Matthew O’Neal’s third-place finish in the NCAA triple jump championships this past weekend brought the 2015-16 USF athletic season to a close. The football team’s stunning reversal of fortune alone would have made this year a success, but six other teams made trips to postseason play this year and a number of USF athletes received All-American and all-conference honors.
It’s time for our writers and FOBs to help choose the best games, moments, athletes, and more from this past year. Let’s begin The Daily Stampede Awards.
Ryan Smith: There were so many USF teams worthy of accolades this year that I did my best to try to give everyone some representation. Here I will choose to shout out men's golf, who followed up being perhaps the closest USF team ever to winning a national title last season with another wonderful year, winning a second consecutive American title and returning to the NCAA Championships. They didn't make the cut for match play this time around, but they've been fantastic.
Nathan: Men's Golf. Won the American title for the second year in a row and qualified for the NCAA championships, pretty simple answer.
Nick: This has to go to women’s basketball. Back-to-back NCAA second round appearances, on top of boasting an AP Honorable Mention All-American and #8 overall WNBA draft pick Courtney Williams. They have to beat UConn eventually, right?
Jamie: USF fielded several good to very good teams this year, but the closest thing to greatness was men’s golf. It’s too bad they had to wait until May and June to go for the big prizes, because back in winter and early spring they were lapping the fields at their tournaments and putting up crazy low scores.
BEST MALE ATHLETE
Ryan: Roberto Cid, who ended a brilliant tennis career by reaching the singles quarterfinals and losing only to the eventual champion. That would indicate that he was somewhere around the eighth-best player in the country, but I'm pretty sure he could've advanced to the semis if he had gotten a different draw. Either way, thanks, Roberto. It's always great to see a USF athlete shatter the ceiling on what other USF athletes have been able to do.
Nathan: Matthew O'Neal. 55 feet, 9.75 inches.
Nick: I’m going to go with Roberto Cid here. Three-time AAC Player of the Year, two-time All-American, ranked #2 in the ITA Rankings at one point this season and made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles Tournament. Doesn’t get much better than that. Also, shout out to Track and Field’s Matthew O’Neal for having a legit chance at winning a national championship in the triple jump.
Jamie: O’Neal is my choice, but if you’re talking the best pure athlete, Quinton Flowers is just ridiculous. Willie Taggart, Danny Hope, and David Reaves came up with an offense that let him do his thing and it was amazing to watch. All he needs is better pocket passing skills and he will be a nearly unstoppable weapon.
BEST FEMALE ATHLETE
Ryan: Courtney Williams was sublime this year, often singlehandedly carrying what was very likely the best basketball team -- any sort of basketball -- in school history. Even when key contributors around her got injured, Courtney kept rolling. She played three incredible games against UConn this year, and it's devastating that she didn't get to go out with either a victory against the Huskies or a Sweet Sixteen berth. But I'll close with this: I have no doubts that a team of five Courtney Williamses beats UConn.
Nathan: Courtney Williams.
Nick: Courtney Williams gets my vote. Averaged 22.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on her way to solidifying herself as one of the all-time great athletes to ever lace ‘em up at the Sun Dome and worked her way to a top ten selection in the WNBA Draft.
Jamie: It’s Courtney Williams and it’s not even close. Surely no USF women’s basketball player will ever wear #10 again. She’s in the pantheon of all-time USF female athletes with Wanda Guyton, Sara Nevins, Monica Triner, Michelle Collier, and Michelle Scarborough.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
Ryan: Can I talk about football now? I want to talk about football now.
College football lends itself to weirdness. It is the King Sport of Weirdness. I've seen a lot of weird things in my not-that-many-years-all-things-considered following college football. The improvement from 2014 to 2015 in USF football is probably the singular weirdest one.
