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South Alabama football is off the ground, but keeping it aloft will be tricky

South Alabama only needs a QB and a pass rusher to be pretty dangerous team in 2016. Don't we all.

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1. Staying power

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 proved 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.

-- The 2015 South Alabama preview

It's difficult to believe, but the hardest part about geting a new program off the ground isn't getting it off the ground -- it's keeping it off the ground.

A lot of schools in football-fertile areas of the country have decided, "You know what? I want a football program," in recent years. You can find quite a few at the FCS level, but in the last decade and change, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, UTSA, Georgia State, South Alabama, and Charlotte have basically gone straight from feasibility study to FBS.

Some struggled, sure. FIU went 17-50 in its first six FBS seasons, Georgia State went 1-23 in its first two, and Charlotte's 2015 debut finished with just two wins in 12 tries. But FAU went 9-3 in its first season under Howard Schnellenberger, and UTSA went 15-9 in its first two.

South Alabama bombed out at 2-11 in its 2012 transition year, but in 2013, the Jaguars began to figure things out. They went 6-6, and both their offense and defense ranked in the S&P+ top 75. They outscored opponents by 51 points, and five of their six losses came by a combined 12. They beat four mid-major opponents that finished .500 or better. In their second year at the FBS level, they belonged.

In their third year, they regressed -- the defense got better, but the offense did not -- but finished 6-6 again and scored the bowl bid that'd eluded them. And then everybody graduated. Starting quarterback, top two running backs, starting receivers, starting tight end, three starting offensive linemen, four of six defensive linemen, top three linebackers, three of five defensive backs: all gone.

The same thing happened to UTSA and could happen to Charlotte. You start your program up, you redshirt everybody in your first class (because there aren't any games), you field an ultra-young team, and when that first recruiting class is entering its fifth and final season, you've been in FBS for a year or two, and you have one of the most experienced teams in the country. And the next year, you have no continuity.

Even with an influx of players from UAB, South Alabama's two-deep looked dramatically different in 2015, and the Jaguars predictably struggled. An iffy offense remained iffy, and a painfully thin defense fell from 57th in Def. S&P+ to 106th. A shift in close-game fortunes (4-1 in games decided by one possession) meant that the impact wasn't felt too much in the win column -- USA fell to only 5-7 -- but the product was quite a bit worse.

It's a big year in Mobile. USA: The Second Generation now takes shape, and as the classes begin to even out, we will find out what kind of staying power Joey Jones' program has.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 102 | Final S&P+ Rk: 103
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Gardner-Webb N/A 33-23 W 62% 99% -0.5
12-Sep at Nebraska 36 9-48 L 5% 0% -12.3 -12.0
19-Sep at San Diego State 43 34-27 W 74% 69% +21.8 +24.5
26-Sep NC State 49 13-63 L 2% 0% -31.2 -33.0
3-Oct at Troy 90 24-18 W 68% 83% +18.1 +12.0
13-Oct Arkansas State 71 31-49 L 26% 7% -13.2 -13.0
24-Oct at Texas State 116 18-36 L 18% 11% -14.7 -14.5
7-Nov Idaho 114 52-45 W 41% 54% +2.1 -3.0
12-Nov UL-Lafayette 104 32-25 W 46% 56% +5.9 +4.0
21-Nov at Georgia State 87 10-24 L 28% 13% -8.7 -11.0
28-Nov at Georgia Southern 48 17-55 L 3% 0% -16.7 -17.5
5-Dec Appalachian State 42 27-34 L 27% 2% +10.6 +11.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.6 100 35.0 106
Points Per Game 25.0 93 37.3 115

2. Ceiling vs. floor

It was an all-or-nothing year. The Jaguars played at the 41st percentile or higher (basically a top-75 level) on five occasions, beating Troy and scoring an upset over San Diego State that seemed surprising at the time and became more stunning as SDSU mounted a Mountain West title run. They won all five games when playing at this level.

