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The big 2015 USF football guide: It's bad

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After a 2-10 record in Willie Taggart's first season on the job, South Florida somehow got ... worse?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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1. Reality vs. recruiting rankings

According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, USF's 2014 recruiting class was the best in the AAC by a significant margin -- the Bulls' 190.5 points were further ahead of second-place UCF's 165.8 than UCF was ahead of sixth-place ECU. Their class ranked 39th overall, ahead of recently successful power-conference teams like Texas Tech, TCU, and Louisville. When you are based in such a talent-rich area, you don't have much of an excuse not to pull in some nice prospects, but Willie Taggart's haul was particularly impressive considering USF's uncertain status (from BCS-level to non-power following the AAC's demotion) and the fact that the Bulls went 2-10 in 2013, Taggart's first season.

In 2014, Taggart began to hand the team over to the youngsters. Star quarterback signee Quinton Flowers saw action, and freshman running backs Marlon Mack and D'Ernest Johnson combined for 249 rushes and 29 catches. Defensive backs Devin Abraham, Kendall Sawyer, Deatrick Nichols, and Tajee Fullwood all saw time in the rotation. Between these players and some key redshirt freshmen in the defensive front seven, USF fielded an awfully young team. USF also fielded an awful team.

A 4-8 record seems like improvement over 2-10, yes, but USF's 4-8 record was just about as soft as imaginable last fall. The Bulls survived FCS Western Carolina in the season opener, then beat three awful conference foes -- UConn, Tulsa and SMU combined to go 5-31 -- by a combined 12 points. Their 4-0 record in one-possession games* was the only thing propping up a team that, on paper, regressed from 102nd in the F/+ ratings to 123rd.

* USF is now 6-1 in one-possession games under Taggart ... and 0-17 in the other games.

In February, Taggart reeled in another impressive haul, though the returns were already beginning to diminish. USF (162.7) finished second in 247's AAC recruiting rankings and 67th overall, decimal points behind Cincinnati (163.3) and a little bit ahead of UCF (160.7). Considering the team's recent performance -- 6-18 in Taggart's two years, 14-34 over the last four -- that's still pretty good. But the regression pointed to a stark reality: you don't get forever to rebuild a program. Taggart's recruiting is solid, but reality still dictates how long you get to mold good recruits into good players.

USF was young in 2014, but not stripped-down-to-the-studs young, not young enough to justify a No. 123 ranking. The Bulls must replace seven offensive starters and two of their most important defensive players, and with a coaching staff that is in endless flux (by my count, only two primary assistants -- offensive co-coordinator David Reaves and linebackers coach Raymond Woodie -- remain from the 2013 staff), there is no guarantee that they will improve to any dramatic degree. And USF fans have noticed.

Granted, there is indeed potential. There almost always is with USF. The running game could be strong, and at the very least, the passing game has more receiver options. Most of the front seven returns after defending the run pretty well a year ago, and 2014's ultra-young secondary becomes 2015's seasoned unit. There is potential for improvement within just about every unit on the field, especially considering the youth involved. But potential wasn't worth much last year, and at this point, the burden of proof is on Taggart and his staff to show they can turn former three- and four-star recruits into three- and four-star players. They haven't yet.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 123
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Western Carolina NR 36-31 W 41% -5.2 95%
6-Sep Maryland 62 17-24 L 19% -20.1 9%
13-Sep NC State 55 17-49 L 3% -42.6 0%
19-Sep Connecticut 119 17-14 W 50% -0.3 89%
27-Sep at Wisconsin 25 10-27 L 37% -7.5 9%
11-Oct East Carolina 61 17-28 L 25% -15.7 3%
18-Oct at Tulsa 117 38-30 W 54% 2.3 95%
24-Oct at Cincinnati 47 17-34 L 11% -28.9 0%
1-Nov Houston 73 3-27 L 5% -38.2 0%
15-Nov at SMU 127 14-13 W 22% -18.1 72%
22-Nov at Memphis 41 20-31 L 14% -25.0 0%
28-Nov Central Florida 60 0-16 L 23% -17.4 4%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 19.5 116 33.2 96
Points Per Game 17.2 119 27.0 66

2. It got worse

When you went 2-10 the year before, and you plan on playing quite a few freshmen, your goal is probably to just be better in November than you were in September. Young players can hit a wall and fade, and it's not necessarily the end of the world if they do, but you hope for the former, not the latter.

