TAMPA, APR 09, 2018 – Gators, Canes and ‘Noles… Oh My!! And Bulls and Knights to Boot!! Yes football fans, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the fall, when the smell of burning leaves, aromatic barbeque tailgates and footballs flying through the air becomes a Saturday afternoon ritual.
Sometimes though, t he pigskins don’t fly, as strong teams know very few will be successful without incorporating a dynamic, robust and time-consuming ground attack. One-dimensional teams who live solely through the air are more easily outmatched, so a power running game is a necessity, especially when needed to counter the elements such as rainy, snowy or windy conditions.
So WHO is set to run the ball for the ‘Big Five’ Florida colleges this fall? Let’s take a look:
University of Central Florida Golden Knights – I’ll start with UCF first, as they’re often overlooked amongst the major colleges in-state. Their undefeated 13-0 season of 2017 was memorable, mainly due to a stout defense and big plays from quarterback McKenzie Milton, who also was second leading rusher on the Knights with 613yds, a 5.8ypc average and eight touchdowns. Junior Adrian Killins (790yds/ 6.5ypc avg/10TDs), Senior Taj McGowan (235yds/3.4ypc avg/8TDs) and Sophomore Cordarrian Richardson (161yds/3.6ypc avg/2TDs) return to the Knights’ backfield. UCF did lose a few of their incoming recruits along with established players such as Noah Vedral with the departure to Nebraska of outgoing Head Coach Scott Frost. However, Killins should again be the workhorse Knight running back in 2018, although a look at dual-sport athlete Trey Green from Belle Glades Central may be forthcoming.
University of South Florida Bulls – The Bulls were also paced with a strong running quarterback (Quinton Flowers), along with running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson who have moved on from the program for their chance to play on Sundays. The next leading rusher for the Bulls in 2017 was Trevon Sands (111yds/4.3ypc avg) who is returning for his Junior year and will be called upon to lead the Bulls in their running game, as the rest of their returning backs (Davion Sutton and Elijah Mack) were a mere afterthought last year. Like last year, USF’s rushing attack will likely be led by a rushing quarterback, as USF was lucky enough to sign dual-threat QB Octavious Battle from Atlanta Carver, although it’s unlikely he’ll take the reins his first year out, with Brett Kean expected to take over for Flowers.
University of Miami Hurricanes – Miami looks like they’re all set to resume where they left off in 2017, minus the embarrassment in their bowl game loss to Wisconsin this past December. The Canes return several of their running threats for 2018 – not including their quarterback Malik Rosier, who was second in rushing with 468yds/3.6ypg avg/5TDs. Their backs include Junior Travis Homer (966yds/5.9ypg avg/8TDs), Sophomore DeeJay Dallas (217yds/5.3ypg avg/3TDs), Senior Trayone Gray (42yds/6.0ypg avg) and Senior transfer Crispian Atkins from Durant High School via ASA College. Their crowded backfield will likely primarily feature Homer, who was a play or two away from 1,000yds, but keep an eye out for freshman Lorenzo Lingard from Orange City University High. If things go well for the Canes, they could once again set sights on a quest for a place in the College Football Championship pairings instead of a New Year’s Eve contest.
Florida State University Seminoles – Standing in the Hurricane’s way to lead the ACC are the ‘Noles, who look to bounce back from a few lackluster seasons under Jimbo Fisher since their National Championship. Fisher has since vacated his sideline stance for the incoming Willie Taggart, returning to the Sunshine State after a quick stop in Oregon. Taggart’s teams have generally employed a strong running game (to include running quarterbacks), and he’ll get back last year’s signal caller in James Blackman, along with Deondre Francois returning from his knee injury in the season-opening loss to Alabama. However, following in the footsteps of dynamic Dalvin Cook since his departure to the NFL in Minnesota, FSU will be paced by Sophomore Cam Akers (1,024yds/5.3ypg avg/7TDs) and Senior Jacques Patrick (748yds/5.6ypg avg/7TDs), who were a solid 1-2 combination last year. Junior Amir Rasul (152yds/4.6ypg avg) may see occasional carries along with a rare plunge by their fullbacks, although that position may become scarce depending on schemes employed this season by Taggart.
University of Florida Gators – Things were not quite right in Gainesville in 2017, with a multitude of starting game-changers out for the Gators under team-imposed suspensions… but let’s not talk further of activity which led to the dismissal of Jim McElwain and the return of the long-lost and near prodigal son Dan Mullen. Mullen’s job is to spark offensive success which was last seen when he was offensive coordinator under Gator Head Coach Urban Meyer. Mullen got a shot in the arm when the Gators recruited Dameon Pierce (Bainbridge, Georgia) and Iverson Clement (Mount Holly, N.J. Rancocas Valley High), and they may see some immediate action this year. However, the primary load for the Gators will likely fall on dynamic Sophomore Malik Davis (526yds/6.7ypg avg/2TDs), returning from a knee injury sustained against Georgia last October, while Senior Jordan Scarlett (889yds/6TDs in 2016) returns from the aforementioned suspensions and is ready to put 2017 behind him. Scarlett was the prime performer during the 2016 campaign and can skillfully step in when needed. Sophomore Adarius Lemons (136yds/7.2ypg avg) may see spot duty for Florida as well.
That’s it… let’s see how these teams and their stable of runners will be off and running this year.
Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor