The Bulls enter their first spring practice with new head coach Charlie Strong and AAC title aspirations
The Willie Taggart run with South Florida was a solid one with steady growth within the program. New head coach Charlie Strong is now stepping in to take charge and do what he can to take the Bulls one step closer to a conference championship. With his best quarterback since Teddy Bridgewater back and an offense that should be among the best in the American Athletic Conference, the wait may not be very long for success in Tampa with Strong in charge.
Getting things off on the right foot in the spring will be important for Strong as he and his staff take control of the Bulls.
5 Storylines to Watch in South Florida’s Spring Practice
1. Charlie Strong’s redemption begins
Strong is landing in a decent position to reestablish himself as a respected head coach. Perhaps he was up against the odds in Austin with the Texas Longhorns, but Strong should waste little time in getting back in a groove on the sideline in the familiar landscape of the AAC and the state of Florida. It helps that Strong is taking over one of top contenders for a conference crown in 2017. Forget what Strong did at Texas and focus more on what he did at Louisville when he had a decent quarterback to help him out. He’ll have one at USF with Quinton Flowers.
2. Strong should help improve USF defensive efforts
The Bulls are coming off a 2016 season in which they allowed more yards per game than any other defense in the AAC. The Bulls gave up an average of 482.0 yards per game, which ranked 120th in the nation out of 128 teams. Given Strong’s background as a defensive coach, it would not be too much to ask to see Strong get the Bulls defense in gear and trim down that average by a significant margin in year one.
3. Who replaces Marlon Mack in the running game?
The Bulls should be expected to run the ball effectively this season with quarterback Quinton Flowers more than capable of racking up yards with his legs, but replacing Mack is a key to having a successful offense in Tampa. Mack is off to the NFL after rushing for 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. D’Ernest Johnson figures to step in to carry the load, but one name to watch may be Trevon Sands, a sophomore out of Miami. Flowers was the AAC’s third-leading rusher in 2016, and he may very well lead the way for the USF offense again in 2017, but having a complement to rely on will help.
4. USF needs a new go-to wide receiver
Not only did USF lose one of its leading rushers to the NFL, but it also is losing its top wide receiver in Rodney Adams. Adams had a team-high 822 yards and tied for a team-high five touchdowns in 2016. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Tyre McCants appear to be the most likely to see a few more passes come their way this season after being the team’s second- and third-leading receivers last fall.
5. The secondary continues to grow
Opponents had plenty of success passing through the air against the Bulls in 2016, with USF allowing an average of 285.5 passing yards per game and 21 touchdowns. But the Bulls did collect 15 interceptions and have some players appearing ready to continue growing in their roles this season. Ronnie Hoggins picked off two passes last season and could see an increased role in 2017 after starting seven games last season.
Pre-Spring Outlook for South Florida in the AAC
The Bulls came on strongly last season under Willie Taggart and came within a win or a Temple loss of playing for the conference championship. Strong inherits a USF program ready to compete for an American Athletic Conference (AAC) crown but still has some work to do in order to reach the title game. With Quinton Flowers at quarterback, Strong should feel confident about his chances of jumping in the saddle in Tampa and putting together a championship contender, which could potentially put USF in position for a New Year’s Six bowl spot.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Charlie Strong photo courtesy of @USFFootball)