From Tampa... The Daily Stampede Group. An unrehearsed program providing inside opinions and forecasts on major USF issues of the day. Here’s the moderator, John McLaughlin.
ISSUE ONE! Blake Barnett is the starting quarterback. Will he take full control of the USF offense and lead the Bulls to a big season FREDDIE THE BEETLE BARNES!!!!
Robert Steeg: Blake Barnett will be a suitable fit for the offense this year. I don’t think we will see the nerves and shakes he had when he played against USC with Bama. I think he will ease into the role and have a strong season for the Bulls.
Collin Sherwin: Nope. I don’t think someone can get into a system this late when so much of this offense relies on feel and chemistry with the team. And let’s be honest, there’s probably some #TeamKean and #TeamChris guys in the locker room. Barnett didn’t hack it at Bama or ASU, and though people do indeed grow and mature, to expect him to come in as the savior is probably asking a lot.
Senator Giggity: Going to be uncharacteristically positive here and say after a shaky start, AirBnB takes the reigns and slings the ball down field effectively as anyone we’ve ever had. Until he gets hurt.
Carl Zee: Full control? Unlikely. He’s still got Gilbert’s hand on the wheel. Strong’s quote “I’m not gonna say it’s a consensus, but each guy had a guy that they liked,” is less than reassuring to me. I want and hope Barnett shoves my words directly down my throat, but I’m not filled with confidence right now.
Nathan Bond: From what I saw during fall practice, Barnett has a rocket launcher for a right arm. He possesses mobility that I did not see coming from a 6’5” QB, and he can throw an accurate ball. It would not surprise me if he threw for over 3,000 yards and neared 30 TD’s IF everything clicks. We know the offense struggled during scrimmages this fall, but the weapons are there for Barnett to have a huge year.
Nick Simon: After being skeptical of his transfer to USF earlier in the summer, I’m growing cautiously optimistic of Barnett taking control of the offense. After reading Steeg’s piece on the veer and shoot multiple times (as you should too), it does seem like he’s equipped to run this offense and has the weapons to get the job done.
Plus, I think he ran into two unfortunate situations at his previous stops. Saban basically gave up on him immediately at Alabama (which you can do that when you have Jalen Hurts sitting on the sidelines) and Chip Lindsey, who was supposed to be his OC/QB coach at Arizona State, bailed on him to go to Auburn and tutor Jarrett Stidham. I think Blake has a lot to prove and is in a stable environment to finally prove himself.
Anthony Vito: AirBnb (oh yeah we’re making this a thing) comes to Tampa on an incredibly long nationwide journey and takes the proverbial bull by the horns in the QB competition. All signs point to him working hard in the film room and the field to be rewarded QB1, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the newly matured grad transfer settles in nicely with his cannon of an arm, pinpoint accuracy, and surprising wheels to take the veer-and-shoot to places it hasn’t been before. It just might take some time to get there.
Gary Stephen: Barnett is apparently the QB Gilbert wanted, so he’s going to get every opportunity. Barring injury or Matt Floyd-level incompetence, he’s going to be the guy.
Connor Akeman: I’m all in on Blake Barnett. And frankly, I think more fans should be excited about him. A former five-star guy, named an opening-night starter by Nick Saban (!!) who’s just been waiting for the right opportunity ever since. He’s got big-time arm strength and is surprisingly mobile. I think it’s the perfect fit he’s been waiting for.
ISSUE TWO! Sterlin Gilbert! Took a lot of heat for inconsistent offense and poor play calling last year. But was the real problem that Quinton Flowers didn’t really fit the system? Will last year’s issues continue this year JACK GERMOND!!!!!
Robert: I mean I spent two weeks researching the offense that this man runs. I’ll reiterate that, although Q is one of my favorite players of all time, he didn’t fit that system well at all. Of course there’s the “fit the system to the players, not the players to the system” train of thought, but I’m expecting the offense to evolve into what Sterlin wanted last year. We will see a few frustrating play calls here and there, but I’m expecting improvement.