The level was far different in the other seven games. The Jaguars got absolutely smoked by three top-50 opponents (average score against Nebraska, NC State, and Georgia Southern: Opp 55, USA 13), lost by 18 to a bad Texas State, and lost by two touchdowns to Georgia State.

Almost everybody looks better in wins than losses, of course, but this was Jeckyll-and-Hyde stuff.

  • USA in wins:
    Average percentile performance: 58% | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: +9.5 PPG
  • USA in losses:
    Average percentile performance: 16% | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: -12.3 PPG

S&P+ often gets a read on a team as a season unfolds. That was not the case with South Alabama: S&P+ missed by at least 10 points, in one direction or the other, in eight of 12 games. That's a feature of a lot of young teams, but another feature -- strong home play, abysmal road play -- didn't really apply: USA's average percentile performance was 34 percent in Mobile and 33 percent outside of Mobile.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 78 IsoPPP+ 89.7 102
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.3% 95 Succ. Rt. + 94.6 94
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 34.9 126 Def. FP+ 33.7 120
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 66 Redzone S&P+ 85.3 117
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.3 ACTUAL 25 +2.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 101 102 94 102
RUSHING 80 82 76 85
PASSING 91 104 103 103
Standard Downs 112 104 114
Passing Downs 59 56 59
Q1 Rk 85 1st Down Rk 103
Q2 Rk 124 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 111 3rd Down Rk 84
Q4 Rk 76

3. Old-school principles

Bryant Vincent rejoined Jones' staff in 2015 after a sojourn at (of course) UAB. Perhaps it was a minor victory that, despite the turnover in on-field personnel, USA's output remained about the same -- the Jaguars ranked 104th in Off. S&P+ in 2014 and 108th in 2015 -- but with UAB transfer Cody Clements leading the offense, a bit more was expected, especially with what looked like an athletic receiving corps.

On paper, the USA offense seemed almost old-school. From what were pretty typical spread formations, the Jaguars operated slowly (77th in Adj. Pace), ran on standard downs, threw on passing downs, and didn't create many solo tackle opportunities (which is usually the sign of a truly spread-out defense).

Clements was asked to throw the ball a lot in obvious-pass situations -- he threw only 96 passes on first down and threw 94 on third-and-4 or more -- and that tends to lead to a few mistakes. While his passer rating was a solid 143.9 on those first-down throws, he threw two touchdown passes to five picks in that third-down sample. Passer rating on third-and-4 or more: 96.1.

It's unclear who will start at QB, but whoever it is will probably be a sophomore. It might behoove Vincent to switch things up a bit.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Cody Clements 171 324 2272 13 15 52.8% 23 6.6% 6.0
Dallas Davis 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 11 23 108 1 1 47.8% 8 25.8% 1.7
Evan Orth 6'2, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Cole Garvin 6'1, 215 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244

4. Mysteries at QB

There's power in numbers, at least. USA will almost certainly be starting a sophomore quarterback, and while that is suboptimal, there are at least three to choose from.

  • Dallas Davis was last year's backup and showed the tendency to trust his mobility a bit too much -- he scrambled for a few yards here and there but somehow managed to take eight sacks in just 31 pass attempts.
  • Cole Garvin is a Marshall transfer and was the most well-regarded recruit of the trio. He was a big-play passer in high school and has put on about 25 pounds since committing to the Herd.
  • Evan Orth originally chose UAB over USA, then followed Vincent to Mobile.

In theory, Dallas got a head start in the battle by seeing the field last year, but he didn't do a ton with the opportunity. He got an extended look in the final two games against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State but completed only six of 16 passes for 54 yards.

