Preseason predictions have the University of South Florida Bulls set to win the AAC East with Houston set to take it all. The Bulls are entering their fourth season under the guidance of Head Coach Willie Taggart and expectations are high.
This could be one of the best seasons the Bulls have seen since the Jim Levitt era. In fact, the Bulls are home again to some of the nation’s top players. USF has a new program-record, seven players named to 12 national award watch lists entering this season. Marlon Mack returns as one of this season’s most highly scouted running backs and could head to the NFL after this season. But Mack is just one of the standout starters returning to this team: Quinton Flowers (QB), Rodney Adams (WR), Auggie Sanchez (FB), Nate Godwin (DB) and more will join Mack on the Bulls roster.
While the Bulls went 8-5, 6-2 (AAC) last year, they will face two ACC teams and some tough AAC teams this year. Here are five games not to miss this season:
Florida State @South Florida– In a crushing defeat, the Bulls fell to the Seminoles 34-14 last year. With the depth FSU obtains compared to USF that score was not all that bad, in fact it might have been a little shocking to skeptical fans. Just like USF, FSU will see a handful of talented player’s return for the 2016 football season. Five of those players have already been named to the All-ACC preseason team. With the return of, a healthy, Dalvin Cook and Travis Rudolph FSU’s offense will need to be shut down quick. The return of defensive frontrunner, Auggie Sanchez, will help USF accomplish this. The Bulls defense was tied at 14th in the nation in 2015 for passes intercepted. ESPN gives USF only an 11% chance to win this game, but bringing the highly anticipated game to Raymond James Stadium this year just might be enough of a turning point for the Bulls to take down FSU, for the first time since 2009.
USF @ Cincinnati- The AAC game may not seem like much of a match up, especially after USF blew the Bearcats out of the water 65-27 last year, but it’s for sure not a game to miss as USF faces a potential Big 12 team. ESPN gave the Bulls a 53% chance of winning this game. Preseason polls have Cincinnati coming in third in the AAC East. Cincinnati returns 13 starters, but former starting QB, Gunner Kiel, is now the No. 3 seed for the offense. This year the Bearcats will have Sophomore Hayden Moore in the starting position. Their offense will be returning productive running backs, Tion Green and Mike Boone, both of whom were held to a combined 79 yards against the Bulls defense last year. The Bearcats must tend to a weak defense they have dealt with for the past two years, causing only 14 turnovers, but were ranked No. 78 nationally. With Flowers and Mack returning to the USF starting lineup a weak defense may not be able to hold the duo’s powerful running legs again.
USF @ Temple- Another AAC showdown that is sure to keep fans on their feet. Most fans remember the triumph the Bulls community felt in Raymond James Stadium as they took down the then ranked Temple team 44-23 last year. This year the two teams are competing for the No. 1 spot in the East. Preseason polls such as Lindy’s and Athlon Sports have USF taking the East with Temple coming in second. Last year the Owls were picked to finish third in the East and ended up winning the division. This year the game travels to Philadelphia though and ESPN is giving USF a 54% chance to win this showdown. Temple has made some shifts in their defense that could come out to benefit them as junior Sean Chandler moves from cornerback to safety. The offense will also see a new addition in Jake O’ Donnell at tight end, from the University of Miami. The game will be featured on ESPN in prime time 7 p.m. on Friday night.
Navy @ USF- Following a tough match up on the road at Temple, the Bulls will come home to face Navy under the Friday night lights. Navy is the only preseason ranked team, besides Florida State, that the Bulls will face this year. ESPN is giving the Bulls a 79% chance of winning the game though. Navy is picked to take second in the AAC West behind Houston. Last year Navy made headlines with their triple option offense managed by Kennan Reynolds. But with Reynolds gone, how effective can the offense be without the four year starter? Unlike USF, Navy lost 10 of their 11 starters on Offense from 2015. Against a defense that is returning many award watch list players, Navy’s offense may not have the juice it had last year to pull off a win against USF again, especially on USF’s turf.
USF @ Memphis- Last year Memphis, alongside Houston, brought some extra spotlight to the AAC. The team went 8-0 with their now NFL QB, Paxton Lynch, before falling to Navy. The tigers are predicted to finish third in the West. Memphis will enter this season with plenty of depth at the running back position with possibly Riley Ferguson, one of the most heavily recruited high-school quarterbacks in the country, leading the offense. ESPN gave USF a 69% chance of winning this game. And while USF returns talented players that can bring home the win, the match up with Memphis comes at the end of a tough three game series following Navy and Temple.
Videos from the American Athletic Conference YouTube page.