Head Coach: Charlie Strong
2016 Record: 11-2 (7-1 AAC)
Over 10 wins (-117); Under 10 wins (-103)
Odds to win AAC Championship Game: -114
Odds to win 2017 Title: +13500
Odds c/o Bookmaker
The South Florida Bulls dominated the AAC last year, posting a 7-1 conference record while amassing the conference’s highest scoring offense. It was an offense, after all, that ranked No. 2 in the nation, 43.8 points per game. The fact that the offense returns seven starters, including quarterback Quinton Flowers, should leave the AAC shaking. South Florida is the toast of the Conference.
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Charlie Strong also takes over the program, and he boasts a 53-37 record in his seven years of NCAA coaching. South Florida looks to only get better, though NCAA football oddsmakers project the Bulls to win ’10’ games, which would be a one-game decrease from last year’s impressive showing.
Losing Marlon Mack may have something to do with it. Mack declared for the NFL draft, but his loss may not be quite that monumental all things considered.
Flowers, after all, became USF’s all-time leading rusher with 1,530 yards. The quarterback also threw for another 2,812 yards on 62.5 percent passing. He won the Offensive Player of the Year in the AAC. The Bulls also lost its top receiver from last season, Rodney Adams. Expected to make up for these losses are running backs D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice.
But USF’s top rusher was its quarterback, Quinton Flowers, who became USF’s all-time leading rusher with 1,530 yards. The quarterback also threw for another 2,812 yards on 62.5 percent passing. He won the Offensive Player of the Year in the AAC. Flowers returns, and is the star prospect on the roster.
The Bulls also lost its top receiver from last season, Rodney Adams. Expected to make up for these losses are running backs D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice.
Johnson has 1,000 career rushing yards and Tice has 843, and the pair will alternate as the top options in the backfield. Redshirt freshman Elijah Mack (no relation to Marlon) also will be in the mix carrying the ball after an outstanding spring performance.
USF will not fall off too much offensively, which on the surface seems like a bold declaration considering the loss of Mack. But Strong is the coach this program needed, and he has no shortage of talent to work with; never mind the return of Flowers, of course.
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At wide receiver, Tyre McCants and Marquez Valdes-Scantling both are great targets for Flowers. McCants caught 25 passes for 384 yards last season and Valdes-Scantling caught 22 for 415 yards. Mitchell Wilcox and Elkanah Dillon are two of the best tight ends in the AAC, and both will be vying for their share of throws as well. USF will again be a top offense.
Strong will likely implement the 3-5-3 defensive scheme he has used most of his career, but in the spring it was actually about an even-split between that formation and the usage of a 4-2-5. The latter formation was what USF used the majority of last season.
In 2016, the Bulls held teams to 31.6 points per game and allowed 482 yards per game, ranking No. 92 and No. 120 in the nation. There is plenty of room for improvement. The return of Kirk Livingstone will play a role in which scheme USF ultimately goes with, and he sat out the spring with a shoulder injury.
The team still returns nine defensive starters, along with safety Devin Abraham, who started five games last season before injuring his thumb. The Bulls had the AAC’s worst defense, but it was not so glaring with how strong the team was on the other end of the football. Strong has to make changing this his No. 1 priority, really.
The Bulls still did have three Second-team All-Conference defensive players in Deandrin Senal, Deatrcik Nichols and Auggie Sanchez. Sanchez has plenty of experience (37 starts) and led USF in tackles last season with 120. Bruce Hector also returns, and he tied Sanchez with the team lead in total sacks (6). The secondary will feature Nichols, Ronnie Hoggins, Abraham, and Tajee Fullwood. It should be fine despite the losses of both Hassan Childs and Nate Godwin.
USF kicker Emilio Nadelman was 7 of 7 on FGA last season before he missed the final four games with a leg injury. Punter Jon Hernandez transferred from Florida State and walked on to average 41.2 yards per punt attempt on 63 tries. Johnson made the All-AAC second team as a return man, and he will handle the punt returns.
Overall, the Bulls should be in roughly the same place as last season, but that means a repeat as Conference champions. USF is more poised and ready to become a major program than an AAC champ, however, and that is why the school hired Strong, a proven winner. USF did have to share the Conference title with Temple last year, so perhaps the most realistic goal is just sweeping AAC play and becoming the lone conference champ.
USF also dodged the FSU Seminoles on the schedule this year, making a one-game improvement pretty realistic, despite oddsmakers expecting the team to regress to 10-wins. It seems far-fetched to expect USF to win 12 games, but winning all its Conference matchups would put it in place to do just that.
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