Notre Dame Football: Previewing the Irish against new opponent USF

Notre Dame football recently added the University of South Florida Bulls to the schedule for the 2020, perhaps bringing back bad memories for Irish fans.

The newest opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule is USF. I’m sure everyone has fond memories of them from 2011.

Yes, they’re not the first choice of an AAC team to play (Navy), or even the second (Cincinnati), but it’s nice to have teams added to the schedule instead of being subtracted.

USF is coming off a disastrous 2019 season, which saw them go 4-8 and stumble up and down on offense.

No matter who it is against, it was good to add another game to 2020. It’s good for fans who want to watch games, and for players who want to play them. It’s good for USF, an AAC team, who has to deal with filling four out of conference slots still. It’s good for Notre Dame’s revenue, as they’ll add another NBC game.

2019 USF

Charlie Strong took over the Titanic in 2017. It was a strong ship, seemingly headed for success. Well, there were some inherent flaws. In USF’s case, facilities and funding have fallen behind even their AAC rivals. This means that to succeed, one would need an energetic coach to recruit players. That never was Charlie Strong. After Quinton Flowers graduated, former Alabama 5-star quarterback, Blake Barnett, came in. Barnett proved to be a disappointment, often injured and never reaching the height the Flowers era. Jordan McCloud finished the year as the starting quarterback.

McCloud was a freshman, and it showed. He played in all 12 games, but threw for just 1,429 yards on 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. At best, he was ineffective. USF was fast at the skills positions, though. Jordan Cronkrite, a senior in 2019, had over 5 yards a carry and 15 touchdowns. Cronkrite wasn’t the only solid back for the Bulls, though. Johnny Ford, who dealt with injuries in 2019, ran for 787 yards as a freshman in 2018. Meanwhile, Kelley Joiner averaged 5.1 carries per game as a freshman.

TAMPA, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 23: Chris Oladokun #10 hands the ball off to Johnny Ford #20 of the South Florida Bulls during the third quarter against the UCF Knights at Raymond James Stadium on November 23, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

USF’s injuries issues, and regression from 2018, can be attributed to the abysmal offensive line. The dam wall burst early and often for USF in 2019. The Bulls were 126th in the country in sacks allowed, at 3.75 sacks a game. Remember, that’s out of 130 teams.

On defense, USF found more success. They were especially talented at forcing turnovers. USF finished 15th in turnovers forced, with a total of 24. They were able to do this on the back of an excellent secondary. KJ Sails and Mike Hampton combined to make one of the stronger secondary combinations in the AAC. Between the two of them, they had 7 of last season’s turnovers.

2020 USF

USF is entering a full blow rebuild. While Jordan McCloud returns, it’s an open competition at quarterback. Cade Fortin (North Carolina transfer), Noah Johnson (Alcorn State), and even freshman Jordan Smith will compete for the job.

Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of Randall St. Felix to throw to. While St. Felix’s numbers haven’t jumped out to anyone, his natural athletic ability does. USF also benefits from the return of Ford and Joiner in the backfield. However, it doesn’t matter who the skills players are, unless the offensive line takes an unexpected leap forward.

On defense, USF will be led by those corners, Sails and Hampton, again. They’ll be asking for even more turnovers out of the defense, because the offense is going to need layups to score much at all. The issue for the Bulls is simple, there’s not a lot of refined talent after that on the defensive side of the ball.

Next: 3 Bold Predictions for Notre Dame Football in 2020
Prediction

While there is a lot of natural talent on USF’s roster, at best it is raw talent. It is young talent, and it isn’t ready to show up in big moments. Notre Dame 45, USF 9

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