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The big 2015 South Alabama football guide: USA + UAB = Jagzers

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The 128-team preview countdown continues with an Alabama program that's kind of two Alabama programs, for now at least.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. The hard part's over. Now here comes the hard part.

Ten years ago, Ladd Peebles Stadium was the home of the Senior Bowl, a young bowl game, and some concerts. That's not a bad lot in life, certainly. Built in the late-1940s, the stadium had hosted plenty of college football games -- one Alabama game per year in the 1950s and 1960s, some Auburn games, some Southern Miss games -- and was outfitted with new field turf in 2004. It just didn't have a home team.

Seven years ago, the University of South Alabama decided to give it one. It added football, hired Mobile native, former Bama receiver, and Birmingham-Southern head coach Joey Jones, and started building the Jaguars.

USA beat Hargrave Military Academy in its first organized game in 2009, won 17 games as basically an unclassified program over the next two years, then went 6-4 in 2011 as an FCS independent. The Jaguars beat their first established FBS program, Florida Atlantic, in double overtime during a 2-11 campaign in 2012, then rode a feisty defense to 6-6 in 2013. They were not selected for a bowl that year, but after a second straight 6-6 campaign, they became the youngest program to go bowling when they accepted an invitation to the inaugural Camellia Bowl in Montgomery.

(And what a bowl it was, with dramatic late bombs and a kick to the coach's nose.)

Jones has been there every step of the way. He was inducted into Mobile's sports hall of fame four years ago, and he has amassed a 37-28 career record at USA. He has laid the foundation and built the house. His initial recruiting class has used up its eligibility. He has bowled.

He has checked all the boxes -- even the "hire an assistant from Bama" box (UA director of player personnel Tyler Siskey is now USA's receivers coach) -- and done all the grunt work it takes to get an FBS program in Alabama off of the ground. And unlike a certain now-defunct program in Birmingham, it appears Jones' program has the institutional support required to live.

And now here comes the hard part: maintenance. USA must replace its starting quarterback, two leading rushers, two leading receivers, three multi-year starting offensive linemen, three leading tacklers on the defensive line, three leading tacklers at linebacker, and three of five leading tacklers in the secondary. This is a blood transfusion, one that will test South Alabama's staying power.

Jones has recruited well, and he's proven himself as a head coach. I'm reasonably optimistic that he'll be able to maintain despite some impressive turnover. But it's a test he'll have to pass. Perhaps luckily for him, USA stands to gain more than anybody else from UAB's demise three and a half hours up I-65 in Birmingham.

2. Jagzers

A unique recruiting class could keep things moving. Jones signed only 11 high school prospects but supplemented those with 11 transfers -- four from junior colleges (including three-star prospects like former Illinois running back Dami Ayoola, receiver Tyrone Williams, and lineman Curtis Williams), and seven from UAB.

Former Blazers starting quarterback Cody Clement is now a Jaguar. Running back D.J. Vinson gained more yards than any USA returnee, and Josh Magee and Gerald Everett immediately becomes USA's second-most proven receiver and tight end, respectively. Two-year starting offensive tackle Cameron Blankenship joins the mix, as does another lineman (sophomore Lee Dufour) who started a couple of games for UAB late in 2014.

It is conceivable that as many as six offensive starters will be former Blazers. Jones also hired former UAB offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent and tight ends coach Richard Jones.

This all makes sense. Combine UAB's 2014 offense with USA's defense, and you'd have a top-60 team. There will still be issues relating to continuity and defensive experience, but UAB's exit has thrown South Alabama a lifeline.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 89
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
6-Sep at Kent State 107 23-13 W 66% 9.9 93%
13-Sep Mississippi State 13 3-35 L 7% -34.6 0%
20-Sep Georgia Southern 57 6-28 L 18% -21.0 0%
27-Sep at Idaho 112 34-10 W 84% 23.7 100%
4-Oct at Appalachian State 104 47-21 W 97% 43.0 100%
18-Oct Georgia State 122 30-27 W 24% -16.6 52%
24-Oct Troy 126 27-13 W 78% 18.2 99%
1-Nov at UL-Lafayette 72 9-19 L 36% -8.6 15%
8-Nov at Arkansas State 66 10-45 L 3% -43.5 0%
15-Nov Texas State 95 24-20 W 73% 14.4 84%
22-Nov at South Carolina 38 12-37 L 8% -32.8 0%
28-Nov Navy 44 40-42 L 56% 3.5 49%
20-Dec vs. Bowling Green 98 28-33 L 43% -4.3 49%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 24.5 94 27.3 57
Points Per Game 22.5 105 26.4 61

3. Up, down, up, down, up, down

South Alabama graded out slightly better than Texas State, but the two teams had similar season trajectories; both had drastically different performances from week to week thanks to one consistently solid unit and one unpredictably bad one.