Collin: Yup. We’re still jamming a square peg in a round hole, even though Barnett might help round out the peg a bit. It’s also fair to say the OC last year lost some trust from the veterans due to the play calling... and I’m not saying anything here people on the team haven’t said to me. So it might fit a bit better, but it won’t be what it should be with the talent available.
Giggity: Inflexibility is a mark of stupidity. Having a great white and expecting it to perform like a dolphin is how people lose an arm. If he can’t get the offense going with the arms he’s been given, he needs to get gone immediately.
Carl: We’re going to need to stay on schedule on offense and I’m not sure how well we’re going to do that given a change in play style. Thank god our WR corps are LOADED. I expect to see the car to splutter early in the season and I will lose my mind if we remain less flexible than a sheet of glass.
Nathan: I love Quinton Flowers. Again, I love Quinton Flowers. BUT, he could not throw a five-yard out, or a quick slant with accuracy on back-to-back throws (see perfectly thrown dig route to Tyre McCants vs UCF, and on the very next play, completely overthrows Mitchell Wilcox late in the third quarter). The offense that Gilbert ran did not suit Flowers’ skill set whatsoever. We can (and have) blamed Sterlin for not scheming to talent, but when the only routes receivers can run are screens, hitches, and go routes, the offense will be very limited. I love Quinton Flowers.
Nick: The frustration last year wasn’t necessarily the system, but the fact that the parts didn’t fit the system. I would like to see more creativity in certain spots this year. But with all of these guys having a better grasp of the veer and shoot and a quarterback who looks tailor made for it, I think things run more smoothly this season.
Side note: can we retire #HBDive? Listen, I get it. It was the main joke on #USFTwitter last year... but it’s been ran into the ground. Let’s come up with something new, people. Looking directly at you, HB Dive Twitter account.
Anthony: How dare you bad mouth the GOAT! Q and Blake are two different players and fit this offense two separate ways. I think we learned the hard way that change in a coaching staff is very difficult. Gilbert makes it work this year with this roster in Year 2. Will it be enough though?
Gary: When you have Quinton Flowers and a system, and you need to change one of them, you change the system, dammit. In these days of advanced statistical analysis, any football coach who says they need “their guys” to win should be thrown into a volcano. Especially on offense, where the spread is widely used and adaptable. Again, Barnett is apparently the QB Gilbert wanted, so he’s going to get a fair chance to succeed or fail. All we can ask for, really.
Connor: Yes, last year’s issues (and subsequent Twitter heat) will unfortunately continue with Sterlin Gilbert. He’s a straight up lousy play caller and I don’t think different players change that.
ISSUE THREE: The defensive line! Bruce Hector gone, Deadrin Senat gone. Lots of potential replacements, but can Brian Jean-Mary and Charlie Strong rebuild the defensive front? Or will everyone and their brother run all over them ELEANOR CLIFT!!!!!!
Robert: I think the D-Line will be fine this year, Strong seems to have a great defensive mind and can create some great players defensively. I think the game we will have to worry about the line the most will obviously be Georgia Tech, but I think Charlie has a pretty good idea of how to run a great defense against them.
Collin: This is the hole in the team that really scares me, but it’s also on the side of the ball I trust to make the adjustments necessary. BJM & Charlie had a unit that was atrocious under Raymond Woodie really humming last year. It makes last year’s offense all the more disappointing, because the Bullsharks of old deserved a ring. On offense, I trust the talent but not the coaching. On defense, I trust the coaching and most of the talent... but I’m worried about DT. Those are two monsters to lose.
Giggity: The front gets off to a rocky start with some misfires against Elon Musk’s University but finds their timing before we get into real trouble with GT and Illinois.
Carl: I think the step backward isn’t going to be as drastic as we might think it’ll be. BJM and Strong definitely know what they’re doing on defense and I trust them to make up for the holes. They did some damn work last season given how abysmal the defense was in 2016 (should it have been that bad? No. But that was still remarkable improvement).
