South Florida is building plenty of confidence as it prepares for Big East play, and no one may be benefiting more from the favorable schedule than quarterback B.J. Daniels.
After matching the school record for passing yards in a single game last weekend, Daniels and the 18th-ranked Bulls will get a final tuneup when they host UTEP on Saturday night.
South Florida (3-0) continues to climb the rankings after jumping into the Top 25 following its 23-20 win at then-No. 16 Notre Dame on Sept. 3. The Bulls have avoided a letdown, amassing 1,264 yards of offense in their last two games.
After leading the team to a 37-7 win over Ball State on Sept. 10, Daniels threw for four touchdowns, ran for another and matched Matt Grothe's school record with 382 passing yards last Saturday in a 70-17 win over Florida A&M.
South Florida finished with a Big East-record 745 yards of offense. Darrell Scott ran for 146 yards and three scores while 14 different receivers had at least one catch.
Coach Skip Holtz said the three-game stretch between the Notre Dame game and conference play was put together in hopes of getting the backups some experience. He replaced Daniels with Bobby Eveld at several points last week, with Eveld throwing two interceptions while completing 9 of 12 passes for 95 yards.
"There isn't a whole lot to complain about," Holtz said last weekend. "I thought it was great to get the 2's in. ... We need to get them on the field and get them some experience because as we have said, they are just one play away from those guys being starters."
Building confidence against weaker opponents may be especially important for Daniels, who is in his third season as the starter.
Accuracy has been an issue for the quarterback, who threw 13 interceptions and 11 touchdowns last season. This year, however, he's passed for 869 yards -- 13th in the nation -- and six touchdowns with only one interception, and he's also completed 67 percent of his passes after connecting on 58.4 in 2010.
"Just the poise he's showing in the pocket, the confidence he's displaying, the leadership role that he's given forth," Holtz said. "He is truly playing quarterback. He's not just an athlete running around making plays."
Daniels and the Bulls have one more chance to gain momentum before visiting Pittsburgh for their Big East opener.
UTEP (2-1) is coming off a 16-10 win at New Mexico State last Saturday. Dakota Warren connected on three field goals and the Miners set up a touchdown with a 60-yard run on a fake punt in the third quarter to take the lead.
Freshman Jay Hall started at quarterback in place of Nick Lamaison, who separated his shoulder in a 28-17 loss to SMU the previous week. Hall struggled, completing 9 of 28 passes for 124 yards with an interception.
Coach Mike Price has not ruled out Lamaison's return this weekend. In a season-opening win over FCS opponent Stony Brook, Lamaison passed for 365 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"We're not limiting anybody this game at the quarterback position," Price said. "We'll see how the injuries pan out this week."
The Miners are 0-20 versus BCS schools since 1998, and they've dropped 25 consecutive road games against the Top 25, including the last nine by an average of 41.4 points.
"My pep talk will sound something like this: The last 11 guys out of the locker room have to start," Price joked. "They'll come charging out onto the field."
This is the first meeting between the programs.
Top 25 Overview
The Bulls have had no problems in their last two games against Ball State and Florida A&M. Will the Miners present more of a challenge?
UTEP ranks No. 88 in total offense and has wins over Stony Brook and New Mexico State this season. There is a familiarity with the coaches in this one. Skip Holtz was a golfing buddy of Mike Price when he was the head coach at East Carolina.