Whereas Texas State's offense was occasionally awesome, USA's defense was the money unit. The Jags got torched by three good offenses -- Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Navy combined to average 38 points per game and 7.6 yards per play -- and controlled everybody else to the tune of 22.9 points per game and 5.1 yards per play. They were decent down to down but had one of the nation's best red zone defenses (12th in Redzone S&P+), which helped to bail them out of some jams. (Georgia Southern and UL-Lafayette each averaged better than 6.1 yards per play but scored just 47 points combined.)

The offense had its moments, but not nearly enough of them.

  • South Alabama offense, first 3 games: 10.7 points per game, 4.2 yards per play
  • South Alabama offense, next 4 games: 34.5 points per game, 6.4 yards per play
  • South Alabama offense, next 5 games: 25.3 points per game, 4.6 yards per play

The offense was problematic enough despite seniors atop the depth chart at quarterback, running back, and receiver that Jones didn't wait around. He dismissed offensive coordinator Robert Matthews and not only brought UAB's Vincent aboard, but handed Vincent the reins for the Camellia Bowl.

Vincent's throw-caution-to-the-wind game plan against Bowling Green probably wasn't exactly what we'll see this fall, but the fact that he was calling the plays that quickly says a lot about both USA's problems and the confidence Jones has in Vincent, whom he has called a "complete football coach."

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.79 99 IsoPPP+ 84.1 105
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.9% 71 Succ. Rt. + 90.3 109
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.4 97 Def. FP+ 96.0 108
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 101 Redzone S&P+ 80.2 123
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.4 ACTUAL 28 +10.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 87 107 112 105
RUSHING 53 113 108 113
PASSING 96 92 107 87
Standard Downs 118 117 118
Passing Downs 72 87 70
Q1 Rk 105 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 124 2nd Down Rk 118
Q3 Rk 102 3rd Down Rk 93
Q4 Rk 91

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brandon Bridge
160 307 1927 15 8 52.1% 23 7.0% 5.3
Hunter Vaughn 6'2, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 38 59 342 1 6 64.4% 3 4.8% 5.1
Matt Floyd 6'2, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 19 44 264 0 3 43.2% 4 8.3% 5.1
Cody Clements (UAB) 6'2, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8042 183 275 2227 14 7 66.5% 23 7.7% 7.1
Austin Chipoletti (UAB) 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR








Evan Orth (UAB) 6'3, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) NR








4. Hello, Cody

Brandon Bridge had his moments last year. He rushed for 71 yards against Idaho and 137 against Georgia State, and he completed 19 of 28 passes for 339 yards against Appalachian State and threw for four touchdowns against Navy.

But he suffered an ankle injury against UL-Lafayette and missed a couple of games, and when he was bad, he was really bad. He went 2-for-11 against a bad South Carolina defense, and his completion rate for the season was 52 percent. He was USA's first starting quarterback in a bowl, which assures him a place in the Jaguars' history books, but Cody Clements almost certainly represents an upgrade at QB.

Originally a JUCO signee, Clements put up some impressive numbers in his one season playing for Bill Clark and Vincent in Birmingham. He completed two-thirds of his passes, and in a two-week span against Western Kentucky and North Texas, he was incredible: 40-for-48, 620 yards, five touchdowns, one pick. He was held in check by good Louisiana Tech and Marshall defenses, but he still impressed. His efficiency could give this offense a huge boost; Vincent likes to employ a fast tempo, and while deep balls are great, moving the chains and racing to the line to snap again can have a cumulative effect.

Quarterbacks like playing for Vincent, evidently. Not only did Clements follow him to Mobile, so did backups Austin Chipoletti and Evan Orth. Even though Clements is a senior, there's a chance USA's starter will be a UAB transplant for years to come.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
D.J. Vinson (UAB) RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093 166 670 9 4.0 3.5 36.1% 1 1
Kendall Houston RB
139 705 2 5.1 4.5 37.4% 2 2
Jay Jones RB
83 393 3 4.7 3.3 41.0% 0 0
Xavier Johnson RB 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7781 81 438 1 5.4 3.3 49.4% 2 1
Brandon Bridge QB
78 473 4 6.1 7.4 44.9% 5 5
Terrance Timmons RB 5'7, 180 Sr. NR N/A 75 403 4 5.4 4.2 42.7% 0 0
Hunter Vaughn QB 6'2, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 22 70 0 3.2 2.1 31.8% 1 1
Berron Tyson RB 5'8, 175 So. NR N/A 11 56 2 5.1 3.6 54.5% 1 0
Matt Floyd QB 6'2, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 9 7 0 0.8 2.5 11.1% 1 1
Dami Ayoola RB 5'10, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8131







