Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: South Alabama Jaguars

South Alabama Jaguars
It was a strange ride for the Jags in 2016, as they opened the season with a win over Mississippi State, but followed it with losses to Georgia Southern at home, and to ULL on the road. They beat San Diego State, but lost to ULM. USA did just enough to skate into the Arizona Bowl, but were no match for Air Force, and after the long strange trip that the season was, the Jags finished just 6-7. Will they be able to show enough consistency to overcome the ups and downs and challenge for a spot in the top half of the Sun Belt?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
With several losses on offense, the best returning player will be RB Xavier Johnson. He is a very good back in a not so great overall rushing attack that was less than able last season. Johnson led the team with 831 yards rushing and 10 scores, while averaging 5.51 yards per carry. If South Alabama wants to get into a consistent groove in 2017, they hand him the rock as much as he can handle it. JC transfer Tywun Walters is expected to give the Jags an inside punch as well in combo with Johnson.

Three starters return on the line in LT Noah Fisher, C Harrison Louden, and RG Dominic Esposito. Head coach Joey Jones went on and on during the off season about how much more physical this team should be coming out of spring ball, and if that is the case, running the ball with Johnson would be that much more certain.

What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Dallas Davis was not healthy at the end of last season, and it hurt the team's ability to get into a flow. He also did not produce enough when he was healthy. He returns after tossing just 11 TDs to 12 INTs last season, while completing just 56.7% of his passes. As he heads into his third season as the starter, it's time to produce.

The receiving corps is questionable heading into the season, as the Jags are trying to replace three starters. Quinton Lane and Sa'Morry Collier, both seniors, will try to fill the gap, and should be joined by sophomore Jordan McCray. The top four receivers from last season, including JOsh Magee and super TE Gerald Everett, are all gone.

The kicking game was inconsistent, as were most other spots on the field for the Jags last season. Gavin Patterson hit just 10/16 FG attempts on the season, and will be back to try to improve on those numbers.

What To Be Excited About: Defense
Despite missing three of five starters in the secondary as we head to fall camp, the secondary is still expected to be the strength of the defense after the Jags allowed just 174.6 yards passing per game last fall. Neiko Robinson and Jeremy Reeves both return at Safety, while junior CB Jalen Thompson has some serious potential. Reeves finished with seven PBUs last fall, and picked off three passes, while Thompson led the team with four INTs. Robinson finished with 64 tackles.

What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The line played sloppy last season, and only DT Tyree Turner returns as a starter. The front seven was primarily responsible for allowing 215 yards rushing per game last season. If that is to improve, the new starters will have to step up and shore up the issues that plagued this unit last fall.

Darrell Songy is the lone returning starter at LB, and he led the team with 100 tackles last season. He added 7.5 TFLs. He will have to bring sophomore to bring a new starter along quickly, but the group fighting for the open job is big, and mostly young.

The Punting game will suffer the loss of Brandon McKee, who averaged over 44 yards per punt last season. Corliss Waitman will take over the job, but in 17 punts last season, he was mostly unimpressive.

2017 Schedule
9/2 at Ole Miss, 9/8 Oklahoma State, 9/16 Alabama A&M, 9/23 Idaho, 9/30 at Louisiana Tech, 10/11 at Troy, 10/21 UL-Monroe, 10/26 at Georgia State, 11/4 UL-Lafayette, 11/11 Arkansas State, 11/18 at Georgia Southern, 12/2 at new Mexico State

Final Overview
South Alabama seems like a program constantly in flux. Just when they have certain pieces together, the rest of the puzzle is incomplete. It has been that way for some time now, and Joey Jones has got to do something to bring some kind of roster and production consistencies to light here. They are not a bad program, but not a solid one either. If the Jags cannot get over the hump this season in conference play, it may be time to think about new blood to run things. The early schedule is brutal, with games against Oklahoma State and Ole Miss, and with an emerging team in Idaho to open conference play coming two weeks after that. Ole Miss provides an opportunity, as the program is in shell shock over the strange situation with the staff. Overall, this could be merely an average year for USA until they show that they can consistently compete from week to week.

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