USF football players to watch this season

Oregon transfer Darrian Felix (2) has received high praise from coach Jeff Scott. He’s expected to play a major role in the Bulls’ offense this season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Naturally, a lot of excitement is building around USF this season. The Bulls have an entirely new coaching staff, system, and, of course, talented new players.

Adding to a list of transfers and freshmen, some returning Bulls have upped their game in the offseason and are expected to make a splash in 2020.

Here are some players likely to stand out this season.

Quarterback – Jordan McCloud

Then-redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud was thrust into the starting role in 2019 after an ankle injury left Blake Barnett out for the season after four games. 

McCloud tried to be the quarterback USF needed, but it didn’t quite work out that way — he averaged a conference-low 55.4 percent pass completion rate and threw for an average of 119 yards per game.

This year is set to be different, however. He’s gotten better, faster and stronger — he weighed 183 pounds at the end of last season, and his target goal is 200 before the season opener.

Expect a vast improvement this season.

Running back – Darrian Felix

Jordan Cronkrite was USF’s go-to for rushing yards in recent years. He led USF with 687 yards on 136 carries and was a pivotal part of the Bulls’ offense. 

Naturally, the one to watch next is the one who assumed Cronkrite’s jersey number. And for good reason too.

Junior Oregon transfer Darrian Felix put up some of his best numbers with the Ducks last season, rushing for 197 yards and scoring two touchdowns in 34 carries. Also, he’s impressed coach Jeff Scott during fall camp, which goes a long way.

“He has really good vision to what he’s doing, and I’m really excited to get an opportunity to watch him play this fall,” Scott said.

Felix is expected to make an impact as the new kid on the block, bringing Pac-12 experience to the table.

Wide receiver – Randall St. Felix

Collectively, receivers weren’t a strong suit last season. They gained an average of 169.58 yards per game compared with USF’s opponents’ 189.5. Junior Randall St. Felix, who was publicly called out last season by former coach Charlie Strong for not producing, topped that list with 22 receptions for 261 yards.

With a new arsenal of quarterbacks and an offseason to improve, St. Felix is now poised to thrive under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.’s new scheme and take over as one of, if not the most valuable receiver for USF this season.

Tight end – Mitchell Brinkman

It’s hard to replace Mitchell Wilcox, a guy who was often the heartbeat of USF’s offense last season. 

But take a guy with the same name and number, and you’ve got a good shot. Northern Illinois grad transfer Mitchell Brinkman’s best season came last year — he played in all 12 games for the Huskies and scored three touchdowns with 445 receiving yards.

The year before, Brinkman sat out most of the season with injury but came back in time to make a big impact in the 2018 MAC championship 30-29 win over Buffalo. 

A then-career-high three catches for 42 yards in the championship game paved the way for his standout 2019 season. Plus, it established him as a trophy winner. USF could definitely benefit from someone with that mentality.

Offensive line – Brad Cecil

USF’s offensive line was not good last year. The Bulls ranked dead last in the AAC for sacks against (45) for 246 yards.

The addition of new offensive line coach Allen Mogridge is set to change things.

Last season, Mogridge led a Florida International line that only gave up 14 sacks for 84 yards.

Under Mogridge’s tutelage, the Bulls’ O-line is set to undergo a metamorphosis, and junior center Brad Cecil will quite literally be in the middle of it. 

Cecil has already garnered significant praise for his leadership by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.

“Brad Cecil is a guy who I think really took that group and had a lot of pride about it in getting it right and making sure to have a great season this year,” Weis Jr. said.

Expect Cecil to take the reins of the line this season.

Defensive line – Kevin Kegler

USF is now without arguably two of the best defensive linemen the program has ever seen — Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone. 

No doubt a significant blow, USF has the veteran leadership to make up for the loss.

Defensive tackle Kevin Kegler is one of those vets. He racked up 12 tackles with 4.5 for loss last season. Kegler has the USF tenure to carry the leadership mantle.

Linebacker – Dwayne Boyles

Junior Dwayne Boyles was one of the shining beacon’s in USF’s defense — he led the team last season with 75 total tackles with 12.5 for a loss of 45 yards. In the conference, Boyles ranked 12th in tackles for loss and 17th in tackles, making him the highest-ranked returning USF defensive player.

Tabbed to the preseason All-AAC defensive team by College Football News, Boyles is set to make an explosive impact once again for USF’s defense.

Boyles was nationally recognized last season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t turn some heads again this season.

Defensive back – KJ Sails

“The Mayor’”of Tampa, as he is so aptly nicknamed, is noted for his off-field leadership. His performance on the field is just as notable. 

Last season, KJ Sails led USF in interceptions with three for 68 yards. He contributed significantly to a pass defense that topped the AAC and ranked 15th nationally — the Bulls made 12 interceptions and limited their opponents to 189.5 passing yards per game.

Sails has already made an impression in the offseason, having been listed on the Athlon Preseason All-Conference First Team and the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List.

It’s likely USF’s secondary will continue its hot streak this season, and “The Mayor” will continue to lead it.

Punter – Trent Schneider

The Aussie punter was invaluable last season, and coming up big in clutch situations is his forte. His 61-yard punt against BYU set up a defensive stop that led USF to a 27-23 win.

An average of 46 punting yards per game last season had him ranked as the 11th best punter in the nation.

Trent Schneider’s preseason accolades speak for themselves — he’s been added to the Ray Guy Award Watch List and he’s a William V. Campbell Trophy Candidate. Needless to say, he’s one of the program’s best punters.

Undoubtedly, Schneider’s big boot will continue to swing well for USF.

Kicker – Jared Sackett

USF made a measly 7-of-14 field goals last season, finishing at the bottom of the AAC. Plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, USF struggled to find a reliable kicker.

Arkansas junior transfer Jared Sackett is set to inject some much-needed consistency this season. Sackett is 33-of-41 on career field-goal attempts and he’s 13-of-20 from 40 yards or more.

He’s already made an impression after being named to the Lou Groza Award Watch List and will likely improve a position that was severely lacking last season.