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2020 college football preseason preview: USF Bulls

Jeff Scott takes over after the disastrous Charlie Strong Era. How fast can he fix a bad football team?

South Florida Bulls wide receiver Randall St. Felix catches a pass for a first down during a game between the USF Bulls and the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, NC on October 26, 2019. Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

USF spent the first half of the 21st century as one of the most overachieving, feel-good stories in college football. They’ve spent the second half, aside from some glorious but championship-free Quinton Flowers seasons, as an amalgam of institutional mistakes off the field that hindered on-field success. Once the university reached the Big East in 2005, and won nationally televised games less than a decade after their first snap, USF put the athletic department on cruise control.

But then the Big East fell apart as the administration watched from their ivory tower as Providence burned. They also thought most student-athlete’s should be held to the same academic standards as the rest of the freshmen class, and saw four-and-five-stars not even consider them while waltzing into SEC and Big 12 schools with ease. The lack of fundraising and investment in football when it was winning games and ranked in a BCS conference was terrific for the outstanding medical school and business program, but negligent in terms of tending to what brought the national attention in the first place.

For Bulls fans there is hope with a coveted coach in Jeff Scott, the former offensive coordinator at Clemson, who takes over and injects energy and a winning culture to a program that desperately needs it. There was an indoor practice field and some much-needed facility upgrades coming within months, but that was before the the coronavirus changed the economics of college sports everywhere. The status of those is unclear for now.

But they’ve got an athletic director in Michael Kelly that has hit all the right notes since his arrival two seasons ago, and the new university president Stephen Currall seems to understand the “sleeping giant” of USF football needs to be awakened immediately. Or else what was a sold-out NFL stadium just over 10 years ago could lose another generation, and this one might enforce permanent relegation.

USF Bulls Stats Breakdown

Full VIC breakdown

VIC Sheet explanation

Preseason Win Total From DraftKings

Over/under: 4.5 wins

Over +100

Under -121

Key Stats

  • The Bulls return 71% of their players from 2019, and are 36th in America there. There are seven offensive starters coming back, but quarterback Jordan McCloud will be in a deep competition to keep his job in the fall after a mediocre 2019 (1,428 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt, 12 TDs, 8 INTs).
  • McCloud did start 10 games, but the offensive line brings back 36 game starts from a below-average unit last season. But a clogged offense should look better under Scott, but it will also be under their third offensive coordinator in three seasons.
  • The defense finished 62nd in SP+ last season, and returns seven starters from a unit that was on the field too much because of ineptitude on the other side of the ball.
  • No team in Florida should ever have a recruiting class in triple digits, but USF’s 101st nationally in 2020 is partially a terrible job by the previous staff, and partially the transition between coaches. The Team Talent Rating of 69th means there are some players available, and transfers such as quarterback Cade Fortin (North Carolina) and Lavonte Valentine (South Carolina) means there is hope for the future. But neither are eligible in 2020.
  • SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 83, Offense 109, Defense 48.

Schedule

Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)

* AAC Conference Game

@ Texas (14)
vs. Bethune-Cookman (FCS)
vs. Nevada (110)
@ FAU (70)
@ Cincinnati (34)
vs. ECU (96)
@ Temple (72)
vs. Tulsa (88)
@ Memphis (22)
@ Houston (63)
vs. Navy (55)
vs. UCF (18)

Analysis, Prediction

Full disclosure: I’m writing 130 of these previews, but I only graduated from one of them. This is that one.

USF is going to be fine in the long-term. The hiring of Charlie Strong was oil meeting water from the jump, and his onerous secret contract with the university foundation probably kept him on the sidelines at least one season too long. If Willie Taggart doesn’t leave for Oregon (a mistake in his career path as well), the 2017 Bulls are likely winning a NYE6 game with Flowers and the best team in program history. Strong was the wrong replacement, and his Neanderthal views on offense slowed down what should have been the Bulls’ best team ever. And then he recruited beyond poorly. He burned it all down.

Jeff Scott inherits a team with not nearly enough talent to be competitive this season. He’s hit the portal hard, and he’s brought in plenty of kids that can compete, but he needs at least one and maybe two full classes to get close to what the program needs to be.

Since firing Strong, the Bulls have done everything right. But the hole he dug is just too deep, and it’s going to take some time. Finding five wins here is tough, especially with FAU and Taggart (and his defensive coordinator, the first coach and “founder” of USF Football in Jim Leavitt) will have that game circled and bringing everything they have.

We’re an under here, but likely an over in 2021 and beyond. The fundamentals are there and the future is bright, but the present will be painful. Sometimes you have to knock the house down and rebuild from the foundation, and that’s what USF is doing.

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