Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2017-2018: 14. South Florida Bulls

14. South Florida Bulls

Immense talent + favorable schedule = undefeated season?

  • Location: Tampa, FL.
  • Conference: AAC (East)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Charlie Strong (first year)
  • Last Years Record: 11-2 (7-1 AAC)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Birmingham Bowl


Since they began playing football in 1997, South Florida has had some memorable moments in their short history. Rising to No. 2 in the country in 2007, beating Notre Dame in 2011 and various bowl victories are all moments the fans won't forget about anytime soon. As the team looks ahead to 2017, there is hope that the Bulls could do something that would certainly top that list: win the American Athletic Conference, and maybe just maybe, pull off an undefeated season. With an underrated quarterback leading the charge, a physical defense stopping opponents' in its tracks and a motivated coach on the sideline, it could be a truly special season in Tampa, Florida.

Quinton Flowers
Offense: No conversation of the country's most explosive players would be complete without adding South Florida QB Quinton Flowers to the mix. After earning All-AAC honors in 2015, Flowers exploded for huge numbers last season, throwing for 2,812 yards and rushing for 1,530 yards. In total, the dynamic dual threat was able to record 42 total touchdowns (24 through the air, 18 on the ground) and give defenses nightmares throughout the whole year. What makes Flowers so impressive is that just because he is extremely fast and a dangerous runner, doesn't mean he leaves anything to be desired passing the ball. He still completed nearly 63% of his passes last year and limited himself to just seven interceptions despite playing in an offense that did like to throw the ball. If he can put up even bigger numbers his senior year, it's hard not to imagine Flowers not being in the Heisman conversation, even if he doesn't get the national exposure of others. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Flowers will not have his backfield mate back to help him, as running back Marlon Mack departed. Mack was far from a slouch himself, adding 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 6.8 yards per carry. His departure opens the door for senior D'Ernest Johnson to slide into the featured back role. Johnson added 543 yards and eight touchdowns himself a year ago and while he may not be quite the back Mack was, he certainly has the speed and elusiveness to be very dangerous. Fellow returnees like senior Darius Tice and sophomore Trevon Sands should also see carries in the Bulls' spread look, as will redshirt freshman Elijah Mack (no relation to Marlon). At receiver, USF also loses one it's go-to weapons in Rodney Adams (67 receptions, 822 yards in '16) but much like the backfield situation, has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. NC State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling impressed in his first season in Tampa, finishing off second on the team in receiving yardage. The senior is quite the deep threat; he had 415 yards on just 22 catches, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. With Flowers big arm, Valdes-Scantling will look to really take the top off defenses early and often in 2017. Junior Tyre McCants should also be expected to step up after finishing last season with solid numbers. McCants isn't quit the big-play threat Valdes-Scantling is, but finds a way to get open and make plays for this offense. Junior Chris Barr, redshirt freshman DeVontres Dukes and newcomer Kevaughn Dingle should all be expected to see increased roles in the offense as well. At tight end, South Florida has a potential future star in sophomore Mitchell Wilcox, who earned All-AAC honors last season after hauling in 12 passes for 278 yards. With soft hands and underrated speed, Wilcox could put together an even bigger campaign in '17. Up front, South Florida hopes the offensive line will take steps forward after an uneven 2016. There is no dearth of experience in the unit, as three starters are back, who have combined for 40 starts. However, the group struggled throughout much of the spring and arguably the line's most important position, left tackle, is a question mark. Those question marks should put even more pressure on the seniors of the unit, center Cameron Ruff and Jeremi Hall, to step up and provide leadership.

