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USF-Wisconsin has strong Florida flavor

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What does USF need Friday night to beat Wisconsin? We will get to that question in a bit.

Let’s start this look at the Bulls’ game against the Badgers by noting the Florida angles and intersections which form the backdrop to this intriguing Week 1 clash.

Because this game is on a Friday, it won’t compete with the first full-service Saturday of the 2019 college football season. One of the games which will be played on Saturday involves another Florida school, the Florida State Seminoles, who will face Boise State in an anticipated intersectional encounter.

No Florida State player will be more interested in Wisconsin-South Florida than a man who transferred from Madison to Tallahassee… and did not get the starting quarterback job with the Seminoles.

Much as Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell transferred to a Florida school – the Miami Hurricanes – in the hope of becoming a starting quarterback, Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State in the hope of a fresh start. His departure from a Big Ten school also didn’t work out as planned. He and Martell could have an interesting conversation if the two ever had an occasion to discuss the directions of their collegiate careers.

Hornibrook can only wonder what his world might have looked like if he had stayed in Madison and taken the flight to Tampa to face USF. Jack Coan will be Wisconsin’s signal-caller. He will try to stabilize the Badger program after Hornibrook’s rough 2018 season led to a rare dip in form for the usually consistent Badgers.

Wisconsin – over the larger arc of its 21st-century history – has been known for its ability to crank out at least nine wins per season, as though it owns a manufacturing process other industry competitors can’t seem to figure out.

No matter the coach, no matter the quarterback, Wisconsin generally manages to win at least nine games. The Badgers had won at least nine games in 12 of 14 seasons from 2004 through 2017. Their 8-5 season in 2018 was a minor shock and a genuine failure when measured against the standards Wisconsin has established.

In the 2017 season, a Florida school – Miami – faced Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Hornibrook was there to lead the Badgers to a New Year’s Six bowl victory and a 13-1 season, the best in terms of wins and losses in UW history. Hornibrook was never a dazzling quarterback, but he made the clutch throw on third and six. He came up with the right play at the right time.

In 2018, he lost that knack, and since his ceiling was never very high, his floor became very low. Wisconsin took a hard fall… and even though it beat Miami again in a bowl game, this bowl had a very different feel.

Wisconsin defeated the Hurricanes in the cold of New York in late December at the Pinstripe Bowl. Even though Miami was lost and adrift at the end of the Mark Richt era, one had to wonder if this Wisconsin team – nothing like the confident bunch which had won the Orange Bowl a year earlier – would have won on Miami’s turf.

Now we get to wonder about Wisconsin again. The Badgers won’t be playing a Florida-based school as a 12-1 powerhouse in full command of its skills (which they did in 2017). They won’t be playing a Florida-based school in Yankee Stadium just before New Year’s Day (as they did in 2018).

The Badgers now come to the Sunshine State in late August. Wisconsin will play in uncomfortable weather, not its opponent. South Florida won’t have to play in brutal cold. Its opponent will.

Can the man who replaced Alex Hornibrook – Florida State’s backup quarterback – make Wisconsin the team it was in 2017, or will the Badgers stumble through 2019 much as they did in 2018?

This is where we turn to the Bulls, and how they are going to win.

Let’s be honest: Wisconsin has the pedigree, the status, the stature. South Florida flirted with greatness in the 2007 college football season, when it was briefly No. 2 in the nation, but Wisconsin has undeniably established itself as a national power with its body of work over the past 15 years.

USF is intent on winning this game, but Wisconsin expects to win this game. USF is hoping to move upward in the AAC East standings and challenge both UCF and Cincinnati, but the Bulls appear to be third in the division in a best-case scenario. Wisconsin expects nothing less than a Big Ten West Division championship and a January bowl game.

How can USF win? This isn’t a pleasant or happy truth, but it IS the truth: Wisconsin needs to play poorly. South Florida can force Wisconsin to play poorly to an extent, but the Badgers have more heft, more power, in the trenches and at linebacker. They will need to be off their game if South Florida is to have a real chance.

The key question becomes: If Wisconsin opens the door, can USF step through the portal?

Blake Barnett – you will remember – very briefly played in Alabama’s season-opening win over USC in 2016. He was replaced by Jalen Hurts. He never again became the leader of the Alabama offense, but he tasted what a huge Week 1 game felt like.

