College Sports

Commentary: What does conference expansion mean for USF?

All this talk about conference expansion has raised the anxiety level among those in the USF athletics program.

Reason seems to have taken a summer vacation. Many college presidents, driven by visions of TV money flowing into their campuses, are rushing to divide up the college football landscape as if they were at a post World War II summit.

The Bulls could lose their status as a BCS football program, which is the most important factor behind USF’s meteoric rise through the college football ranks.

It’s like taking the engine out of a Corvette and replacing it with a four-cylinder model that was used to propel your old Volkswagen.

When the Bulls joined the Big East Conference in 2005, it provided a huge boost, particularly with recruiting, which is where football games are often won or lost.

All of that is in peril. The Big Ten is reportedly looking at raiding the Big East, trying to get Rutgers and either Syracuse or Pittsburgh or both.

There are only eight football-playing teams in the Big East, and any departure would leave the conference scrambling to fill the void. Unfortunately, the replacements most mentioned (UCF, Houston and East Carolina) wouldn’t pack enough clout to allow the Big East to remain a BCS conference.

Rumors and scenarios are running rampant. An intriguing one has USF in a mega conference with a combination of ACC, Big East and Conference USA schools along with Notre Dame. Others have the Bulls thrown into a rubble of mediocrity along with the rest of the non-BCS football have-nots.

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Quarterback B.J. Daniels is the only USF offensive player selected to Phil Steele’s All Big East Conference preseason first team. The publication, highly regarded because of its prognostication success rate, has Bulls cornerback Kayvon Webster listed as a first-team selection on defense.

An interesting choice is Faron Hornes, the Southeast High grad, who is on the fourth team as a punt returner.

Daniels’ selection might offset what is happening with the team’s running back corps, which received more bad news recently when it learned commit Tiger Powell from Lake City Columbia would have to attend junior college. The Bulls already lost highly touted running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor, and Ashton Samuels is beset with injuries.

Steele rates USF’s running back corps the worst in the Big East.

It’s one reason Manatee High standout Mike Blakely might want to keep the Bulls high on his list.

The competition at running back in college is fierce (look at Florida) and he could get early playing time at USF. It sure doesn’t hurt that new Bulls head man Skip Holtz coached Chris Johnson, who might be the best back in the NFL right now.

Charlotte High’s Mike Bellamy, rated one of the top three running backs in the state with Blakely and James Wilder from Tampa Plant, recently verbally committed to Clemson. Wilder’s top five choices does not include USF, another reason for Blakely to keep that option open.

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FHSAA Executive Director and former Manatee County Superintendent of Schools Roger Dearing says Eddie Shannon deserves some kind of recognition, but he doesn’t want to comment on whether the former Lincoln High head football coach should be inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame.

The fight to get Shannon in the Hall is being led by Vincent Williams, a running back at Manatee in the mid-70s, who played collegiately at Louisville. He says Tommie Frazier has joined the campaign, and the movement is picking up steam. Dearing says as the FHSAA’s head man he should comment on hall of fame candidates, but lauded Shannon.

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Former Manatee High standout softball pitcher Cristie Kaufman recently finished her career at Lynn University. She completed her final season with an 11-13 record and 2.42 ERA. In her three years at the Boca Raton school, she won 25 games. The right-hander played one year at what was then Manatee Community College and had a 1.25 ERA for the then No. 2 nationally ranked Lancers.

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Ashton Whidden was a workhorse extraordinaire this past season at St. Leo University. The junior right-hander threw 200 innings while compiling a 16-15 record and 2.76 ERA for the 22-31 Lions. A former Saint Stephen’s standout, Whidden threw 21 complete games and appeared in 34 games.