USA appears to have the skill position talent to succeed on offense if a steady quarterback emerges (and isn't throwing too much on third-and-long). But it's unclear whether that will happen.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Xavier Johnson RB 5'11, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7781 145 956 7 6.6 7.9 42.1% 1 0
Tyreis Thomas RB 5'10, 210 Sr. NR 0.7000 113 552 2 4.9 3.2 41.6% 2 1
Cody Clements QB 61 266 3 4.4 3.0 45.9% 5 1
Terrance Timmons RB 60 280 1 4.7 5.7 30.0% 1 0
Dami Ayoola RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8131 38 107 0 2.8 1.9 23.7% 0 0
Dallas Davis QB 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 8 25 0 3.1 1.3 50.0% 1 1
Gerald Everett TE 6'4, 225 Sr. NR NR 8 7 4 0.9 0.0 0.0% 0 0
Jalin Buie RB 5'7, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8615






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Gerald Everett TE 6'4, 225 Sr. NR NR 63 41 575 65.1% 18.9% 9.1 57.1% 54.0% 1.65
Marvin Shinn WR-Z 47 19 335 40.4% 14.1% 7.1 44.7% 38.3% 1.65
Josh Magee WR-A 5'11, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8039 46 23 504 50.0% 13.8% 11.0 50.0% 30.4% 3.37
D.J. Vinson WR-A 38 23 193 60.5% 11.4% 5.1 57.9% 44.7% 0.96
Danny Woodson II WR-X 34 19 253 55.9% 10.2% 7.4 38.2% 41.2% 1.73
Braedon Bowman TE 24 11 147 45.8% 7.2% 6.1 33.3% 29.2% 1.63
Chris Lewis WR-A 5'7, 170 Sr. NR NR 20 10 96 50.0% 6.0% 4.8 60.0% 30.0% 1.35
Kevin Kutchera WR-X 6'3, 195 Sr. NR NR 17 9 97 52.9% 5.1% 5.7 23.5% 47.1% 1.13
Claude Garrett WR-X 11 6 26 54.5% 3.3% 2.4 45.5% 36.4% 0.56
Xavier Johnson RB 5'11, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7781 10 9 82 90.0% 3.0% 8.2 60.0% 50.0% 1.58
Tyreis Thomas RB 5'10, 210 Sr. NR 0.7000 9 6 25 66.7% 2.7% 2.8 55.6% 22.2% 1.02
Terrance Timmons RB 4 3 24 75.0% 1.2% 6.0 25.0% 25.0% 1.92
Tony Ray Parnell WR-Z 5'7, 160 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889 2 1 0 50.0% 0.6% 0.0 50.0% 0.0% 0.00
Tyrone Williams WR-Z 6'2, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8117
Cameron Broadnax WR-X 6'2, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7700
Jahmmir Taylor WR 5'11, 170 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8107
James Bynes TE 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752
Andrew Reinkemeyer TE 6'4, 263 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556

5. Efficiency weapon? Check. Explosiveness weapon? Check.

The winner of the QB battle will have some friendly options. The offensive line should be at least decent -- the Jaguars return three of last year's starters, including all-conference center Joseph Scelfo, plus anotehr couple of players with starting experience -- and the skill position roster appears loaded with both potential and proven production.

In Xavier Johnson, USA might have one of the more underrated running backs in the country. Of the 114 FBS backs who carried at least 140 times last year, only 11 combined an opportunity rate of at least 42 percent with at least six yards per highlight opportunity. You've heard of quite a few -- LSU's Leonard Fournette, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Notre Dame's CJ Prosise, UNC's Elijah Hood, Oregon's Royce Freeman -- but within this group, Johnson was the most explosive at 7.9 highlight yards per opp. In USA's five wins, he rushed 78 times for 620 yards (7.9 per carry) and seven touchdowns.

Of course, in the Jaguars' seven losses, he averaged only 5 yards per carry with no scores. Opponents knew he was going to be getting the ball a lot on first downs and were able to load the box accordingly, but consistency is the primary goal.

USA must replace four of its top six targets, which is scary, but the Jaguars do have a thunder-and-lightning pair in the receiving corps. UAB transfers Gerald Everett and Josh Magee were a hit last year -- Everett was one of the nation's more productive tight ends, and while Magee was an all-or-nothing guy (50 percent catch rate), he was a good one, averaging nearly 22 yards per catch. Consistency will be key for Magee, too; after catching 14 passes for a massive 402 yards in the first six games of 2015, he caught only seven for 102 thereafter.

