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Looking into the 2018 football recruiting class

USF coach Charlie Strong’s 2018 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 53 in the nation by 247 Sports and No. 43 by SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

For 23 seniors in USF football, the Bull’s bowl game in December will be the last they ever play in green and gold.

Leaders such as quarterback Quinton Flowers and linebacker Auggie Sanchez will be gone for the 2018 season. Impact players such as cornerback Deatrick Nichols, defensive tackle Deadrin Senat and running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson will be too.

So, who’s next to step up and compensate for the loss of one the best senior classes in USF history, which won a total of 32 games and led the Bulls to a program record 12 straight wins in the 2016-17 seasons?

First off, the Bulls will return seven starters on offense and five on defense.

Helping to fill in the gaps, however, will be the Bulls’ 2018 recruiting class, which is currently ranked No. 3 in the AAC by 247 Sports, trailing UCF and Cincinnati. On a national scale, the Bulls are ranked No. 53 in the country by 247 Sports.

According to Rivals, a website dedicated to tracking college recruiting like 247 Sports, USF has the No. 43 class in the nation for 2018 and the second best in the AAC, trailing only Houston, which is ranked one spot higher than the Bulls at No. 42 nationally.

Though national rankings will continue to shift throughout the rest of 2017 and into 2018, the Bulls’ three-star filled recruiting class is already shaping up to be slightly better than the 2017 class that finished as the No. 69 class in the nation by Rivals and No. 76 by 247 Sports.

With as many recruits coming in as there are seniors leaving the program, all 23 of USF’s current 2018 “hard commitments” are three-star athletes, with three of them ranked nationally by both Rivals and 247 Sports.

The USF recruit with the highest ranking, No. 596 nationally, is wide receiver Zion Roland of the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg. Roland, 5-foot-11, has offers from numerous Power-5 schools, including Florida, but committed to the Bulls on Sept. 9 after committing and decommitting from Louisville.

Part of Roland’s decision in choosing USF was the possibility for him to play immediately as a freshman.

“They said I can start as a true freshman,” Roland told Scout. “I love the coaching staff. USF is not far away from family and I’m looking forward to making an impact as a true freshman in the Tampa Bay area. USF is getting a true dog. I am a dog, and that’s all a team needs because in the clutch, they can depend on me to win the one-on-one matchup.”

The other two players with a national ranking are cornerback Vincent Davis (688) and offensive guard Sebastian Sainterling (750).

The trio of Sainterling, Davis and Roland are all recruits from the state of Florida, as are 19 other USF recruits, with only recruits Octavious Battle and Antonio Grier coming from out of state — both of which go to high school in Atlanta.

All 23 of the athletes currently committed to USF will be able to officially sign with the school beginning December of the first year of the college football signing period.

Beginning Dec. 20, prospective student-athletes can sign their National Letters of Intent. The 72-hour window will close Dec. 22 and the next opportunity to sign a National Letter of Intent will be at any point between the first Wednesday in February and April 1, which is the ‘traditional’ national signing period.

With the 2017 season done for non-bowl-eligible teams, USF may add to its recruiting class via transfer players.

One player on the Bulls’ radar is former Illinois linebacker Tre Watson, who announced via Twitter on Monday that he’d seek another institution to play his final year of eligibility and mentioned USF as a potential school he’d choose.

Watson, a Tampa native and Tampa Catholic High School alumnus, tied for the Big Ten lead in tackles in conference games (93) and became only the third Illini underclassman since 2000 to finish with 100 or more tackles (102) in 2016.

With senior linebacker and USF all time tackles leader Sanchez graduating after this season, Watson could fill a huge gap in the USF defense that’s losing six starters this season.

“I am considering any program where I can come right in and be that impact linebacker, win football games, and be supported by a coaching staff who believes in me and has my back,” Watson told the Tampa Bay Times. “In doing so I’ll be able to contribute to a team competing for championships.”