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USF football went from bad to awesome overnight. Is awesome the new normal?

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Suddenly, USF is good.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. The new normal?

A funny thing happened in the AAC last year.

Early on, three up-and-comers stole headlines. Memphis beat Ole Miss and started 8-0. Temple beat Penn State, started 7-0, and brought ESPN College GameDay to town for a game against Notre Dame that it nearly won. Navy and its record-setting quarterback started 9-1, also with only a loss to Notre Dame.

The AAC emerged as the conference for thrilling Group of Five action, finishing with Houston's two-touchdown win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

But at the end of the regular season, a completely different team was the hottest in the conference.

It seemed like Willie Taggart was done in Tampa-St. Pete. His first two years had resulted in excellent recruiting and a 6-18 record. Recruiting will buy you time, but only so much. A 1-3 start to 2015 made it feel like doom was on the way, that Taggart's long-term role would be bringing in talent with which his replacement could win. I didn't feel good about the title of my 2015 USF preview -- "It's bad" -- but ... it was bad.

USF had shown brief signs of life, though. The Bulls were tied 7-7 at halftime with Florida State before falling victim to Dalvin Cook's 266 rushing yards, and they went up 10-0 on a Memphis team at its peak before falling late. There was nothing appealing about an 18-point loss to Maryland, but there were hints of quality play. And the hints became shouts when Syracuse came to town.

USF beat the Orange and SMU by 24, took down an emerging UConn on the road, won at ECU, then kicked things up one more gear. They finished the regular season beating Temple by 21, Cincinnati by 38, and UCF by 41.

Even with a bowl loss to WKU -- the season's best mid-major per the S&P+ ratings -- USF finished in the S&P+ top 50 for the first time since 2011, Skip Holtz's second year. The defense was solid (46th in Def. S&P+) after a year in the wilderness, and the offense was legitimately interesting (50th in Off. S&P+) for the first time since ranking 44th in 2008, Jim Leavitt's second-to-last year.

This was a USF renaissance, and a month into the season we didn't really know it was coming. It just sort of happened.

Sudden gains are tricky to interpret. From a stat standpoint, you tend to get better projections from an extended period of time -- on average, a look at five-year recent history (perhaps weighted for recency), for instance, probably tells you more about a program's baseline health than a nine-game sample from last season.

But if your sudden gains come from a depth chart coming of age, or a quarterback emerging, why would five-year history play much of a role? The team we saw late last year, with running back Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers creating a devastating backfield, and receiver Rodney Adams creating big plays, and linebackers Auggie Sanchez and Nigel Harris getting into the backfield, and devastating corner Deatrick Nichols making plays near and far from the line of scrimmage ... well ... that's the team we could see again. This breakthrough didn't happen with a bunch of seniors.

USF has major questions in the trenches, where three starters are gone on each side. But if quality recruiting helps to prevent too much of a breakdown, the pieces are in place for the Bulls to do a late-2015 impression for much of 2016.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 44 | Final S&P+ Rk: 50
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Florida A&M N/A 51-3 W 90% 100% +30.4
12-Sep at Florida State 12 14-34 L 26% 4% +14.3 +8.0
19-Sep at Maryland 76 17-35 L 9% 3% -5.2 -11.0
2-Oct Memphis 41 17-24 L 29% 14% +3.4 +2.0
10-Oct Syracuse 85 45-24 W 88% 100% +31.0 +18.5
17-Oct at Connecticut 80 28-20 W 45% 60% +4.1 +11.0
24-Oct SMU 106 38-14 W 76% 100% +7.1 +12.5
31-Oct at Navy 21 17-29 L 39% 16% +0.0 -4.5
7-Nov at East Carolina 73 22-17 W 62% 80% +5.5 +9.0
14-Nov Temple 45 44-23 W 89% 99% +24.4 +24.0
20-Nov Cincinnati 72 65-27 W 97% 100% +35.1 +40.5
26-Nov at Central Florida 128 44-3 W 84% 100% +14.9 +41.0
21-Dec vs. Western Kentucky 15 35-45 L 44% 18% +0.5 -7.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 31.6 50 25.1 46
Points Per Game 33.6 41 22.9 35

3. The switch flipped

Thanks mostly to a romp over FAMU, USF's early-season numbers were at least decent. But against two ACC teams and Memphis, the Bulls still didn't look the part of a breakthrough candidate. Playing well for a quarter or a half isn't the same thing as challenging for 60 minutes.

But after a rough couple of games against FSU and Maryland, quarterback Flowers figured things out against Memphis.

He completed 17 of 26 passes for 199 yards and a 134.7 passer rating; at that point, his season-long passer rating was 112.4. Over the next nine games, it would rise to 166.0. He still wasn't a high-efficiency passer, but his mistakes diminished (he had four INTs in the first four games, and four in the final nine), and the play-action potential of this offense skyrocketed. The effects were obvious.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 39% (~top 80) | Record: 1-3 | Yards per play: USF 5.5, Opp 5.1 (+0.4) -- without FAMU: Opp 6.0, USF 4.7 (-1.3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 8 games): 73% (~top 35) | Record: 7-1 | Yards per play: USF 6.8, Opp 5.3 (+1.5)

Flowers was an impressive get for Taggart and company a few years ago, a nearly four-star recruit. His output as a true freshman wasn't particularly inspiring -- 8-for-20 passing with two picks. But freshmen become sophomores. And with a little help from the offense, the defense was able to tighten its grip.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.38 21 IsoPPP+ 112.7 33
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.8% 40 Succ. Rt. + 100.8 71
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.5 84 Def. FP+ 30.8 93
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 42 Redzone S&P+ 106.3 51
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.8 ACTUAL 15 -2.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 35 37 71 33
RUSHING 10 18 56 10
PASSING 95 58 83 45
Standard Downs 32 60 25
Passing Downs 64 82 55
Q1 Rk 50 1st Down Rk 39
Q2 Rk 55 2nd Down Rk 15
Q3 Rk 23 3rd Down Rk 36
Q4 Rk 53

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.
Quinton Flowers 6'0, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8890 162 275 2290 22 8 58.9% 18 6.1% 7.5
Steven Bench 14 22 177 2 1 63.6% 1 4.3% 7.6
Asiantii Woulard
(UCLA)
6'3, 213 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9369
Brett Kean 6'1, 220 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8187
Chris Oladokun 6'2, 184 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8327

3. The next box to check: passing downs success

Despite a below-average pace, South Florida finished the season with 77 gains of 20-plus yards, 25th in the country. That was a massive improvement of 2014's total of 45 (107th). A lot of this sudden explosiveness came because of the ground game, but Flowers' ability to get the ball downfield was huge. He averaged 14.1 yards per completion, which, when combined with his and Mack's explosiveness, gave USF's offense the personality of a coil, ready to spring out at any moment.

Now just imagine what the Bulls could do with a bit more efficiency and a bit more success on passing downs.

Young quarterbacks are not typically efficient quarterbacks, and Flowers was still quite young last fall. But the next step in his development will be learning how to keep the chains moving once behind schedule. That he and Mack gained at least five yards on 45 percent of their carries meant that he wasn't facing TOO many passing downs, but the explosiveness aspect of this offense was still far ahead of the efficiency aspect.

On third-and-4 or more, Flowers completed just 38 of 77 passes (49 percent) for 422 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Only half of the 38 completions went for a first down. If you could stop USF on first down, you were almost certainly going to stop the Bulls on third.

Quarterbacks with this level of mobility do not always improve too much when it comes to passing downs passing. We'll see if Flowers can become an exception.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Marlon Mack RB 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8365 210 1381 8 6.6 6.7 44.8% 3 0
Quinton Flowers QB 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8890 173 1077 12 6.2 5.7 45.7% 3 1
Darius Tice RB 5'10, 211 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 88 460 4 5.2 4.9 39.8% 2 1
D'Ernest Johnson RB 5'10, 208 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 71 307 1 4.3 3.1 39.4% 1 1
Rodney Adams WR 6'1, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8992 11 87 1 7.9 8.4 45.5% 2 2
Steven Bench QB 8 65 2 8.1 4.9 62.5% 1 0
Trevon Sands RB 5'11, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8539
Elijah Mack RB 6'0, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8437







4. From potential to production

Flowers' emergence as a dual threat in the backfield, helped both Mack and the USF offensive line. Mack was still a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman in 2014, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but he gained at least five yards only 32 percent of the time. USF's run game was woefully inefficient.

