In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 59 South Florida
Charlie Strong might've lost more high-end players than any team in the American but his second USF squad is still laced with talent. Tyre McCants, Greg Reaves, Khalid McGee and others are leading the Bulls' quest for a third straight 10-win season.
2017 Record: 10-2 (6-2, American)
I thought USF had as good of a chance of going undefeated as any FBS program. They didn't, but they still recorded the second-highest win total in program history (and tied the second-highest AP ranking) and were a blown fourth-quarter lead vs. UCF away from winning the AAC East.
If UCF didn't go 13-0 and make a lot of noise with their national championship proclamation, USF's 10-win season would've receiverd a lot more attention.
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (2nd Year, 10-2)
"I want to be here next year," Charlie Strong said on Oct. 31, three days after USF's first loss — and his first loss as USF head coach — of the season.
For obvious reasons, this is considered a rehab job for Strong, once the most sought-after head-coaching candidate in college football, after a rough three seasons at Texas. While his seven-word statement may have been the truth and he did remain in Tampa for at least another season, what happens if Power Five programs come calling after another strong season?
QB Quinton Flowers, RB D'Ernest Johnson, RB Darius Trice, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, C Cameron Ruff, G Jeremi Hall, DE Mike Love, DT Bruce Hector, DT Deadrin Senat, LB Auggie Sanchez, CB Deatrick Nichols, S Devin Abraham, K Emilio Nadelman
That's a long list.
Of USF's 10 all-conference selections last year, nine are gone. Three-year starting quarterback Quinton Flowers graduated after racking up 112 touchdowns and nearly 12,000 total yards. Two of their top three offensive linemen — Cameron Ruff and Jeremi Hall — also exhausted their eligibility.
Defensively, their top three tacklers are gone in Auggie Sanchez, Deadrin Senat and Deatrick Nichols. Nichols also added three interceptions to bump his career total to 11.
Emilio Nadelman was 21-for-24 on field-goal attempts, hit a career-long 51-yarder and tied the program record with 13 consecutive made attempts.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Chris Oladokun, QB Brett Kean, RB Elijah Mack, WR Tyre McCants, WR Darnell Salomon, TE Mitchell Wilcox, OT Marcus Norman, C Michael Wiggs
Most of USF's offensive numbers declined from 2016 but they still ranked in the top 20 in several areas in Sterlin Gilbert's first season as quarterbacks coach and coordinator, including yards per rush attempt (5.2), yards per pass attempt (8.4), yards per pass completion (15.8) and first-half points (20.3).
"I just think that everyone, except us in this building and on this field, forgets this is a new offense, okay?" Gilbert said in November when asked about some of their declining numbers. "It's a new offense. Things are new, things are different.
With Flowers' departure, Gilbert needs a new leader for a power-football, up-tempo system similar to the one Art Briles ran at Houston and Baylor. Redshirt junior Brett Kean and redshirt sophomore Chris Oladokun are competing for the job (along with transfer Blake Barnett. The two have combined for 38 career pass attempts (37 from Kean) and will continue battling into fall camp.
The winner gets a lot of receiving weapons, including junior tight end Mitchell Wilcox and senior receiver Tyre McCants, the latter of whom can, among other things, do this:
Despite losing Johnson and Trice, the backfield is in great shape with both high-end talent and depth. Jordan Cronkite transferred from Florida and 6-foot-1, 225-pounder Elijah Mack, who only had three carries last year but has been praised by the staff.
"[W]hen he breaks through the line of scrimmage, it is painful for my defensive backs when they try to come up and tackle him," Strong said of Mack in April. "And he's been lowering his shoulder and running over guys. But Mack is the guy that really has what you're looking for at the running back position."
The offensive line returns three starters, led by one of the best tackles in the country, Marcus Norman.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Greg Reaves, LB Nico Sawtelle, LB Khalid McGee, CB Mazzi Wilkins, NB Ronnie Hoggins, S Jaymon Thomas, S Naytron Culpepper
Long-time Charlie Strong assistant Brian Jean-Mary worked magic with a defense that bogged down the Bulls in 2016. And while Jean-Mary credits the talent left behind by Willie Taggart's staff, his 4-2-5 system and emphasis on tackling form led to sweeping improvements.
“I think [the players] got confidence in themselves,” Jean-Mary said last year. “It’s team pride, too. They won a lot of games last year. But they felt like they had something to prove to themselves and obviously something to the rest of the conference because we didn’t win a championship last year.”
They improved in nearly every area, including points per play (0.39 to 0.31), third downs (40.5 to 37.1 percent), fourth downs (46.4 to 36.8 percent), takeaways (1.8 to 2 per game) and, arguably most importantly, yards per carry (4.7 to 3.4).
I'm in love with junior defensive end Greg Reaves, who was rehabbing from injury this spring but will be 100 percent for the season. The former walk-on was awarded a scholarship in fall camp and had a breakout season, registering 14 tackles for loss, four sacks and three pass breakups. He had a massive drive-killing sack in the final minutes of their win over Tulsa (below).
“He’s so unbelievable off the edge,” Reaves' high school coach Steve Gulash said in December. “He’s got it. . . . Greg looks a lot like Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie did. He’s long. He looks like a praying mantis player when he’s out on the field.”
Middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle is back but all eyes are on Khalid McGee, a 5-foot-10, 199-pound linebacker who converted from safety (also played cornerback earlier in his career) late last year and became a full-time weak-side linebacker in spring practice. Sure, McGee is there for speed, coverage and the occasional pass-rush but he will smack you, too.
"When he was at safety his nickname was Muscles, so we always knew he could hit and he always was an awesome tackler," corner Mazzi Wilkins said. "…We have a little bit more security and feel comfortable with him down there, because he was a DB, so we know he can cover as well."
The secondary is either the best in the AAC or second behind UCF. Either way, the Bulls have three senior starters and a sophomore safety in Naytron Culpepper that came on in the second half of last year. Called a "headhunter" by Wilkins, Culpepper played both safety spots in the spring (primary position is expected to be strong safety but he moved to strong safety when Jaymon Thomas was out with an injury).
"He has really good range and can find the football," Strong said of Culpepper.
QB Blake Barnett, RB Jordan Cronkite, WR Randall St. Felix, G Demetris Harris
Blake Barnett announced his transfer to USF after spring practice and while the big pro-style passer (6-foot-5, 202 pounds) expects to compete for the job, he's on his third school (fourth including a non-football stint at Palomar College) and has attempted just 24 career passes.
Former top-400 recruit and Florida running back Jordan Cronkite is eligible after sitting out last season. He averaged nearly five yards per carry for the Gators in 2016, has two years of eligibility remaining and should split carries.
Two redshirt freshmen could start if they have strong fall camps: Randall St. Felix, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound receiver from Miami who made numerous highlight-reel catches in the spring, and Demetris Harris, a 6-foot-3, 318-pound guard from Jacksonville.
USF doesn't play a true road game until Oct. 6 at UMass but they do face Illinois at Soldier Field three weeks earlier.
The Bulls still own a 6-3 all-time advantage over UCF in the War on I-4 series but they lost last year's regular-season finale, 49-42.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Elon|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Illinois|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. East Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at UMass|
|Friday, Oct. 12||at Tulsa|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. UConn|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Houston|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Tulane|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at Cincinnati|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Temple|
|Friday, Nov. 23||vs. UCF|