Over the past week we've taken a look at some of the Big East teams and where they stand coming out of the spring. If you missed them, make sure you read up on Cincinnati and Connecticut and Louisville and Pittsburgh. Now it's time to catch up with Rutgers and USF.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Head Coach: Kyle Flood (first season)
The Scarlet Knights lost their 2011 head coach and leading receiver to the NFL but are still a legitimate contender to win the Big East conference in 2012. The reason? Depth.
Despite the departure of key personnel, Rutgers is returning 16 starters, and the vacancies will be filled by players on last year’s roster.
The quarterback battle between Chas Dodd and Gary Nova that began last year under former head coach Greg Schiano gives evidence of continuing until training camp. Dodd (junior) was the starter last year but lost the job to Nova (sophomore). By the end of the season though, the quarterbacks were alternating based on effectiveness. Dodd is the steady, low-risk style player while Nova perhaps has the better arm but is more impulsive. Both had quality performances in the April 28 spring game, which means the starting job remains open.
In the backfield, Jawan Jamison is back after rushing for 897 yards and nine touchdowns in his freshman season. He’ll be challenged by Savon Huggins, who had a less productive 2011 season and was injured late costing him three games late. Huggins should be more of a factor with the additional year of experience. On the offensive line, they bid farewell to Desmond Wynn and Desmond Stapleton but add R.J. Dill, a graduate transfer from Maryland.
Despite losing the Big East’s all-time leader in receptions in Sanu, Rutgers receiving corps still has depth. Mark Harrison and Tim Wright (seniors) are back, along with Quron Pratt (junior) Brandon Coleman and Miles Shuler (sophomores). Originally recruited as a quarterback Schuler switched to wide receiver and had a productive spring session.
On defense, Rutgers is led by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, the Big East’s co-Defensive POY. Though he missed the spring session with an injury sustained in their bowl game, he is expected back a full strength for the 2012 season. The other linebackers are veterans as well and team is at least three deep at the position.
The secondary features All-Big East first team safety Duron Harmon(senior), All-Big East second team cornerback Logan Ryan (junior), and cornerback Brandon Jones (senior). One of the best pass defenses in the country last year, the unit should be equal to or better than 2011.
Defensive lineman Justin Francis has departed but Rutgers has much depth there too. Scott Vallone (senior) returns, along with Jamil Merrell, Isaac Holmes and Michael Larrow (juniors). Freshmen Marquise Wright and Al Page are developing players to watch as well. They will also have Darius Hamilton, high-ranked defensive endrecruit.
Rutgers’ nonconference schedule has games at Tulane and Arkansas, with Howard, Army and Kent State traveling to Piscataway.In the Big East, they face UConn, Syracuse and Louisville at home, while traveling to South Florida, Temple, Cincinnati and Pitt.
Many suspect the coaching transition may cost the team a game or two. The personnel is in place to win though.
South Florida Bulls
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (third season, 13-12 overall)
Christmas came early in Tampa this year when defensive end Aaron Lynch, a freshman All-American last season at Notre Dame, transferred enrollment to South Florida. He will be watching from the sidelines for 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules, but his presence is sure to lift the morale of his new team.
Last year the Bulls stunned the nation by taking their opening game 23-20 over Notre Dame in South Bend and then reeling off three more successive wins by a combined score of 159-48. After a perfect first month, they stunned the nation once again by winning just one additional game.
Turning the page in 2012, the Bulls will look to senior quarterback B.J. Daniels to lead the offense. Daniels is among 15 returning starters who hope to shed the bad habits and lethargy of last season. Turnovers and stalled drives were numerous during the stretch of losses.
If the April 21 spring game is any indication – and it probably isn’t – the offense still has work to do. The first team offense was held scoreless against the first team defense, gaining only 116 yards. Daniels was limited in his ability to scramble (to avoid injury) but completed only 9 of 23 passes.
At running back the Bulls have a solid starter in Demetris Murray (senior) with backup most likely coming from converted wide receiver Lindsey Lamar (senior) and Marcus Shaw (junior).
Among the receivers, sophomore Andre Davis has had the best spring. He caught two touchdowns during the Green and Gold game and had another reception for nearly 60 yards. Sterling Griffin (junior) was the leading receiver last year. Deonte Welch (sophomore) and Victor Marc (senior) should also significant play roles.
Even without Aaron Lynch this year, the defensive line will be a force. Starting tackle Cory Grissom (senior) suffered a broken leg that required surgeryin April. His status is uncertain for the start of the season. Junior defensive end RyneGiddins had three sacks in the spring game though and will be a player to contend with in passing situations.
The Bulls are deep at linebacker. Sam Barrington, Mike Lanaris(seniors) and DeDeLattimore (junior) are predictable starters but, seniorMike Juene andsophomoresReshardCliett and Ruben Garcia will contend for playing time.
In the secondary USF has three talented safeties in JaQuez Jenkins (junior), Mark Joyce (junior) and Jon Lejiste(senior). Kayvon Webster (senior) is a solid at one corner while his counterpart will have to be determined during training camp. Senior George Baker is the most experienced among the options.
The Bulls have a formidable schedule with nonconference opponents including Chattanooga and Florida State home at Raymond James Stadium and trips to Nevada, Ball State and Miami. In Big East play they’ll host Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn and Pitt. They travel to play Temple, Louisvilleand Cincinnati.
Skip Holtz has much to prove this season. A 1-6 conference record in 2011 was well below the Bulls abilities.
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.