B.J. Daniels, QB (2008-2012)
No player has quite personified the thrills, the excitement, and ultimately the frustration of USF football like B.J. Daniels. The most physically talented quarterback we've ever seen in a USF uniform, but maybe not the best. A player who had limitless potential, but didn't get to fulfill all of it. Someone who took blame for the Bulls' spiraling program, but maybe deserved credit for keeping it from getting even worse.
Daniels' career actually began before Matt Grothe's knee injury forced him into the lineup in 2009. He saw action in the 2008 season opener, but not enough to lose his redshirt. He also briefly appeared on the USF basketball team, as he had at Tallahassee's Lincoln High School, before his role as the starting quarterback ended his hoop career. (Final USF basketball stats: 53 minutes played, 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist.)
B.J.'s most famous game was his first start, when he threw for 215 yards and ran for 126 more during the Bulls' 17-7 upset of Florida State. It was a mixed blessing, though, because it probably jacked up expectations for him to an unrealistic level. People thought he was going to be even better than Grothe right out of the box. Even today, in this era of all-world freshmen quarterbacks like Jameis Winston and Josh Rosen, that would be crazy talk. In 2009, it was truly absurd. His ceiling was very high (the win over West Virginia, the dazzling performance in the snow against UConn), but his floor was really, really low (the ugly losses to Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Miami).
The next year, instead of building on his actual talents, new coaches Skip Holtz and Todd Fitch wasted a lot of time trying to make Daniels into a pocket passer. It was ludicrous, and it didn't work at all. The only game where Daniels looked even a little bit like his 2009 self was against Florida, when he ran for 107 yards. B.J. struggled all year in the passing game -- massive injuries at wide receiver didn't help -- and even when USF started running more shotgun sets, he never completely turned it around. The change in coaches and offense threw away an entire season.
To Fitch's credit, he evolved the offense into a system that fit Daniels better (although still not perfectly) by his junior and senior years. They ran more option and read plays to take advantage of his running skills, and ran most of the passing game out of the spread. There were still a few clunkers in there, but Daniels' good games outweighed his bad ones. He set the school record with 409 passing yards and 463 yards of total offense in a game against Cincinnati in 2011, and ended up tying Grothe's career record of six 300-yard passing games.
But while Daniels was getting better, the team around him was falling apart. He never became good enough to consistently make plays when defenses knew a pass was coming, and it was his bad luck to be the most prominent player on the team when the program was going to hell. He was getting scapegoated for things that weren't his fault at all, like clueless coaching, inept defense, and horrible game management. Even though USF went 3-9 in 2012, it wasn't because Daniels was holding them back. In fact he might have been saving face for the team, if not saving many games, while trying to match other teams score for score.
Finally, with Daniels on the verge of breaking Grothe's career total offense record, he broke his ankle against UConn, ending his college career. It was fitting, in a way. He didn't get the same adulation and folk-hero fame as Grothe. He didn't get the success and media attention of Grothe. Then at the very end, he didn't get Grothe's record, either. He did get some vindication, though, when USF's offense fell apart without him and Holtz completely botched the quarterback situation, leading to his firing at the end of the year.
So ultimately, what do we make of B.J. Daniels' career? Right player, wrong situation? Unrealized potential? Maybe not as good as we thought he was, or wanted him to be? I went back and read something I wrote after his injury in 2012, and I think the ending of that piece is still exactly right:
I think he ends up being better than his national perception (a glorified running back who was seemingly a 15-year starter at USF), but not as good as Bulls fans hoped he would be. He had some passing skills, but he also showed that putting your best athlete at QB and trying to figure it out later doesn't always work. Most importantly, though, he'll be in the record books as USF's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, third in passing yards, and second in total offense. And the one thing Daniels never, ever did was stop playing hard. Many of his mistakes and all three of his injuries, including the broken ankle that's going to end his USF career, were because he was trying to make something extra happen. He never stopped trying, and he was always interesting to watch, for good or bad. That's all you can ask for.
P.S. In a bit of cosmic justice, Daniels won a Super Bowl ring with the 2013 Seahawks after signing with them in midseason, meaning he is now and forever SUPER BOWL CHAMPION B.J. Daniels.