SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (0-0)
at SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS (0-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: South Florida -20, Total: 66.0
AAC favorite #21 South Florida begins its quest for a New Year’s Six bowl bid with a trip to San Jose State on college football’s opening night.
Coming off an 11-2 season and a bowl win over South Carolina, South Florida enters the 2017 as the only Group of Five team ranked in the Coaches Poll. 2016 head coach Willie Taggart was hired by Oregon, and former Louisville and Texas head coach Charlie Strong takes the reins in Tampa. He inherits a plethora of offensive talent, most notably returning conference player of the year dual-threat QB Quinton Flowers. Defense is Strong’s forte, and he has his work cut out for him with a unit that dragged the Bulls into shootouts more often than not last year. New San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan, an assistant at Oregon State from 2011-2016 who cut his teeth on staff with SJSU before that, enters a far less enviable situation than Strong. The Spartans have some skill position talent, but are stuck with a porous O-line and haven’t found an answer at QB. The defense is coming off an inconsistent season with some talent in the back end, but needs to show immediate improvement up front to have any hopes of keeping Flowers and company in check. This is the first meeting between these two teams. USF is 6-1 SU & 5-2 ATS in road games since November 2015, and the Bulls are 8-0 SU & 6-2 ATS when favored by 12 points or more in the past two seasons. In the past ten seasons, SJSU is 2-11 SU & 9-4 ATS as double-digit underdog at home. The Spartans are, however, 1-9 SU & 3-7 ATS against non-conference FBS opponents since 2014.
2016 AAC Offensive Player of the Year QB Quinton Flowers is a dynamic dual-threat, running for 1,530 yards (fourth most ever by an FBS QB) and 18 TD while throwing for 2,812 yards and 24 TD. Explosive RB Marlon Mack left for the NFL, leaving versatile RB D’Ernest Johnson (543 rushing yards, 293 receiving yards, 14 total TD) to ascend into a larger role. Leading receiver WR Rodney Adams is gone, leaving WRs Marquez Valdes-Scantling (415 yards, 5 TD) and Tyree McCants (384 yards, 4 TD) to pick up the slack. TE Mitchell Wilcox impressed a freshman last season, delivering punishing run blocks to set the edge, while averaging 23.2 yards per catch on his 12 receptions. The Bulls defense returns most of its key players from a unit that allowed 31.6 points per game last year (92nd in the nation) and struggled evenly against the pass and the run. New defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, an assistant under head coach Charlie Strong at Louisville and Texas, is the fourth coordinator in as many years for USF. LB Auggie Sanchez (120 total tackles, 6 sacks, 8.5 TFL) is the quarterback of the defense, and CB Deatrick Nichols was the bright spot of the secondary last season. Beefy DLs Deadrin Senat (7 TFL) and Bruce Hector (6 sacks, 8 TFL) are disruptive playmakers up front.
San Jose State has questions to answer under center. QB Josh Love is the favorite to start in Week 1 after struggling mightily last season (5 INT in 60 attempts), with redshirt freshman QB Montel Aaron likely to earn snaps at some point after a strong showing in the Spring Game. RBs Malik Roberson and Zamore Zigler combined for 1,112 yards from scrimmage, seven TD and a 5.2 yards-per-carry average last season as backups. They’ll be relied on heavily in 2017. Top WR Tim Crawley is gone, though WRs Justin Holmes (39 receptions for 613 yards) and Trey Hartley (33 receptions for 572 yards) showed plenty of promise while combining to average 16.5 yards per catch. The Spartans’ offensive line remains largely intact, but it’s a group that has given up 88 sacks over the past two seasons. SJSU allowed 34.7 points per game (103rd in FBS) and 6.5 yards per play (117th) last season. Switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 system, LB Frank Ginda (99 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL) will anchor the new scheme, with DT Bryson Bridges (3 sacks, 5.5 TFL) joining him up the middle. The rest of the front-seven roles are up in the air. The entire starting secondary returns, including First Team All-MWC CB Andre Chachere (4 INT, 14 pass breakups), though teams won’t need to throw against the Spartans until their offense and run defense drastically improve.