There are other intriguing skill position guys. Senior Tyrone Williams could break out if healthy, running back Tyreis Thomas was efficient (if not particularly explosive) in splitting carries with Johnson, freshman Jalin Buie was the gem of the 2016 signing class, and USA's bringing in three JUCO pass catchers, including three-star Jahmmir Taylor.

There's depth, size, speed, efficiency, explosiveness ... everything you could ask for. Now we just have to figure out if they have a quarterback.

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 102.7 2.76 3.45 37.2% 65.0% 21.5% 70.9 7.0% 9.5%
Rank 60 85 44 86 73 93 113 103 96
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Joseph Scelfo C 6'1, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 12 25 2015 1st All-Sun Belt
Chris May RT 12 44 2015 2nd All-Sun Belt
Cameron Blankenship RG 10 34
Steven Foster LG 6'4, 305 Sr. 2 stars NR 11 13
Curtis Williams LT 6'5, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100 12 12
Noah Fisher RT 6'4, 290 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 2 2
Daniel Aust LG
1 1
Harrison Louden C 6'3, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 0 1
Steve McKenzie LG 6'1, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8188 0 0
De'Arius Young RG 6'7, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 0 0
Troy Thingstad RT 6'5, 275 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8256

Zach Davis RG 6'6, 275 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8200

Ryan Alexander LT 6'3, 275 RSFr. NR 0.8200

Nelson Santiago C 6'3, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8029

Clay Burt OL 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7683

D'Tavieus Taylor OL 6'4, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.33 100 IsoPPP+ 96.3 80
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.3% 74 Succ. Rt. + 97.7 72
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.6 99 Off. FP+ 29.3 84
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 123 Redzone S&P+ 86.8 117
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.2 ACTUAL 20.0 +1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 83 80 72 80
RUSHING 113 94 82 104
PASSING 25 61 69 59
Standard Downs 60 81 52
Passing Downs 97 63 109
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 75
Q2 Rk 70 2nd Down Rk 87
Q3 Rk 76 3rd Down Rk 84
Q4 Rk 121

6. Opponents knew to run

Defense was USA's calling card during the Jaguars' two six-win campaigns, but the toy box was pretty empty. In 2014, USA ranked 28th in Standard Downs S&P+, 38th in Passing S&P+, 39th in Rushing S&P+, and 12th in Redzone S&P+. They risked big plays in the name of efficiency, and it usually worked.

In 2015, with most of 2014's starting lineup gone (and not nearly as many UAB transfers around to help as on offense), USA just didn't have the horses. The Jags couldn't stop the run, and opponents knew it -- opponents ran the ball 66 percent of the time on standard downs and 39 percent on passing downs, both well over the national averages. The effects were obvious: USA fell to 60th in Standard Downs S&P+ and 94th against the run, forced fewer passing downs, and wore down over the course of a game.

It wasn't all on the run defense. There were far too many passing downs breakdowns, and one of the nation's best redzone defenses turned into one of the nation's worst. Still, the rebuild up front didn't go very well, and Jones both brought in quite a few JUCO reinforcements and a new defensive coordinator. Travis Pearson resigned after two years in charge of the defense, and Jones replaced him with Kane Wommack, son of Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.

The younger Wommack spent the last two years running the Eastern Illinois defense. In 2015, his Panthers allowed just 4.2 yards per carry and logged a havoc rate of 21.1 percent, which would have ranked fifth in FBS.

At Ole Miss, Dave Wommack has installed an aggressive 4-2-5 defense that utilizes nickel speed while still wrecking shop up front. It appears USA could have plenty of the former; the latter? Probably not.

