With no football in the record books yet for South Florida in 2019, we instead will dive into the happenings of fall camp for a USF team hoping to improve upon a seven win season in 2018.
It appears there is heightened optimism in Tampa with new offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell taking over an offense that held back the team last year. Bell is a former Florida Gators quarterback, and he spent the previous 12 seasons as the head coach of Valdosta State and Jacksonville State. His offense at Valdosta scored 52 points per game a season ago, and he has a veteran quarterback at USF, in Blake Barnett.
Barnett is an former four-star recruit who threw for 2,700 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. Paired with him is running back Jordan Cronkrite who ran for 1,100 yards. The two talented seniors are a big reason for the excitement, especially when explosive receiving targets Randall St. Felix and Mitchell Wilcox are also included in the game plan.
Barnett appears to be a more vocal leader than a year ago according to Bulls insider Will Turner, which has helped increase team chemistry, an apparent issue a year ago. There seems to be a guarded optimism about the offensive line, which needed to better. With some returning pieces, a higher consistency is possible.
On the defensive side of the ball starting senior linebacker Nico Sawtelle battled injuries last year, and it appears as though he may be out for Friday’s game as well. (Editor’s note: after Matt submitted this piece it was announced that Sawtelle is out indefinitely. We at B5Q hope he makes a speedy recovery.) Cornerback KJ Sails, a former recruiting target of Wisconsin who eventually went to North Carolina prior to transferring to USF, is also battling eligibility issues, and the university is hoping to have him available.
Strong said Sawtelle got banged up last week during practice. He's listed atop depth chart at MLB, but sounds like he won't play Friday.— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) August 26, 2019
Beyond those two players, defensive lineman Greg Reaves is expected to be a big playmaker now as a senior. Senior Kirk Livingstone can be a player who can cause havoc in the backfield, as he had four sacks last year. While the defensive line beyond the seniors on the outside is coming along, they also have depth at linebacker.
The secondary should be solid, and depending on KJ Sails’ availability they could be the strength of the defense right away.
While South Florida struggled down the stretch of last season, losing their last six games, they look to be in a better place than a year ago. With a new offensive coordinator who brings strong experience, and an offseason of development I think USF will be closer to the 10 and 11 win teams from the previous two seasons than the group that faltered at the end of the last year. While 10-plus wins is going to be hard in an improved conference, Wisconsin will be in for a great test to kickoff the 2019-2020 season for sure.
We will have more on USF throughout the week, including a couple of Q&As with our friends at The Daily Stampede.