USF got the latter.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 33% (record: 3-4)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 15% (record: 1-4)

The offense averaged 8.1 yards per play against Western Carolina, 7.1 against Tulsa (122nd in Def. S&P+), and 4.4 against everybody else. The defense, reasonably solid early on (4.7 yards per play against Maryland, 3.7 against UConn), sprang leaks and allowed at least 6.1 yards per play for four consecutive games. The Bulls shored up some defensive issues against Houston (4.6) and SMU (4.9), then caved against Memphis (7.6).

Marlon Mack torched Memphis for 102 yards on 16 carries, but the run game otherwise didn't come around. And while star receiver Andre Davis caught 18 passes for 355 yards and five scores against ECU, Tulsa, and Cincinnati after returning from injury, he caught just 17 passes for 195 yards in the final four games. There just weren't enough viable options for touching the ball, and oscillating between three quarterbacks helped nothing.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.84 75 IsoPPP+ 79.0 114
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 33.6% 126 Succ. Rt. + 78.4 126
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.6 41 Def. FP+ 102.0 44
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 107 Redzone S&P+ 71.8 127
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.8 ACTUAL 20 -1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 121 121 126 114
RUSHING 117 125 127 109
PASSING 97 112 112 109
Standard Downs 127 128 112
Passing Downs 96 63 110
Q1 Rk 123 1st Down Rk 116
Q2 Rk 119 2nd Down Rk 88
Q3 Rk 118 3rd Down Rk 124
Q4 Rk 74

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.
Mike White
122 242 1639 8 7 50.4% 16 6.2% 5.9
Steven Bench 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8325 49 100 611 3 2 49.0% 7 6.5% 5.3
Quinton Flowers 6'0, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8890 8 20 111 0 2 40.0% 0 0.0% 5.6
Brett Kean 6'1, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8187

3. Find a quarterback

Under first-year offensive coordinator Paul Wulff, USF attempted a quarterback-friendly recipe last year. The Bulls threw more frequently than average on standard downs, when defenses are likely geared toward stopping the run, and ran more frequently on passing downs. This formula can work if you have the right weapons, and while it might not save you from passing downs, it can help with standard downs efficiency.

USF was 128th in Standard Downs Success Rate+. Out of 128 teams. Instead of passing to take pressure off of the run game, it was like the Bulls were doing nothing but throwing play-action bombs on first down. Marlon Mack averaged 6.2 yards per carry on first downs, but USF quarterbacks were 54-for-118 for 757 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. If you're going to go the play-action route, then you need to lean much more heavily on the run than USF did.

That, or I guess you find yourself a new coordinator(s) and a quarterback who can properly execute the offense. Wulff is out, and former Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in, listed as co-coordinator with David Reaves.

Mike White was the closest thing to a quality passer in the stable -- his first-down passer rating was 130.9 compared to Steven Bench's 86.9 and Quinton Flowers' 21.0 -- but he announced he was transferring to Western Kentucky this spring. Flowers' insertion into the game resulted in more of a run-heavy approach, however, and that identity might pay off in 2015. Flowers' pass efficiency must desperately improve for even a run-first attack to work, but if he beats out Bench this fall (and my guess is he will), he will at least bring an identity to the table.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Marlon Mack RB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8365 203 1041 9 5.1 7.3 32.0% 5 2
D'Ernest Johnson RB 5'10, 207 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 46 150 0 3.3 2.9 23.9% 0 0
Darius Tice RB 5'10, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 40 104 0 2.6 1.9 25.0% 1 0
Quinton Flowers QB 6'0, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8890 13 73 0 5.6 4.5 46.2% 0 0
Mike White QB
13 23 0 1.8 4.1 30.8% 4 2
Steven Bench QB 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8325 9 32 1 3.6 2.7 44.4% 1 0
Kennard Swanson FB 6'0, 253 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8513 9 28 0 3.1 1.5 33.3% 2 2
Rodney Adams WR 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8992 5 52 1 10.4 6.6 80.0% 1 0
Sta'fon McCray RB 5'11, 215 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8464
Trevon Sands RB 5'11, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8539







