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What has changed since USF’s last football practice? Plenty

The Bulls take the field Friday brandishing some new faces and jersey numbers.
USF first-year coach Jeff Scott, center, opens preseason camp with his team Friday on campus.
USF first-year coach Jeff Scott, center, opens preseason camp with his team Friday on campus. [ Times ]
Published Aug. 6, 2020

Preseason camp commences for USF on Friday.

We’ll pause here for a moment to let you take in that whiff of normalcy. Who knows if we’ll get another any time soon.

Not counting supervised conditioning and the Bulls’ recent walk-throughs, Friday’s proceedings will be the Bulls’ first bona-fide practice since their lone spring workout on March 10. Naturally, much has changed within the program since then.

Here are some of the most significant developments of the last five months.

1. Another QB comes aboard

USF graduate-transfer quarterback Noah Johnson totaled nearly 3,300 yards for Alcorn State two seasons ago.
USF graduate-transfer quarterback Noah Johnson totaled nearly 3,300 yards for Alcorn State two seasons ago. [ CHRIS BRASHERS | Associated Press ]

Alcorn State graduate transfer (and Armwood High alumnus) Noah Johnson formally joined the program in April, when the NCAA approved his request for a medical waiver. A 6-foot dual threat, Johnson totaled nearly 3,300 yards (including 1,080 on the ground) in 2018 before missing most of last season with a torn AC joint.

One of five quarterbacks on scholarship, he projects as one of three legitimate contenders for the starting job with incumbent Jordan McCloud and North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin. (Point of trivia: Johnson also will become the first player in program history to wear No. 0).

2. A gluttony of grad transfers

Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) is brought down by Michigan linebacker Devin Gil (36) during the first quarter of the 2018 Peach Bowl. Gil is now a USF graduate transfer.
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) is brought down by Michigan linebacker Devin Gil (36) during the first quarter of the 2018 Peach Bowl. Gil is now a USF graduate transfer. [ AUSTIN MCAFEE | CSM via ZUMA Wire ]

Johnson is hardly the only veteran reinforcement to arrive since mid-March. Other grad transfers to come aboard include linebacker Devin Gil (Michigan), kicker Jared Sackett (Arkansas), tight end Mitchell Brinkman (Northern Illinois) and defensive tackle Thad Mangum (Wofford).

They join Fortin and tailback Darrian Felix (Oregon), who signed in December. Two others, former Riverview High standout TJ Robinson (Rutgers) and offensive lineman Demontrey Jacobs (Grambling), still need a waiver to be eligible this season.

Don’t expect coach Jeff Scott, a staunch advocate of recruiting and player development, to tap into the portal so liberally in future years. He did so out of necessity this time around.

Related: Five position battles to follow as USF football plans for its return Friday

3. Make room for the rookies

The remaining 12 signees from Scott’s inaugural recruiting class make their practice debuts today, joining four early enrollees in attendance for USF’s lone spring practice.

The only non-arrival: 290-pound defensive tackle Sione Tuitupou, a father of three who returned to Hawaii earlier in the year for family-related reasons. Among the newcomers are two more scholarship quarterbacks, Lake City’s Jordan Smith and Miami’s Katravis Marsh, giving Scott five scholarship QBs.

4. A numbers game

USF tailback/slot receiver Johnny Ford will be wearing No. 1 this season for the Bulls.
USF tailback/slot receiver Johnny Ford will be wearing No. 1 this season for the Bulls. [ JON BARASH | AP ]

If you follow USF’s official football Twitter account, you’ve noticed a bunch of Bulls will sport new jersey numbers this year. Among the more prominent numerical switches: McCloud (No. 12 to No. 3), tailback/slot receiver Johnny Ford (20 to 1), cornerback Nick Roberts (24 to 2) and receiver Latrell Williams (82 to 8).

5. Just who are the Bulls preparing for?

Since arriving in Tampa, Scott has asserted the Bulls’ preparation will be far more focused on themselves than their opponent ― a fitting philosophy during these unprecedented times.

Related: USF football seeking replacement foes for 2020 non-conference schedule

The date and opponent for USF’s first game remain unclear. Because the Big 12 has adopted a 10-game schedule (with only one non-league game per school), the Bulls’ Sept. 5 opener at Texas appears endangered. Their Sept. 12 home opener against Bethune-Cookman definitely is off because the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has opted out of fall-sports competition.

Even the Sept. 19 home game against Nevada is imperiled, now that Mountain West Conference teams are playing reduced schedules. The Bulls are actively seeking at least one alternate non-league foe, and perhaps two. McNeese State, anyone?