Former USF Coordinators Explain Bulls' Troubling Falls
An undefeated start, a climb into the national rankings and then a mid-season meltdown that sends the Bulls spiraling and finishing the season unranked in 2007. And 2008. And again in 2009?
Wonder how well Bill Murray can pull off Jim Leavitt's sideline antics?
The Bulls started 5-0 -- again -- this season including what Leavitt called the biggest win in program history at Florida State Sept. 26.
USF is the only school in the nation to start each of the past three seasons 5-0 - which, of course, makes USF the only school in the nation to finish the past two seasons unranked after starting 5-0 and climbing into the Top 10.
The million dollar question -- or the $1.6 million dollar question since that's what Leavitt will make this year -- is what happens to USF each year?
I checked with USF's former coordinators -- Greg Gregory (offense) and Wally Burnham (defense) -- for answers to USF's mid-season slide. Gregory, now offensive coordinator at South Alabama, was with USF from 2005-08 and Burnham, now defensive coordinator at Iowa State, was at USF from 2000-08.
"Offensively, I felt there wasn't enough depth on the offensive line," Gregory said. "There wasn't enough competition to push guys and there weren't enough guys [to practice] so the starters wore down. We deteriorated up front at mid-season.
"That's the only thing I could trace it to. There was not a lot of competition on the offensive line and you don't improve as the season goes on. I think everything starts up front -- you have to develop depth there -- it does two things: It increases competition and allows you to practice more guys and you don't get beat up as bad."
Because of a lack of depth and injuries, Gregory remembers former lineman Jake Griffin taking nearly every snap in practice all season. "It was like he playing a game a day -- a game on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Gregory said. "It took its toll."
Burnham said he never really knew what caused the mid-season slumps.
"We could never put our finger on it," Burnham said. "We could never put it on why it always happened. We looked at the practice schedule, how much we were training them.
"Here's the deal: somehow when I was there, we lost our focus somehow -- I don't know about this year -- but we lost our focus in practice and in games. That's all I can go back to. Whether that was the reason, I don't know.
"It's hard. It's something. It's something that we missed and didn't get done."
This year, the Bulls didn't climb into the Top 10 after a 5-0 start, they only hit No. 21. But instead of blackjack, though, they've busted once again.
The Bulls have lost consecutive games to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and appear in the same mid-season funk as the past two seasons. Yes, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are nationally ranked teams, but it's how USF lost both games that resembled the collapses of years past. USF was unable to stop Cincinnati's back-up quarterback and USF was unable to do anything against Pittsburgh's offense or defense.
Speaking of Burnham, during his time at USF, the Bulls' defense put the shackles on West Virginia's offense like no other team. The Bulls and Mountaineers play Friday night in a nationally televised contest.
Earlier this year, West Virginia coach Bill Stewart joked he was glad Burnham left USF and had headed "out West" to Iowa State.
Last year, WVU linebacker Reed Williams even admitted: "They've got our number right now. They did a great job with our schemes."
Because of Burnham's success against West Virginia's spread offense, assistant coaches from Ohio State, Minnesota and Colorado visited him during the summer of 2008 to pick his brain on how to stop the offense run by former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, now at Michigan.
In the past three years, WVU's offense averaged 15 points and 153 yards rushing against USF, compared to 36 points and 284 yards rushing the past three years against every other opponent. The Bulls also won two of the three contests.
Friday's game will mark the third time new USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey has faced the Mountaineers. The past two seasons was when Tresey was at Cincinnati. The Bearcats split the two meetings with WVU, allowing an average of 25.5 points and 196.5 yards rushing per game.
It's a little far-fetched to think that Cincinnati back-up quarterback Zach Collaros is going to turn Tony Pike into a Wally Pipp, right? But the fact that Collaros, in his first start last week against Louisville, was nearly flawless, might speed up Pike's return to the lineup.
"If Zach went out there and really mucked around and didn't play well, it puts a little pressure on everybody," Kelly said. "It gives you a definite sense when you go into practice that the kids are going to play hard for whoever the quarterback is. It helps, definitely. Now Tony feels he's got to do whatever I have to do here to get back as quickly as possible."
Against Louisville, Collaros was 15 for 17 for 253 yards and three touchdowns. In the past six quarters against Louisville and USF, Collaros is 19-of-24 for 325 yards, three TDs and one interception, with 21 carries for 184 yards and two TDs.
Pike had surgery last week on his left (non-throwing) arm. His status remains day-to-day, but he probably won't play Saturday at Syracuse. He did not practice Tuesday.
"After the job Zach did, you can't be upset," Pike told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "You've got to get in here and stay positive and continue to help him and let the other guys see you. I feel good about where we're at and I'm ready to hopefully get back out there."
Around the league
Pike and Pitt's Bill Stull are among 15 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard and Syracuse's Mike Williams are among 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver. The 20 semifinalists for the Bryant Award, which goes to the national coach of the year, include Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt and West Virginia's Bill Stewart are among 20 semifinalist for the Bryant Award, which is given to the national coach of the year. ... Rutgers has scored five touchdowns on defense or special teams this season, while the Scarlet Knights' offense has accounted for 19 TDs in seven games. ... In 2½ years under Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, the Cardinals have scored less than 24 points in 12 of 31 games (losing all 12). In the previous four years under Bobby Petrino, Louisville scored less than 24 points only four times in 50 games (going 2-2). ... If Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis finishes as the conference's leading rusher, he would be the first freshman to lead the league since West Virginia's Avon Cobourne in 1999. ... Even with UConn QB Cody Endres throwing for a career-high 378 yards, the Huskies fell to 1-14 all-time against ranked teams after last week's loss at West Virginia.