2014 Record: 4-8
Returning starters: Offense: Brynjar Gudmundsson/G, Marlon Mack/RB, Sean Price/TE, Thor Jozwiak/G, Kennard Swanson/FB
Defense: Jamie Byrd/S, Eric Lee/DE, Auggie Sanchez/LB, Nigel Harris/LB, Johnny Ward/CB, Devin Abraham/S, Nate Godwin/S
Most important offensive player: Quinton Flowers/QB. As with most offenses, the key to the Bulls’ success on offense comes down to QB play. USF will switch to a more up-tempo, spread based attack this season, so the fortunes of the offense hinges on whether or not the sophomore Flowers, who was just named starter over senior Steven Bench, can execute the new system, move the ball down the field more efficiently, and limit turnovers.
Most important defensive player: Jamie Byrd/S. The arrival of former Ole Miss LB coach Tom Allen as the new defensive coordinator marks the switch to the 4-2-5 scheme for the defense, a scheme players have already nicknamed the “Bull Shark” defense. The 4-2-5 places an extra emphasis on the new “Husky” position, or an extra safety that will play up towards the line of scrimmage, which is where senior Jamie Byrd will be in 2015. Byrd led the team in tackles in 2014 and will be tasked this season in flying all over the field in offering help in both run and pass defenses while trying to wreak havoc and cause turnovers. His success is critical to Allen’s unit.
Emerging offensive player: Rather than a single individual player, emerging as a unit are the wide receivers. The caliber of speedsters that Willie Taggart has recruited from Florida goes hand in hand with the spread offense he is bringing in 2015. While the Bulls will have to replace all-time leading receiver Andre Davis, look for emerging pass catchers such as Ryshene Bronson, A.J. Legree, Rodney Adams, and possibly even freshman Jordan Reed to pick up the slack and make plays.
Emerging defensive player: Nigel Harris/LB. The junior LB was all over the field in 2014, finishing 2nd on the team with 77 tackles (10.5 for losses) and a nation leading six forced fumbles. Harris will be suspended for the first two games of the season for violation of team rules, but his ball hawking play will fit right into the 4-2-5 once he returns.
How they matchup with Syracuse: Both teams are similar in the aspect that they are a). Coming off of mediocre seasons and b). Struggled mightily down the stretch to put points on the board in 2014. Down the line, Syracuse has the advantage in terms of collective experience, but if USF can have both new offensive and defensive schemes established and clicking by October when the two teams square off, the Bulls could be in a good position to secure the victory.
Season outlook: Several people year three of the Willie Taggart era as bowl game or bust. After posting back-to-back abysmal to bad season in which the Bulls have only won six games in that timeframe, a successful season would entail that the team collectively shows tangible improvement and crosses the six win threshold for the first time in 2010. If the Bulls can improve in efficiently moving the ball down the field (which they were one of the worst teams in the nation last season) and finally find consistency from their quarterback play, they have the opportunity to make that much needed leap. However, if it’s more of the same offensively, USF fans might be getting acquainted with a new head coach once December rolls around.