QB Quandary for USF

Courtney Denson.

Fans attending Penn State's season-opener Saturday against South Florida will have a chance to witness yet another quarterback dilemma playing itself out. But for a change, the dilemma won't involve the Nittany Lions.

PSU used to be famous for keeping its followers in suspense in the preseason, with Joe Paterno often announcing his starter only days before the opener. That's not the case this year with Michael Robinson firmly entrenched in the starting role.

But it's a different story at South Florida. A very different story. Said Bulls coach Jim Leavitt Monday afternoon: “We're still contemplating who we're going to start. We're not sure yet.”

Leavitt's candidates are junior Pat Julmiste and sophomore Courtney Denson. Julmiste is the incumbent. He started 10 games last year, including a double-overtime victory at TCU in which he completed 22 of 33 passes for 324 yards. Denson, a transfer from Auburn, has yet to make his South Florida debut. He suffered a hamstring injury in practice, but Leavitt said he was ready to play. Which should make the coach's decision that much more difficult.

“Both have worked very, very hard this summer, both worked very, very hard in camp and both are healthy and ready to go,” Leavitt said. “I'm not sure which way we're going to go. Pat has a lot of experience in games. He's started games on the road that we've won. Going to UAB and TCU last year, he was our starting quarterback.”

Why consider demoting an experienced veteran? Because the Bulls were sluggish at times on offense last fall and scuffled to a 4-7 finish, only their second losing season in Leavitt's eight years at the school.

Hopes for improvement may hinge on whether Denson shines at his new school. Leavitt had recruited the talented all-purpose athlete out of Miami Central High, but Denson chose Auburn in part because he thought the Bulls lacked championship potential. He came to regret that decision when the Auburn coaching staff moved him to the secondary, and eventually he decided to transfer to South Florida. For Denson, the timing was perfect. The Bulls may not be anyone's favorite to win the national championship this fall, but as a first-year member of the Big East, they will vie for the league's Bowl Championship Series invitation, a perk that wasn't available to them as a member of Conference USA.

First things first, though. Leavitt echoed all the usual platitudes in discussing Penn State, noting Robinson's athletic ability and praising the Lions' stingy defense. He also dismissed the relevancy of the Nittany Lions' recent struggles.

“They're excited about the fact that they feel like they're going to be able to open up more and stretch the field vertically more than they've done before,” Leavitt said. “When you've got that going for you — an awfully strong quarterback, a good defense — my gosh, you feel pretty good going into things. And then there's the environment and all those things we're walking into. So we know we're in an uphill battle. But we're excited about it. It's a great opportunity for us.”

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