This is not your older brother’s USF.
USF football reached a remarkable peak in 2007 with a No. 2 ranking in the middle of the season, only to finish outside of the top-25 and mostly flounder since. Willie Taggart restored the program, however, into a ‘Group of 5’ juggernaut before leaving for the Oregon job. Charlie Strong, fresh off a disappointing three-year run at Texas, is now at the helm and inherits a rock solid situation.
In 2016, the Bulls finished 11-2 and are likely to pick up right where they left off this season. They were the preseason favorites to win the American Athletic Conference and likely will be ranked in the top-25 when they visit Pratt & Whitney Stadium on Sept. 9.
2016 Season in Review
A disappointing but competitive loss to Florida State in USF’s fourth game was supposed to be the only snag on their way to an American conference title and New Year’s Bowl berth, but a surprising defeat at the hands of Temple ended those dreams. Willie Taggart's squad ran the table the rest of the way, but could only manage a bid for the Birmingham Bowl, where, led by interim head coach T.J. Weist (remember him?), the Bulls defeated No. 25 South Carolina 46-39 and ended the season ranked 55th in the S&P+ efficiency rankings.
Taggart going to Oregon may seem like a big loss, but having Charlie Strong follow him up is probably an upgrade. Running back Marlon Mack, who left after his junior season to become a fourth round pick by the Indianapolis Colts, is the biggest loss. His home run ability and production (1,414 yards from scrimmage, 18 TD) will be missed but USF has plenty of talent ready to step up and fill in for him, including D’Ernest Johnson, who scored 13 touchdowns and amassed over 800 yards from scrimmage last season.
USF also lost leading receiver Rodney Adams, who was selected in the fifth round by the Minnesota Vikings, to graduation. Adams torched the Huskies for 118 yards on five receptions with three touchdowns in USF’s win over UConn in 2015. The Bulls do have Rice graduate transfer Temi Alaka coming in and return almost all of their receiving production not from Adams or Mack.
USF also graduated two all-conference offensive linemen, including Kofi Amichia, who was a sixth round pick by the Packers.
This offense was really f*cking good last year. Despite the loss of two key playmakers and two linemen, it should be almost as good. Quinton Flowers is a terrifying dual threat at quarterback. The reigning AAC Player of the Year is on every preseason watch list for quarterbacks and is even a dark horse candidate for the Heisman. Another name to keep an eye on is Darius Tice, a running back who received a medical redshirt after his 2016 season was cut short early by injury and put up 460 yards in 2015.
New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is well-versed in the style USF was running last year and should be able to make sure this group doesn’t miss a beat after an explosive 2016 season.
For as great as the USF offense was, the defense was abhorrent, coming in at 110th in the country in S&P+ overall efficiency. The unit rotated a lot of players last year, with SB Nation’s Bill Connelly counting 25 contributors. Most of them, including nine starters, are returning. Their hope is that Strong (a defensive-minded head coach) and continuity can improve this unit enough to let the offense shine and win some games.
Matchup Against UConn
What used to be a fun, quirky matchup between two adolescent programs has become a bit of a one-sided affair lately, as USF has won the last five meetings. UConn has a new offense in place with an experienced quarterback that should be able to put points up against the USF defense, but stopping the Bulls’ potent attack will be tough.
UConn will likely be multi-score underdogs at home on Sept. 9, and it would be a huge upset to take the win against a team many fans are optimistic will go 12-0 this season. Maybe next year Randy Edsall can bring the fun back to the #dySFunCTion rivalry.