The combination of an extra year of experience for Mack, a mobile quarterback (Mike White and Steven Bench combined for 22 non-sack carries and 55 yards in 2014), and an extra year of experience for the line made all the difference in the world. USF rose from 126th in Adj. Line yards to 31st, from 125th in Rushing S&P+ to 18th. And despite Flowers' sophomore limitations, the Bulls also improved from 112th in Passing S&P+ to 58th.

This was a rising tide, and Mack benefited more than anybody. In only seven more carries, he gained 340 more yards.

That Flowers returns next to Mack is unquestionably a good thing, but there are at least a few questions to answer up front. USF must replace the center-guard combination of Brynjar Gudmundsson and all-conference Thor Jozwiak, plus right tackle Mak Djulbegovic. (The Great Names quotient up front is really taking a hit this year.) Juniors Jeremi Hall and Glen Bethel are formerly well-regarded recruits who have waited for their turn in the starting lineup, and USF's massive improvement last year came despite losing three different starters up front. So turnover doesn't have to be the end of the world. But it's at least a question the Bulls have to answer. And if the answer is satisfactory, the offense will roll.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Rodney Adams SLOT 6'1, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8992 69 44 816 63.8% 24.0% 11.8 63.8% 49.3% 2.21
Marquez Valdes-Scantling
(NC State)
WR-X 6'5, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8119 43 22 281 51.2% 10.8% 6.5 50.0% N/A N/A
Chris Barr SLOT 5'10, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389 40 23 200 57.5% 13.9% 5.0 67.5% 40.0% 1.16
Ryeshene Bronson WR-Z 6'3, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8753 36 17 258 47.2% 12.5% 7.2 66.7% 38.9% 1.62
D'Ernest Johnson RB 5'10, 208 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 33 25 346 75.8% 11.5% 10.5 45.5% 51.5% 1.98
Sean Price TE 28 20 306 71.4% 9.8% 10.9 53.6% 67.9% 1.62
Marlon Mack RB 6'0, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8365 20 16 111 80.0% 7.0% 5.6 50.0% 35.0% 1.50
Elkanah Dillon TE 6'5, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 17 9 208 52.9% 5.9% 12.2 58.8% 47.1% 2.65
A.J. Legree WR-Z 6'1, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8438 12 7 53 58.3% 4.2% 4.4 58.3% 33.3% 1.23
Tyre McCants WR-X 5'11, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8606 10 6 162 60.0% 3.5% 16.2 30.0% 50.0% 3.35
Darius Tice RB 5'10, 206 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 7 5 10 71.4% 2.4% 1.4 42.9% 0.0% 0.00
Marlon Pope TE 6 2 42 33.3% 2.1% 7.0 33.3% 33.3% 1.89
Jordan Reed SLOT 5'10, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8289 5 4 18 80.0% 1.7% 3.6 60.0% 20.0% 2.04
Austin Aikens WR 6'0, 184 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8181 1 0 0 0.0% 0.3% 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Stanley Clerveaux WR-X 6'3, 203 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8270
Mitchell Wilcox TE 6'4, 243 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8098
Darnell Salomon WR 6'3, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8971
DeVontres Dukes WR 6'4, 203 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8113

5. All the continuity you could want

If the running game is up to snuff (and I assume it will be), USF has even more passing weapons this year. Losing high-efficiency tight end Sean Price hurts, but every wideout targeted with a pass last year is back, and NC State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a newly eligible, big-bodied option.

In the spring, the presence of Valdes-Scantling moved Rodney Adams to the slot; that's an interesting development, as Adams was devastating from a wide position last year. Of 215 players with at least 65 targets last year, Adams was one of only 11 to combine 18-plus yards per catch with a success rate of at least 49 percent.

