Over on Voodoo Five, we've been counting down the entire South Florida Bulls roster from 99 to 1, treating the stars of the team the same way we treat the players on the scout team. So when we got to B.J. Daniels last Saturday, I didn't want to say a whole lot more than we'd said for anyone else. But we all know who the most important Bull is this season -- it's their quarterback.
Now that Noel Devine has moved on from West Virginia, Daniels might be the biggest source of untapped potential in the Big East. And that's the problem -- how many years are we going to have to hear the word "potential" attached to a USF quarterback before it turns into something special? We've heard it about Daniels for three years, going all the way back to when he made a couple of cameo appearances in 2008. Then the "potential" he showed as a redshirt freshman in 2009 went out the window last season when he struggled so badly that the coaches had to rein in the offense for him. Now the P-word has re-emerged from some combination of, "It's his second year in the offense!" and "USF is a sleeper pick to win the Big East, so it must be because Daniels is good!"
The problem is that we've been here before with a USF quarterback, and it wasn't even that long ago. Matt Grothe went into the 2008 season on the heels of a much better sophomore year than Daniels had last year, and he was headed into his second year of Greg Gregory's offense. If we'd had a blog back then, we'd have been foaming at the mouth about what a big year Grothe was certainly going to have. Instead, his touchdown-to-interception ratio barely changed (from 15/14 to 18/14), and he accounted for fewer total yards than he did in 2007 while the Bulls sputtered to an 8-5 record. The offense failed to score more than 21 points seven times, and Grothe made the same dumb mistakes that he had been making as a freshman and sophomore. Everyone raved about Grothe's potential for years, but it never turned him into anything more than what he was -- an elusive and tough runner, an imaginative playmaker, but only an average passer.
Daniels is following a similar career arc. Only this time, Bulls fans are more skeptical than they were a few years ago. Grothe still gets the benefit of the doubt from USF fans because they remember all the crazy plays he made, and tend to forget that he never really improved as a passer. He also gets credit for winning big games like Auburn and West Virginia, although the defense played a big role. Daniels doesn't really have that kind of credit saved up. He was overshadowed by the defense in USF's win over Florida State two years ago, and he was knocked out of the game against Miami last year, leaving Bobby Eveld to come in and lead the team to a win. Daniels also had some flat-out clunkers against Florida, Syracuse, and West Virginia -- the kind of games Grothe rarely had.
It's also unclear what kind of quarterback Skip Holtz wants Daniels to be. Holtz never had a full-on running quarterback at any of his previous coaching stops -- Patrick Pinkney at East Carolina was more of a scrambler than a designed runner, and eventually he became a pocket passer. There were times last year when Daniels looked like he wanted to take off and run, but didn't. It was like he had a shock collar on that would go off as soon as he crossed the line of scrimmage. While he was also dinged up and the coaches were afraid to get him hurt with no proven backup, not being able to improvise clearly made him less effective. The only game where Daniels looked comfortable in the kind of offense Holtz and Fitch likely want to run was in the bowl game against Clemson.
And while that's something to build on, capitalizing on Daniels' potential with the USF offensive system might be a taller order than it seems, because to do so might run counter to what he does best. The truth is we just don't know how much freedom the coaches will give Daniels to improvise if he doesn't like what he sees. While Holtz has said several times that they want B.J. to run more, what exactly will "more" mean? Holtz has also told us they don't want the quarterback leading the team in rushing yards like it did in all of Grothe's full seasons, and again in Daniels' freshman year. Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch can tweak the offense to make him more comfortable throwing the ball (which they did after his disastrous game in Morgantown), but there's only so much they can do if they don't want him running wild.
So consider me skeptical that Daniels will ultimately live up to the potential he's been assigned. He doesn't necessarily have to become an All-Big East quarterback in order for USF to win the conference, but he will need to improve in ways that he might not be capable of. This is the year we find out if Daniels can become a true quarterback, or if it becomes obvious that he is a square peg in a round hole.