B.J. Daniels goes into his senior season as one of the most experienced players in the entire Big East, a fact that has not escaped league observers -- or his teammates.
Of course, his fellow Bulls prefer the term "old" to "experienced," and playfully tease Daniels for being the gramps of the bunch. But being a veteran has its benefits. In this case, USF hopes all the starts Daniels has accumulated will lead him to the place many thought he would be by now:
Best quarterback in the league.
There are various reasons why Daniels has not yet reached upper-echelon status. He has had to go through coordinator changes, and dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons. He had to hone his decision-making, and take film study more seriously as well.
There is no doubt Daniels showed improvement last season -- cutting down on his interceptions, while taking fewer sacks and throwing for a career-high 2,604 yards. But he still ranked No. 5 in the league in passing efficiency, and has yet to complete 60 percent of his passes in his three seasons as a starter.
The talent is there. We have all seen him elude would-be tacklers or throw a pass with nice touch. But this is his final season to make something happen; to get the Bulls that first Big East championship; to help turn around the painful memories from a year ago when they flopped to a 5-7 season -- their worst since joining the Big East.
Daniels feels the increased sense of urgency heading into the start of spring practice Wednesday. He knows it is now or never for him to deliver on all the promise that he has shown since he relieved an injured Matt Grothe in 2009.
"I'm really excited to get the ball rolling and see what I can accomplish," Daniels said in a recent phone interview. "This is my last opportunity to try and do what I can to help out our team to win the Big East. I'm all revved up, trying to attack this offseason with a new attitude."
The new attitude means spending more time in the film room and breaking down every single play from last season, both the good and the bad. It means popping into offensive coordinator Todd Fitch's office with questions about what he has seen on tape -- questions that go a step beyond what others might see on the surface. It means understanding his role as a leader, and as the director of the offense.
"The biggest thing we want to continue to do is increase his knowledge of the offense," said Fitch, who also will coach quarterbacks. "He improved tremendously the last year anticipating situations and having a better feel for what was going to happen before the ball was snapped. Now we want to take it the point where it's second nature to him. The biggest jump he can make is for things to slow down for him even more."
What should also help is having Fitch with him in the meeting rooms on a full-time basis. Offensive coordinators often coach the quarterbacks -- Fitch did both while he was at East Carolina -- as a way to be even more in tune with their game-planning. Not only that, Daniels says he is working on becoming a student of the game.
That means learning what all his other teammates are supposed to be doing -- including protections on the offensive line.
"When you're back there, and you're not sure about where all moving parts are going, sometimes you get antsy," Fitch said. "One of the things he said to me is he wants a better grasp of protections, so if he knows the left guard has this one player, he can just relax and play, so to speak."
Fitch and coach Skip Holtz have talked several times about the jumps Daniels made in his second season in the offense. But now the opportunity is there for Daniels to really take off -- especially since there is no one standout returning at quarterback in the Big East this season.
Daniels says he does not think about his own stats -- "My main concern is doing what I can for this USF team, not necessarily my numbers or what I can do in the Big East. My job as the quarterback is to win. I have goals. Not for myself, but for this team, this school and the city of Tampa."
Fitch, however, knows there is a huge opportunity awaiting Daniels in 2012.
"Obviously, he's a talented guy," Fitch said. "He's got the experience. Our goal is to have him be the best quarterback in the league. Now, [there's] a lot that goes into that. The people around him have to play well, too. But there's an opportunity there. He's at the point now where he understands how hard it is, all the work you need to put in off the field. ... I really believe we'll see another jump in his growth. Year 1 to Year 2 was good. But I fully anticipate a bigger jump this year."