TAMPA — The spirit of Throwback Thursday, staged last week on the northern fringe of USF's campus, transcended a parcel of natural grass.
Turns out, both the field and field general elicited a retro vibe that rainy Aug. 4 morning. Taking first-team snaps for the Bulls on that historic turf, site of the program's first workout 20 years before, was the same starter as the previous season.
And Bulls fans had to backtrack to a bygone era — Skip Holtz's — to remember a time when USF opened a preseason with an undisputed starting quarterback.
Forget the duels, the derbies, the day-by-day updates of recent years. Junior Quinton Flowers, the reigning team MVP who set a Bulls season record with 22 TD passes last year, is the guy.
"I think that's good. I think Quinton put himself in that position," fourth-year junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez said that day.
"Quinton played well last year, and I think that's a topic that now the media doesn't have to cover and kind of put drag on our quarterbacks and stuff. So I think it's nice. It's less stress for our team, or us as a unit."
Brandishing a mildly thicker upper torso (he entered camp at 209 pounds), a more vocal demeanor and seemingly a bit more velocity, Flowers embarked on Year 20 of Bulls football flanked by arguably the program's deepest assortment of skill players.
Biletnikoff Award candidate Rodney Adams, fresh off a 45-catch season, is moving to the slot to help accommodate his former Lakewood High teammate, 6-foot-5 N.C. State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Meantime, tight ends Kano Dillon and Mitch Wilcox — both north of 6-4 — are waging what coach Willie Taggart calls an "awesome" competition in camp.
Six other receivers on the depth chart are 6-3 or taller. There's also that shifty tailback, dude named Marlon Mack.
"When we're clicking on all cylinders, I believe nobody can beat us in the country," Adams said during the Bulls' media day Wednesday. "It's as simple as that. When we're clicking, nobody can stop us."
At the center of it all is the guy behind center, the 6-foot Miami native who zone-read his way to 3,287 total yards last season. Twelve months after prompting serious questions about his ability to keep defenses honest with his arm, Flowers finds himself on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list.
"Yes, (being the undisputed guy) is a big relief," Flowers said last week at the American Athletic Conference's media day in Newport, R.I.
"When I first was coming to USF, this is what I planned for, this is what I wanted. Coach (Willie) Taggart believed in me, so I'm gonna give him what he wants: go out there and play my hardest every game, every day, every practice, and do everything he expects from me."
Peers and coaches say he appears more polished, more confident. Co-occupants of his huddle insist he has become more authoritative. Co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, the most experienced coach on the staff (28 years), said Flowers' composure is the attribute that impresses him most.
"He has a way, which I think really good quarterbacks do, to play fast but think slow," Weist said. "No matter how fast the game is, the game slows down in their mind. And I think for him you can see that, because he doesn't panic."
But he does incite, even galvanize. Taggart's 2015 refrain — We don't need Quinton to be a leader for this football team — no longer applies. Look no further than the huddle for proof.
"We weren't really producing," wideout Ryeshene Bronson said of a recent scrimmage. "And he came in the huddle and was like, 'Look here guys, we need to settle down, get it right. We're getting our tails kicked out there. Let's go out here and finish practice off right.' "
The scrimmage ended with Flowers tucking and running for a 40-yard TD, and the defense doing up-downs as punishment.
"That's something that he's taken (upon) himself," Taggart said. "And that's part of his growth in who he is, and he's doing it on his own now. I think because he's comfortable, and he realizes his teammates believe in him, you can count on him."
To be sure, they're counting on No. 9.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.