B.J. Daniels became South Florida's starting quarterback much sooner than planned, taking over the Bulls when Matt Grothe went down with an injury in the third game of the season.
Daniels, a redshirt freshman, has shown flashes of brilliance and numerous growing pains while leading South Florida the International Bowl against Northern Illinois on Saturday.
In large part because of Daniels, USF (7-5) managed to salvage a solid season and reach a bowl game for the fifth straight season.
Daniels is a dual-threat, but his running is his most consistent weapon. He led the Bulls with 798 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
"We think he has a chance to be a very special player," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. "He can make plays that others can't because of his legs."
Northern Illinois junior running back Chad Spann powers the Huskies' offence. He led the team with 945 yards and scored 19 rushing touchdowns.
Northern Illinois is making consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history.
"He's had an outstanding year," Huskies coach Jerry Kill said of Spann. "He's a touchdown-maker, he's got a lot of ability.
"For us to win, he's got to have a good game. If he doesn't have a good game, it'll be a sad press conference at the end of the deal."
Now in its fourth year, the International Bowl - the only bowl game outside the United States - has already seen some spectacular rushing performances in its short history.
Ray Rice of Rutgers turned pro after rushing for a game-record 280 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-30 win over Ball State in 2007. Connecticut's Donald Brown almost duplicated those feats in last year's game, racking up 261 yards in a 38-20 win over Buffalo, then becoming a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Daniels isn't likely to be rattled by his bowl debut. He took care of any nerves Sept. 26, his first start after replacing Grothe by leading the Bulls to a 17-7 road win over Florida State in his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla.
"A lot of people didn't really know what I was going to do," Daniels said. "Up until that point I had been practising as if I was a starter so I felt like I was prepared and ready for it."
Kill said it's no exaggeration to compare Daniels to Pat White, a 4,000 yard rusher in his career at West Virginia, and Michael Vick.
"He's probably built more like Michael Vick but he's every bit as athletic and skilled as those two guys are," Kill said. "The bottom line is the film doesn't lie.
"I wish it did but it doesn't."
Spann had four 100-yard games, including a season-high 174 against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 5. The Huskies can also turn to sophomore Me'co Brown, who ran for 645 yards this season.
"They're very talented," Leavitt said of the Huskies' two-pronged ground attack. "They get it, they understand how to run the ball and they're very good at it.
"They've got a tremendous line and their running backs are awfully good. It'll be a great challenge for us."
When he wasn't pulling the ball down and running, Daniels completed 53 per cent of his passes. He threw for 1,766 yards and 12 touchdowns but was intercepted nine times.
"They try to get you in one-on-one situations and let him make a play," Kill said. "It's kind of like the old one-four offence in basketball where you clear the floor and let somebody go to work.
"That's basically what they do and he does a good job of being elusive and making plays."
Daniels, who has topped 100 yards rushing four times, said he's looking forward to testing his legs on the fast, dry artificial turf under the retractable roof at Rogers Centre.
"The surface is a very fast track," he said. "It's much faster than grass, so we're going to try and take advantage of that with our speed."
That's why Kill joked about cracking open the roof, even though the temperature is expected to be a frosty 13 degrees at kickoff Saturday.
"I don't know if anybody knew but they're going to open that dome up and let it snow in there, that would be better for us," Kill said with a smile. "At the end of the day, (the dome) will certainly help them. We'd rather play where it's cold outside."Report Typo/Error