Three years later, Barnett, who played well, especially early, in year one in Tampa, gets another chance to stand in the Week 1 spotlight against an elite program. If Wisconsin is ragged and rusty enough to give USF a genuine opening, Barnett has to be ready to pounce.

His new offensive coordinator this year? Yet one more Florida angle emerges in this game.

Kerwin Bell quarterbacked the Florida Gators in the mid-1980s. He is a beloved Gator who coached for many years in the state of Florida, both in high school and the lower (non-FBS) rungs of college football.

USF could no longer retain former offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, whom head coach Charlie Strong brought with him to Tampa after Strong was fired at Texas. Gilbert took the head coaching job at McNeese State.

Strong turned to Bell to take Barnett – and the offense – to the next level.

A first – and very big – test arrives this Friday, in a game bursting with Florida football flavor.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

USF Bulls

Report- Alabama will hire Charlie Strong as consultant

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Former USF coach Charlie Strong has decided on a new role for the upcoming 2020 season, and it won’t be in Gainesville.

ESPN college football insider Chris Low reported Tuesday morning that Strong has agreed to join Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama as a defensive “consultant” for this season

As we wrote last week, Strong had visited Saban and the Tide about the possible position on his staff, while considering a similar opportunity to join either Dan Mullen’s Gators staff or a couple of others in a consulting role. None of this will affect the nearly $3 million that USF still owes him as the buyout on the final two years of his contract.

Strong was fired after the Bulls collapsed losing their final four games to finish 4 – 8 this season. They were beaten by 27 or more points five times this year, including the last two losses to Memphis and rival UCF. This combined with the Bulls having lost their final six games, including their bowl game last year, meant that Strong had lost 14 of his final 18 games.

USF hired Clemson Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott earlier about a week later and gave him a 5-year, $12 million deal to become a first-time head coach in FBS football.

There had been some debate about Strong’s buyout being the amount of compensation that was remaining on his original five-year contract that he signed when he took the job in December of 2016 after being fired by the University of Texas. That contract called for Strong to be paid to $2. 5 million on average for 2020 and 2021.

However, USF informed Strong in his termination letter that the amount would be approximately $3 million under clauses in his deal.

Saban has a history of taking in former head coaches to come to Bama and observe and assist as a consultant with either his offense or defense. He’s done this for the last two years with former Tennessee coach Butch Jones and obviously, took in both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian both of whom had been fired as coaches by USC at different stages.

Strong is known is an outstanding defensive coach from his previous days, as the Gators defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. He later went on to success at the University of Louisville before taking The the Texas head coaching job in 2014.

Strong was fired after three seasons in Austin in 2016, but immediately hired by USF to replace Willie Taggart.

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USF Bulls

Former USF coach Strong to be consultant for Alabama?

Florida Football Insiders

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

And intriguing item popped up Friday morning involving former USF head coach Charlie Strong and him visiting Nick Saban the Alabama football program.

According to Alabama Insider and radio host, Aaron Suttles, Strong, who was dismissed last December after his third season with the Bulls, was in Tuscaloosa Thursday meeting with Saban and his staff:

Strong had also been reportedly talking with the University of Florida about a possible consultant role, which likely would not affect the nearly $3 million that USF still owes him as the buyout on the final two years of his contract.

Strong was fired after the Bulls collapsed losing their final four games to finish 4 – 8 this season. They were beaten by 27 or more points five times this year, including the last two losses to Memphis and rival UCF. This combined with the Bulls having lost their final six games, including their bowl game last year, meant that Strong had lost 14 of his final 18 games.

USF hired Clemson Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott earlier about a week later and gave him a 5-year, $12 million deal to become a first-time head coach in FBS football.

There had been some debate about Strong’s buyout being the amount of compensation that was remaining on his original five-year contract that he signed when he took the job in December of 2016 after being fired by the University of Texas. That contract called for Strong to be paid to $2. 5 million on average for 2020 and 2021.

However, USF informed Strong in his termination letter that the amount would be approximately $3 million under clauses in his deal.

Saban has a history of taking in former head coaches to come to Bama and observe and assist as a consultant with either his offense or defense. He’s done this for the last two years with former Tennessee coach Butch Jones and obviously, took in both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian both of whom had been fired as coaches by USC at different stages.

Strong is known is an outstanding defensive coach from his previous days, as the Gators defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. He later went on to success at the University of Louisville before taking The the Texas head coaching job in 2014.

Strong was fired after three seasons in Austin in 2016, but immediately hired by USF to replace Willie Taggart

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