Heading into the 2016 season there were great expectations of winning a conference title for the first time in program history and reaching a New Year’s Six bowl. Although they fell short of that goal, they still managed to win a program-best 11 games and set numerous offensive records in the process.
The expectations for 2017 are higher, even with new head coach Charlie Strong. They HAVE TO go 12-0 with that cupcake schedule, they HAVE TO win the conference title, they HAVE TO get to a New Year’s Six bowl. Otherwise the fan base won’t be happy and will stop coming to games... wait... scratch that last bit.
Although USF returns 16 starters from that historic team, there are still some question marks heading into camp. Here are a couple of things offensively I’m going to be looking for as the Bulls gear up for August 26 at San Jose State.
- What will the offensive line look like 34 days from now?
We know Rimington Trophy watch lister Cameron Ruff will be at center, and Jeremi Hall — assuming he’s fully recovered from the injury that kept him out all of spring practice— will be at left guard. But who replaces left tackle Kofi Amichia and right guard Dominique Threatt?
My guess is William Atterbury takes over for Amichia at left tackle, we finally see the much-hyped JUCO transfer Glen Bethel taking over at right guard, and Marcus Norman remaining the right tackle.
Atterbury played at right tackle during the season opener against Towson after Norman struggled in his first taste of college football. Atterbury started the next four games before suffering a season-ending leg injury at Cincinnati. Norman was shaky during portions of 2016, notably getting turnstiled at Temple, but he showed a lot of improvement by the end of the year.
Darkhorse candidates to start are Brooks Larkin, Virginia transfer Grant Polk and Michael Galati.
- How does the offense look under new OC Sterlin Gilbert?
Taggart “baked the cake” according to Strong, and it’s up to Gilbert and company to add the frosting, sprinkles and candles.
During spring practice we got a taste of the kind of offense we will see on August 26. It’s going to be much, much faster than the Gulf Coast Offense ran at last year, which was already pretty quick. Gilbert is very serious about the fast pace. In fact, we found out that there’s a punishment for going slow.
From SI’s Pete Thamel:
Gilbert is so serious about snapping the ball within 11 seconds that if a USF player hands the ball to the ref on the sideline – as opposed to sprinting it to the middle of the field – they are punished with a gasser.
There wasn’t a single jet sweep during spring practice and I don’t expect that to change during the season. The offense will be a power-run based team that take more shots deep down the field, instead of the screen-heavy system that Taggart ran last year.
Senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling will have all eyes on him as WR1 with the departure of Rodney Adams. At 6’5”, 207 pounds, he has the size and skill to be that new threat down the field. Who starts opposite him and in the slot are up for debate.
Ryeshene Bronson, Tyre McCants and highly-touted Darnell Salomon could all be WR2. McCants took Bronson’s job early in 2016 because he was such a great downfield blocker, which was vital when running the jet sweeps and pop passes as often as they did. But without those elements, does that diminish his value to the team? He missed all of spring with an injury, so he hasn’t been able to show the new staff what he’s capable of doing. Bronson could finally step up and be the reliable target USF thought they’d get, or he could keep hitting on one big TD and disappear again. Salomon is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers to put on the green and gold, and could emerge from the pack with a great preseason.
Don’t forget about junior Stanley Clerveaux and massive redshirt freshman DeVontres Dukes. Oh, and there’s graduate transfer Temi Alaka from Rice, who figures to be in the mix for playing time. He led the Owls in receiving in 2016 with 458 yards on 28 receptions. The X and Y position are in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Sophomore Deangelo Antoine could be the guy in the slot. He’s quick and shifty and had a pretty good spring running with the first and second teams. There’s also two forgotten men in Chris Barr and Jordan Reed, who saw their roles reduced significantly when Adams went to the slot in 2016. Freshman Jernard Phillps, the only early enrollee, lined up in the slot during the spring and didn’t look out of place running the offense.
Running back and Swiss army knife D’Ernest Johnson finally gets his shot to be the bellcow on offense. He and fellow senior Darius Tice could form a terrifying duo in the backfield as they replace Marlon Mack. Add in sophomore Trevon Sands and redshirt freshman Elijah Mack, and the backfield is busting with talent.
Tight ends Elkanah Dillon and Mackey Award Watch Lister Mitchell Wilcox should create havoc down the seam much like they did last season.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers will be spoiled for choice in 2017 as he continues to grow as a passer. Gilbert and Flowers have worked on his throwing motion in the offseason, but we didn’t get much of a look during the spring game to see if it stuck in game action. Flowers has great touch on the deep ball, which will play very well in the new offense. He needs to get better on the short to intermediate routes — curls, digs, slants, screens (somehow) — to fully tap into his seemingly endless potential. Letting the receiver catch the ball in stride has always been a struggle for him as a starter, and hopefully the new throwing motion will let him be more accurate and consistent on those throws.
To sum up, the offense is going to be amazing. Can’t wait for August 26.