By now I think we've seen enough BIG EAST football to know where USF matches up well and where they don't. They play well against speed-based teams and struggle mightily against power-based teams.
This handy chart will tell you everything you need to know. The further right you go, the less successful USF tends to be.
Two notes before we move on:
- Brian Kelly was such a wizard of a coach that he overcame USF's slight matchup advantage. Also, under previous coaches, Cincinnati fell further to the right on this chart, which explains their wins in 2004 and 2006.
- Syracuse isn't on the chart because USF hasn't even played a close game against them yet. The talent difference is still too big for their style of play to matter.
It's kind of sad how accurate that chart is, and for the past few years it was incredibly annoying. With Jim Leavitt coaching, the Bulls played pretty much the same way all the time and made precious few adjustments. They basically told the entire conference, "Here's how we're going to play, let's see if you can beat it." That works out fine in non-conference play, where it's a one-shot deal. But in the BIG EAST, the same teams were beating them almost every year, gleefully so in the case of Rutgers. Hell, even Steve Kragthorpe beat USF once.
This is why I'm really excited to have seen both Todd Fitch and Mark Snyder (our new offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively) identify this problem in interviews this week and talk about fixing it. I already wrote a FanShot about Todd Fitch's quote earlier this week. He said a vertical, downhill running game was necessary not just in the offense, but so the defense can practice against something they will see in conference play. Now Mark Snyder has weighed in:
"Some of the teams in this conference play big," Snyder said, "and that's where we had some of our struggles. Against teams that spread us out and let us run, we've done pretty well."
I realize this post mirrors the rest of Brian Bennett's story quite a bit, but there are two other things that I thought needed to be addressed. One, Bennett figured that the previous staff would have solved the problem if there was an easy answer. I don't think that's true. Like I said, USF just laid it out on the table every week and the more teams played them, the more they figured out how to beat them unless there was a huge talent difference. (Which is why USF is still 4-3 against UConn all time. Give Randy Edsall a comparable amount of talent and I'm convinced they would have beaten the Bulls almost every year.)
Two, and this is one of the most important things I can say about our program so remember this, a lot of USF fans need to reconsider what it will take to win the Big East. The evidence is clear that just out-athleting (I probably made up that word) everyone is not the way to go. It doesn't work. In any league. Even Alabama has a mix of speed and power. Until the Bulls are able to fight it out in the trenches with the power-based teams, they're going to stay about where they are right now in the standings. Whether they succeed is still to be determined, but it sounds like the new coaching staff has already taken one step forward that the previous staff never did.