The most promising season in South Florida history begins Saturday as the 21st-ranked Bulls open the Charlie Strong era when they visit San Jose State. Strong was fired by Texas after last season and takes over for Oregon-bound Willie Taggart at USF with a full cupboard of experienced and talented players to tackle his new challenge, led by a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in senior Quinton Flowers.
Flowers threw for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,530 and 18 scores in 2016 with the Bulls, who won a school-record 11 games after beating South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl 46-39 in overtime. “(Flowers) is just being a phenomenal leader on the field,” senior center Cameron Ruff told USF’s website. “With his leadership and the way the offense is going, I think the sky is the limit for us.” South Florida could be favored in every contest and Strong said he wants his team to approach it like “a one-game season” each week as the Bulls prepare to unveil their high-powered offense against a San Jose State team that gave up 34.7 points per game in 2016. Brent Brennan makes his debut as coach for the Spartans after spending the last six seasons as wide receivers coach at Oregon State following a six-year stint as an assistant at San Jose State, and is expecting to make a game-time decision on his starting quarterback.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: South Florida -22
SOUTH FLORIDA (2016: 11-2): Flowers loses two big weapons in running back Marlon Mack and receiver Rodney Adams, but there is plenty of depth remaining with several players waiting to emerge. D’Ernest Johnson (14 touchdowns in 2016) is expected to take the lion’s share of the rushing opportunities with support from fellow senior Darius Tice while senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling (22 catches, 415 yards, five touchdowns in 2016) leads a host of promising receivers. The Bulls expect improvement on defense with nine starters back, led by senior linebacker Auggie Sanchez (team-high 120 tackles), senior defensive tackle Bruce Hector and senior defensive back Deatrick Nichols (four interceptions).
SAN JOSE STATE (2016: 4-8): Brennan told reporters it is a “nip-and-tuck” battle for the starting job at quarterback between sophomore Josh Love (31-for-60, 392 yards last year), 6-5 redshirt freshman Montel Aaron and sophomore Sam Allen. Junior wide receivers Justin Holmes and Tre Hartley, who combined for 1,185 yards in 2016, are the top targets while junior Malike Roberson and sophomore Zamore Zigler are the most experienced running backs returning. The Spartans must improve on the other side of the ball as well, but senior cornerback Andre Chachere (four interceptions) and junior linebacker Frank Ginda (99 tackles, five sacks) are players to watch.
1. USF has scored at least 30 points in 17 consecutive games dating back to 2015, and finished fourth in the nation at 43.8 per game last season.
2. San Jose State is 0-9 against ranked opponents in season openers and last beat a ranked opponent in 2013 (Fresno State).
3. Flowers has rushed for 2,594 yards in his career and needs 137 to tie Andre Hall (2004-05) for second on the Bulls’ all-time list.
PREDICTION: South Florida 45, San Jose State 21