Talking with friends is fun, except when your friends are fans of opposing football teams expected to crush your own by more than 20 points. That didn’t stop me from having a chat with Collin Sherwin of The Daily Stampede in preparation for this week’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the USF Bulls. Don’t worry, the roles will be reversed come basketball season.
Down the Drive: How would you evaluate the Charlie Strong era through the first five games?
Collin Sherwin (The Daily Stampede): About a B+. We've seen some really good halves and quarters, but also stretches where the USF offense that was fourth nationally by S&P last season hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Like the entire Stony Brook game. But it's hard to complain about a team leading the nation in points per game (48.2) and turnover margin (+2.5) against FBS opponents.
Defensively, it seems like they are very much improved however. We'll be interested to see that defense against better competition later in the season.
DTD: What were your expectations coming into the season? Have the Bulls met them, missed them or exceeded them?
CS: I think they've far exceeded defensively, and come up a bit short offensively. Quinton Flowers isn't putting the Heisman campaign we thought he would, and it's against the first half of the schedule where we thought he'd be padding his stats. But he's doing Quinton Flowers things: making you spy him, eluding rushers, breaking for big gains when you don't keep him contained and hitting deep shots off play action.
DTD: What is the greatest strength of this team? What is its greatest weakness?
CS: The greatest strength is the depth at the skill positions. USF's three-deep at wide receiver and running back starts at basically any other school in the conference. It's ridiculous to have this many good players on an AAC team. Even with some guys dinged up early, it hasn't stopped them one iota. The only guy that's started every game at WR so far is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He's probably the best guy and the best NFL prospect, but he gets a lot of honest coverage because everyone around him can make a play.
Weakness? They've struggled at times on special teams, and the offensive line does look a bit better than it did early in the season with the move of Cameron Ruff back to center, but they still need to do a bit more against better comp.
DTD: USF really ran over the Bearcats last season, rushing for 226 yards. How are you guys doing replacing Marlon Mack and can we expect a similar approach in this game?
CS: You'll see Darius Tice (more of a straight-ahead guy), D'Ernest Johnson (shiftier, great hands out of the backfield) and Trevon Sands (guy with huge upside behind two seniors) at running back. All three have had big moments at different times. USF also isn't afraid to get wide receivers in on rushing action via jet action.
But of course, a lot of it will also come with Flowers when the play breaks down or when he pulls it in zone read. We haven't seen too many designed runs for him yet, but saving his body and legs is probably a good thing against the super-soft schedule to this point.
DTD: USF has 14 interceptions this season. Any explanation for this incredible pace other than being in the right place at the right time?
CS: It's a veteran secondary, and new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary has really stepped up the ball-hawking and tackling on that side of the ball. He seems to be a massive improvement on Raymond Woodie from last season.
Look for Deatrick Nichols as the nickel guy in a 4-2-5 look flying around in both coverage and as an occasional blitzer. Junior Mazzi Wilkins has been the best lockup corner so far, which is nice coming from a Tampa kid.
DTD: How do you see this game playing out?
CS: With 30 points in this game, USF will tie the longest streak of a team scoring at least 30 a game in college football history. I've seen UC's defense so far this year... and the Bulls might get there by halftime. Especially off an extra week to prepare.
But Hayden Moore presents his own set of challenges, Boone & Doaks will get their yards, and you'll get it in the end zone a bunch too. Think we're looking at a shootout, which is what a lot of USF games turn into.
Bulls win 57-30.
DTD: BONUS QUESTION: If you had to bet on one team to win the NBA Finals other than the Golden State Warriors, who would you pick?
CS: I hate saying Cleveland... but Cleveland. There's going to be a lot of buyout guys at the deadline this year, and we know how good LeBron is at collecting those. I'm not sold on Kyrie & Hayward being able to carry Boston, they need another 3 & D guy. And unless they start playing with two balls, I don't know how Houston is going to work. Besides Capela, who can guard anyone? I'll believe in Brodie Westbrook as a ball distributor instead of a ball dominator when I see it: I think he'd fire up contested 30-footers even if he had MJ and Bird at the 2 and 3.
This is also the most any USF writer should be allowed to talk about men's basketball since our team might not win 10 games until 2020.