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
Andre Davis WR-X
75 36 594 48.0% 21.9% 52.0% 7.9 131 7.9 66.4
Deonte Welch WR-Z
49 23 269 46.9% 14.3% 46.9% 5.5 -29 5.6 30.1
Mike McFarland TE
47 27 315 57.4% 13.7% 53.2% 6.7 -19 6.7 35.2
Rodney Adams WR-Z 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8992 44 23 323 52.3% 12.8% 50.0% 7.3 33 7.2 36.1
Marlon Mack RB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8365 35 21 160 60.0% 10.2% 57.1% 4.6 -97 4.6 17.9
Sean Price TE 6'3, 250 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9382 34 14 207 41.2% 9.9% 47.1% 6.1 20 6.3 23.1
Kennard Swanson FB 6'0, 253 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8513 22 13 206 59.1% 6.4% 86.4% 9.4 46 10.0 23.0
A.J. Legree
(Kentucky)
WR-Z 6'1, 194 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8438 14 7 97 50.0% 4.2% 22.2% 6.9 0 5.0 13.4
D'Ernest Johnson RB 5'10, 207 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 10 8 107 80.0% 2.9% 50.0% 10.7 14 10.0 12.0
Darius Tice RB 5'10, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 9 8 68 88.9% 2.6% 55.6% 7.6 -24 7.4 7.6
Ryeshene Bronson WR-X 6'3, 187 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8753 6 3 85 50.0% 1.7% 50.0% 14.2 47 16.1 9.5
Alex Mut WR 6'3, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7700
Austin Aikens
(Western Kentucky)
WR 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8181
Tyre McCants WR 5'11, 211 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8606
Stanley Clerveaux WR-X 6'3, 196 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8270
Elkanah Dillon TE 6'5, 239 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256
Chase Whitehead SLOT 5'9, 170 RSFr. NR 0.7000
Jarvis Baxter WR 5'11, 165 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8274
Chris Barr WR 5'10, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389

4. Wheel! Of! Receivers!

In theory, if you have enough interesting options -- and you can define "interesting" however you want here: recent production, speed, size, recruiting ranking -- the odds are pretty good that a couple of them will emerge as viable threats.

According to that theory, then, the USF receiving corps could be just fine in 2015. First, while the Bulls must replace their top three targets from last year (including Davis, who was explosive, if inefficient), the bar isn't incredibly high considering the trio combined to average 6.9 yards per target with a 50 percent catch rate last year. The top two returning wideouts (Rodney Adams and little-used Ryeshene Bronson) and the top returning tight end (Sean Price) combined to average 7.3 yards per target with a 48 percent catch rate, so there's certainly hope in that regard.

But to those three, you also add Kentucky transfer A.J. Legree, WKU transfer Austin Aikens (a Taggart signee from when Taggart was still at WKU), three three-star redshirt freshmen (wideouts Tyre McCants and Stanley Clerveaux and tight end Elkanah Dixon), another redshirt freshman who had a standout spring (Chris Whitehead), and two speedy three-star freshmen (Jarvis Baxter and Chris Barr).

That's 11 potential targets battling for three to four primary spots. Even with a less efficient quarterback in Flowers, the odds are good that USF receivers can match last year's meager numbers.

If the passing game can hold steady despite losing White and his top three targets, the running game should improve, if only because of the running backs. The line was a shuffled mess that wasted a high level of experience, but Marlon Mack showed genuine promise last year. He was inefficient, and he fumbled too much, but to some degree that was a product of his inexperience. If he improves with experience and finds/creates more room to run, his open-field explosiveness will pay off handsomely. And if year-to-year progress results in higher efficiency for four-star sophomore D'Ernest Johnson (who did not show much explosiveness), too, then there's a solid backup in place. Quinton Flowers averaged 5.6 yards per (non-sack) carry and could provide enough of a distraction for the run to take off. But the pass still has to be good enough for it to matter.

