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Opponent preview: South Florida

Aug 16, 2011, 2:11 PM EDT

Meineke Car Care Bowl Getty Images

This is the first of twelve opponent previews, profiling Notre Dame’s 2011 opponents. Get ready for a heavy dose of reading as we lead into the September.

The Overview:

The season opener won’t be shy on storylines when Notre Dame welcomes South Florida to South Bend for the first time in the program’s history. With former Irish player and coach Skip Holtz on the sidelines for the Bulls, even casual followers will take notice as Dr. Lou‘s son gets his first chance to lead a team against the family’s favorite team. USF is building off some late season momentum, as the Bulls won five of their last seven games in 2010, capping the season with a bowl victory over Clemson. A Big East darkhorse, Holtz will need to get more from an offense that struggled, while riding a defense that was one of the top 25 in the country last season.

Last time against the Irish:

This is the first time South Florida has played Notre Dame.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 games the Irish play this season, I’ve got South Florida ranked as the seventh toughest opponent on the 2011 slate.

The Match-up:

Athletically, B.J. Daniels is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks the Irish will face this year. It’ll be up to Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch to help Daniels assimilate into the offense better than he did last year, a step back statistically for the redshirt junior. Helping make Daniels more comfortable will be a running game anchored by Demetris Murray and transfer Darrell Scott, the former all-everything five-star recruit who failed to make an impact at Colorado. Auburn transfer Dontae Aycock, who looked like a another power option, walked away from the team in fall camp, making depth in the backfield a question mark, to go along with an offensive line that needs to replace three starters, including two-time All-Big East center Sampson Genus. The passing game will rely on A.J. Love‘s recovery from a torn ACL as well as converted quarterback Evan Landi, the team’s leading returning receiver. Diminutive Lindsey Lamar was the Big East’s special teams player of the year, and will likely spend more time with the offense.

Defensively, the Bulls will need to replace Terrell McClain, an All-Big East defensive tackle that went in the third round of the NFL Draft. They’ll try to do it with speed, as linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington return, as do a plethora of defensive ends with pass rush ability, led by sophomore Ryan Giddins. Anchoring the secondary will be safety Jerrell Young, with upperclassmen Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster starting at cornerback. Coordinating the unit will be former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who spent a long time with former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel at both Ohio State and Youngstown State.

How the Irish will win:

With the Bulls breaking in a new offensive line and the Irish stout against the run, Notre Dame will use the same blueprint they did against Miami, confounding an athletic quarterback and forcing him to make a few big mistakes through the air. If the Irish can jump out front with a few quick scores, forcing USF into a one-dimensional offensive attack doesn’t bode well for Skip Holtz’s squad. Behind a strong defensive performance, and a balanced offensive performance, the Irish should be able to coast to an easy victory.

How the Irish will lose:

It isn’t hard to imagine Skip Holtz getting his team awfully fired up to play in Notre Dame Stadium and awaken a program that many think is a sleeping giant. Special teams ace Lindsey Lamar could break something open in the return game and quarterback B.J. Daniels has the legs to make it a very long day for the Irish defense. The Bulls have speed to burn on defense and if they force the Irish into passing situations they’ll be able to disrupt an Irish offense that needs balance to be successful. If Holtz and the Bulls get off to a quick start, they could shock the Irish, springboarding USF to a season that could end with a BCS appearance.

Gut Feeling:

The wise guys in Las Vegas have Notre Dame a little bit more than a ten-point favorite. That feels about right to me, with the Irish showing a far more explosive offense on opening day than they showed throughout all of 2010.


  1. gtizzo - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    Nice overview Keith,

    I’m almost willing to say the Irish by 14. Not because of recruiting or returning talent, Brain Kelly destroyed the Big East at Cincy. I’m willing to give Brain Kelly an extra 4 pts.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Aug 16, 2011 at 4:33 PM

      I have no such predictions with points. ND is awful ATS. It will be a close game @ half, then ND will be too much for South Florida. A defensive win with a few nice offensive flashes, but expected more. 27 – 14. hahahahha ok yeah I like ND.

  2. notredamegrad - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:42 PM

    Any word on the injury to the USF quarterback? Will this effect the game, or is he expected to be at full strength by Sept. 3rd?

    (And is anyone else growing weary of this “really, Crist and Rees are totally neck-and-neck” refrain? What if the team picks a quarterback before Kelly does? It seems like most of the fans have.)

  3. usfalumn - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    BJ Daniels should be ok but would not surprise me if he pulls a hammy again. I have expectations for the Bulls, but have learned not to get high hopes. They seem to play to the level of their competition although last year under Holtz they played at a more consistent level.

    Kelly has had our number last few years he was in the Big East, but that was when Leavitt was still around. The Bulls always started hot but game plan/plays were used again and again by mid-season I knew what play the were running before they ran it and if I knew I am sure the other coach knew.

    It would be nice to get a win over ND, another big name opponent to add to our win column. I hope BJ improved over the summer cause all this hype he gets is not really warranted…he cost us plenty of games with his lack of decision making.

    20 – 17 Bulls

  4. ndfanwabashman - Aug 16, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    The Vegas spread is used to get 50% of the bet on one side of the line and 50% on the other. It’s not a true “prediction” of the score. I would also not be surprised to see Skip fire up the Bulls out of the gate (pun intended.) However, I think the underrated defense keeps South Florida at bay (more puns.) I’m a little more bullish (yes, again) on the Irish than the professional bettors and I think ND will gouge (one for the road) USF near the end of the game. I like ND to cover.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 17, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    The Vegas line is the only thing that had me really optimistic about this game. I worry about Holtz getting his team incredibly pumped to the point that they believe they can win and then do just that. Keith, you described the Bulls as an offense that struggled, while riding a top 25 defense last year. That kind of sounds like the last 4 games the Irish played last year and I’m a little worried about the game being an early season trap for us. As Wabash pointed out above, the Vegas line is designed to attract bettors on both sides, but as a predictor of actual scores, they’re usually pretty damn close. Most times, a game with a 2.5 point spread will come down to that last field goal attempt…..I don’t know how they know but they usually do. So I guess I’ll rely on Vegas and hope the Irish cover.

  6. alsatiannd - Aug 17, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    South Florida finished with the 101st ranked offense last year. They lost their all-conference center and their receiver corps is thin and relying on freshman to step up. If our defense continues their roll from last year and shuts down the big play, ND wins while our offense manages to sputter past a good defense. ND 20 USF 15.

  7. dmacirish - Aug 17, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Are you kidding? 2 weeks to prepare for this game, everyone is fresh and ready to go – no bumps or bruises, Kelly has seen these guys before. Call me crazy here but I am liking the Irish in a 34 – 10 thumping.

  8. 1historian - Aug 17, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    USF has talent, they will be pumped to the sky – just the kind of team that the Irish need to start the season. USF is a good team – the Irish have to KICK THEIR BUTTS. Not a runaway, but a good whippin’ so there is NO doubt who is the best team.

    It’s gonna be fun to watch.

  9. irishtemper419 - Aug 20, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Going to the game myself. Can’t wait I think it’s going to be a good one BJ will simply keep them n the game or give it away. I think if a much improved D can keep him n the pocket then he will make mistakes that will be the diff n the end I’ll say 31-17 Irish n wood will rush for 100 n Floyd will have 100 rec yards regardless of who the QB is. Just my opinion ? Let me know if u think otherwise…thanx

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