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 98.2 2.90 3.10 40.3% 55.0% 19.7% 59.1 3.7% 2.9%
Rank 75 70 53 88 15 68 123 104 124
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
DeMarion Harper DE 11 40.0 5.8% 7.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Tre Alford NT 5'10, 280 Jr. NR NR 12 27.0 3.9% 3.5 2.0 0 2 1 0
Akeem Lewis BANDIT 10 24.0 3.5% 6.5 2.0 0 0 1 1
Jimmie Gipson III
(2014)
WOLF 6'0, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 13 20.0 2.6% 6.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
Dondre Chanet DT 12 13.5 2.0% 2.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Caleb Butler DT 6'4, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 11 10.0 1.4% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Jaylan Daniels DE 6'3, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 8 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sean Grayer BANDIT 6'2, 240 So. NR NR 12 4.5 0.7% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Dewayne Alford BANDIT 6'3, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8500 6 4.0 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Randy Allen WOLF 6'2, 235 Sr. NR NR 12 2.5 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Wade Forde WOLF 6'3, 210 Jr. NR NR 5 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jeffery Whatley DT 6'2, 265 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Roy Albritton NT 6'2, 335 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752
Zach Befort DE 6'2, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533
Romelo Riley BANDIT 6'3, 245 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Chris Henderson DE 6'4, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8337








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Blake Dees MIKE 11 81.5 11.8% 3.0 0.0 0 1 3 0
Roman Buchanan STINGER 6'2, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 12 52.0 7.5% 3.0 0.0 2 1 0 0
Bull Barge MIKE 5'10, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7919 12 24.0 3.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Demarius Rancifer STINGER 12 19.5 2.8% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Grant Powell MIKE 6'2, 225 Sr. 2 stars NR 11 8.0 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Philon MIKE 12 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raymoné Wiggins STINGER 10 2.0 0.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tavon Cox STINGER 6'3, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8336
JarMarkus Sims STINGER 6'1, 220 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8091
Darrell Songy LB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733
Riley Cole LB 6'3, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8460
Jeremiah Littles LB 6'2, 225 Fr. NR 0.8200








7. The linebackers ... existed

Line stats can be misleading, but they drop hints. And the fact that USA ranked 75th in Adj. Line Yards, 68th in stuff rate, and 15th in power success rate but still ended up 94th in Rushing S&P+ suggests that linebackers may not have been very effective.

And then there's this: In 2014, linebacker Maleki Harris recorded nine tackles for loss and seven passes defensed. In 2015, all USA LBs combined had nine and five, respectively. Granted, the system shifted from a 3-4 to something closer to a 4-2-5 and the edge positions are part-line, part-linebackers. But no matter what, there just wasn't much disruption here. And the pass rush was almost nonexistent.

There's no guarantee that this front six improves in 2016, but there are certainly a lot more options up front. Jimmie Gipson III returns from a preseason Achilles injury; if he's back full-speed, he's automatically USA's most proven pass rusher. And between tackles Tre Alford and Caleb Butler and linebackers Roman Buchanan and Bull Barge, a lot of returnees have seen solid playing time. Toss in a handful of redshirt freshmen, three JUCOs, and three three-star freshmen, and you might have enough athleticism to get into the backfield a bit more.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jeremy Reaves CB 5'11, 185 Jr. NR NR 12 80.5 11.6% 8 0 2 6 3 0
Kalen Jackson HUSKY 6'1, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 12 59.5 8.6% 8.5 0 2 1 1 0
Devon Earl ROVER 5'10, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8016 12 46.0 6.6% 1.5 0 0 1 3 2
Margo Reed CB 12 34.0 4.9% 1.5 0 1 0 0 0
E.J. May CB 12 30.0 4.3% 4 0 2 5 0 0
Jalen Thompson CB 6'0, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514 12 23.5 3.4% 2 1 1 5 1 0
Antonio Carter FS 6 21.0 3.0% 3 1 0 0 1 0
Nigel Green SS 12 12.0 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
T'Qwan Robinson ROVER 6'1, 190 Jr. NR NR 10 7.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Quinton Dent CB 6'3, 170 Sr. NR NR 11 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Nigel Lawrence FS 5'11, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126 8 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darian Mills CB 5'11, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556 8 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Malcolm Buggs HUSKY 5'9, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8062
Neiko Robinson DB 6'0, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
Diantae Thomas S 5'10, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733
Jay Woods CB 5'9, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322
Bobby Flott CB 6'1, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852








8. Just give the secondary a chance to prove itself

Even with one of the least effective pass rushes in the country, USA still ranked 61st in Passing S&P+. The Jaguars held half their opponents under a 60 percent completion rate and had a few sterling performances; most notably, they held Troy and Texas State to a combined 29-for-58 for just 251 yards, one touchdown, and four picks.