It's not the fact that they got better that's weird, it's how quickly they got better-- like Willie Taggart was Dr. Frankenstein and USF was the monster, and he put in all the right ingredients and vital organs into their dead body, and then after two and a half years he finally remembered to flip the "come to life" switch. USF always had the talent, they just needed the right system and the right quarterback and the right defensive coordinator. When they got those things, you figured it was only a matter of time... but I don't think a single human thought that change was happening overnight, particularly after an uninspiring first four games. But no, USF transformed from a team that could barely move the ball against air in 2014 to a nearly-unstoppable offensive juggernaut that hung 50 points on the preseason title favorite in the first half. Man, I feel tingly.
Nathan: Football, after the 1-3 start, things looked baaaaaad. They became one of the highlights for a truly terrible year for me.
Nick: It’s been said before here many times, but at halftime of that blistering Homecoming game vs. Syracuse, everyone had this 1-3 USF football team dead to rights. How would the rest of the season play out? Who would the new coach be in 2016? Would Mark Harlan pull the trigger mid-season and get it over with? Theeeeen the second half happened, the offense under Quinton Flowers finally started to click, and Taggart and company proved everybody wrong as they were putting up video game numbers by the end of the year.
Jamie: I went to a concert with my wife the night of the USF-Memphis game. (The Decemberists, if you have to know.) Even when the Bulls went up 10-0, I still didn’t have any confidence they would win. Of course, they didn’t, and along the way they ruined my pick of the year in my handicapping league (Memphis -7.5) by scoring a garbage time touchdown. I was fuming in the theater; it must have been very confusing for everyone around me. I was mad at the Bulls for being bad, I was mad at them for throwing away a lead with pathetic conservative play, and I was mad at them because they were loaded with talent but not getting any better.
The next week I went to OU-Texas at the Cotton Bowl. (I bought my ticket, a $125 value, for 50 bucks and a corn dog.) Afterwards I walked around the State Fair of Texas for a few hours instead of watching the USF-Syracuse game. I was with two prominent members of the #goacc movement, and I couldn’t get them the least bit interested in watching it. Truth be told, I didn't try very hard, because I wasn’t interested either. Even if the Bulls won, it was going to be a grim ordeal that we would all hate ourselves for watching, right?
So we’re waiting in line to get on the Texas Star, the enormous Ferris wheel that dominates the midway. And I’m reading my phone, and USF is scoring touchdowns! Running flea-flickers! Rolling up points like there’s no tomorrow! I was gobsmacked. Then I continued to be gobsmacked as USF did the same thing almost every week for the rest of the season. For me, the 2015 football team ranks only behind the 2012 men’s basketball team as the most pleasant surprise in USF sports history.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
Ryan: Baseball was young and injured, so they get a pass here. I'm not trying to pile on Orlando Antigua here, and I enjoyed the heart that his undermanned 2015-16 squad displayed... but when you're playing basketball that really only resembles basketball in name and have players flying full-speed away from the program like it's a beehive that got an axe taken to it, then yeah, that's kind of disappointing no matter how you spin it.
Nathan: Baseball. Coming off a NCAA regional appearance last year, the expectations were high. Then injury after injury happened. They have more talent than their 24-33 record would indicate, but so much of it wasn't healthy.. The lack of depth really hurt them in May as they went 3-11 to finish the year — coincidentally, right as I started covering the team. And all three wins were against East Carolina, two on the road and one in the American tournament. (Weirdly enough, the Pirates almost made the College World Series.)
Nick: Easy, men’s basketball. I assume most of us here are of the opinion that Antigua will have the program on the right track soon. It certainly takes time to build a basketball program from nothing, especially given the circumstances of transfers, injuries, suspensions/dismissals, etc. But my goodness, this team couldn’t even crack double digits in the win column and regularly went multiple weeks between victories. Things should be much better next season (hopefully).
Jamie: Men’s basketball is the clear choice, although I want to mention volleyball because that program continues to be the pits. There’s no reason for USF to be going on a decade and a half without an NCAA Tournament appearance. It’s the only sport left that needs to be fixed. Unfortunately Mark Harlan gave Courtney Draper a new contract and USF can't really afford to buy her out of it. Harlan’s done some really good things as athletic director, but I think that’s the only decision he’s made so far that he would like back.