Last year wasn’t as expected for the South Florida Bulls, but 10-2 with a bowl win is nothing to complain about. On the other hand, when you’re the preseason favorite to be the Group of Five representative in a New Years Six bowl, then your biggest rivals go undefeated and gets there instead, that will sting.
With several holes to fill on both sides of the ball, second-year coach Charlie Strong has recruited well. However, it might still be a challenge to get USF their third consecutive 10-win season. The good news for the Bulls is that they don’t have the most challenging schedule, they have a head coach who knows how to win games, and a recruiting class that is good enough for second in the American Athletic Conference.
USF not only lost record-setting quarterback Quinton Flowers, but also lost their top two running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson, along with leading receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Three of the starters on the offensive line are back, as are receivers Tyre McCants and Darnell Salomon.
Starting at quarterback, projected started Brett Kean has reportedly been suspended for the first four games of the season due to academic issues, so Chris Oladokun and Alabama/Arizona State transfer Blake Barnett will both compete for the starting job. Ranked #8 in the country in rushing yards per game in 2017, Trevon Sands and Elijah Mack will need to replace the top three leading rushers from last season (Flowers, Tice, Johnson).
Receiving should be a strength for this team, with McCants and Salomon being a nice “thunder and lightning” combination to have. Look for tight end Mitchell Wilcox to make an impact in the receiving game as well. There was some frustration among the USF fan base with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilberts play calling last season,o we’ll need to see if he adjusts this season. He has had successful players with Charlie Strong at Texas (namely D’Onta Foreman and his 2,000-yard season).
Vast improvements were made over the 2016 defense, which was ranked 120th in the nation. Despite the fact that this was a concern going into 2017, defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary led USF to the 37th ranked total defense in the country, while being second nationally in interceptions. This unit experienced the loss of possibly the three best players from last season in DT Deadrin Senat, LB Auggie Sanchez, and DB Deatrick Nichols, but there is still enough talent to be the top defense in the conference once again.
There will need to be some playmakers stepping up in order to maintain the level of success, and there are some solid candidates. Greg Reaves is back on the line after leading the team in tackles for loss. In the defensive backfield, Mazzi Wilkins and Ronnie Hoggins will be back after getting some experience last season. Khalid McGee should anchor the linebackers and possibly be the leading tackler for this team in 2018.
The nonconference schedule pf USF may not be a cakewalk, but it’s pretty close. They have Elon/Georgia Tech at home, and travel to face UMass/Illinois (at Soldier Field in Chicago) on the road. In their American Conference games, USF will have a tough game at Houston and will travel to face Cincinnati/Temple in back-to-back weeks. After those games comes “The War on I-4” in Tampa against UCF. Based on the rest of their schedule, it wouldn’t surprise me if that game becomes another division-clinching showdown.
There will likely be some struggles on offense without Flowers, who accounted for over 11,000 yards of total offense during his time with the Bulls. This defense is talented enough to lead the conference again, but they will also need to find their footing. An easier early season schedule should help out both units.
Prediction: 8-4, 3rd in AAC East
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