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 75.2 2.42 2.13 31.8% 50.0% 25.3% 102.0 7.6% 3.2%
Rank 126 120 126 121 127 122 66 112 6
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Quinterrius Eatmon RT 47
Austin Reiter C
36
Darrell Williams LT
29
Brynjar Gudmundsson RG 6'4, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 25
Thor Jozwiak LG 6'4, 321 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8300 14
Dominique Threatt RG 6'1, 320 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594 7
Kofi Amichia LT 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619 1
Cameron Ruff C 6'3, 313 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382 1
Jeremi Hall LG 6'5, 345 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8496 0
Mak Djulbegovic RT 6'5, 293 Sr. NR NR 0
Clavion Nelson RT 6'3, 302 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7800
Benjamin Knox LT 6'6, 287 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8668
Michael Smith OL 6'3, 319 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8178
Michael Galati C 6'3, 286 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8046
Glen Bethel OL 6'6, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8690
Marcus Norman OL 6'6, 290 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8392
Billy Atterbury OL 6'4, 286 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8335

5. Continuity is good

USF started a different combination on the line for each of the first four games and each of the last four games. That's ... not optimal. And it certainly spent some of the continuity that should have come from returning four starters from the year before. But it also ensured that while the Bulls would lose three starters this offseason, they would still return five players with starting experience (48 career starts) this fall.

It was a chicken-vs.-egg thing for the USF running game last year: the line was bad, and the running backs were freshmen, and it was hard to figure out how to divvy out the credit (or in this case, lack thereof). Regardless, USF's line stats were awful across the board, including the two stats most directly tied to the line (power success rate, stuff rate). They couldn't get a push when they needed, and they couldn't keep run defenders out of the backfield. That they protected the passer from blitzes pretty well was a good sign even if passing downs passes weren't particularly aggressive.

Still, no matter how bad the line was, continuity could help immensely. If the interior of the line -- senior guards Brynjar Gudmundsson and Thor Jozwiak* and sophomore center Cameron Ruff -- can improve with experience and stay on the field, then the running backs might improve enough to take full advantage.

* Our time is running out with the most well-named guard duo in the country. Sorry to have to be the one to break this to you.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.75 16 IsoPPP+ 99.6 68
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.1% 110 Succ. Rt. + 86.7 116
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.5 83 Off. FP+ 97.0 99
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 102 Redzone S&P+ 88.3 110
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.1 ACTUAL 20.0 +2.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 71 98 119 68
RUSHING 85 64 84 50
PASSING 52 115 127 103
Standard Downs 94 119 72
Passing Downs 79 94 74
Q1 Rk 124 1st Down Rk 74
Q2 Rk 68 2nd Down Rk 84
Q3 Rk 78 3rd Down Rk 53
Q4 Rk 58

6. Attack the run, give up on the pass

USF's defense was reasonably solid against the run last year. The success rates weren't amazing, but the Bulls limited opponents' big-play capabilities (only seven rushes of 30-plus yards, only one of 50-plus) and created a lovely push in short-yardage situations. They basically forced opponents to the air to sustain any offense.

The problem was that, when opponents went to the air, only the air provided resistance. USF had the second-worst Passing Success Rate+ in the country despite a decent pass rush. Four of the top nine in the secondary were freshmen, and three were sophomores, and the unit was simply not ready to make plays.

Will that change this fall? It better! Because defensive coordinator Tom Allen is shifting to a 4-2-5 attack, which means more DBs on the field. With a thinner defensive line and far more experience in the secondary, maybe that makes sense. But it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to see how this gambit could backfire terribly.