Nathan: All three seniors from 2017 (Senat, Hector, and DE Mike Love) have a good-to-great shot of making an NFL roster out of training camp. It’s going to be difficult to replace that level of talent, but the Bulls will be much deeper at DT in 2018 than in previous years. Kevin Kegler, Kelvin Pinkney, and Kevin Bronson all return with a bunch of experience, albeit in limited chances. Duke transfer Brandon Boyce is eligible, early enrollee Stacey Kirby is listed as a DT, plus some other guys like Northwest Missouri State transfer Blake Green who drew rave reviews during camp. He had nine tackles in 2017 and 3.5 of them were sacks.
Nick: There’s a reason restocking the defensive line was the main priority for #Stampede18. I trust Charlie and BJM to be at the very least decent and wouldn’t be surprised if we saw even some of the younger guys that they just brought in start to make impacts.
Anthony: There’s a ton of dudes on the line this year, albeit unproven, but that should offset the lost veteran talent (at least a little!). Kevin Bronson will step up, and guys like Kegs, Pinkney and Boyce will surprise us. There will be a freshman rennaisannce at the position with guys like Yates and Kirby, too; but likely not in time for Georgia Tech. The size up front is concerning, but may be good enough to get away with the O-lines in this conference. Power run teams though? *gulp*
Gary: I think Brian Jean-Mary’s skill as a defensive coordinator will win the day. He greatly improved a 2017 defense which had largely the same players as 2016. His adjustments during the C. game last year were genius. Since we’re talking about defensive tackles, I’d like to say that I still want “Kelvinous Kelvin Kegler” to catch on.
Connor: It appears both of those guys are going to make an NFL roster and they will certainly be tough to replace. Georgia Tech running all over the line worries me, of course, but I’m not expecting a drastic drop off overall with the DL. I trust BJM and Strong when it comes to molding new defensive players.
NEXT ISSUE!!! Special teams! Many questions, not many answers. Can USF get reliable kicking and punting this season? Not to mention snapping and catching and blocking MORTON KONDRACKE!!!!
Robert: A huge worry for me is the long snapper. Any punter and kicker in college can be serviceable, but if the snap isn’t good then we are going to have some trouble this year. I think The Aussie and whoever will be the starting kicker will have a decent year, but boy does that long snapper situation worry me.
Collin: I have zero idea, but we got a former Bulls soccer player kicking things. That’s usually a sign something has gone amiss somewhere. It’s been an area where USF has been so lucky throughout program history: college teams often have a totally crappy kicker for a year and just have to “tweet through it” as it were. We’re due to have it happen eventually, but I hope that’s not this year.
Giggity: Special teams was the absolute lowlight of 2017, and if an Aussie can’t turn things around then God help us.
Carl: My only response to special teams is going to be white knuckles whenever they come out onto the field. All I want is Jake Stone to knock through some ungodly length field goal and/or lay someone right out on a kickoff.
Nathan: The Aussie Trent Schneider can boom ‘em almost as well as LARGE. ADULT. PUNTER. could. It’s just getting the ball to him that has been a problem. We’ve seen a lot of special teams periods during the media sessions and long snapping has been a problem. They’ll be picking between two newcomers, Ian Deneen and Andrew Beardall, and each had their fair share of poor snaps.
I’m not as worried about kicking as I was when camp started. Marco Salani is no longer with the team, but Tennessee State transfer Colby Weiss, senior Jake Vivonetto, and former USF soccer reserve keeper Jake Stone did a good job and we should be fine there. Blocking is still a mess. I saw Jaymon Thomas jump the same gap on back-to-back tries and block field goals during practice. Then Greg Reaves blocked one a few plays later rushing up the middle.
DB Bentlee Sanders, RB Johnny Ford (who’s 5’5”), and slot WR Tyre McCants all took turns returning punts recently. Ford has Lindsey Lamar-like size and speed and can get lost behind blockers and break one. We’ll be OK there.
Nick: (shrugs wordlessly)
Anthony: The coordinator is the same so there’s that. The guys kicking are going to be fine, but the guys blocking and snapping? Hoo buddy, we’ll have to wait and see. Wouldn’t surprise me if this unit is responsible for a loss or two.
