South Florida didn't begin its football program until 1998 and didn't play in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) ranks until 2001, so there isn't much history to this program. But what history there is leaves observers feeling this program has underachieved. There has never been a conference title, and fast starts too often have been followed by train-wreck finishes. There has been a history of a few good NFL players, and there are four or five players on this season's team who eventually should make some NFL money.
The best prospect this season is defensive end Aaron Lynch, a third-year sophomore who transferred from Notre Dame and sat out last season. New coach Willie Taggart, who was hired away from Western Kentucky, will benefit from Lynch's presence, but more important for Taggart is to find a quarterback, a running back and a go-to receiver. And that's just the issues on offense. While the defensive line should be a strength, the secondary lacks playmakers and cornerback could be a huge problem. A legitimate goal is a .500 finish and a bowl bid.
Top senior prospects
ILB DeDe Lattimore: He's not the most physically gifted prospect, but Lattimore (6-foot-1, 237 pounds) is a good all-around player. He has started every game but one in his career and has played both inside and outside 'backer. He's probably best suited for an inside spot. He possesses good instincts and has 239 tackles, 13 sacks and 27 tackles for loss in his career. Lattimore's coverage skills are iffy. Lattimore, whose given first name is Devekeyan, is from Athens, Ga.
DE Ryne Giddins: Giddins was a national recruit who spurned more established programs to sign with hometown USF in 2009. But he hasn't flashed star potential in college. Giddins (6-3, 253) has 14.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his career. His best season came in 2011, but he fell off last season. He has good physical tools, but is not a polished end and can be overwhelmed in the running game.
FS Mark Joyce: After serving as an important reserve his first two seasons, Joyce (5-10, 195) was a first-time starter last season and made 74 tackles. He has one interception and four pass breakups in his career, and though he runs well, his coverage skills are inconsistent. He seems better suited for strong safety at the next level.
DE Aaron Lynch: USF has had two first-round picks in its short football history (cornerback Mike Jenkins to the Dallas Cowboys in the 2008 NFL Draft; and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the New York Giants in the 2010 NFL Draft), and Lynch (6-6, 244) someday could become the third -- he is currently ranked as the No.17 player on Daniel Jeremiah's Talented Top 50 list. He was a consensus national top-30 prospect when he signed with Notre Dame in 2011 out of high school in Fort Myers, Fla. Lynch started five games that season, making 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He transferred to be closer to home after his freshman season and sat out last fall. He has a quick first step off the edge and is a great athlete who held up well against the run in his one season at Notre Dame. Still, he needs to add some bulk. If his performance this fall is as good as it was during the spring, he has a chance to be the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. Lynch has been criticized in the past for a lack of maturity, and that is something to watch this fall.
TE Sean Price: He caught 21 passes last season as a true freshman, with all of the receptions coming in the final six games of the season. Price (6-3, 249) needs to add weight and bulk, but he's a willing blocker. He also has good hands and can find an open spot in a zone. If the Bulls can find a consistent quarterback, Price could have a 45-catch season.
OT Quinterrius Eatmon: He has started all but one game at right tackle in the past two seasons after redshirting as a freshman in 2010. Eatmon (6-6, 311) has relatively good athleticism but could stand to add a few pounds. That's ironic considering he showed up at USF in July 2010 weighing 362 pounds. He was hospitalized and missed several games with a heart condition as a high school senior, but the issue was repaired with a catheter, meaning the doctors did not have to open his chest.
DT Elkino Watson: Watson (6-2, 286) has started just once in his first two seasons on campus, but he certainly has been a productive reserve, with 55 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and three sacks. He is expected to be a full-time starter this season. His best trait is his first-step quickness. Watson needs to add bulk and become stronger, though.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 7 at Michigan State: The Spartans have an experienced offensive line, meaning Lynch, Giddins, Watson and Lattimore face a tough test. Their defensive back seven should be one of the best in the nation, so this is an opportunity for Price to stand out.
Sept. 28 vs. Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes' balanced offense will pose issues for the Bulls, who lost by 31 to Miami last season. Lynch and Giddens likely will spend time against touted Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson. Miami has some defensive questions, so Price could shine.
Oct. 26 vs. Louisville: Louisville is the most talented team in the AAC, so this should be a good all-around test for USF. Louisville almost certainly will be a top-10 rated team at game time, meaning Lynch could gain more national attention with a big performance against an elite team featuring a top quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater).