Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs South Florida Bulls Football Preview
If there’s a game other than the Boise State-Georgia and Oregon-LSU clashes which will move the needle in week one of the new college football season, this is it. When a proud school with a longstanding football tradition plays a Florida-based school with a very brief institutional history, a battle of mirror images will unfold. It’s ironic to say this, but it’s true: Notre Dame and South Florida enter 2011 with many similarities, even though the programs own completely different profiles. Yes, Notre Dame is the owner of several national championships and a century-long place in the sport’s history while South Florida hasn’t been around for more than a decade and a half. However, when the present moment is under discussion and the past recedes into view, these are strikingly comparable teams.
This marks the second season at each school for head coaches Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Skip Holtz (South Florida); both teams went 8-5 last year; and both teams won bowl games against ACC opponents (Miami for Notre Dame, Clemson for South Florida). For good measure, both teams boasted strong defenses last year as well, each surrendering only 20 points per game.
For South Florida, the 8-5 record the team posted in 2010 was almost entirely a product of the defense, a USF cornerstone Holtz hopes to sustain. While the offense could only muster 309 yards per game— 105th in the country—the defense ranked 17th in the nation in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. Junior quarterback B.J. Daniels will need to do better than the 58 percent completion rate and 13 interceptions that littered his stat sheet last season if the Bulls ever expect their offense to get better, especially against Notre Dame. The Irish defense took away the passing game from almost every team it played last season.
The Notre Dame offense was a snapshot of mediocrity last season, ranking 61st in yards and 67th in points. Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees have been embroiled in a quarterback battle after sharing time last season following Crist’s spate of injuries. Crist is likely to win the job, but Rees needs to be ready to take over if Crist’s knees fail him again. Both performed at comparable levels in 2010. The return of embattled receiver Michael Floyd (1,025 receiving yards per game) will help the Irish offense tick.
This game shapes up to be a defensive battle, with star linebackers Manti T’eo (Notre Dame, 10.2 tackles per game) and DeDe Lattimore (South Florida, 5.31 tackles per game) patrolling the middle of the field.
It’s time for Notre Dame to regain its championship swagger and gain a BCS bowl berth. It’s time for South Florida to become an annual 10-win program that can fulfill its promise and potential. A very tantalizing tilt is in store for the Notre Dame Stadium crowd and an intensely interested national audience.
By: Matt Zemek
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