South Florida Bulls
Head Coach: Willie Taggart
2015 Record: 8-5
2015 Bowl: 45-35 Loss to Western Kentucky at Miami Beach Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 7 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +100000
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +280
Regular Season over/under: 8.5 wins
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The South Florida Bulls made big strides last season. An improvement on offense was instrumental in the turnaround, as the Bulls set a school record for total offense and touchdowns last season, while also making a Bowl appearance. South Florida’s offensive production increased from 256 yards per game in 2013 to 305 yards per game in 2014—up all the way to 442 yards per game last year. The rush game, in particular, took a big leap, increasing its yardage to 247 per game after mustering just 108 in 2014.
Where it gets really interesting is that the Bulls could be only better this season. South Florida returned most of its key players, first amongst which is QB Quinton Flowers. He will be entering his second season as a full-time starter and RB Marlon Mack is coming off two 1,000-plus yard seasons.
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Though Flowers has improvements to make in his passing game, he finished second on the team in rushing behind Mack and is about as good a dual-threat QB as found in the AAC. He will have to work on improving his 59 percent passing clip from last season, but he could easily exceed 1,000 rushing yards after nearly doing so last year (991).
The Bulls also have put some good receivers around Mack, which should only make his job easier. Rodney Adams, Chris Barr and Ryeshene Bronson all return to the fold, and NC-State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling will likely earn one of the starting spots, too. At 6’3”, 210, he is a powerful WR capable of both overpowering and outleaping coverage. He had 44 catches in two seasons at NC State and between he and Adams, opposing secondaries could have a lot of trouble with USF. IT is, of course, up to Flowers to be able to make the most of this talent, though.
While Flowers has yet to establish himself as a great passer, having that much talent on the wings will make his job a lot easier.
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The Bulls have depth in the backfield to complement the array of receivers, meaning that offensively USF could be a potent and dangerous squad in 2016.
Defensively the Bulls will be far from hurting, too. USF returns five of its top six tacklers from last season and it ranked No. 14 in the nation in INTs (17) and No. 24 in TOs (25) a year ago. Auggie Sanchez and Nigel Harris were both premier LBs in the 4-2-5 scheme the Bulls employed, and the secondary is also very solid, even though the Bulls will miss Jamie Byrd (88 tackles and five sacks last season).
Nate Godwin and Tajee Fullwood will be the safeties, and there should not be much of a falloff really. Ronnie Hoggins and Deatrick Nichols man the CB-spots and Devin Abraham will start at free safety. The DL will have a lot of turnover in it, but that may not be as problematic as some detractors think. The Bulls have momentum carrying over from last season and a great DC.
Kicker Emilio Nadelman struggled badly in his sophomore season. He missed 6 of his first 12 FGA, but finished the season hitting 9 of his last 11. Brent Gordon will be starting his first year as the full-time punter. Returns will be handled by Tajee Fullwood, while kickoffs will be returned by Rodney Adams and Johnson.
The Bulls open the season Sept. 3 against Towson and face Northern Illinois in Week 2. Sept. 24 will be a big featured matchup against the Florida State Seminoles, before Conference play opens up with Cincinnati on Oct. 1. The Bulls have the benefit of closing the season against lowly UCF on Nov. 26, and it stands to reason that the Bulls do indeed make their way to another Bowl appearance this season after that.
The Bulls closed the season by winning seven of its final eight games, and the return to bowl play was huge for the program. USF should be one of the top teams in the AAC, and the Bulls really are solid on both sides of the ball.
The defense will have to sort its line issues, but there is no reason to expect that not to happen. Defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie has been superb at putting his units together, and if he is able to return the defensive game back to where it was last season the Bulls should be strong contenders to take the AAC title.
Season Forecast: 9 wins
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