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 97 2.92 3.49 42.9% 64.7% 16.9% 91.6 4.5% 7.2%
Rank 79 64 79 109 47 102 83 68 68
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Elkino Watson DT
10 30.5 4.5% 7.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Todd Chandler NT
12 28.5 4.2% 4.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derrick Calloway DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8746 12 24.5 3.6% 5.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
Eric Lee DE 6'3, 248 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8589 12 23.5 3.4% 6.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Demetrius Hill DT 6'3, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535 11 19.5 2.9% 5.0 2.0 0 1 0 1
Deadrin Senat NT 6'1, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8712 12 13.0 1.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Black BULL 6'2, 228 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8233 5 6.0 0.9% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
James Hamilton DT 6'2, 301 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8752 10 4.0 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zack Bullock BULL 6'3, 221 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7800 8 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Love DE 6'4, 245 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8282
Vincent Jackson DE 6'2, 246 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8572
Eric Mayes DE 6'4, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217
Marlon Gonzalez DT 6'4, 260 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510
Kirk Livingstone DE 6'4, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8249







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nigel Harris WILL 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594 11 63.0 9.2% 9.5 2.0 0 0 5 1
Auggie Sanchez MIKE 6'2, 241 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 12 49.5 7.2% 2.0 0.0 1 2 0 1
Tashon Whitehurst WILL 6'3, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8181 12 41.0 6.0% 5.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Reshard Cliett SAM
11 33.5 4.9% 7.5 6.0 0 0 1 0
Rahmon Swain WILL
10 19.0 2.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
LeGrande Harley MIKE 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8447 10 18.5 2.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Garye SAM 6'3, 228 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7700 10 5.5 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jimmy Bayes LB 6'3, 225 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8743
Nick Holman LB 6'2, 231 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8296
Danny Thomas LB 6'1, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543
Nico Sawtelle LB 6'2, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8094








7. Run defense should still be alright

When you move from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5, you're sacrificing size for speed. In theory, that could hurt your run defense at the expense of helping the pass, but a) that's a trade you're probably willing to make when your pass defense was this awful, and b) I'm still not incredibly worried about the run defense.

Elkino Watson and Todd Chandler are gone, but the Bulls still return plenty of intriguing bigs (Derrick Calloway, Deadrin Senat and James Hamilton are all 285-plus and former star recruits), and despite a lack of size, end Eric Lee and linebacker Nigel Harris combined to make 13.5 non-sack tackles for loss last year. Harris forced five fumbles to boot. I think the components of a decent run defense are still in place, especially if sophomores like Senat and linebacker Auggie Sanchez, or redshirt freshmen like linebacker Jimmy Bayes and end Vincent Jackson are capable of making breakthroughs. Hell, even the folks at Voodoo Five are pretty excited about this defensive front.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jamie Byrd HUSKY 5'11, 184 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8539 12 83.0 12.1% 2.5 0 2 3 1 0
Nate Godwin SS 5'10, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8435 12 62.5 9.1% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Johnny Ward CB 6'0, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7961 10 31.5 4.6% 1 0 2 3 0 0
Devin Abraham FS 5'9, 187 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8220 12 28.5 4.2% 3 0 0 1 1 0
Chris Dunkley CB
11 24.5 3.6% 1.5 1 0 5 1 0
Lamar Robbins CB 6'2, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8754 12 19.0 2.8% 3 0 1 2 0 0
Kendall Sawyer CB 6'1, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8782 9 9.5 1.4% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Torrel Saffold (2013) CS 5'11, 177 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900 11 9.0 1.5% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Deatrick Nichols CB 5'10, 186 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8507 12 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tajee Fullwood FS 6'2, 209 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 8 6.0 0.9% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Trevon Griffin DB
12 6.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hassan Childs SS 6'0, 188 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241 12 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jalen Spencer HUSKY 6'0, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8162
Mazzi Wilkins CB 6'0, 162 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8401
Khalid McGee DB 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625
Ronnie Hoggins DB 5'10, 160 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8512
Malik Dixon S 6'3, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8355
Nate Ferguson CB 5'9, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148

8. Wait ... there will be even more defensive backs on the field?

Put on your rose-colored glasses, and you can see how this unit becomes relatively competent this year. Jamie Byrd is a pretty good attacker (2.5 tackles for loss, five passes defensed) who is going to be placed in more of an attacking position this year. Corner Johnny Ward might not miss time this year. Sophomores Devin Abraham, Kendall Sawyer, Deatrick Nichols and Tajee Fullwood could all take nice second-year leaps. Senior safety Torrel Saffold returns to the fold (sorry) after missing 2014. Four three-star defensive backs will be ready to fight for a spot on the two-deep. The competition here should be solid, and you can pretty easily decide that this year's five defensive backs could be quite a bit more effective than last year's four (and not only because 5 > 4).