Adams was an incredible threat on the right side of the field; we'll see if this slot move sticks, or what his slot presence can do for wideouts Valdes-Scantling, Ryeshene Bronson, etc. And we'll also see if USF can find a role for the latest star recruit in the receiving corps, big-bodied four-star freshman Darnell Salomon.

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 108.8 3.2 3.8 43.6% 63.0% 17.2% 92.9 4.7% 6.7%
Rank 31 21 15 18 82 32 73 62 52
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Thor Jozwiak LG 13 27 2015 2nd All-AAC
Brynjar Gudmundsson C 13 38
Dominique Threatt RG 6'1, 323 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594 13 20
Kofi Amichia LT 6'4, 291 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619 13 14
Mak Djulbegovic RT 13 13
Cameron Ruff LG 6'3, 318 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382 0 1
Clavion Nelson RT 0 0
Jeremi Hall RG 6'5, 340 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8496 0 0
Glen Bethel RT 6'6, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8690 0 0
Michael Smith LG 6'3, 303 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8178 0 0
Michael Galati C 6'3, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8046 0 0
Billy Atterbury RT 6'4, 295 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8335

Marcus Norman LT 6'6, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8392

Christion Gainer OL 6'6, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8471

Logan MacDonald OL 6'4, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8122

Michael Wiggs OL 6'3, 290 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7986


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.29 79 IsoPPP+ 103.2 54
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.0% 44 Succ. Rt. + 104.8 50
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.5 36 Off. FP+ 30.9 42
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.8 20 Redzone S&P+ 109.7 29
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.0 ACTUAL 25.0 +3.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 52 51 50 54
RUSHING 31 54 47 63
PASSING 85 59 62 55
Standard Downs 63 65 69
Passing Downs 27 22 37
Q1 Rk 21 1st Down Rk 56
Q2 Rk 29 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 109 3rd Down Rk 40
Q4 Rk 51

6. The identity is set

Tom Allen spent one year at USF, and it jump-started both his career and the Bulls' defense. USF had fallen from 34th to 96th in Def. S&P+ in 2014, but Allen, the former Ole Miss linebackers coach, brought his attacking 4-2-5 defense to town, and the results were fantastic. After a month of decent play, USF began to swarm as intended.

Allen took the Indiana defensive coordinator job, but his lone season in Tampa helped to craft an identity Taggart wants to maintain. He promoted linebackers coach Raymond Woodie to defensive coordinator, and it appears the 4-2-5 "Bulls Sharks" defense (Get it? Because Ole Miss went by the "Land Sharks?") will remain intact.

Now we just have to see if Woodie's got the linemen to do what Allen did last year.

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 102.4 2.61 2.96 35.9% 68.9% 24.5% 125.8 6.8% 8.7%
Rank 48 25 44 38 88 13 27 14 38
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eric Lee DE 13 40.5 5.2% 12.0 5.0 1 4 2 0
Deadrin Senat DT 6'1, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8712 12 36.5 4.7% 5.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
James Hamilton DT 13 26.0 3.4% 6.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Derrick Calloway
(2014)
DT 6'2, 285 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8746 12 24.5 3.6% 5.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
Zack Bullock BULL 13 24.0 3.1% 4.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Demetrius Hill DE 13 21.5 2.8% 7.5 3.0 1 3 1 0
Daniel Awoleke DT 6'5, 283 Sr. NR NR 13 18.5 2.4% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Bruce Hector DT 6'4, 296 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7961 12 16.5 2.1% 7.0 5.0 0 1 1 0
Kevin Bronson DT 6'4, 280 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8367 10 11.5 1.5% 3.5 2.5 1 3 1 0
Mike Love DE 6'4, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8282 12 7.0 0.9% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Vincent Jackson BULL 6'2, 248 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8572
Josh Black BULL 6'2, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8233
Eric Mayes DT 6'4, 284 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217
Juwan Brown DE 6'2, 250 So. NR NR
Marlon Gonzalez DT 6'4, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510
Kirk Livingstone DE 6'4, 256 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8249
Tramal Ivy DE 6'4, 243 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8622
LaDarrius Jackson BULL 6'4, 243 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8342
Frank Johnson DE 6'5, 235 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8076

