2016 is the season USF has been building for since they fired Skip Holtz a couple years back. Willie Taggart has built a roster loaded with talent through having some of the top classes in the AAC by recruiting the talent-rich state of Florida well. Taggart has Bulls fans with high expectations and for good reason, with Marlon Mack and Quentin Flowers returning on offense and a bevy of talent on defense, the Bulls are poised to challenge once again for the AAC championship
Outlook on Offense
In 2015, Quinton Flowers really burst onto the scene with his play for the Bulls. Flowers had just one start in 2014, but in 2015 he took over the squad, starting all 13 games and has developed into a true leader for this team. Flowers can make plays with his legs as evidenced by his 201 yards rushing against SMU (a school record), but expect him to take big steps forward. USF has been looking for a quarterback ever since B.J. Daniels got hurt and then graduated and Flowers is the man to lead USF to its first conference championship.
Marlon Mack has been the man for USF the last two years and will continue to be on offense. He's continued to get faster and stronger the past two years, but his supporting cast has gotten better as well. At running back, Mack has D'Ernest Johnson, one of the leading receivers on the team from last year, and Darius Tice, their short-yardage specialist, to take some of the load off of him so watch for that three-headed monster to get going this upcoming year to take pressure off Flowers' shoulder.
At wide receiver, Rodney Adams is the main target for Flowers. Adams is one of the best receivers in the AAC. A transfer, Marquez Valdes, is opposite of Adams, who is 6-4 and can really make plays on the outside. Darnell Salomon is an absolute beast of a recruit for Taggart to have landed and only adds more depth and skill to the receiving corps. The offensive line replaces three starters so that's a bit of a question mark, but with weapons all over the field, Flowers can get the ball out quick if the line struggles early. Mack can make an okay offensive line look good as well so that's a plus for the Bulls.
After a record setting year on offense, expectations are as high as ever for Willie Taggart's squad and a down year would be a reflection on him, but especially this offense.
Outlook on Defense
USF has one of the more talented defensive backfields with cornerback Deatrick Nichols leading the way. He's about as talented as they come and with the Bulls having to replace Jarius Byrd, he'll have to step up even more. There's plenty of depth on the backend for USF and this is without a doubt a position of strength on this team. Last year, Cincinnati couldn't do much of anything against the Bulls even after racking up 40-50 points against just about everybody. This secondary is going to be strong again.
The defensive line was hit by graduation hard, but Vincent Jackson and Mike Love are the two younger players that have to step up to get a pass rush going. Nigel Harris and Auggie Sanchez will start at linebacker, but the big land was Texas transfer Cecil Cherry, who transferred back to his home state. A former four-star recruit, Cherry will be a huge addition to the USF defense. Cherry has a lot to learn with the 4-2-5, but the talented linebacker should be ready to rock with it.
This bend, but not break defense will be under Raymond Woodie's direction this year after Tom Allen left for Indiana, but with all the talent stacked up, he just has to push them to get to new heights.
There's a sense that if USF can potentially get by Florida State in Tampa, the Bulls have a shot at an undefeated season. There's more talent and more experience on this team and that gives them the chance to not only win the conference, but potentially get to the College Football Playoff. The talent level and expectations for this team has people in Tampa thinking that anything less than 7-8 wins is going to be disappointing.
Whether the Bulls will get by FSU is another story, but the main goal is a conference championship. That's what their focus should be on and it's why I also picked them as my AAC Champion. There's too much talent on this team and depth that they shouldn't be in the AAC title game at the very least. With Flowers at the helm, this team's success really rides on his success. If Flowers has the year he's more than capable of, this team is really going to fly.