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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: South Florida

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at South Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, which could occur with the COVID-19 outbreak, there are nine Saturday’s until the Nevada Football team will kickoff its 2020 season. Here is a look at its 2020 schedule:

Nevada Football 2020 Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
August 29 vs. UC Davis TBD TBD --------- ---------
September 5 at Arkansas TBD TBD 93 66
September 12 vs. UTEP TBD TBD 128 129
September 19 at South Florida TBD TBD 95 86
September 26 vs. San Diego State TBD TBD 71 88
October 3 at Hawai'i TBD TBD 79 119
October 10 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
October 17 at New Mexico TBD TBD 121 124
October 24 vs. Fresno State TBD TBD 81 93
October 31 vs. Utah State TBD TBD 73 85
November 7 at San Jose State TBD TBD 103 108
November 14 vs. Wyoming TBD TBD 68 77
November 21 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
November 28 at UNLV TBD TBD 116 117

Each Friday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2020 schedule. This week, we will be previewing their week four matchup: the USF Bulls.

Previous weeks:

6/12: Week 1 vs. UC Davis

6/19: Week 2 at Arkansas

6/26: Week 3 vs. UTEP

Week 4: USF Bulls

2019 Record: 4-8 (2-6 AAC)

When: Saturday, Sept. 19

Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Matchup History: USF leads 1-0

USF 2019 season-in-review:

USF fell in three of its first four contests, with its lone win coming in a 55-16 rout over South Carolina State. The Bulls followed up with victories three of their next four games, breaking even at 4-4 heading into the final four contests on the season. They lost in each of those final four games — three of them coming at home — averaging just 10.3 points per game combined in those four games.

Offense:

USF’s offense struggled last year — ranking No. 113 nationally in offensive efficiency according to ESPN’s efficiency metric. It placed last in the American Athletic Conference and No. 112 nationally in total offense (330.8 ypg) while ranking No. 115 in scoring (20.8 ppg). USF had trouble sustaining drives, producing the seventh-fewest first downs per contest at 16.7 per game.

North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin and returning starter Jordan McCloud are competing for the starting quarterback spot. Fortin made two starts with the Tar Heels in 2018 before redshirting. He completed 32-of-65 passes (49.2 percent) for 388 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Fortin entered the transfer portal prior to the start of the 2019 season, effectively sitting out the entire year before choosing USF in December. The 6-foot-3 signal caller has three years of eligibility remaining.

McCloud completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 1,429 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions in ten starts last season. Standing at 6-foot and 190 pounds, McCloud is a notable dual-threat talent. He was second on the team in carries (105), rushing for 283 yards with four rushing touchdowns.

NCAA Football: Memphis at South Florida
South Florida Bulls quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) scrambles to elude Memphis Tigers defensive lineman O’Bryan Goodson (1).
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most eye-popping storylines for the Bulls heading into 2020 is how playmaker Johnny Ford will be utilized.

Ford emerged onto the scene at tailback as a freshman in 2018, leading the team in yards per carry (6.8 ypc) while finishing second in carries (115), rushing yards (787) and rushing touchdowns (8). His 6.8 yards per carry was third in the conference and No. 12 nationally — tying for the second-best season mark in USF history behind Quinton Flowers’ 7.7 yards per attempt in 2016.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida
South Florida Bulls running back Johnny Ford (20) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the UCF Knights.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ford, standing at 5-foot-5 and 180-pounds, moved to slot receiver in fall camp last year, where he made three starts. Ford caught 13 passes for 149 yards with two receiving touchdowns and added 103 yards (on 19 carries) with two scores on the ground.

Will Ford be slotted back at running back or stick at receiver in 2020? That question remains unanswered. Ford received double-digit carries just once last year (11 in the season-finale versus UCF) after eclipsing that mark six times in 2018.

If he used at running back, Ford will likely compete with Kelley Joiner Jr. and Oregon transfer Darrian Felix for the starting job. Joiner Jr. is USF’s top returning rusher, totaling 364 yards on 71 carries (5.1 yards per carry). Felix was stuck behind C.J. Verdell, Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Iikio on Oregon’s depth chart. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound tailback totaled 34 carries for 197 yards with two rushing scores and added six catches for 78 yards.

The Bulls lost tight end Mitchell Wilcox, who posted team-highs in catches (28), receiving yards (350) and receiving touchdowns (5).

Nobody else recorded more than 25 catches. Their most dynamic returning pass catcher is Randall St. Felix, who had 22 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns last year. Bryce Miller and former Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom round out the receiving corps. Miller was third on the team in receptions (21) and receiving yards (232) — leading all returning wideouts with four touchdowns. McDoom hauled in 13 receptions for 174 yards in ten starts.

The offensive line was arguably its weakest link last season. It was No. 124 in the nation in sacks allowed (45.0) and No. 101 tackles-for-losses given up (85.0). Its entire left side of the offensive line returns in left tackle Donovan Jennings, left guard Demetris Harris and center Brad Cecil. Look for the holes on the right of the line to be filled by Michael Wiggs and Jarrett Hopple.

Defense:

The Bulls placed No. 70 in the nation in defensive efficiency and No. 71 in total defense (398.1 ypg) last year.

USF returns nearly its entire starting secondary that ranked atop the conference and No. 15 nationally in pass defense (189.5 ypg). The lone man who won’t return is defensive back Devin Studstill, who finished second on the team in tackles (74), fourth in passes defended (4) and third in interceptions (1) in his only season at USF.

Seniors Mike Hampton and KJ Sails lead the secondary at the cornerback spot. Sails, who earned second-team All-American Athletic conference honors last year, totaled 42 tackles while posting team-highs in interceptions (3), pass breakups (6) and fumble recoveries (2).

His nine passes defended (interceptions + pass breakups) ranked T-15 in the conference while his three interceptions ranked T-6. Sails tallied 42 tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss. The 5-foot-11 corner was recently ranked as the 20th-best player in the conference heading into 2020, per collegefootballnews.com.

Following a breakout 2018 campaign, Hampton’s performance declined last season. Hampton — who earned all-conference honors after finishing Top-10 in the nation in passes defended (18) in 2018 — finished with six pass breakups and zero interceptions in 2019.

Juniors Nick Roberts and Bentlee Sanders are expected to contribute to the safety position. Roberts finished fourth on the team in tackles last year with 63 and was second in pass breakups (5) and interceptions (2). He also totaled five tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Sanders registered 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and one interception last season.

The front-seven did a poor job stopping the run last season, ranking No. 114 in the nation and second-worst in the conference in rush defense (208.6 ypg). However, when they were able to generate pressure in the backfield, they did take advantage. USF was T-15 nationally in tackles-for-loss (99.0) and T-57 in sacks (29.0).

Linebacker and leading tackler Dwayne Boyles is expected to lead that group. Boyles finished with 75 tackles, a team-high 12.5 tackles-for-loss along with three sacks. Along with Sails, Boyles projects as a Top-20 player in the conference heading into 2020 — coming in at No. 17. Antonio Grier, who started in six games, will make an impact at the middle linebacker spot. Grier finished sixth on the team in tackles with 58, adding 8.5 tackles-for-loss, four sacks, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. Demaurez Bellamy (20 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) and Andrew Mims (31 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, one sack) both bring experience too.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 BYU at USF
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) tries to avoid being sacked by South Florida Bulls linebacker Dwayne Boyles (11).
Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

USF’s lose its three most experienced lineman (Darius Slade, Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone) to graduation.

Blake Green and Rashawn Yates are the only two returning defensive lineman with starting experience. Yates, who started in six games, totaled 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Green finished with 23 tackles and one tackle-for-loss in five starts.

Kelvin Pinkney (13 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack) and Kevin Kegler (12 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss) both add starting experience, while Jason Vaughn (14 tackles, three tackles-for-loss) and Tyrik Jones (six tackles, one sack) will also attempt to fill the voids on the defensive line.

Overall:

This could likely be Nevada’s toughest non-conference opponent. Former Clemson co-offensive coordinator and newly-hired head coach Jeff Scott looks to rejuvenate a program two years removed from a 10-win season. Scott has brought in a welcoming culture with lots of optimism in his first few months since being hired. It was largely an inconsistent 2019 season for USF, ending on a bitter slide. The Bulls lost key pieces off both sides, but ultimately bring back multiple key skill players along with a tremendous secondary which could be a road block when the two teams meet in September.