No. 19 South Florida gets early start to Charlie Strong era
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) No. 19 South Florida is happy to get a head start on the beginning of the Charlie Strong era.
The Bulls will be the first ranked team to take the field this season when they travel to San Jose State to play the Spartans on Saturday in their first game under new coach Brent Brennan.
''Everybody is going to be watching,'' South Florida running back D'Ernest Johnson said. ''Everybody is happy that college football is back and we're the ones that are playing on TV. I'm very excited. I've been waiting on this opportunity since last year, after the bowl game.''
This matchup is one of five this weekend on what some have dubbed ''Week Zero'' involving at least one FBS team. With the Spartans playing in Hawaii this season, they opted to play a 13th regular-season game and were allowed the early start.
Brennan would have preferred the traditional start next week if he had his choice, saying the earlier opener gave the team less time for training and complicated summer school for the players.
It also added another tough test for a challenging nonconference schedule that also includes trips to No. 23 Texas and Utah next month. But Brennan acknowledges there is a possible bright side.
''I think it's an opportunity for great exposure if we rise to the challenge and play well, which I think we will,'' he said.
South Florida wants to use this game to justify the high preseason ranking and begin making the case as the best team from the Group of Five conferences.
With a dynamic quarterback in Quinton Flowers, a high-profile new coach in Strong and what they believe will be an improved defense, the Bulls have all the ingredients to improve on last year's 11-win season.
''It's great that we're in a position we're in, but still at the end of the day, nobody is going to roll that ball out there and just let us go up and down the field,'' Strong said. ''Now, we have a target on our back and we're going to get the best.''
Here are other things to watch:
DUAL THREAT: USF quarterback Quinton Flowers blossomed into one of the most productive players in the nation as a junior, rushing for a school-record 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing for 2,812 yards, 24 TDs and just eight interceptions. The 2016 American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year ranked 10th nationally in total offense per game and was the country's second-leading rusher among quarterbacks behind Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
QB UNCERTAINTY: The Spartans enter the season with more uncertainty at quarterback with Brennan saying he won't announce his starter until game time on Saturday. The top two contenders are Josh Love and Montel Aaron. Love has some experience, going 31 for 60 for 392 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions as a freshman last season. Aaron redshirted last year but has made some big plays in the spring game and in practice leading up to the opener.
REUNION WEEK: Strong gets to match wits against one of his former assistants at Texas. San Jose State offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder spent last season as a quality control coach working with receivers on Strong's staff with the Longhorns.
''The key thing for us on defense is not so much worry about what he's going to do, we have to worry about ourselves,'' Strong said. ''Let's get lined up and let's make sure we get our feet in the ground and let our guys just go play. Let them enjoy playing.''
PRESEASON RANKING: USF's preseason ranking matches the highest in school history. The Bulls also opened the 2008 season at No. 19. It's also their highest ranking since climbing to No. 16 the sixth week of the 2011 season.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida contributed to this report
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