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Auggie Sanchez MLB 6'2, 242 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 13 94.0 12.2% 8.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Nigel Harris WLB 6'0, 231 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594 11 36.0 4.7% 4.5 1.5 1 0 1 0
Tashon Whitehurst WLB 10 29.0 3.8% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Danny Thomas MLB 6'1, 225 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543 12 8.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Garye WLB 9 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Holman WLB
11 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jimmy Bayes LB 6'3, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8743
Cecil Cherry MLB 6'0, 240 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8771
Nico Sawtelle LB 6'2, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8094
Andre Polk LB 6'4, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8520
Mi'Cario Stanley MLB 6'2, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8481








7. A rebuild up front

USF boasted seven linemen with at least four tackles for loss last season, but five are now gone. That's scary for a couple of different reasons. First, it lops off a good amount of proven play-making ability; USF ranked 13th in stuff rate and 27th in Adj. Sack Rate, and the line was a big part of that disruptive ability. Backups like tackle Kevin Bronson and Mike Love showed flashes of potential in limited action, and they could thrive with more opportunities. And with returning juniors Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector and sixth-year senior Daniel Awoleke still ahead of Bronson (and former starter Derrick Calloway maybe returning after dealing with academic issues), it does appear the tackle rotation will be outstanding. Still, you're trading a lot of production for a lot of potential at end.

Second, it kills depth. USF went eight or nine deep up front last year. Even if players like Love and Bronson begin to thrive, only four returnees made any tackles last year. The second string in 2016 will almost certainly consist of sophomores and newcomers.

Now, Taggart has recruited well enough that perhaps this isn't a problem at all. The three likely BULL ends -- sophomores Vincent Jackson, Josh Black, and LaDarrius Jackson -- were all mid- to high-three-star recruits, and any of them could thrive given an opportunity. Another mid-three-star recruit, JUCO end Tramal Ivy, could also produce quickly. So could redshirt freshman Kirk Livingstone or Frank Johnson, another JUCO.

Still, USF is moving from "did" to "could" this year. Maybe this all works out okay, but it's not a given.

If the line holds up, however, the linebackers should once again thrive. The duo of Auggie Sanchez and Nigel Harris returns after combining for 13 tackles for loss (a solid number for a set of 4-2-5 linebackers), and four-star former star recruits like Danny Thomas, Jimmy Bayes, and Cecil Cherry could each be ready to contribute as well.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jamie Byrd STRIKER 13 74.5 9.7% 11 5 3 4 2 0
Deatrick Nichols CB 5'10, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8507 13 55.0 7.1% 8.5 1 4 5 2 0
Nate Godwin STRIKER 5'10, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8435 13 54.5 7.1% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Devin Abraham FS 5'9, 188 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8220 13 46.0 6.0% 2 1 3 3 0 0
Tajee Fullwood FS 6'2, 199 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 13 34.0 4.4% 1 0 0 2 2 0
Johnny Ward CB 6'0, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7961 12 26.5 3.4% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Ronnie Hoggins CB 5'8, 170 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8512 13 24.0 3.1% 1.5 0 2 6 0 0
Mazzi Wilkins CB 6'0, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8401 11 16.0 2.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Khalid McGee STRIKER 5'10, 197 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625 12 15.5 2.0% 3 0 0 0 0 1
Jalen Spencer CB 6'0, 183 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8162 10 4.5 0.6% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Jaymon Thomas SS 6'3, 196 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 6 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lamar Robbins CB 6'2, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8754 9 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nate Ferguson CB 5'9, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148 5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hassan Childs SS 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241
Austin Hudson FS 6'2, 209 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7994
Malik Dixon SS 6'3, 207 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8355
Craig Watts S 6'0, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8903
Josh Dunn S 6'0, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8560
Armunz Mathews DB 6'0, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8328
Michael Hampton CB 6'1, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8234

8. Almost all the continuity you could want

The line is basically the only question mark. In Allen's scheme, the secondary went from young and atrocious in 2014 to dynamic and reliable in 2015. Opponents' passer rating fell from 141.3 (with just six interceptions) in 2014 to 118.8 (with 17) last fall. And over the last half of the season, the pass defense went from decent to outstanding.