Gary: I think punting will be fine with Schneider. Kicking scares me, since none of the candidates seem to be standing out. And USF has been spoiled over the years with good kickers, so even an average kicker would be a step down. With long snapping, who knows? It’s a position you train rather than recruit to.
Connor: For the first time in a long time, we might have to worry about a kicker. The long snapper situation looks troubling but the overall special teams performance can’t get much worse... right?
ISSUE NUMBER FIVE!!! On a scale of 1 to 22.1682, 1 being utterly impossible and 22.1682 being complete metaphyical certitude, rate the likelihood of USF breaking ground on an indoor practice facility by the end of the season CLARENCE PAGE!!!!!
Robert: With how Mike Kelly has been since he officially started, I’m going to go with 15.269, he seems to be getting the masses involved and excited and I think that’ll lead to more donations this upcoming season.
Collin: 4.06412. It likely doesn’t happen before the bowl game, but I think it starts before May graduations next year.
Giggity: -1. I have faith in Kelly but this doesn’t happen in the next three months.
Carl: Dammit, uh, 11.0841? I’ve got no idea. Also why such a strange number, John?
John McLaughlin: You will not question me, you little punk! I am a cyborg now and I have the strength of 50 men!
Carl: But John, your range doesn’t make any —
(John gets up and yells “SILENCE!!!” Then he cracks Carl across the face with his robot arm. Carl’s chair breaks from underneath him and he tumbles off the set. The show continues as Carl struggles back to his feet.)
Nathan: 10. I’ve heard USF is hopeful that there will be shovels in the ground by the end of the year. They’ve raised just over $11 million and need $17 million-ish for the Indoor Practice Facility portion of the USF Football Center. New VP of Athletics Michael Kelly is the right guy for the job and I believe he can get it done. If the end of the season is a January bowl game, maybe. If it’s a mid-December trip to Birmingham (three-peat city), hell no.
Nick: 8.567? They won’t break ground by the end of the season but we’ll at the very least have an announcement that it’s actually happening by then.
Anthony: Does breaking ground mean they hired the construction company and someone threw a shovel in the ground? Or are we talking seeing real steel beams in the air? If A. than I say 12.62, if B. than 3.44.
Gary: 3.682. I can’t see enough money being raised that fast. Michael Kelly will eventually get it done, though.
Connor: 1. I have a TON of faith in Michael Kelly and he already has people buying back in just a few short weeks on the job... but no chance we see shovels in the ground by the end of this season.
ISSUE SIX!!!! Charlie Strong! His Texas buyout runs out at the end of the year. It will be very expensive to keep him, and he may be angling to return to a so-called “power” program. Will Charlie be USF’s coach in 2019 PAT BUCHANAN!!!!!
Robert: SHAUN KING USF COACH 2019
Giggity: Charlie back in 2019? Doubtful, even if we can pay him he’ll have shaken enough of that Texas stink off to be attractive to a P5 program. THEN WE GET COACH KING AND OUT OF THE WAY MOTHERF —
John McLaughlin: Excuse me, this is public television, you can’t say that.
Giggity: Like to see you try and stop me, old man.
John: You saw what I did to that Carl kid, right?
Giggity: Fine. “Out of the way, melon farmers.”
Carl: Can’t see it happening. If he makes another bowl game, I expect he’ll be off to the P5 before the end of December. Possibly before the bowl game and OH GOD GILBERT MIGHT BE INTERIM
Nathan: Strong’s contract jumps from $1 million in 2018 to $2.5 million in 2019. Where is USF getting that money from? Related: his assistant coaches pool goes from $2.25 million to $3.4 million. Where is USF getting that money from? It’s entirely possible USF “helps” Strong find a new job at the end of the season and collects the $2.2 million buyout. It’s also entirely possible that five years go by and we look up to find Strong as the second longest tenured HC in program history. And there’s always a possible renegotiation on the table.