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Shavarez Smith WR-Z
99 54 748 54.5% 25.3% 58.6% 7.6 73 7.6 75.2
Jereme Jones WR-A
70 36 338 51.4% 17.9% 57.1% 4.8 -118 4.8 34.0
Danny Woodson II WR-X 6'1, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9182 54 30 382 55.6% 13.8% 46.3% 7.1 9 7.7 38.3
Josh Magee (UAB) WR 5'10, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8039 35 18 342 51.4% 11.3% 48.6% 9.8 114 8.7 44.7
Wes Saxton TE
34 20 155 58.8% 8.7% 64.7% 4.6 -91 4.5 15.6
Braedon Bowman TE 6'4, 220 Sr. NR N/A 28 18 234 64.3% 7.1% 64.3% 8.4 16 9.1 23.5
Gerald Everett (UAB) TE 6'3, 215 Sr. NR N/A 24 18 304 75.0% 7.7% 37.5% 12.7 92 14.9 39.8
Marvin Shinn WR 6'2, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9663 22 7 173 31.8% 5.6% 63.6% 7.9 72 7.4 17.4
Terrance Timmons RB 5'7, 180 Sr. NR N/A 20 11 113 55.0% 5.1% 50.0% 5.7 -24 5.4 11.3
Cameron Broadnax WR-A 6'2, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7700 17 10 95 58.8% 4.3% 35.3% 5.6 -28 7.2 9.5
Claude Garrett WR-Z 6'2, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7741 15 8 151 53.3% 3.8% 20.0% 10.1 51 10.3 15.2
Jay Jones RB
7 7 49 100.0% 1.8% 71.4% 7.0 -30 6.9 4.9
Kendall Houston RB
6 5 18 83.3% 1.5% 66.7% 3.0 -40 3.4 1.8
Xavier Johnson RB 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7781 6 4 13 66.7% 1.5% 83.3% 2.2 -35 1.5 1.3
Jake Howton WR-X
5 1 10 20.0% 1.3% 80.0% 2.0 -7 1.4 1.0
DeMarrion Buford-Hughes TE 6'5, 225 Sr. NR N/A 2 1 18 50.0% 0.5% 0.0% 9.0 5 N/A 1.8
Tyrone Williams WR 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8117
James Bynes TE 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752

5. Toys in the toy box

It's a lot easier to deal with turnover when you're turning over a bad offense. Yes, Kendall Houston and Jay Jones had their moments at running back. So did Shavarez Smith and Jereme Jones at wideout. That's a lot of experience to lose. But at first glance, the combination of transfers and returnees should provide a similar level of talent and production.

If efficiency is the name of the game for USA, the combination of D.J. Vinson and Xavier Johnson could be quite effective in the backfield. Johnson's 49 percent opportunity rate (meaning 49 percent of his carries gained at least five yards) was remarkable considering he was a freshman and his fellow backs couldn't top 41 percent. Plus, Dami Ayoola hinted at some efficient running with Illinois in 2012.

If the ground game becomes an efficient one, Clements could find quite a few big-play guys downfield in the passing game. Two former Alabama signees -- Danny Woodson II (who erupted in the bowl with six catches for 122 yards) and Marvin Shinn (who was incredibly all-or-nothing) -- have athleticism to burn, and the two UAB transplants, Josh Magee and Gerald Everett, combined to average 17.9 yards per catch and 10.9 yards per target. Throw in a couple JUCO transfers, and you've got about as much experience as one could hope for after losing three of top four targets.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 97.3 3.14 3.46 41.3% 60.7% 18.2% 81.5 6.7% 5.6%
Rank 85 39 45 39 109 49 96 100 36
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Ucambre Williams LT
28 2014 2nd All-Sun Belt
Melvin Meggs RG 45
Drew Dearman LG
34
Chris May RT 6'5, 290 Sr. NR N/A 32
Cameron Blankenship (UAB) OL 6'5, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 24
Joseph Scelfo C 6'1, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) N/A 13
Steven Foster RG 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars N/A 2
Lee Dufour (UAB) OL 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 2
Harrison Louden C 6'3, 290 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 1
Clay Machen LT 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8157 0
Shane Doty LG
0
John Dombrowski RT 6'5, 275 Jr. NR N/A 0
Curtis Williams OL 6'4, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100
De'Arius Young OL 6'7, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783
Troy Thingstad OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8256
Zach Davis OL 6'7, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8200

6. Lots to replace up front

USA has to replace both starting guards and an all-conference tackle; the three combined for nine years' worth of starts on a unit that overachieved compared to the rest of the offense. This is a problem, especially for an offense that needs efficiency to establish tempo.

