USF isn’t streaming tonight’s spring game because it wants to try to keep BYU in the dark before their Sept. 3 opener. But fans at Raymond James Stadium can catch glimpses of players and schemes that will have a chance to knock off the Cougars in Week 1 and create a breakthrough third season for coach Jeff Scott.
Here are four things to watch:
1. How much has quarterback Timmy McClain progressed?
Scott said McClain played like a talented freshman last season. There were moments of excitement for his athleticism and poise, followed by the growing pains that come with inexperience.
Scott pointed out that Charlie Ward threw 17 interceptions in his first season as Florida State’s starter before Ward won the Heisman Trophy and a national title the next year. There’s no substitute for experience. Tonight will be the first indication of how much last year’s playing time will help McClain this year.
2. Which transfers stand out?
The Bulls were very active in the portal, securing a haul that was No. 1 nationally on early signing day and is still ranked among the best of the Group of Five. Clearwater Academy International product Ajou Ajou didn’t make a major impact at Clemson, but Scott has praised the 6-foot-3 receiver and another former Tigers player, running back Michael Dukes. Offensive lineman Mike Lofton, a Calvary Christian alumnus from UCF, has been vital this spring, too.
On defense, former end Jatorian Hansford (Missouri), lineman Rashad Cheney (Minnesota), linebacker DJ Gordon (a Plant City High alumnus via Minnesota) and defensive back Aamaris Brown (an Armwood High alumnus via Kansas State) have drawn praise at various points this spring.
Tonight is a chance to see which ones could be top contributors. Collectively, they’re creating depth that Scott said is “what a Division I football team … should look like” for the first time in his tenure.
3. What’s different with the new coordinators?
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Both sides of the ball have fresh looks after changes. USF fired defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer late last season and replaced him with veteran Bob Shoop. Expect more blitzes with his scheme, potentially some that show up tonight.
The offense will also have new wrinkles after the Bulls hired Travis Trickett from West Virginia to replace Charlie Weis Jr., who left for Mississippi.
“We’re going to be explosive,” offensive lineman Donovan Jennings said. “We’re going to be known as a team that is physical, quick, fast, just a team that is flying down the field, making plays.”
Because the game isn’t being televised, what the Bulls show tonight will be less vanilla than most spring games. But it will not be complete, either. Scott said roughly 80 percent of the defense and 85 percent of the offense have been installed.
4. What kind of player is Bayron Matos?
Spring games are for discovering breakout players, and Matos (far left) is one of the most interesting athletes in the state. The 6-foot-9, 260-pounder looks like a basketball forward because he is one; he averaged 2.7 rebounds last season in his first season with the Bulls.
His size, length and leaping ability make him a potential force on special teams blocking kicks and as a possible contributor at defensive end. Tonight will be an important indicator of whether he can make a football impact.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
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