USF's prosperity will be defined by continued improvement on defense. Don't be surprised if the Bulls find themselves in another do-or-die showdown against UCF for an AAC Division title in the regular-season finale.
Previewing USF Football's Offense for 2018
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In three seasons as the USF starter, Quinton Flowers accounted for 11,618 total yards and 112 touchdowns while finishing as the FBS's ninth all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks with 3,672 yards. The obvious question: How do you replace him? The obvious answer: You don't.
Charlie Strong, entering his second season at USF, says he's confident there will be an adequate solution with either sophomore Chris Oladokun or junior Brett Kean. "Quinton was very special, a different kind of player," Strong says. "But Chris and Brett have been in the system for two years. They will do the job, and we'll do whatever we can to help them progress." However, Strong added competition to the quarterback room following spring practice. Arizona State graduate transfer Blake Barnett is slated to join the team this summer and will compete for the starting job.
USF was No. 8 nationally in rushing last season but must replace stalwarts D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice (as well as Flowers). The Bulls could rely heavily on Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite, who rushed for 302 yards in two seasons in Gainesville.
There's plenty of quality depth in the receiving corps. Senior Tyre McCants, a matchup nightmare at 5'11", 240 pounds, is a big-play performer and one of the nation's top blockers at the position. Junior Darnell Salomon began to realize his game-breaking potential last season. The Bulls also plan to exploit the size and agility of junior tight end Mitchell Wilcox.
Three starters return to the offensive line, a major catalyst behind USF's productivity, but the biggest key could be sophomore center Michael Wiggs, who's expected to take over for reliable leader Cameron Ruff.
Previewing USF Football's Defense for 2018
USF will look to build upon massive defensive improvement that saw the Bulls finish 37th nationally in total defense after an embarrassing 120th (and an average of 482.0 yards allowed) in 2016. The Bulls became much grittier against the run while registering 36 sacks and a plus-10 turnover margin. They had 20 interceptions (tying for second nationally) and 101 tackles for a loss (fifth). Although six starters were lost, there are plenty of reinforcements.
The Bulls are blessed with ample depth and lots of mix-and-match possibilities along the defensive line, where Greg Reaves has emerged as a menacing pass rusher. In the 4-2-5 alignment, weak-side linebacker Khalid McGee, a converted safety, will be a catalyst.
Plenty of experience returns in the secondary. Aggressive senior Ronnie Hoggins inherits the important nickel slot. Coaches are high on sophomore Naytron Culpepper, who worked his way onto the field late last season. He's equally adept at cornerback or safety.
Previewing USF Football's Specialists for 2018
The Bulls must replace dependable placekicker Emilio Nadelman and punter Jonathan Hernandez. The competition for USF's placekicking job was hotly contested, and Jake Vivonetto had some good moments. The Bulls will entrust punting duties to sophomore Trent Schneider, a junior college transfer and native of Australia. The Bulls had nation-worst seven kicks blocked last season, a special teams red flag that must be addressed.
Strong's first season at USF was a bumpy adjustment at times from Willie Taggart's Gulf Coast Offense. But now there's more of a blank slate to implement Strong's preferred style. The running game will have increased importance, especially while a new quarterback develops.
Overall, though, USF's prosperity will be defined by continued improvement on defense. Don't be surprised if the Bulls find themselves in another do-or-die showdown against UCF for an AAC Division title in the regular-season finale.