Who:                   USF Bulls vs. San Jose State Spartans
What:                  Non-conference football game
When:                 Saturday, August 26, 2017
Where:                CEFCU Stadium
Why:                   2017 season opener

Saturday’s game marks the first matchup between these two teams, which isn’t a surprise considering the more than 2,800 miles between the schools.  San Jose State, who were picked fifth in the Mountain West Conference Media Summit, are coming off a 4-8 campaign in 2016.  They have not won more than six games in a season since leaving the Western Athletic Conference and joining the Mountain West after the 2013 season.    

The Bulls arrive in stark contrast.  They were picked as overwhelming favorites to win their division as well as the American Athletic Conference championship in their conference media day poll.  USF went 11-2, last season, winning 11 games in a regular season for the first time since program inception.  They ended their 2016 campaign with a solid win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.  The Bulls come into this game ranked 19th in the AP Poll and are the only ranked team from outside the playoff auto-bid conferences. 

USF Offense
The Bulls finished 2016 with the #4 scoring offense in the country, averaging nearly 44 points per game.  The driving force behind that high powered offensive machine is senior quarterback, Quinton Flowers.  Flowers is a true dual threat quarterback, who passed for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last season.  On the ground, he carried the ball 1,530 yards for another 18 touchdowns.  His combined 42 touchdowns was the seventh best mark in the nation.  He ranked 15th nationally as a rusher and 10th in total offense.

USF will probably look to seniors D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice to fill the void left by running back, Marlon Mack, who left the team after his junior year and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.  Tice and Johnson averaged about 5 yards per carry in 2016 and combined for nine touchdowns.  Sophomore back, Trevon Sands should also get opportunities to carry the ball in 2017.  The Bulls had the 5th ranked rushing attack in the country, last year.

The offense also lost their top receiver in speedster, Rodney Adams, who was drafted by Minnesota.  The number two target from 2016, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, remains.  He’ll start opposite junior receiver, Chris Barr.  The receiving corps should be complimented by two very good tight ends in junior, Elkanah Dillon, and sophomore, Mitchell Wilcox. 

San Jose State Defense
San Jose State’s defense ranked 103rd in scoring in 2016, giving up 34.7 points per game.  Six of their opponents scored more than 40 points in their wins against the Spartans.  Linebackers, Frank Ginda and Christian Tago led the team in tackles in 2016.  Ginda, who had 99 tackles, returns, but Tago has graduated.  Isaiah Irving’s seven sacks led the team, followed closely by Ginda with 6.5. 

Against the run, a strength for USF, the Spartans ranked 122nd, allowing nearly 247 yards per game and 33 touchdowns.  They fared better against the pass, ranking 19th in 2016.  They allowed just 18 passing touchdowns and managed to pull down an impressive ten interceptions.  Senior defensive back, Andre Chacere, led the team with 4 picks. 

San Jose State Offense
The Spartans averaged just 24.4 points per game in 2016, ranking them the 103rd scoring defense in the country.  They were 87th in rushing and 75th in passing offense in 2016.  They will look to redshirt sophomore, Josh Love, to improve that passing game.  Love will replace departed senior, Kenny Potter, under center.  As a freshman, Love passed for two touchdowns and five interceptions on 60 attempts.

San Jose State returns their number two and three receivers in juniors, Justin Holmes and Tre Hartley.  Holmes and Hartley combined for seven touchdowns in 2016 and averaged over 50 yards per game in receiving.

The ground game for the Spartans is, well, spartan.  Three running backs scored two touchdowns all season and one scored three.  Departed quarterback, Potter, accounted for the most on the team with seven.  They return junior running back, Malik Roberson, and sophomore running back, Zamore Zigler, who ran for 42 and 52 yards per game last season.  Roberson scored a pair of touchdowns and Zigler had three.

USF Defense
In 2016, the Bulls offense made the games exciting to watch by scoring lots of points.  Unfortunately for them, the defense allowed other offenses to do the same.  USF had the 92nd ranked defense in the country, allowing 31 points and 411 yards per game.  Against the pass, they had one of the worst defenses nationally, ranking 122nd and allowing more than 285 passing yards per game.  Despite giving up huge yardage, they only allowed 21 passing touchdowns, ranking them 72nd in that category, and managed to steal 15 interceptions.  That interception total was tied for 22nd, nationally.  They allowed less rushing yards per game, ranked 84th, but allowed 29 rushing touchdowns in 2016, the 100th worst total.

The bad news for the Bulls is that they lost their number two and three tacklers in departed seniors, Nigel Harris and Nate Godwin.  The good news is that they return their top tackler, junior linebacker, Auggie Sanchez, who racked up an impressive 117 tackles.  Sanchez ranked 20th in the nation for tackles and shared the team lead in sacks with six.  Defensive lineman, Bruce Hector, shared that sack lead.  Senior defensive back, Tajee Fullwood was fourth in tackles, last season, and should be expected to improve upon that total, this year.  Fullwood and junior defensive back, Ronnie Hoggins, each had a pair of interceptions in 2016.  Senior nickleback, Deatrick Nichols, lead the team with four picks last year.

On paper, this does not look to be a very close game.  The Spartans are a team who is struggling to meet the challenge of better competition at the Mountain West level, which is arguably a lower level than the American Athletic Conference, which USF is favored to win.  However, USF has a history of underachieving on long road trips, and this will be one of the furthest distances the team has ever been from home. 

The USF defense struggled terribly in 2016.  They also lost some critical players.  Even so, it probably won’t be enough to be threatened by an offense whose quarterback has thrown more than twice as many interceptions at touchdowns.  On the other side of things, San Jose State just doesn’t have a defense capable of containing the Flowers led offense when firing on all cylinders.  If USF is able to deal with travel fatigue, this should not be a challenging game for them.

The Bulls are currently 22 point favorites on the road with an over / under at 47.8.  Kickoff is at 7:30 EDT.  The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.  

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