Skip Holtz heads back to his alma mater for the 2011 season opener as the USF Bulls take on the #16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Kickoff is at 3:30 PM will be aired nationally on NBC. For those who can't get to a TV, the game will be aired on 970 WFLA AM.
The Bulls will try to build off their impressive 8-5 season last year, and a victory in South Bend would be one of the biggest wins in the short history of the program.
If USF is to win today, the Bulls are going to need a big day from B.J. Daniels. The junior quarterback from Tallahassee had a turbulent first season in the new system, but Daniels was significantly better towards the end of the year. His monster game against a quality Clemson defense in the Meineke Car Care Bowl suggested that he was finally comfortable in the new offense and can take care of the ball.
The Bulls will have to adjust with the Irish's 3-4 defense, which is led by ILB Manti T'eo. The 6'2" 255 LB has played from Day 1 and is one of the best linebackers in the country. OLB Darius Fleming has blossomed since moving to the 3-4 last year, and Prince Shembo has adjusted nicely at the other OLB postition. You'll see a mixture of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese at the other ILB spot. Both are quality players, just nowhere near the level of Te'o. DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE Ethan Johnson and NT Sean Cwynar will be a challenge for our offensive line, and their backups Louis Nix III, Aaron Lynch, and Stephon Tuitt are no pushovers as well. They actually might be more talented then the starters, and I'm a little relieved we get them so early this year.
Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, Jamoris Slaughter, and Harrison Smith are an experienced, quality defensive back group that have played together for years. Their backups are a major step down in quality, and if one is hurt, don't be surprised if Daniels attacks their replacement.
On defense, the Bulls will have to watch out for wide receivers Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick. Floyd might be the best wide out in the country. He has tremendous size at 6'3" 221 lbs, runs some of the best routes in the country and hardly drops anything when it comes his way. Senior cornerback Quenton Washington will most likely get the call to guard Floyd. Quenton will be giving up a few inches to Floyd, but he will be able to keep up with Floyd and will probably be the matchup of the day. You'd almost be sure that Jerrell Young will be shaded towards whatever side Floyd is on.
Riccick is the speedster of the group, and this speed vs speed matchup against Kayvon Webster will be a fun one to watch. T.J. Jones will be the 3rd WR on the field, with Robby Toma rounding out the rotation.
Getting the ball to them is Dayne Christ. The senior passed for 2033 yards and 15 touchdowns in 9 games last before rupturing his patelar tendon against Tulsa. He has an excellent arm and is a threat to run with the ball, but he can be erratic with his throws. Cierre Wood is the first and second option for the Irish. If the Bulls expect to pull off the upset, the front seven need to keep the running game from breaking out so we won't have to bring Jon LeJiste in the box.
If you are looking for some quality breakdown of the Irish offense, the guys at One Foot Down have you covered. Click here, here, here, and here for a general overview of what Notre Dame ran last season.
Weather might be a factor today. Forecasters are calling for heavy storms over South Bend during the game, and that might give the Bulls an advantage with trying to get Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray going with the running game.
Come back at 3:00 PM with our open thread. I'll also be over at SBNation Tampa Bay doing updates throughout the game.