It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 94 days away, for those keeping track (no one but me). And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which "may" not be as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 slate, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: University of South Florida
#BRAND Slogan: "Inspiring learning, changing lives, one student at a time"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "U Should Florida." "College CAN Be Bull."
Recommended Blog: Voodoo Five
Conference:Athletic Conference, or as we typically refer to it, the AAC (no, not the American).
Coach: Willie Taggert, 3rd year. This is probably a make-or-break year for Willie Taggert, who has failed to really rescue the Bulls from a plunge in on-field returns of late. The only saving grace is a recruiting uptick, but that won't matter much if the wins don't come soon (again, maybe even this year). No USF preview is complete without a link to this glorious "Get on the Bus" video, by the way.
2014 Record: (4-8) (3-5)
Recapping Last Season:
USF's 2014 HAD TO be better than their 2-10 2013 campaign. And on paper, it sort of was. The Bulls were tested a ton by a difficult non-conference slate (NC State, Wisconsin and Maryland), but some strong defensive showings both in- and out-of-conference led to a two-win improvement and hope things were trending upward. There's some questions about whether it was an actual improvement (see Bill C.'s adjusted win-loss of 1-11), but overall, black-and-white perception (wins) is college football's reality, so 4-8 it is.
In 12 games, USF scored exactly ONE more point than Syracuse did in 2014 (206 vs. 205). So if you were worried about the Bulls' offense... don't be. Leading passer Mike White was never really the clear-cut starter, splitting time with less-experienced QBs Steven Bench and Quinton Flowers to throw for a little under 200 yards per game. The rushing attack, with a large collection of options, was under-utilized and failed to produce much outside of Marlon Mack's 1,041 yards, finishing 117th overall in per-game production. As you'd guess, receivers were largely MIA given the poor passing.
Defensively, the Bulls allowed a modest-ish 27 points per game and a little over 400 yards per game, while forcing 20 turnovers on the year. Some of those numbers are elevated by a few big totals by teams like NC State, Cincinnati, Memphis and... Western Carolina. But as Syracuse fans well know -- it's tough to expect a phenomenal game-in and game-out result from your defense when all of the pressure is on them to win the game.
History with Syracuse: Despite the Orange football program being over 90 years older than USF, SU's just 2-6 against the Bulls. All of those meetings happened in the old Big East, the most recent being a thrilling 37-36 Syracuse victory that you might remember.
2015 Season Outlook:
The Bulls... probably won't be any better this fall than they were last fall, despite better recruiting and the aforementioned perception that Taggert's teams are improving. Replacing seven starters from an already-poor offense is a very tough way to move forward for any team, but that's what USF is up against in 2015. At QB, White is gone along with the team's top three pass-catchers and three-fifths of the line. While there's nothing to rave about with any of the departing pieces, inexperience still lends a struggling (for four years now, by the way) team no favors. Whoever wins the QB job will be best served handing the ball off to Mack, who now carries even more of the offensive load.
On the defensive side of the ball, USF loses two of its top pieces (Elkino Watson, Todd Chandler) from a meager front, but largely returns everyone else. How you look at "everyone else" largely defines your outlook for the D, however, as they're still loaded with relative youth mixed with experience. The experience did not fare incredibly well last year, which is disconcerting, though every year of college ball can only be seen as a plus for most players' development. There are no guarantees this defense turns heads, but an uptick in pass D could pay some dividends.
Schedule-wise, the Bulls yet again seem to have put themselves in a hole with tough non-conference opponents (for them). They visit both Florida State and Maryland in September, and host Syracuse after a difficult game with Memphis at home in October. A dire November slate of East Carolina, Temple, Cincinnati and UCF should derail whatever's left of the 2015 season for a team that will just be over-matched far too many times to be in bowl contention.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 10
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Odds of Orange Victory: 75 percent
Very Early Outlook:
SU and USF face opposite hurdles heading into the 2015 season. While the Bulls lose much of their offense and keep most of the defense, the Orange have to rebuild a typically-strong defense while returning a good deal of offensive pieces. No, Syracuse has never played all that well against the Bulls, but that 2012 game could be considered eons ago at this point. Even with SU's own struggles of late, the gap between the two programs has grown a bunch since we last met... we hope.
Never say "never" on the upset front, but the Orange SHOULD come into this one with a better team than South Florida. Whether that translates to a victory or not will largely depend on if Syracuse's offense has righted itself. If so, hooray for what should be win no. 4 on the year. If not... #Pray4John.