Nick: Last year in this very post, I said that Florida Gator head coach Charlie Strong will be a thing in 2019.
John: Yes, that one was WRROONNNGGGGGGGGG!!!!!
Nick: But I’ve now convinced myself that Georgia Tech head coach Charlie Strong could be a thing if Paul Johnson gets axed/retires after this season. Low-pressure, high-reward P5 job in one of the most talent-rich cities in the country where he’ll be given time to operate.
The point is that the Texas buyout money isn’t going to last forever and having just turned 58 years old, he’s going to want another crack at a power job before he hangs it up.
Anthony: Strong at Florida seemed a strong possibility until Mullen, but Strong at Kentucky? Kansas? Maryland? I don’t see it, but I also know P5 money talks, and USF is gonna have to answer how they are paying for the bump in his salary and his assistants. It’s possible Strong stays, but BJM or others leave for that reason.
Gary: Who’s lining up to hire CCS, exactly? Most of the SEC West just had openings, and they all passed on him. Unless a second-tier SEC East school wants him, or maybe someone like Maryland or Kansas, I don’t see him leaving. My money’s on some kind of renegotiated deal to stay at USF.
Connor: If 10-2 doesn’t get us a conference championship, Charlie Strong will be back next year. Even if they have to pony-up some extra $$
LAST ISSUE!!! What will USF’s record be in 2018 ROBERT NOVAK!!!!
Robert: I’m the optimist, and will give a very unrealistic 12-1 season because why not? Blake Barnett might be the second coming of Jesus Christ, our defense could be absolutely stunning, and yet we will probably lose to UConn for absolutely no reason but beat an established Power 5 program.
Collin: 11-2. They drop one of the Houston-Cinci-Temple road game trio, and Black Friday to the Knights. It’s another 10-win, very good season from afar. And it’s also not good enough for a fanbase desperate for a conference championship.
The murmurs about Charlie’s future begin as soon as he steps off the field. Charlie calls it a successful season in the postgame press conference again, Nate explodes and rolls up on him, but he forgets Charlie is the patron saint of Old Man Strength, and he stuffs Nate in a newly-refurbished locker at Raymond James Stadium.
Giggity: 9-3, but the losses will not be who you think.
Carl: Homer alert: 9-2 going into I-4. I’ve had enough talking about C. at my new job so dammit, we’re going to beat them and it will be ugly. Heupel manages to Gilbertine a glorious C. attack while Gilbert’s veer and shoot does what it didn’t have time to do at Texas and goes completely coconuts. With C. losing some huge pieces in their secondary, USF throws all over RayJay including a flea flicker touchdown from the deck of the pirate ship.
Then we play Houston again. Loss. 10-3 going into Birmingham. Vomit.
Nathan: I think the baseline for this team is 8-4, anything over that is gravy. The optimist in me says 10-2.
Nick: ‘m going to coward out and punt on this. This team could be anywhere from 8-4 up 11-1/12-0 if absolutely everything goes right and I’m not about to make a hard prediction. And you know what? That’s what makes this season all the more intriguing. Last year, I felt we were crippled by the weight of expectation and we couldn’t just sit back and enjoy what we were watching. This year? I’m legitimately curious as to how this is all going to shake out.
Even if this team once again comes up short of getting the conference championship monkey off their back, they still have a chance to become the *extremely Booker T voice* FOUR-TIME! FOUR-TIME! FOUR-TIME! FOUR-TIME! BIRMINGHAM BOWL CHAMPIONS! Going to make a championship belt if that happens.
Anthony: Like most teams losing a ton of production in all three phases of the game, there are a slew of factors to consider.
Gary: I’ll guess 8-4. This team could be very good and still lose 3-5 games, due to improved opponents. Cincinnati, Connecticut, Tulane, and Tulsa will all be better. UMass could be dangerous. Georgia Tech is always a challenge, especially if our run defense isn’t ready. I think we beat C., though.
Connor: 10-2 regular season with road losses to Houston and either Cinci/Temple but a big revenge win over C. at a sold out (yes, upper deck too) Ray Jay.