When you can't stop the run, pass defense only matters so much. But if the front six can simply improve a little bit, an aggressive secondary can make plays. Corner Jeremy Reaves and safety Kalen Jackson combined for 16.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and 11 passes defensed in 2015, and corner Jalen Thompson made some plays as a three-star freshman, too. Four of the top eight DBs are gone, but the four returnees are solid, and USA added two JUCOs and a three-star freshman (Jay Woods). I'm not worried about the secondary if there's any sort of disruption up front.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Brandon McKee 6'1, 190 Sr. 39 39.8 6 9 5 35.9%
Aleem Sunanon 5'7, 170 Sr. 31 42.7 0 8 4 38.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Gavin Patterson 5'7, 200 So. 30 60.9 5 0 16.7%
Aleem Sunanon 5'7, 170 Sr. 23 49.9 1 2 4.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Aleem Sunanon 5'7, 170 Sr. 32-32 10-12 83.3% 6-7 85.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Xavier Johnson KR 5'11, 180 Jr. 14 31.4 1
Claude Garrett KR 10 20.9 0
Josh Magee PR 5'11, 170 Sr. 6 4.0 0
Chris Lewis PR 4 2.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 19
Field Goal Efficiency 15
Punt Return Success Rate 58
Kick Return Success Rate 35
Punt Success Rate 43
Kickoff Success Rate 119

9. Best special teams in the Sun Belt

Aleem Sunanon gives USA a chance at point anytime it crosses the oponent's 35. Xavier Johnson is as explosive a kick returner as he is a running back. The duo of Brandon McKee and Sunanon in the punting game limited opponent return opportunities. Though there were some glitches in kick coverage, USA ranked 19th in Special Teams S&P+ and returns all the reasons for that ranking.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Mississippi State 21 -29.9 4%
24-Sep Nicholls State NR 30.2 96%
1-Oct San Diego State 55 -13.3 22%
19-Nov at LSU 2 -40.7 1%
TBA Georgia Southern 52 -13.8 21%
TBA Georgia State 105 -0.1 50%
TBA New Mexico State 117 4.1 59%
TBA Troy 103 -0.8 48%
TBA at Arkansas State 89 -12.7 23%
TBA at Idaho 108 -5.1 38%
TBA at UL-Lafayette 106 -5.8 37%
TBA at UL-Monroe 125 0.1 50%
Projected wins: 4.5
Five-Year F/+ Rk -21.2% (100)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 97 / 103
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -5 / -4.1
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 49% (34%, 64%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.9 (1.1)

10. Building for 2017

I'm struggling to figure out what I expect of South Alabama in 2016. If the quarterback position is sound, the offense could at least rise into the 70s or 80s in Off. S&P+. If the defensive front makes just a few more plays, the secondary could shine. USA should be sound in the Little Things™ department (field position, finishing drives), and the road map back to a ranking in the 80s or higher is pretty clear.

Still, the Jags are projected 115th for a reason. They weren't as good as their record last year, they're looking at another new starting QB, and while the returnees are exciting, depth is a clear concern in the receiving corps.

The good news is that, whatever this team is in 2016, it will probably be something more in 2017. A lot of the most interesting players on this team are sophomores and juniors, and while it appears USA will be retooling in its receiving corps next year, experience should be strong otherwise.

Like most SBC teams, if the Jags again find some good close-game mojo, they could threaten a run at bowl eligibility. Their win probability is between 37 and 59 percent in six games, with one game higher and five lower. There's minimal margin for error there, but find a QB, find a pass rusher, and see what happens.