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What to expect from the USF Bulls in 2016

USF's Mitchell Wilcox makes a catch for the white team during the University of South Florida's Spring Game on Saturday afternoon, April 16, 2016 at Corbett Stadium at USF.
USF's Mitchell Wilcox makes a catch for the white team during the University of South Florida's Spring Game on Saturday afternoon, April 16, 2016 at Corbett Stadium at USF.
Published Aug. 30, 2016

Three games to watch

Vs. FSU, Sept. 24: If both teams enter undefeated, this could be the biggest contest in USF history. If both enter undefeated and the Big 12 still hasn't made a decision regarding expansion, it undoubtedly will be hyped as the biggest contest in USF history.

At Cincinnati, Oct. 1: One way or the other, the FSU game will exact an emotional toll on the Bulls, who immediately must re-focus for this pivotal East Division matchup in the American. USF hung 51 first-half points on the Bearcats in last year's 65-27 embarrassment, before a Friday night national TV audience. We're guessing that defeat remains lodged in Cincy's collective craw.

At Memphis, Nov. 12: Though many point to the Bulls' Oct. 21 showdown at Temple as the de facto East Division title game, we deem this matchup a bit more daunting. In three tries under Willie Taggart, USF never has defeated Memphis, which could be clicking under new coach Mike Norvell by the time this game rolls around.

Trap­-game alert

Vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 10: The Huskies, who have appeared in eight consecutive bowl games, precede two Power Five teams (Syracuse, FSU) on USF's slate. NIU returns six starters on each side of the ball from a team that lost by only seven at Ohio State in 2015.

Three newcomers to watch

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling: After a year of mesmerizing scout-team duty, this 6-foot-5 N.C. State transfer arrives as USF's resident matchup nightmare. Put fellow Lakewood High alumnus Rodney Adams in the slot alongside Valdes-Scantling, and let defensive coordinators pick their poison.

DB Khalid McGee: In the wake of a dazzling preseason camp, this sophomore from Miami appears set to replace Dade City's Jamie Byrd as the "striker" (nickelback) in the Bulls' 4-2-5. McGee had two tackles for loss in the Miami Beach Bowl after Byrd exited with an injury.

TE Mitchell Wilcox: A redshirt freshman from Tarpon Springs, Wilcox (6-4, 248 pounds) probably won't be on the field for the season's first offensive snap, but his brawn and athleticism won't keep him confined to the sideline for long. Willie Taggart's tight ends have totaled more than 70 catches in the past two years, and that trend should continue with Wilcox and sophomore Kano Dillon.

When the offense is clicking…

Junior Quinton Flowers is a de facto wildcat QB, capable of zone-reading his way to chunks of yardage if unaccounted for. Throw in two-time 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, and opponents have no choice but to honor the Bulls' run game. That leaves favorable matchups outside, with a plethora of rangy targets — seven receivers on the roster are 6-3 or taller — capable of out-running and/or out-jumping their coverage.

When the defense is clicking…

It has the depth to keep pace with any up-tempo offense on its schedule. Because we don't see many quarterbacks going over the top against USF's secondary, opponents likely will have to subsist on short passes out in space, where the Bulls are equipped to swarm to the ball. The big concern will be how effectively USF can set the edge with an entirely new batch of defensive ends. Because the 4-2-5 alignment is designed to contain the spread, it might be vulnerable to a fleet back (like Dalvin Cook) or power-driven offense (like Navy).

Projected starters

Offense

TE Kano Dillon, So.

LT Kofi Amichia, Sr.

LG Jeremi Hall, R-Jr.

C Cameron Ruff, R-Jr.

RG Dominique Threatt, Sr.

RT Marcus Norman, R-Fr.

QB Quinton Flowers, Jr.

RB Marlon Mack, Jr.

X Marquez Valdes-Scantling, R-Jr.

Z Ryeshene Bronson, Jr.

Slot Rodney Adams, Sr.

Defense

DE Kirk Livingstone, R-Fr.

DT Deadrin Senat, Jr.

DT Bruce Hector, R-So.

DE Vincent Jackson, R-So.

WLB Nigel Harris, Sr.

MLB Auggie Sanchez, R-Jr.

CB Deatrick Nichols, Jr.

CB Ronnie Hoggins, So.

Striker Khalid McGee, So.

SS Jaymon Thomas, So.

FS Devin Abraham, Jr.

Special teams

P Brent Gordon, So.

PK Emilio Nadelman, R-Jr.

LS Alex Salvato, Sr.

H Brent Gordon, So.

KR Rodney Adams, Sr.

KR D'Ernest Johnson, Jr.

PR D'Ernest Johnson, Jr.

Schedule

Sept. 3 vs. Towson, 7

Sept. 10 vs. Northern Illinois, 7

Sept. 17 at Syracuse, 3:30

Sept. 24 vs. Florida State, TBD

Oct. 1 at Cincinnati, TBD

Oct. 8 vs. East Carolina, TBD

Oct. 15 vs. Connecticut, TBD

Oct. 21 at Temple, 7

Oct. 28 vs. Navy, 7

Nov. 12 at Memphis, TBD

Nov. 19 at SMU, TBD

Nov. 26 vs. UCF, TBD

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