Auggie Sanchez
Defense: New head coach Charlie Strong has long been known as a defensive coach. The former Louisville and Texas head man played safety at Central Arkansas in the early 80's, and while at times his defenses have struggled, they've always played with significant toughness and ferocity. He'll hope to instill that on a defense that already has plenty of talent and difference-makers ready to go. The Bulls strength defensively could be on their defensive line where they return basically everyone, including their top pass rusher, senior Bruce Hector. Hector, a senior, doesn't really fit the mold of a typical defensive tackle in major FBS football. Hector is a tremendous athlete and very light on his feet despite weighing in at nearly 300 pounds. That athleticism helped him record six sacks last year, which tied for the team lead. Fellow seniors Mike Love and Deadrin Senat should also make quite an impact on the D-Line. Senat is quite the load to handle himself; the veteran caused chaos in the heart of the unit, and managed 49 tackles with seven going for a loss. Love will look to provide pressure off the edge, as will sophomore Kirk Livingstone, who will spend his time playing the "Bull" position, a end/linebacker hybrid role that focuses on covering the opposing running back. Depth should not be an issue at all for the line either with plenty of experience ready to rotate in like junior Juwuan Brown (2.5 sacks) and junior Josh Black. At linebacker, South Florida returns one of their two starters in their 4-2-5 defense. That starter just happens to be senior Auggie Sanchez, who hopes to cement himself as one of the top defenders in the AAC this year. Sanchez put together an extremely impressive 2016, racking up 120 tackles, six sacks and added an interception. Playing at the ever-important middle linebacker position, it's likely that Sanchez will once more replicate that type of production. Who starts next to Sanchez at the other linebacker spot is still a question mark, with a wide range of candidates still competing for the starting gig. Sophomore Trent Shaw, junior Jimmy Bayes and redshirt freshman Andre Polk are all likely to see snaps at the outside linebacker spot. USF's pass defense took a major step forward last year, and the return of three starters should ensure it continues to take strides. The Bulls have two rock-solid cornerbacks in senior Deatrick Nichols and junior Ronnie Hoggins, both who have played plenty of big snaps. Nichols is one of their best defensive playmakers; the veteran recorded four interceptions last year and is always ready to make a big play. Senior free safety Tajee Fullwood is the other returnee to the group. The exceptionally rangy defender managed 65 tackles and two picks last year and brings impressive size and physicality to the backend (6'2", 215 pounds). The strong safety position is the only one without a returning starter to look to, but senior Devin Abraham brings plenty of experience and knowledge at the position.

Special Teams: After wrestling the job over from Brandon Behr full-time, senior Emilio Nadelman hit 7 of 7 field goals for the Bulls with a long of 42. He should have a big year now that he's the clear-cut starter. At punter, former Florida State transfer Jonathan Hernandez is back after averaging 41.2 yards per punt in '16. The return game will miss the explosive Rodney Adams (24.3 yard average on kick returns) but D'Ernest Johnson could realistically handle both punt and kick return duties in '17.

Even though he never managed a winning record in three years at Texas, there is no denying how good of a coach Charlie Strong is, and instead of at UT, he is blessed with a fabulous roster to work with right away at South Florida. Flowers, Johnson and company should be enough to keep the offense as lethal as ever, and the defense could really take a huge step forward, particularly if the defensive line makes the improvements expected of them. That talent and experience, mixed with one of the easiest schedules in college football (toughest non-conference game is Illinois, they get Temple, Houston and Tulsa all at home) has the Bulls thinking big, and rightfully so. If the team keeps its focus and plays to it's potential, an undefeated season is a real possibility and if that happens, it will throw the Playoff system into chaos.

Player to Watch
Mitchell Wilcox, TE
Even with Rodney Adams now departed, USF should have no troubles finding a new No. 1 receiver for Quinton Flowers to work with. However, the offense could become even more dangerous if the tight end position becomes a real strength, which it definitely could. Wilcox had just 12 catches his freshman year but averaged 23.2 yards per reception and showed he had impressive speed for his size. If he can continue to take steps forward, he could mold into one of the country's better and more explosive tight ends.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 3-9 (1-6 Big East)
2013: 2-10 (2-6 AAC)
2014: 4-8 (3-5 AAC)
2015: 8-5 (6-2 AAC)*
2016: 11-2 (7-1 AAC)*

*= Bowl appearance

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.