With a little more than three months until USF’s regular season opener in football against Wofford, the anticipation is building.
USF is coming off an 8-5 season that saw the highs of a win over nationally ranked Kansas to the lows of another mid-season Big East slump.
If the Bulls want to turn their conference misfortunes around, they’ll have to rely on how the best of the best on the team perform, which sparks the question: Who are USF’s top 10 football players?
To help quell some preseason anticipation, here are some insights from the Oracle’s top 10 on who coach Jim Leavitt will be looking to next season.
No. 10 — Zach Hermann, junior offensive guard
USF will be entering the 2009 season with an inexperienced offensive line, and Zach Hermann’s leadership will make or break the chemistry in the trenches.
The 6-foot-3 junior has appeared in 20 career games with 18 starts, including a redshirt-freshman season in which he had 70 knockdowns and started every game. Last season, Hermann only appeared in seven games because of a foot injury suffered during the North Carolina State game.
Hermann’s injury woes continued into the spring, when he struggled with a concussion. If he can stay healthy this season, he’ll be an integral part of USF’s offense.
No. 9 — Terrell McClain, junior nose tackle
Though Terrell McClain, like Hermann, battled with injury all last season, he still managed 32 tackles and three sacks, eighth and third on the team, respectively.
McClain started nine games last season despite an early ankle injury.
McClain is a player that opposing offenses must always keep an eye on because of his large frame — 6-foot-3, 306 pounds — and great motor skills. Like Hermann, his impact will depend on his health. McClain had a good showing in his limited time during April 11’s spring game and could be considered one of the best in the Big East entering next season.
No. 8 — Kion Wilson, senior linebacker
Kion Wilson, who has only been at USF one season after transferring from junior college, started 11 of the 13 games he played in, collecting 66 tackles for third best on the team.
As the only returning starter on a linebacker group lacking depth, Wilson will have a crucial leadership role.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Wilson has big shoes to fill — former teammate Tyrone McKenzie, previously the heartand soul of the Bulls’ defense, was drafted by the New England Patriots this spring. With a similar performance this year, Wilson could prove that he too belongs in the NFL.
No. 7 — Dontavia Bogan, junior wide receiver
Dontavia Bogan can do a lot of things on the football field.
Aside from being a solid option for quarterback Matt Grothe as a wide receiver, Bogan set school records with 770 kickoff return yards on 29 attempts — an average of 26.6 yards per return.
Bogan’s best performance was against Connecticut on Nov. 15 when he gained 135 yards in returns, averaging a Big East record of 67.5 yards per return, besting former Miami Hurricane standout Devin Hester’s 62.5 yards.
The junior will be a part of the kickoff return team again this year and will be important in setting up field position for the Bulls’ offense.
Bogan also finished with 354 yards and one touchdown as a receiver last season. With some of the best hands on the team, he’ll have a vital role in moving the ball next year.
No. 6 — Mike Ford, junior running back
When Mike Ford was recruited two years ago, he was tagged as USF’s most prized recruit in program history, yet has put up mediocre numbers at best, totaling a little more than 1,000 yards in that time.
However, Ford was hampered by an ankle injury for most of last season and still led all running backs with 417 yards.
Ford has 17 touchdowns in his career, but hasn’t broken out as the premiere back the Bulls’ offense has lacked for quite some time. There’s a strong chance the junior from Sarasota will become that this year after shedding 20 pounds in the offseason.
If Ford can remain focused, USF may finally have its first 1,000-yard rusher since Andre Hall in 2004 and 2005.
— For No.’s 1-5, pick up Thursday’s Oracle.