  • First six games: 60% completion rate, 131.9 passer rating
  • Next six games: 53% completion rate, 107.5 passer rating

Losing Jamie Byrd, the dynamic nickel back in this alignment, hurts. Byrd accounted for a rare combination of 11 tackles for loss and seven passes defensed last fall. But everyone else is back, from severely underrated corner Deatrick Nichols (8.5 TFLs, nine passes defensed), to safeties Nate Godwin, Devin Abraham, Tajee Fullwood, and Khalid McGee to corners Johnny Ward, Ronnie Hoggins, and Mazzi Wilkins. Hoggins and McGee combined for 4.5 tackles for loss and eight passes defensed as freshmen last season, but they might still have to wait one more year to play a significant role because the depth chart is so loaded. And this says nothing of players like redshirt freshman Malik Dixon or four-star freshman Craig Watts, who might have to wait a couple of years.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Mattias Ciabatti 57 43.2 4 12 13 43.9%
Brent Gordon 6'3, 190 So. 7 39.6 0 4 1 71.4%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Michael Hill 61 55.6 2 2 3.3%
Emilio Nadelman 5'6, 173 Jr. 20 56.7 5 2 25.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Emilio Nadelman 5'6, 173 Jr. 53-54 9-11 81.8% 6-12 50.0%
Michael Hill 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
D'Ernest Johnson KR 5'10, 208 Jr. 21 26.8 0
Rodney Adams KR 6'1, 190 Sr. 16 29.1 1
Tajee Fullwood PR 6'2, 203 Jr. 19 10.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 70
Field Goal Efficiency 85
Punt Return Success Rate 103
Kick Return Success Rate 9
Punt Success Rate 33
Kickoff Success Rate 126

9. Explosiveness coming, explosiveness going

You were guaranteed to see some pretty big kick returns in USF games last year. The Bulls averaged 26.7 yards per return, sixth in the FBS last year; meanwhile, while they allowed only 19.9 yards per return (38th), they were all-or-nothing, giving up 11 returns of 30-plus yards (120th). And they kicked fewer touchbacks than almost anybody in the country.

Emilio Nadelman showed decent leg strength, making six of 12 field goals from beyond 40 yards. If he can improve on his 56.7-yard kickoff average and boot a few more touchbacks, USF's special teams strengths should outweigh its weaknesses.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Towson NR 30.3 96%
10-Sep Northern Illinois 79 10.9 74%
17-Sep at Syracuse 44 -2.0 45%
24-Sep Florida State 5 -8.9 30%
1-Oct at Cincinnati 70 2.3 55%
8-Oct East Carolina 78 10.8 73%
15-Oct Connecticut 81 12.8 77%
21-Oct at Temple 61 0.5 51%
28-Oct Navy 66 8.3 68%
12-Nov at Memphis 77 3.7 58%
19-Nov at SMU 98 10.4 73%
26-Nov Central Florida 99 17.7 85%
Projected wins: 7.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk -9.2% (81)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 54 / 49
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 10 / 4.2
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.4
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 79% (89%, 70%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 7.9 (0.1)

10. Fewer tossups than everybody else

Thanks in part to recruiting, USF's projected S&P+ rating ranks 41st overall and first in the AAC. That's a decent amount of faith, considering the Bulls' initial struggles under Taggart and the rebuilding in the trenches.

In a conference loaded with parity, this gives the Bulls a few more likely wins than other AAC contenders. That's an important currency. They have at least a 73 percent chance of winning in six games and are between 45 and 58 percent in four more.

From a stat perspective, USF is the favorite in the AAC East. Defending champion Temple will have something to say about that, but the Owls have plenty to prove in their own right. Regardless, it appears the bones of USF are strong.