We’re 11 days away from the season opener versus Wisconsin. Let’s dive into five big questions that need answered before the Bulls face the Badgers under the lights at Raymond James Stadium.
Who is your most important player on offense this season?
My natural inclination is to say senior quarterback Blake Barnett, but I don’t think that’s the best answer—even if it’s a good answer. I’m going with an entire unit—offensive line—as the most important player on offense this season.
To be frank, the offensive line was atrocious for much of 2018, and that can be chalked up to playing three freshmen offensive linemen, poor coaching, and a general lack competency from the offensive coordinator.
With a new OC in Kerwin Bell, new position coach in Jeremy Darveau, and a full season of experience for these guys, they should be better.
Senior William Atterbury is poised to be the left tackle and sophomore Donovan Jennings will switch spots with Atterbury and become the right guard. From the people I spoken with around the team they say the line has been coming along “pretty good”, but needs to be more consistent. The entire season hinges on if the offensive line can protect long enough for Barnett to find his skill guys in space.
Who is your most important player on defense this season?
Senior linebacker Nico Sawtelle. We saw what happened without him as the mike linebacker in 2018, and with a lack of depth and experience at the position still, the Bulls need a fully healthy Sawtelle to help turnaround a sub-par defense. Sawtelle was leading the team in TFL (7.5) and was second in tackles (42) before missing the final seven games of the year due to his neck injury.
Dark-horse: Defensive tackle rotation.
What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
An offensive coordinator who is qualified to call plays is the biggest change. I also cannot stress enough how much better the team vibe, chemistry, cohesiveness is now compared to right after the Gasparilla Bowl defeat last December. New OC Kerwin Bell said as much on our podcast earlier this month. I may be drinking the company Kool-Aid, but it feels different.
What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?
The team chemistry will be tested early when the Bulls face Wisconsin in the season opener. Losing to a good Big 10 team isn’t bad on its face, but you couple that with coming into the year on a six-game losing streak, and the entire “the team is much closer and together now” theory will get its first test. Will the team stick together after seven straight losses or was the culture change a mirage? We’ll find out.
The entire month of November is important with USF facing Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis, and C.
What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
I think 8-4 is the floor. This team is too talented on offense to not compete with everyone they play. It’ll be up to the defense to be closer to the 2017 version than the 2018 version for the Bulls to sniff around ten wins. If the Bulls beat Wisconsin, they really could go into November 8-0 and still be staring at another losing streak to end the year with the aforementioned November slate looming. Go 2-2 in the final four games would be a win for USF.
Since we didn’t go to Birmingham last year, it’s only reasonable to assume the Bulls go there to cap the year against an underwhelming SEC team.