TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 1: Quarterback B. J. Daniels #7 of the South Florida Bulls directs play against the West Virginia Mountaineers December 1, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
While most preseason publications have picked Louisville or Rutgers to win the Big East, Phil Steele has once again used his unique system to pick a surprise Big East winner in 2012: South Florida. The South Florida that didn't make it to a bowl game and went 1-6 in Big East play last year? Yes, that South Florida. Of the Bulls, Steele writes:
They led Louisville 17-10 at half but lost at home by 10. USF led WV 27-20 but gave up a 52 yd IR td and 90 yd KR td in a 30-27 loss (USF 397-364 yd edge). USF also had a key fumble on FD at the WV28 when they were driving to take the lead (3:02 left). It was the Bulls first losing season s/'04. TY they are a much more exp'd group with 15 ret sts and despite their 1-6 BE rec LY they were +26.4 ypg. They also had 4 net close losses giving them a 91.4% chance of improvement (pg 309). USF makes my Most Improved List and gets my call to earn their first ever Big East Title, to finish the ssn ranked for the first time and to land in a BCS bowl.
What does Steele see that could make him so confident in South Florida? Beyond the close losses mentioned above, the Bulls return 18 starters from last year's team and get Rutgers at home. They do travel to both Louisville and Cincinnati, but those aren't impossible games to win. South Florida's fortunes really come down to one thing: can BJ Daniels finally be a competent passer? If he can, the defense should be very good and that would keep the Bulls in just about every game on the schedule. If he struggles (again) throwing the ball or if the injury bug strikes again, this will be the same ol' Bulls in 2012.