B.J. Daniels feels a sense of urgency to lead South Florida to the top of the Big East.
The Bulls are coming off a disappointing 5-7 finish that ended a string of six consecutive bowl appearances, and the senior quarterback is eager to prove he and a talented supporting cast not only are a year older, but a team that's learned from costly mistakes that undermined last season.
''Everybody's joking, saying I'm the old man of the team now,'' Daniels said. ''It means I've got to hurry up and do something. It's my last opportunity to try to help out the team and do whatever we can to try to win the Big East.''
USF concluded its second season under coach Skip Holtz by dropping seven of eight following a 4-0 that included a win at Notre Dame.
That attention-grabbing road victory propelled the Bulls into the Top 25 for a four-week stay that ended when they lost their conference opener. Four of the team's seven losses came in the closing seconds of games the Bulls easily could have won, leaving Holtz and his players with an empty feeling that lingered in the offseason.
With 15 starters returning, including eight on offense, the Bulls think they have the experience and depth it'll take to make a run at their first conference title.
Holtz cautioned, however, that games are not won on paper.
''You look at the way we finished the second half of last season. We can talk about it, we can make a lot of improvements, but we can't do anything about it until we step on the field Sept. 1,'' Holtz said, looking forward to this year's opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
''So regardless of what people are writing or projecting, who's back and what type of team you have, none of that is really relevant. We've got to go get it done on the field,'' the coach added. ''The last time we played is not anything we want to beat our chests about. That's a huge motivating factor for me and this football team.''
Daniels threw for 2,585 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago after struggling as a sophomore in his first season in Holtz's offense. Holtz felt the numbers may have been even better if a group of talented receivers and running backs had been able to remain healthy.
A lack of depth also hurt the Bulls on special teams, where several gaffes contributed to losses.
''When you look at the improvements we made offensively last year, statistically we made huge strides. That was a tribute to B.J. and the way that he played,'' Holtz said.
''If we can get some things going around him, then I'm very comfortable that he can have success,'' the coach added. ''I don't think anybody can do it alone. In a lot of respects, he was asked to do that.''
Seven starters are back on defense, including end Ryne Giddins, cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebackers Sam Barrington, Michael Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore.
The biggest question mark in fall camp is who will wind up as the second starting cornerback, although Holtz doesn't sound concerned because ''there's an awful lot of talent to decide between.''
Offensively, Demetris Murray is poised to become a full-time starter at running back, and Holtz said there's more depth on the line and at receiver than at any point since he took over in 2010. In fact, the biggest battle in camp is to determine if red-shirt freshman Matt Floyd or junior Bobby Eveld will be the No. 2 quarterback.
''Both had good springs, but I don't think either one had the type of spring to take over that position,'' Holtz said.
A year ago, Holtz had the entire offseason to prime the Bulls for a season-opening test at Notre Dame. This season, he's counting on the way last season ended to set the tone for a strong start.
After facing Tennessee-Chattanooga, USF will sandwich road trips to Nevada and Ball State around its Big East opener at home against Rutgers. Florida State visits Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 29, wrapping up what Holtz expects to be a challenging first month of the season.
''I don't think we need a big game to motivate us,'' Holtz said. ''I think right now the challenge is within us, not against our opponent. ... We've got to play to become a better football team.''