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Role Reversal for USF and UCF in 2016

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Florida Football Insiders

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What a difference 12 months make.

The first weekend in September 2015 UCF was riding high. Two years removed from a program histroic 12 win season and a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor and having their quarterback Blake Bortles drafted in the top 5 of the NFL draft, the Knights were a darling of the media, an upstart contender. They had won 31 total games 2012-14.

Meanwhile in Tampa 52 weeks ago, USF head coach Willie Taggart was clearly on the hot seat: 6 and 18 in his first two years and an athletic director, Mark Harlan, that had only been on the job for a season was poised to oust him.

But a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to UCF continuing to be the darling and USF searching the want ads for a new leader: they actually played the 2016 season.

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The Golden Knights got out of the box horribly losing at home to FIU 15-14, then after a loss at Stanford were stunned again at home by Furman and started a slide that would end at 0-12! George O’Leary abandoned his team and resigned after the 0-8 start and UCF went on to give up at least 44 points in each of its last five games. The last of those a 44 – 3 annihilation at the hands of the Bulls.

Speaking of USF, they opened last September with a blowout win over FAMU 51 – 3 but, a three-game losing streak to FSU, Maryland, and Memphis had all the talk that Taggart’s job was almost done. But the Bulls kept handing to Marlon Mack, who’s one of the best-kept running backs secrets in the South if not all of college football. He would finish with 1,400 yards rushing and new quarterback Quinton Flowers came into his own finishing with 2,200 yards in the air 1,100 more running and 34 total touchdowns.

Those numbers translated into the best numbers of all: 7 wins in their final 8 regular-season games for USF. That included blowouts of Temple, Cincinnati and UCF that ended the year.

When it was all said and done, Taggart had not only survived the death sentence, but got a raise and a contract extension!

So tonight, the Knights begin the ultimate rebuild after an 0 and 12 with former Oregon offensive coordinator and Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost trying to pump life back into the program. They have South Carolina State but as mentioned above they blew games to FIU and Ferman at home last year. No guarantees.

And tonight begins a USF season with Towson at home and likely Flowers and Mack going crazy like they did at the end of last season. Plus, the Bulls are actually favored to win their division in the American Athletic Conference and could be a top 25 team.

Neither fan base probably expected that dramatic a turnaround but 2015 proved it: one year can change it all.

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USF Bulls

Bulls AD Kelly continues indoor facility pitch

Abbey Radeka

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USA Today Sports

The Bulls are once again making their very understandable pitch for an indoor practice facility. South Florida’s Athletic Director Michael Kelly had a lot to say about the programs dire need to a room full of boosters on Thursday.

At the inaugural “Bulls Kickoff Luncheon” at the Marriott Water Street in Tampa, he got on the podium to make the football team’s case.

“As you probably read, we had a lot of rain and storms (Wednesday) that inconvenienced the heck out of our guys and all of our staff,”

He added, “It’s one thing when we do it in the summertime and we don’t have class. We can navigate around that, as inconvenient as it is. But when you get to class time, there’s no way. … We’re not missing class.”

Located in one of the most rain-prone cities in the country, the weather too often limits the available practice time for USF. And in their quest to compete with the most elite collegiate programs, they’re going to need that valuable time in practice.

“Many of you have heard us preaching this for over a year now,” Kelly said. “We’re gonna keep on preaching it ’til we get it built.”

Back in 2017, USF unveiled its plans for a $40 million, 160,000-square-foot football center. The facility will be added to the Morsani Football Practice Complex and include an 83,000-square-foot indoor practice facility with a 110-yard turf field. The center will also feature a two-level, 80,000-square foot building to house the entire football program’s offices.

So far the Bulls have secured about 20 million dollars of funding towards the project. The university is searching for “private and corporate support,” and has announced that no student fees or tuition will be used to finance the facility.

Kelly’s hopeful of breaking ground as early as next spring.

The much-needed “IPF” could be another selling point to show recruits during their on-campus visits. Florida, FSU, Miami and UCF all have indoor practice facilities.

In fact, when former FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher was campaigning to Seminole Boosters to fund Florida State’s IPF, his main sell was that in modern day college football, he couldn’t guarantee that FSU would win a national championship with an IPF, but he could certainly guarantee they wouldn’t win one without it. The facility was completed in early 2013… the same season FSU won the national championship.

For USF, it will also allow other sports programs, such as the baseball, and soccer teams, to train during unfavorable weather conditions. Players will also have a team auditorium with tiered seating where they can review plays from previous games and scout upcoming opponents.

Kelly told reporters after the luncheon that it was a great opportunity to talk to a larger group of supporters, 500 in total (including Tampa’s Mayor Jane Castor), who might not have known the severity of the issue.

“I know our die-hard fans are intimately aware of it, but this was an expanded group. When you have a lot of people that invite seven, eight, nine, 10 people that are guests at a table to kind of hear the vision of USF football and to hear what we have in store for the future…it’s a great opportunity for us.”

With the momentum USF has going into the next couple of seasons, this addition would certainly allow them to capitalize on it.

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USF Bulls

USF QB Blake Barnett excited for new offensive scheme

Abbey Radeka

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After ending last season with an injury, second year USF QB Blake Barnett has some unfinished business to take care of this upcoming season, and he’s going to use his new offense to do it.

At the “American Kickoff” luncheon on Tuesday, Barnett was asked by Tampa Bay Times USF Beat writer Joey Knight, about his thoughts on the Bull’s offensive scheme under the new offensive coordinator, Kerwin Bell. He had a lot of positive things to say.

Barnett emphasized that it was really important that this offense allows him to spread the ball around. He added:

“The offense itself is very diverse. We can run a single play out of six, seven formations, put motions involved…put different personnel and switch it in. There’s really endless opportunities and options… so it’s going to do a really good jobs of not only showing our strengths, but exposing our opponents weaknesses.”

This season is a critical one for the Bulls, and especially for head coach, Charlie Strong. Replacing former OC Sterlin Gilbert with Bell could be the move that will make his third year leading the program a more successful one.

While Strong has had a bad history with hiring OCs, Bell has proven much more promising than the less than elite hires of his past. He is a name older football fans in the state of Florida remember well — and fondly — due to his years as the Florida Gators’ star quarterback. Had Florida not been hit with NCAA and SEC penalties due to various violations under Charley Pell (whose tenure preceded Bell’s playing career) and then Galen Hall, Bell might have led Florida onto the field in one or more Sugar Bowls He was robbed of that opportunity, but the quality of his performances spoke for itself.

Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. He is 53 years old and a true survivor in the football industry. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade — not bad for a seventh-round pick at No. 180 in 1988.

Bell and Barnett give Strong and the rest of the USF roster a reason to be hopeful that this will be the bounce-back season in Tampa.

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