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University of South Florida: Early Momentum?

Bulls lose several key pieces, setting the stage for a non-conference upset.

Illinois v South Florida Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images

I’m going out on a limb.

I believe that Illinois football has a very winnable early season matchup against a South Florida program that lost a lot from a 10-2 that finished the 2017 season ranked No. 21 in the nation.

A daunting task it may be, but the personnel losses for the Bulls could be monumental in Illinois overcoming a perceived talent deficit. That includes star quarterback Quinton Flowers, the leader of the offense and, inarguably, the greatest quarterback in the history of the program.

Joining him on the offensive graduation list is leading rusher Darius Tice, three wide receivers including leading receiver Marquez-Valdes Spalding and two of their best offensive linemen in center Cameron Ruff and left guard Jeremi Hall.

It doesn't end there, as the defense also loses career tackles record holder, linebacker Auggie Sanchez, as well as stud defensive back Deatrick Nichols. They also lose both starting defensive tackles and a bevy of depth players who contributed towards a brilliant season.

Meanwhile, Illinois happens to be on the opposite end of the spectrum, as they return basically every starter outside of Malik Turner and Patrick Nelson. We also added depth at key positions with the recently signed 2018 class and boosted our talent in the coaching ranks, including Rod Smith, whose offensive identity will create a much more exciting brand of football than what we're used to.

Recently added cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd will also lend his expertise to a young and potentially breakout group of defensive backs, including Nate Hobbs and Tony Adams. Along with the youth of Austin Clark as the D-line coach, and Cory Patterson as Illinois tight ends coach, the coaching room will be a lot more adept at getting the most out of the youth on this team.

The most important position to pull off the upset will be at quarterback, no question. Cam Thomas will get the early nod based on experience, but this freshman class of QBs could make some noise, including MJ Rivers and Peoria native Coran Taylor, who both fit this new style of offense perfectly. If the quarterback position is set by this game, we could pull off something we didn’t do all of last season: beat a Power Five team.

Of course Charlie Strong is no slouch, and the USF coaching staff has proven that they can do a little coaching of their own. The Bulls also return enough talent to make this game a tough non-conference test. With a little luck, and a revamped, hungry team and staff, Illinois will win this game. Call me an optimist, but there’s enough uncertainty with the Bulls that I truly believe we can win this game.

You can rub it in my nose if we lose by 30 again.