Thanks to injuries and UAB transfers, there's still experience. Chris May, Cam Blankenship, and Joseph Scelfo have combined for 69 career starts, and three others have started at least once.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.88 84 IsoPPP+ 109.1 46
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.5% 45 Succ. Rt. + 111.9 27
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.9 73 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.1 39 Redzone S&P+ 122.5 12
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.7 ACTUAL 21.0 -1.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 67 36 29 46
RUSHING 89 39 40 43
PASSING 41 38 29 54
Standard Downs 28 18 36
Passing Downs 58 75 56
Q1 Rk 44 1st Down Rk 46
Q2 Rk 42 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 42 3rd Down Rk 45
Q4 Rk 22

7. The toy box is pretty empty

USA's identity could change in a single offseason. Last year's bad unit has gotten a massive boost. But the defense is starting over. South Alabama had one of the nation's more efficient defenses when it came to forcing passing downs, and again, the Jags were vicious in the red zone.

To the extent that USA's success was a product of coaching, the quality could remain high. USA lost defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer following some lovely play in 2013, but inside linebackers coach Travis Pearson moved up to the coordinator role, and there was little dropoff. Pearson's back, and for all of the turnover on offense, the defensive staff remains intact.

Plus, a few experienced hands have come to help: JUCO transfer Quinton Lane and UAB linebacker Kalen Jackson, to name two. Jackson had a promising start to 2014 before he was lost for the season to injury.

Still, USA's success could hinge on whether the offense can improve enough to offset some inevitable defensive regression. That'll be easier to do if USA only regresses and doesn't fall off of a cliff.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.8 2.92 3.86 39.6% 57.6% 17.7% 109 7.2% 5.4%
Rank 67 64 117 77 14 91 44 19 102
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jesse Kelley NT
13 37.0 4.8% 6.5 5.0 0 2 1 0
Theo Rich JACK
13 36.0 4.7% 13.0 8.0 0 2 0 0
Jerome McClain DT
13 33.5 4.3% 3.0 2.5 0 0 0 0
Jimmie Gipson III DE 6'0, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 13 20.0 2.6% 6.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
Akeem Lewis DE 6'2, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7744 12 18.0 2.3% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Ridge James JACK N/A 11 17.5 2.3% 1.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Caleb Butler DT 6'4, 250 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 11 10.0 1.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tre Alford NT 5'10, 295 So. NR N/A 13 7.0 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
DeMarion Harper DT 6'3, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800 7 4.0 0.5% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jeffrey Whatley DE 6'1, 265 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Maleki Harris SAM N/A 12 72.0 9.3% 9.0 1.0 1 6 4 0
Davin Hawkins MIKE N/A 10 47.5 6.2% 3.0 1.0 0 3 0 0
Desmond LaVelle MIKE N/A 13 36.0 4.7% 3.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Demarius Rancifer SAM 6'4, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8475 11 26.5 3.4% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kalen Jackson (UAB) LB 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 2 6.5 1.0% 1.0 1.0 1 2 0 0
Grant Powell LB 6'2, 215 Jr. 2 stars N/A 10 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Steven Fuller LB N/A 13 5.5 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Philon LB 5'11, 225 Sr. NR N/A 10 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cordivido Grice LB 6'0, 220 Sr. NR N/A 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tavon Cox LB 6'3, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8336







8. The new playmakers

We'll find out quickly if USA's recruiting has been up to snuff in the front seven. Of the 10 Jaguars with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, two are back, and one (Roman Buchanan) is a safety. End Jimmie Gipson III is a keeper, Kalen Jackson really could be impressive if healthy, and Demarius Rancifer is a great athlete at linebacker. But younger players like sophomore tackle Caleb Butler and three-star freshman (per Composite) Tavon Cox could be thrust into important positions.

