#40 South Florida 2018 Football Preview

South Florida Bulls
Overall Rank: #40
#2 American
 South Florida Logo
Charlie Strong got himself back on track in year one as head coach of the University of South Florida. The Bulls won 10 games in 2017 and were in the conversation for the American Athletic Conference title all season long until the final game against UCF. It was a perfect example of how fit is critical with a coaching hire because Coach Strong fits perfectly as head coach in the state of Florida since he has been a very strong recruiter of the state for years.
2017 Record: 10-2, 6-2
2017 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl vs. Texas Tech (38-34 W)
Coach: Charlie Strong (10-2 at South Florida, 63-39 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Sterlin Gilbert
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Jean-Mary
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Trevon Sands, RB, 111 yards
Passing: Brett Kean, QB, 64 yards
Receiving: Tyre McCants, WR, 686 yards
Tackles: Nico Sawtelle, MLB, 54
Sacks: Greg Reaves, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: Mazzi Wilkins, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: QB Chris Oladokun, WR Darnell Salomon, LT Eric Mayes, RG Billy Atterbury, RT Marcus Norman, TE Mitchell Wilcox, NB Ronnie Hoggins, FS Jaymon Thomas, WLB Khalid McGee
Key Losses: QB Quinton Flowers, RB D’Earnest Johnson, RB Darius Tice, C Cameron Ruff, K Emilio Nadelman, P Jonathan Hernandez, LB Auggie Sanchez, DT Deadrin Senat, CB Deatrick Nichols, S Devin Abraham, DT Bruce Hector
Quinton Flowers was electric during his career as the quarterback for South Florida. Flowers accounted for 11,618 total yards and 112 touchdowns. The quarterback battle heading into the 2018 season will be fought out between Chris Oladokun, Brett Kean, and graduate transfer Blake Barnett. Oladokun and Kean have experience in the program, so they would have a slight edge, but it will be interesting to see if Barnett can finally earn a starting job at his third school. Running back is another concern as Florida transfer Jordan Cronkite will need to replace the production of D’Earnest Johnson and Darius Tice. This position could be a work in progress in the early part of the season as Elijah Mack should also be in the mix for carries at running back. Offensive line should be a stable group as they return three starters, along with tight end Mitchell Wilcox who should develop into a nice pass catching weapon this season. Wide receiver has plenty of depth and will be led Tyre McCants who caught 36 passes last season and should be able to get that number up over 50 in 2018.
This group will be a bit inexperienced as they must replace six starters, but they should continue to get better as the year goes along. Greg Reaves is the top returning pass rusher out at defensive end and will need to make a run at an 8-10 sack type of season this fall. Nico Sawtelle will lead the linebackers in 2018 as Sawtelle and Kahlid McGee will need to have huge seasons this fall and collect about 150 tackles between them. Ronnie Hoggins and Mazzi Wilkins will be key in the secondary since the Bulls play in a nickel package with five defensive backs most of the time. They did a nice job of creating turnovers but limiting teams more in the passing game is the next step for this group. Special teams will be critical for South Florida since they will be in more tight games this season. Trent Schneider, a junior college transfer, is the frontrunner at punter and will be expected to bring some of the Australian punter magic that has helped several teams across college football in recent years.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule is a balanced one as Elon comes to Tampa for the opener followed by Georgia Tech and their triple-option offense. If the Bulls can knock off Georgia Tech they should be able stay undefeated until October 27th when they travel to Houston. Two cold weather road trips to Cincinnati and Temple in November are potential landmines for South Florida. But, if they can stay healthy and not lose any games they are expected to win, then the AAC East should be decided on November 23rd when UCF visits to close the regular season. In the end, the Bulls should still win around eight to nine games in the regular season and cement their status as an AAC contender on an annual basis.
Projected Bowl: Cure Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 264.1 (8th in nation, 2nd in Conference)
Passing Offense: 248.9 (50, 8)
Total Offense: 513.0 (6, 3)
Scoring Offense: 38.3 (10, 3)
Rushing Defense: 126.9 (21, 1)
Pass Defense: 232.8 (76, 4)
Total Defense: 359.8 (37, 1)
Scoring Defense: 23.5 (41, 1)
Turnover Margin: +0.83 (15, 3)
Sacks: 3.00 (11, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (29, 6)