And then I remind you that USF ranked 115th in Passing S&P+ despite a decent pass rush. The secondary will need to improve a lot, and while it's possible, it's not something you bet on.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Mattias Ciabatti 6'0, 189 Sr. 65 44.4 3 16 22 58.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Marvin Kloss 43 61.9 23 0 53.5%
Emilio Nadelman 5'6, 173 So. 3 65.3 1 0 33.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Marvin Kloss 23-23 9-10 90.0% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Chris Dunkley KR 23 24.0 0
D'Ernest Johnson KR 5'10, 207 So. 8 19.6 0
Hassan Childs PR 6'0, 188 Jr. 9 6.9 0
Chris Dunkley PR 8 8.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 106
Field Goal Efficiency 74
Punt Return Efficiency 73
Kick Return Efficiency 106
Punt Efficiency 91
Kickoff Efficiency 85
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 53

9. Talk about awful coverage units...

When your secondary and receiving corps stink, there's a pretty good chance that your coverage units stink, too, as depth in those two units tend to be what make up teams' coverage units.

This is more anecdote than testable theory, but USF's coverage in 2014 certainly lends to the anecdote. Marvin Kloss booted more than half of his kickoffs for touchbacks, punter Mattias Ciabatti averaged an All-American caliber 44.4 yards per punt, and USF still ranked 85th and 91st, respectively, in kickoff and punt efficiency. That's inexcusable.

That both the receiving corps and secondary seem to have better depth and athleticism is a very good thing for the special teams unit. Now let's see if one of the new guys can also return a kick or a punt. Oh yeah, and let's see if there's a replacement for Kloss, who was good on kickoffs and very good on field goals.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Florida A&M NR
12-Sep at Florida State 15
19-Sep at Maryland 62
2-Oct Memphis 41
10-Oct Syracuse 80
17-Oct at Connecticut 119
24-Oct SMU 127
31-Oct at Navy 44
7-Nov at East Carolina 61
14-Nov Temple 67
20-Nov Cincinnati 47
27-Nov at Central Florida 60
Five-Year F/+ Rk -10.9% (78)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 50 / 52
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 0 / -4.7
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (4, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 3.8 (0.2)

10. Not the best schedule for a surge

Top-60 recruiting and a bottom-10 product. That was a pretty awful combination for Willie Taggart in his second year in charge, and it has landed Taggart pretty high on preseason hot-seat lists. That he has struggled is a bit of a surprise -- he was part of Jim Harbaugh's incredible original assistant coaching staff, and he quickly converted his alma mater WKU from laughingstock to viable program -- but there's no doubting that he has struggled. Skip Holtz was booted after going 3-9 and ranking 71st in the F/+ rankings in 2012, and while he left a relatively thin cupboard, we all expected Taggart to do more with this program than he has.

It would take quite a few ifs to turn this team around in 2015, but all of the ifs seem semi-realistic on their own. Quinton Flowers could become a solid dual-threat quarterback who connects on just enough of his passes to free up space for Marlon Mack. The offensive line could improve by simply keeping the same unit on the field from week to week. The run defense could be as good or better than it was last year, and the secondary could improve with typical year-to-year improvement for the young players and a change in scheme. That could all happen, and it could at least threaten to drag USF back out of the triple-digits in the rankings.

The problem, then, is the schedule. It does feature visits from Florida A&M and SMU and a winnable road trip to UConn. But those are the only three opponents that ranked worse than 80th last year, and only one other (Syracuse) ranked worse than 67th. Even if USF improves to about 100th or so, there really aren't many likely wins on the schedule.