USA had a strange defense -- better at rushing the passer on standard downs than passing downs, great at stuffing short-yardage runs but a bit reactive in run defense. The Jaguars had enough athleticism to pull off what was basically an Alabama approach to the 3-4 defense (swarm to the ball, hit hard, pick your spots with blitzes). We'll see if they still do.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Terrell Brigham FS
13 91.0 11.8% 4 1 0 7 1 0
Roman Buchanan SS 6'2, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 13 59.5 7.7% 3.5 0 0 7 1 0
Montell Garner CB
13 51.0 6.6% 4.5 1 2 9 2 0
Antonio Carter NB 5'8, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 12 46.0 6.0% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Qudarius Ford CB N/A 8 31.5 4.1% 1 1 0 5 1 0
E.J. May CB 5'10, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 13 21.0 2.7% 0.5 0 1 2 0 0
Devon Earl NB 5'10, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8016 12 20.0 2.6% 1.5 0 1 1 0 0
Jeremy Reaves FS 5'11, 180 So. NR N/A 13 15.0 1.9% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Margo Reed CB 5'7, 165 Sr. NR N/A 9 8.0 1.0% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Terrance Slaughter S N/A 12 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nigel Green S 6'1, 170 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8233
Malcolm Buggs CB 5'9, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8062
Darian Mills CB 5'11, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
Quinton Lane CB 6'1, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7911
Jalen Thompson CB 6'0, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514
Nigel Lawrence DB 5'11, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126
JarMarkus Sims S 6'1, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8091
Jesse Boggs S 6'2, 205 Fr. NR 0.8200

9. Some young guns will need to come through

Keeping in mind that a recruiting rating of 0.8000 means, on average, a three-star designation in the Composite ratings, eight Jaguar defensive backs above have been rated at 0.8016 or higher, and a ninth came in at 0.7911. That's awfully impressive for a Sun Belt team.

The problem: only two of those 10 players have really seen action. One (junior safety Roman Buchanan) is an outright keeper, and another (last year's backup nickel back Devon Earl) made a few nice plays when given the opportunity. But USA must replace both starting cornerbacks and free safety Terrell Brigham, and with a potential drop in the front seven, unproven players like redshirt freshman Malcolm Buggs, JUCO transfer Quinton Lane, and star freshman Jalen Thompson might be asked to do quite a bit early.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Brandon McKee 6'1, 185 Jr. 73 42.3 8 18 28 63.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Aleem Sunanon 5'7, 170 Jr. 64 53.8 10 1 15.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Aleem Sunanon 5'7, 170 Jr. 24-26 10-12 83.3% 5-6 83.3%
Grant McLaurin 6'0, 165 Sr. 6-7 3-5 60.0% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
T.J. Glover KR 28 22.9 0
Claude Garrett KR 6'2, 210 Sr. 3 23.3 0
Jereme Jones PR 6 11.5 0
T.J. Glover PR 6 2.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 68
Field Goal Efficiency 53
Punt Return Efficiency 59
Kick Return Efficiency 83
Punt Efficiency 46
Kickoff Efficiency 98
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 16

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Gardner-Webb NR
12-Sep at Nebraska 30
19-Sep at San Diego State 76
26-Sep N.C. State 55
? Appalachian State 104
? Arkansas State 66
? Idaho 112
? UL-Lafayette 72
? at Georgia Southern 57
? at Georgia State 122
? at Texas State 95
? at Troy 126
Five-Year F/+ Rk -18.2% (97)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 107 / 100
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -7 / 5.3
2014 TO Luck/Game -4.7
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 7 (3, 4)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 6.4 (-0.4)

10. An understandable drop ... probably

Looking strictly at losses and the schedule, it's hard to imagine South Alabama reaching another bowl. The Jaguars are one of only three FBS teams to return fewer than nine starters, and the defense has to replace so many playmakers. Plus, the dead weight on the schedule is minimal: only four teams ranked worse than 104th in the F/+ ratings last year, while six ranked 76th or better. Unless USA can put a top-80 team on the field -- which means not only surviving turnover, but improving despite it -- getting to six wins is going to be difficult.

And that's fine. Joey Jones has done enough great things in Mobile to have earned a reset year. He has been recruiting (and coaching) well enough that the program's trajectory is strong even if 2015 is a setback.

Still, the starry-eyed improvement scenario -- the UAB transplants lead to significant offensive improvement, and a proven set of defensive coaches turn excellent athletes into excellent defenders -- isn't unrealistic. Despite being one of FBS' youngest programs, USA seems to have a high floor for a Sun Belt squad. Expect something around 5-7, but don't be too surprised with 7-5, especially if USA can pull an upset of N.C. State on September 26.