We asked Ryan Smith from 247's South Florida site a few questions about Maryland's next opponent. Thanks again to Ryan for taking the time and giving us some great insight into the South Florida program.
Testudo Times: What have been the biggest changes to the roster for USF since last year when the two teams met?
Bulls247: The biggest change is probably at quarterback, with Mike White (who started last year's game before leaving with an injury after the first play) transferring out in light of USF's switch to a hurry-up spread offense. The new signal-caller is true sophomore Quinton Flowers, and while he's part of a dangerous rushing attack, he hasn't shown the ability to consistently move the ball through the air yet. The Bulls also are breaking in a new 4-2-5 defense, which to this point seems to utilize their team speed much, much better than last year's 3-4, but returns are still early there. I think the Terps offense will be a good, reasonable test for them.
TT: USF is 1-1 with a blowout win over Florida A&M and was tied with Florida State at the half last Saturday in Tallahassee before the Noles eventually pulled away. How good do you think the Bulls are? What are your takeaways from the Florida State game?
Bulls247: Those are two very difficult games from which to draw conclusions, because A) Florida A&M is a horrible football team and B) USF is always going to play with the fire of a thousand suns when they play FSU. That said, it's hard not to be cautiously optimistic about the first two games when you consider how low expectations were entering this season. That said, cautious optimism might mean like, six wins as opposed to three. But the Bulls have exceeded expectations thus far.
Concrete takeaways from the FSU game: The Bulls' defense might be pretty decent this season. They held up okay against Maryland last season, but probably would've gotten absolutely gashed if not for that ludicrous amount of turnovers. This season, in the new scheme, they've been playing fast and downhill, and been much more creative with their blitz packages. The FSU offensive line is still young, but it was really impressive seeing the Bulls' line manhandle them for a good chunk of the first half.
I'm also encouraged with the USF running attack, which is led by extremely impressive true sophomore Marlon Mack, along with a couple second-string backs in D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice that could start for a handful of Power Five schools. Flowers is also a wonderful benefit to the running game-- he's almost like a second halfback. If the forward pass was suddenly outlawed from the game of football, I feel confident that USF would go 12-0. Like I said, Flowers has been iffy throwing the ball downfield-- he only completed one pass to a receiver against FSU. That has to change if the Bulls are gonna hang around against Maryland.
TT: If you were Maryland, how would you game plan to stop the Bulls on offense? What would you try to exploit on defense?
Bulls247: Make Flowers pass. If I'm playing USF, I am stacking the box like there's no tomorrow. I assume USF will try to counter this by using screens and misdirection to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers in open space without making Flowers take too many risks. This could work, but it's also not going to put up more than a few touchdowns on anyone with a half-decent defense, and that's probably being generous. Make USF beat you through the air, and you're probably set.
TT: If you could travel 10 years into the future, where would this program be on the national scale? What is the general feeling of fans about the program right now?
Bulls247: Everyone's a little bummed, to put it gently-- being in a BCS league and then losing the autobid will sting for a while. That said, USF was hamstrung for years by some really questionable leadership in their athletic department, and they finally seem to have the right pieces in place. It's just a shame that it came too late to avoid the crash-and-burn-and-land-in-the-AAC-oh-God-help part of things.
The only piece that's still up in the air is Willie Taggart, which is a pretty big piece! This season, for better or for worse, will tell us if he's the man that's going to be the long-term future of USF football. The odds are stacked against him right now, but like I said, the Bulls haven't been awful so far.
I definitely haven't answered the question yet. Whether it's led by Taggart or someone else, a school with the resource and recruiting edge that USF has over its non-Power Five peers will eventually float to the top. I feel vaguely confident that it'll happen in the next three or four seasons, so I'd like to imagine that in a decade this team is regularly competing for AAC titles and the Group of Five autobid. Will that be enough to end USF's long national nightmare and land itself back in a power conference? I hope so, but who knows.
TT: Fill in the blanks: ____________ will win on Saturday because ___________________________.
Bulls247: Maryland, because I don't think USF's offense will be able to take advantage of the Terps' weaknesses in pass defense. I do think that the Bulls' defense will keep them alive, so something low-scoring like 24-14 in favor of the home team sounds right.