USF Bulls look to bounce back

T Skip Holtz took to the USF practice field on the opening day of fall camp with renewed enthusiasm.

“I’ve been waiting for this since Dec. 8,” he said.

Holtz couldn’t wait to put last season in the rearview mirror.

After beating Notre Dame 23-20 on Sept. 3 — on the field where his dad, Lou, was head coach from 1986-96 — just about everything that could go wrong for Skip’s Bulls did.

USF started the season 4-0. The highlight of the season, as it would be in most USF seasons, was the victory in South Bend, Ind. There were few more positives to come.

Falling down

Ranked as high as No. 14 after beating UTEP, the Bulls were outclassed in the second half of a nationally televised 44-17 loss at Pittsburgh. The unraveling had begun.

The Bulls struggled to finish games, lost seven of their final eight and ended 5-7 — just 1-6 in the Big East.

At the end, the Bulls just wanted to get things over with.

Yet as much as Holtz wants to forget last season, he’s going to use it as fuel for this coming season.

Remember last year? No one wants to go through that ever again.

getting up

“You are only as good as your last game,” Holtz said as USF kicked off fall camp. “When you look at how we finished last season, we can talk about it and make improvements, but we can’t do anything about it until we step on the field.

“Regardless of what people write and project, none of that is relevant. We have to do it on the field. And the last time we played, well, that’s nothing to beat our chest about. [Last year] is a huge motivating factor. I think it drove us all summer.”

Holtz and the Bulls hope last season was an aberration. In Holtz’s first season in Tampa, the Bulls won eight games, beat Miami for the first time and topped Clemson in their bowl game in Charlotte, N.C.

Although Louisville is expected to rule the Big East this year now that reigning champion West Virginia is off to the Big 12, the Bulls are expected to compete and were picked second by the media in the preseason poll.

“There’s a lot of excitement here right now,” linebacker Michael Lanaris said.

The ‘old man’

No one has bigger expectations for the Bulls this season than senior quarterback B.J. Daniels.

During the past three seasons, Daniels has become the face of the Bulls and has started 33 of 38 games during his career.

Daniels was hurt during USF’s 6-3 loss to Miami on Nov. 19 and missed the Bulls’ 34-24 loss to Louisville the following week. Even though he missed part of the UM game and all of the Louisville game, Daniels increased his passing yardage from his junior season by 900 yards.

The MVP of USF’s bowl win over Clemson in 2010, Daniels is determined to make his final season with the Bulls something to remember.

“We are all ready to go,” said Daniels, a 6-foot senior from Tallahassee who helped lead the Bulls to a 17-7 win over the Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium as a sophomore in 2009.

“Everyone keeps reminding me this is my last season here, but it doesn’t feel like that. I don’t even think about that right now. I’m older — everyone jokes that I’m the old man of the team now. But I don’t feel any different. I’m 100 percent healthy. We’ve done a lot of good things in the summer, and I’m excited.

“But this is my last opportunity to do something here, to help out the team and win the Big East. There is a sense of urgency. I have to step up as a leader on and off the field.”

Said Holtz: “I’m really proud of B.J. He went through a very challenging year. He’s going into his third offense, but he has developed mentally as a quarterback. I see that relate to his confidence and leadership ability and style. As a young man, the way he handled adversity and the humble spirit that he has, I keep saying, you hope your boys grow up to be like B.J. Daniels.”

Sweet slate

Daniels and the Bulls get another shot at Florida State on Sept. 29 when the Seminoles visit Raymond James Stadium for the first time.

The game against FSU is the highlight of a USF schedule — the Bulls also visit Miami on Nov. 23 — that seems manageable.

The Bulls open Saturday at home against Tennessee-Chattanooga before traveling to Nevada. The Big East schedule opens Sept. 13 at home against Rutgers before a trip to Ball State and then FSU.

USF will play some of its toughest conference games (Temple, Louisville, Cincinnati) away from Tampa.

“This is going to be a challenging year, especially coming from where we’ve been,” Holtz said. “I know where we were at the end of last year but our guys are motivated to get this going. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

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