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After being one of the hottest teams in November last season, coach Willie Taggart lost to his Alma Mater (WKU) in the Miami Beach Bowl. But that should just be a blimp in the momentum that is in Tampa right now. Expectations are the highest they’ve been in recent memory for the Bulls, and with running back Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers returning, it will be a must-watch fall for USF.
Junior running back Marlon Mack, who has 2,422 career rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons, is South Florida’s best player and a legitimate All-America candidate.
Mack was a huge reason why the Bulls went 8–5 in 2015, snapping a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. But junior quarterback Quinton Flowers was the biggest impetus for the turnaround. Flowers was dynamic in his first season as full-time starter, accumulating 3,287 total yards and 34 touchdowns, including 991 yards rushing. He was known for spectacular playmaking skill but defined by his ability to avoid mistakes. “Quinton gave us an identity,” coach Willie Taggart says. “We think he has some room to improve, but what he did was really impressive.”
And now he has a capable backup in sophomore Asiantii Woulard, a UCLA transfer who was a four-star recruit in high school.
Flowers has a proliferation of targets at wide receiver, including senior Rodney Adams, who set the school’s single-season receiving yards record, and junior Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a 6’3″ transfer from NC State who caught everyone’s attention with startling plays during spring drills.
The offensive line was a major strength in 2015 and had the same lineup for all 13 games. But now it must be retooled with the replacement of three starters.
The Bulls received bad news in the offseason when defensive coordinator Tom Allen, architect of the 4-2-5 alignment that transformed the unit into an aggressive, ball-hawking strength, left for the same position at Indiana.
But Raymond Woodie, the linebackers coach who was promoted, says the Bulls will keep the 4-2-5 and hopefully build upon its success, which included lofty national rankings in tackles for a loss (13th), interceptions (14th) and turnovers gained (24th).
The defensive leaders are junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez, who had 117 tackles, and senior weak-side linebacker Nigel Harris, a constant threat to make a splash play.
The secondary matured and features mix-and-match options such as junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols (a first-team all-conference performer), junior free safety Devin Abraham and sophomore cornerback Ronnie Hoggins.
Woodie says the defensive line will utilize its depth while keeping players fresh. Run-stuffing should be a strength with junior Deadrin Senat and sophomore Kevin Bronson leading the way at defensive tackle.
Taggart wants even more consistency from placekicker Emilio Nadelman, who made nine straight attempts to finish the regular season. After three seasons with Mattias Ciabatti, an expert at placing punts inside the 20-yard line, the Bulls will turn to sophomore Brent Gordon. Adams, despite limited opportunities on kickoffs, and junior Tajee Fullwood, ultra-dependable on punts, are among the nation’s top return men.
The Bulls made a huge leap last season, making their first bowl appearance since 2010. Now they return 14 starters, including exciting options at the skill positions, and that has prompted caution from Taggart. “We are a target,” the coach says. “People are going to circle us on their schedule, and we will get everyone’s best shot. But that’s what we want. We want to be a team that people look to and expect big things from. I have to keep reminding our guys, “We really haven’t done anything yet.”
USF could very well become one of the nation’s most dangerous teams. But here’s the key: The Bulls were well-versed in handling adversity. Can they handle prosperity? If so, they have conference title potential.
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