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Behind Enemy Lines: USF Pre-Game

Collin Sherwin of SBNation’s own The Daily Stampede stops by to talk about this weekend’s game in Chicago.

The South Florida Bulls are coming to Chicago to take on the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Here to discuss the Bulls, the Illini, the game, and how to rebuild a program, is Collin Sherwin, Site Manager over at SB Nation’s own The Daily Stampede.

Be sure to come back on Monday when we convene once again to talk about the results of the game. Collin had some great answers for this interview, I can only imagine what he’ll have to talk about afterwards.


1. The USF Bulls are off to a 2-0 start with an impressive win over Georgia Tech last weekend. For anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to lay eyes on the Bulls this year, explain to them what this team is in layman’s terms.

Fast. USF has tons of speed on both sides of the ball, but is a bit younger than in years past. Offensively they’re a veer-and-shoot team that is filled with capable playmakers at the skill positions. Defensively it’s a 4-2-5 system that looked a bit better last week on the D-line than we were anticipating. But the thing with USF is just the amount of guys who can fly, and there’s real depth on offense outside of the O-line. There’s only one other team in the Group of Five that can consistently compete on that level, and they’re 90 miles up the road from us and we very much dislike each other.

2. Blake Barnett was a Top 5 QB recruit when he originally enrolled at Alabama. Then he transferred to Arizona State. Then he transferred to your neck of the woods. How good is this guy?

We just weren’t sure when he got here because if a guy is a third-stringer at Arizona State, how good could he really be? Also Charlie Strong doesn’t really let us watch practice like his two predecessors did, so we’re just going off what we hear.

But he appears to be the real deal. Big arm, big kid, accurate on intermediate and deep balls... and he can run! His mobility when the pocket broke down or when the defense didn’t account for him is how we beat Georgia Tech last week and scored seven touchdowns. I was skeptical as USF’s history with troubled transfers has certainly been mixed, but I think they found a keeper that’s eligible next year as well.

3. It’s becoming more and more known recently that college QBs transfer a lot — nearly half of all 4- and 5- star quarterbacks have transferred over the past five seasons. What do you make of all this movement? Is this the start of college football “free agency”? Will other positions start doing it more often too?

The difference between QB and other positions is there’s only ever one on the field. An RB logjam might be solved by finding a role for a backup in the slot. At linebacker, you can shift from Sam to Will if needed. But since there’s only one QB, and it’s the most important position for success in team sports, the movement to find the right fit between offense and coaching staff makes sense. Especially with the new transfer rules, it’s not going anywhere either.

4. Who else on the team do we need to know about? Preferably one from the offense and the defense. And who’s your greatest NFL prospect?

We’re basically a Tyre McCants stan-blog nowadays. He’s your typical 5’11, 240 lb. wide receiver who can pancake block a cement wall downfield. He’s also a playmaker with speed, and loves to run through contact. He’s lethal on bubble screens as he can go around or through defenders once he catches it. If you’ve seen the video of a guy dragging another man five yards into the end zone in the USF-UCF game that became a national highlight, that was him.

On defense, Ronnie Hoggins has been terrific. Just 5’8 but with great cover skills and the ability to tackle in space. Also good on the ball with the ability to jump a route for a turnover.

5. We here in Illinois have a lot of major football history — the Fighting Illini and the Bears are old, old football teams with history that predates my grandpa. But USF is only in the midst of their 19th FBS season (with only five of those being losing seasons). What’s it like to watch a program’s legacy being defined?

For a lot of us, we don’t know any other way. We were founded in 1997 (it’s actually our 21st season) so a lot of us can rattle off the big plays and stats from every big game in school history. We all know we won our first game 80-3, that we beat Pitt for our first P5 win on the road in 2001 with Marquel Blackwell, Matt Grothe to Jesse Hester at Auburn, Ben Moffitt’s INT vs. West Virginia, Kayvon Webster’s 99-yard scoop-and-score at Notre Dame... there’s a shared history there I don’t think a lot of schools have. We’ve been through it all together, which is pretty cool. There’s a ton of fans that have been to every bowl game we’ve ever played (I missed the Sun Bowl in ‘07 and still feel great shame).

But then I hired these kids to run the blog and they don’t even know Chad Barnhardt was USF’s starting quarterback in our first game in ‘97, and I feel so old.

6. Your most recent head coach, Willie Taggart (now the head man at FSU), took the Bulls from bottom-dwellers to conference champions by his third season. Please tell us: How does one do this? Also, don’t just say, “Get Florida recruits”.

Honestly: just keep kids home. If we can keep the high-3-star-low-4-star kids from going to lower-tier Big 10 and Big 12 schools (Iowa State, Minnesota, Indiana, y’all, etc.), plus hit on the blue-chip kids who fall through the cracks or want to stay in Tampa for whatever reason, we can beat anyone on any given day that’s not coached by Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney.

High school football down here is just so loaded with talent, and not just in Tampa but everywhere in a four-hour direction from our campus. Across the state kids play basically year-round (7 on 7 in the spring and summer), and there’s just a better level of coaching at the youth and high school levels here than most places. We reject kids that end up as players at other schools, and sometimes come back to beat us because we just didn’t have room at their position on the roster.

I picked USF to win 10 games this year despite their youth for two reasons: our schedule is pretty cupcake (Ga. Tech was the scary game), and we just have better players than everyone we face. Most teams have to adjust what they want to do to the kids they can recruit: we can take kids that fit what our system is amongst the overwhelming number of non 5-star kids we can get to by driving to in-home visits.

7. Collin, you mentioned to me that you would be in Chicago for the weekend to cover the game. What are you’re plans while you’re in the Windy City? I’m sure if you’re still searching our readers would be willing to give you a few recommendations.

Cubs game on Friday, dinner with some friends Friday night, and a tailgate Saturday morning. Still trying for Hamilton tickets too but not looking great. Fortunately I know a few Chicago folks who have plenty of recs, but am always looking for more, and especially non-pizza food stops. I haven’t been back since we stayed in Chicago when we beat Notre Dame six years ago: a bittersweet weekend for a lot of us as our former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon passed away that same weekend.

8. Finally, what are you expectations for this game?

I saw all of your game against Kent State, so you’re not going to believe this, but I like our chances. I’m an Eagles fan, but anyone in Tampa would have told you Lovie Smith was a questionable hire at best. I think USF is better-coached, has enough talent to compete, and brings an offense that will really be dynamic. Defensively, I think they can get enough stops and force some turnovers.

We are from the South so we are familiar with the trap house as well as the trap game, and this would qualify (Charlie even said so during his press conference). Plus the Bulls are young, and you’ve got some guys that can make plays down the field. AJ Bush clearly has some talent and can help you, depending on system and other personnel.

But I do think USF wins this one relatively comfortably. I’ll say 37-17, and USF covers the 9.5 as well.

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