the university, and a sympathetic judge orders the school to reinstate him as head coach. Leavitt challenges Holtz to a 40-yard dash to decide who should be coach. Then he head-butts Holtz, knocking both men unconscious.