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100 Days to Kickoff: Opponent Previews- USF

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The Bulls are coming off a season that saw them start 7-0 before losing six consecutive games

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Georgia Tech at USF Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This fall Georgia Tech will host the return leg of a two game home-and-home series with USF. While certainly a much friendlier opponent than Clemson in the season opener, last season’s debacle down in Tampa showed that the Bulls are a very good team capable of beating quality Power 5 opposition.

Speaking of last year’s game, here’s a brief recap. South Florida won 49-38 on the strength of almost 300 yards of offense and four touchdowns from QB Blake Barnett, including a rushing line of 16 carries for 91 yards and 2 TDs. The Jackets were led by a trio of 90+ yard rushers in TaQuon Marshall, Tobias Oliver, and Jordan Mason. Tech led 38-28 early in the fourth quarter, but as too often happened over the last couple of years under head coach Paul Johnson, the Jackets gave away a double digit lead.

I wouldn’t be doing this game justice if I didn’t point out a couple of things. USF returned not one, but two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter of this game. It was so bad that GT had to squib kick for the remainder of the game to keep the ball out of fourth-string RB Terrance Horne’s hands. The other notable from that day was the decision to take out Tobias Oliver after he led three consecutive touchdown drives in relief of a banged up TaQuon Marshall. I get that Marshall is your starter and he’s your guy, but with the offense humming like it was with Oliver that day I just didn’t understand the decision.

At any rate, on to 2019.

Offense

Barnett caught the injury bug after USF started 7-0 in 2018, and that was part of the reason that head coach Charlie Strong’s team failed to win another game after their torrid start. He returns as the signal-caller in 2019, and he will have RB Jordan Cronkrite back after rushing for 1,149 yards and 9 TDs in 2018. Top wideout Tyre McCants departs after a stellar career, but Randall St. Felix returns after a wonderful freshman season and Darnell Solomon and Mitchell Wilcox will also be quality pass-catching options. All-name candidate and Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom figures to see time as well. On the line, late-season injuries led to eight different guys starting multiple games, and they all return except for left tackle Eric Mayes. Right tackle Magnus Norman figures to be the anchor of what could be a solid group barring injury this season.

Defense

USF was not great on defense in 2018. They ranked in the triple digits in FBS in key statistics like big-play rate, stuff rate, and sack rate. The lack of sacks is especially alarming, because leading sack men Josh Black and Juwan Brown graduated. Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinckney look to take over the two DT spots from Black and Brown while Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone look bound for the two starting end spots. Livingstone is the leading returning sack man with 4.0 and also tied for the team lead with 10 tackles for loss. At linebacker, senior leader Nico Sawtelle returns after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season after USF started 6-0. He recorded 7.5 tackles for loss in just 6 games and is the key to their defense this year. No other significant experience returns at LB, but Andrew Mims looks most likely to start alongside Sawtelle in USF’s 4-2-5 scheme. At the back end, USF also took heavy losses. Bentlee Sanders and Mike Hampton look like good starting options at corner, but at safety and nickel USF will need young players to step up.

Special Teams

Coby Weiss returns as the kicker after going a solid 15-18 on field goals last season, but only 35-39 on PATs.Terrance Horne tore his ACL two weeks after doing his best Devin Hester impression against Tech down in Tampa. He should be healthy this fall, but his effectiveness is still to be decided. Apart from those two, USF was not great on special teams and it’s certainly an area they will hope improves this fall.

Overall Outlook

USF is going to go as far as their offense will take them this fall. I don’t think they get near their 11-2 record from 2017, Charlie Strong’s first season, but the 7-6 mark they posted last season looks like a fair approximation of where they could end up this year.

It’s worth noting that Geoff Collins’ Temple squads went 1-1 against USF, losing 43-7 in 2017 but beating the Bulls 27-17 last fall. Let’s hope this game goes more along the lines of his 2018 matchup with Strong’s team than the 2017 edition, especially because a loss could very likely mean an 0-2 start after a tough opener up at Clemson.