The 2011 college football season kicks off with high hopes for Notre Dame this Saturday afternoon September 3 (3:30pm ET) with the 16-th ranked Fighting Irish taking on the USF Bulls of the Big East in South Bend, IN. This game will feature Irish coach Brian Kelly in his second season at the helm facing off against a familiar name for ND fans in second year USF head coach, and Notre Dame Alum Skip Holtz.
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South Florida features quarterback B.J. Daniels on offense, the redshirt junior is a three-year starter who threw for 1,685 yards with 11 TDs and 13 INTs last season to go along with a 58.3% completion percentage. The Bulls’ offense ranked a dismal 105th in the nation in total yards with 309.7 per game last season and 101st in passing yards per game with 164.5 Holtz expects Daniels to step it up in his second year in his offense, noting that “In B.J.’s defense, B.J. went into his third offense in three years last year”. “As a redshirt sophomore, that’s not easy to do. I mean, you’ve been in college three years, you’ve had three offenses—he’s head swimming, the poor guy, having a hard time finding the library.” The Fighting Irish return last year’s starting quarterback, senior Dayne Crist, to lead Kelly’s spread option offense after he beat out Tommy Rees. Rees, who went 4-0 as a starter last season, lost the job in fall camp Speedy tailback Cierre Wood will likely be the primary ball carrier for the Irish this season and also will be a receiving threat out of the backfield. On defense, ND returns pre-season All-Americans Manti Te’o at linebacker and safety Harrison Smith from a unit that improved considerably at the end of last season.
USF vs. Notre Dame St. Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
USF Bulls +11
@ Notre Dame Fighting Irish -11
Over 47 (-110)
Under 47 (-110)
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USF vs. Notre Dame Pick:
USF will need their QB, Daniels to step up because there will be new starters on the line and at wide receiver where someone will need to step up to replace the departed Dontavia Bogan who had 47 receptions last year. Linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and three starters from the secondary in senior corner Quenton Washington, junior SS Jon Lejiste and senior FS Jerrell Young, return from a unit that ranked 16th in the nation with 318.1 total yards allowed last year.
The Irish’ QB, Crist, who threw for over 225 YPG and 15 TDs with 7 INTs last season before suffering a ruptured patella tendon in his left knee on Oct.30 against Tulsa last season, will look to top target will be pre-season All-American wide receiver Michael Floyd who averaged 13 yards per catch on 70 receptions with 12 TDs last season. The Irish defense shut down strong offenses in Utah, USC and Miami in a 33-17 victory in the Sun Bowl to close the season with a four game winning streak. They ranked 23rd in the nation last season with 20.2 PPG allowed and will prove a tough nut for USF to crack on the road.
The Bulls and the Fighting Irish have no previous meetings; the trends favor the defenses in this one. The under is 8-2 in USF’s last 10 non-conference games and the under is 6-2 in their last 8 games on grass. The under is 7-1 in ND’s last 8 home games and 9-3 in their last 12 games as a favorite. The Irish are 2-8-2 in their last 12 home games overall.
The Fighting Irish have not been a strong favorite in recent games as their record in their last 12 as a favorite indicates. The USF defense should keep the Bulls in the game until the end, even if their lackluster offensive unit is unable to put up a lot of points on the road. Notre Dame features an excellent kicker in senior David Ruffer (18/19 on FG attempts in 2010) who hit a 50 yard field goal against Miami in the Sun Bowl. This could keep the score down if the Irish opt for field goals instead of going for it in the red zone with the efficient Ruffer handling the kicking duties. South Florida is a strong team, and if Daniels is able to avoid the turnovers that plagued him last season, the Bulls may have a good chance to pull off an early season upset over the 16th-ranked ND squad. Both defenses will be tough to score on and it will be tough for either team to pull away.