They won’t be mentioned on anyone’s preseason Heisman Trophy lists. In Florida, they might not even be perceived as center-stage performers among the state’s always-ample supply of skill position players.
But these are the facts:
No team in Florida — and very few nationally — has a more productive trio of returning skill players than the University of South Florida Bulls.
USF — 8-5 last season and expected to contend for the American Athletic Conference championship — features junior quarterback Quinton Flowers, junior running back Marlon Mack, and senior wide receiver Rodney Adams, who had a combined 5,682 yards from scrimmage in 2015, accounting for 53 touchdowns.
The Florida State Seminoles, Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes can’t claim a set of triplets like that.
Nationally, USF ranks 10th in combined yards from scrimmage and eighth in touchdowns accounted for among teams with returning triple-threat players.
Predictably, the Clemson triplets (quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Artavis Scott) are No. 1 in total yards from scrimmage (7,850) and touchdowns (67).
The ferocity of USF’s attack was on display late in 2015, when the Bulls won seven of their last eight regular-season games, notably beating AAC contenders Temple (44-23) and Cincinnati (65-27 after taking a 51-3 halftime lead).
“I have seen no speed like the speed we saw when we played USF last year,’’ Temple coach Matt Rhule said.
“There ain’t no excuses,’’ Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “They took it to us. They took us apart.’’
Mack is the best-known commodity of the Bulls’ brilliant trio. In his first college game — when he started only because a teammate was injured — he tied school records by racing for 275 yards and four touchdowns. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and needs 310 — within reach in Saturday night’s game against Towson? — to break the school’s career rushing record.
Adams came into his own last season as a deep threat, setting a USF record with 822 receiving yards and scoring eight of his nine touchdowns in the final eight games.
Flowers was the surprise — to everyone except his USF teammates and Coach Willie Taggart. In his first season as a starter, Flowers rushed for 991 yards (201 in one game) while passing for 2,407 yards and 22 touchdowns. What’s more, he never suffered any kind of meltdown or made a critical mistakes, throwing only eight interceptions and generally putting the Bulls in the best position to win.
“In the beginning of the year, I felt like I was playing like a robot,’’ Flowers said. “Then Coach Taggart turned me loose and told me to play they way I always played. That made a huge difference. It was a lot of fun after that.’’
Taggart hopes the fun will continue.
Flowers (uniform No. 9) and Mack (uniform No. 5), who are roommates, have already given themselves a fun nickname.
“They call themselves 9-to-5,’’ Taggart said. “Always working. A full-time job. Always putting in work. We need them to work … overtime.’’
It’s very likely the Bulls will be favored in every game but one — the Sept. 24 visit from the Seminoles, potentially the biggest game in USF football history — and the USF triplets figure to be a huge reason why.
“All we’ve talked about is making it a special season, being better than we were last year,’’ Taggart said. “From a confidence standpoint, I know our guys are confident they can win ballgames. I think we’ve created a culture here now that we go out and expect to win, not hope we win.
“I’m very confident in those guys (triplets). They’ve been around here a long time, but they’re still young. They played a lot of football together and they understand each other. Those guys are sharp.’’
In a sense, however, they remain underrated. Their statistics speak volumes. If they have excellent follow-up seasons, they might become familiar names.
“I always tell them that’s their job to do that,’’ Taggart said. “Make folks know their names. Do that each and every week.’’
If that happens, the Bulls could well be contenders for the program’s first conference championship and perhaps a major bowl game.
“I think all of that stuff is in front of us,’’ Taggart said. “Now we just have to go get it. We have a chance to be really good.’’
At USF, good things come in threes.