Scouting USF’s slate of opponents in 2015

USF's defense faces its share of tough opponents this season, including an early road trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

FLORIDA A&M 

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

2014 record: 3-9 (Division I-AA) 

Who to watch: QB Carson Royal, RB Gerald Hearns, LB Akil Blount, LB Luke Helms

The skinny: The Rattlers have finished toward the bottom of the MEAC the last few seasons, but first-year coach Alex Wood hopes to help change that with a style based around intensity. After a dreadful ending to last year, in which FAMU lost four of its last five games, Wood has instituted some new scheme changes, including a switch to a 4-3 defense.

at FLORIDA STATE 

When: Sept. 12, 11:30 a.m.

2014 record: 13-1

Who to watch: QB Everett Golson, QB Sean Maguire, RB Dalvin Cook, WR Bobo Wilson, WR Kermit Whitfield, K Roberto Aguayo

The skinny: USF will get another shot to play world-beaters and earn a marquee victory for the first time in years, but it will be anything but easy. QB Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, has moved onto greener pastures in the NFL with the Buccaneers, but his former team — which has lost just one game in two years — remains a viable threat to win its second national title in three years. The Bulls better eat their Wheaties before this early, primetime matchup in Tallahassee.

at MARYLAND 

When: Sept. 19, noon

2014 record: 7-6

Who to watch: QB Caleb Rowe, RB Brandon Ross, WR Levern Jacobs, CB William Likely, CB Sean Davis

The skinny: The Bulls forced six turnovers against the Terrapins last season at Raymond James Stadium — and lost by a touchdown. Now, coming off a somewhat surprisingly successful Big Ten debut after jumping from the ACC, Maryland looks to take its next step toward earning respect against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. USF, meanwhile, will attempt to bring the Terps back to earth.

MEMPHIS

When: Oct. 2, 7 p.m.

2014 record: 10-3 (7-1 American Athletic Conference)

Who to watch: QB Paxton Lynch, WR Mose Frazier, TE Alan Cross, DE/LB Jackson Dillon, K Jake Elliott 

The skinny: Coach Justin Fuente helped his Tigers reach once-unimaginable heights last season by leading them to their first 10-win season since 1938 and a share of the AAC title with Cincinnati and Central Florida. Not a bad storyline for the Bulls’ conference opener.

SYRACUSE

When: Oct. 10, TBA

2014 record: 3-9

Who to watch: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Erv Phillips, WR Steve Ishmael, DL Ron Thompson, LB Zaire Franklin

The skinny: One of the Big East’s best rivalries finally returns, only with much less fanfare than before. Since USF’s 37-17 victory at Syracuse in 2011, both programs have found themselves stuck in reverse. Remarkably, the Bulls haven’t beaten a Division I-A opponent by double digits since. If the Bulls come up short, this could be USF coach Willie Taggart’s make-or-break game. 

at CONNECTICUT

When: Oct. 17, TBA

2014 record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)

Who to watch: QB Tim Boyle, QB Bryant Shirreffs, RB Ron Johnson, WR Noel Thomas, FS Andrew Adams, LB Graham Stewart

The skinny: USF has beaten the Huskies in back-to-back campaigns, but this year’s matchup won’t be a cakewalk by any means. The Bulls’ two victories have come by a combined six points — thanks mostly to the right leg of now-graduated kicker Marvin Kloss. And though its record didn’t reflect it, UConn remained generally competitive in most of its games with the biggest prize being a 37-29 upset win over Central Florida in Storrs. Expect this one to be close again.

SOUTHERN METHODIST

When: Oct. 24, TBA

2014 record: 1-11 (1-7 AAC)

Who to watch: QB Matt Davis, RB Prescott Line, WR Darius Joseph, WR Deion Sanders Jr., DL Darrian Wright

The skinny: After finishing one win short of bowl eligibility in 2013, the Mustangs were in shambles last year, limping to a seven-point victory over UConn in Week 15 to avoid going winless. Still, the Bulls struggled at a rainy SMU, needing a last-second touchdown pass from backup Mike White to fend off what would have been arguably the most embarrassing loss in program history. New coach Chad Morris, the former Clemson offensive coordinator, has the Mustangs on the right track with his up-tempo style. But it will take more time to heal from that debacle.

at NAVY

When: Oct. 31, noon

2014 record: 8-5

Who to watch: QB Keenan Reynolds, FB Chris Swain, WR Jamir Tillman, DL Bernard Sarra

The skinny: Welcome to the AAC, Midshipmen. While the Naval Academy is joining its first conference for football after shedding its long-standing independent status, it is no stranger to AAC opponents. Navy owns a 34-27-1 record against current conference members, and should compete right away for the league crown. This will be the first meeting between USF and the Midshipmen. 

at EAST CAROLINA

When: Nov. 7, TBA

2014 record: 8-5 (5-3 AAC)

Who to watch: WR Isaiah Jones, DE Johnathon White, LB Zeek Bigger, CB Josh Hawkins, S Domonique Lemon

The skinny: This should have been USF’s sterling moment of 2014. Seemingly on its way to an upset win, the Bulls blew a 17-7 halftime lead and lost 28-17. Though Carden, the AAC’s reigning player of the year, is gone, the Pirates still boast a more-than-capable offense, headed by Jones. The defense – 11th in the nation in rushing yards allowed last season – isn’t too shabby either.

TEMPLE

When: Nov. 14, TBA

2014 record: 6-6 (4-4 AAC)

Who to watch: QB P.J. Walker, WR Branden Shippen, OL Kyle Friend, LB Tyler Matakevich, DB Sean Chandler

The skinny: Though this is the Owls’ third season in the AAC, it will be the first time they have played the Bulls since 2012. Things have changed for Temple since it handed USF a 37-28 defeat during Skip Holtz’s final year, before finishing 4-7. The Owls are much more competitive under the guidance of coach Matt Rhule. If it weren’t for a skid in which they lost five of seven down the stretch, the Owls would have been in conversation for the conference title.

CINCINNATI

When: Nov. 20, 8 p.m.

2014 record: 9-4 (7-1 AAC)

Who to watch: QB Gunner Kiel, RB Michael Boone, WR Shaq Washington, DE Silverberry Mouhon, CB Adrian Witty, S Zach Edwards

The skinny: After a 26-20 win for their first AAC victory in 2013, the Bulls were humbled by the Bearcats in a loss that began their tumble from bowl eligibility last season. With eight returning starters on offense, Cincy is considered the favorite to take home the conference title again. If USF is still in bowl contention at this point in the season, this could turn into a must-win game.

at CENTRAL FLORIDA

When: Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m.

2014 record: 9-4 (7-1 AAC)

Who to watch: QB Justin Holman, RB William Stanback, WR Jordan Akins, DL Thomas Niles, DL Jamiyus Pittman, LB Chequan Burkett

The skinny: The Bulls are far removed from the days of hanging 64 points on the Knights as they did in 2007 and now face the very real possibility of losing to their rival for the third straight season. While UCF has been busy celebrating conference titles and polishing its Fiesta Bowl rings from 2014, USF has been left to stew over its pair of somewhat close defeats (23-20 in 2013, 16-0 last season). This year’s meeting will be televised by ESPN under the lights on Thanksgiving, and it looks to be the most important one of the year for Bulls, who are 0-10 all-time in Thursday night games on ESPN.

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