Preseason poll adds more hype to USF-Rutgers
NEWPORT, R.I. -- The early date and Thursday night spotlight already made it a big game to circle on USF's football schedule, but the Big East's preseason football media poll -- with the Bulls picked second and Rutgers third -- adds another level of prominence to the Bulls' Sept. 13 home game against the Scarlet Knights.
"Those conference games early, they're hard because if you lose them, there are such high repercussions for the year, but I think the two of us playing in the third game is going to create a lot of excitement," coach Skip Holtz said.
Louisville, with 24 of 28 first-place votes, is the consensus pick to win the Big East, but USF earned the other four first-place votes, and a home win against Rutgers would cement the Bulls' status as the top challenger to the Cardinals. It won't be easy, with USF having a quick turnaround from a Saturday game at Nevada just five days earlier.
"It's a challenge, definitely a challenge, especially with the quick turnaround coming back from Nevada," quarterback B.J. Daniels said Tuesday. "But that will be a test of the maturity of our team, if we can be mentally ready and prepared for the turnaround to do what we're supposed to do."
A year ago, USF opened up the year 4-0, only to open the Big East with a lopsided loss at Pittsburgh, something that sparked a slump that saw the Bulls drop seven of their last eight. The chance to play a conference game early and set the tone for a different conference season is something USF's seniors are excited to have.
"Hopefully that's one thing we can have success with," linebacker Sam Barrington said. "Thursday night under the lights, you have to appreciate it. We've got them at Raymond James. We love playing in that atmosphere."
It's the earliest in the season USF has ever played a Big East game -- the Bulls played conference games in the fourth week of the season in 2005 and 2007, but no earlier than the fifth week in the last four seasons. The schools' last two meetings have been thrillers, with USF winning 28-27 on a fourth-quarter touchdown in 2010, then Rutgers rallying from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Bulls 20-17 in overtime last season.
The game has an added significance to Rutgers players because they'll be at the home stadium of former coach Greg Schiano, now the Bucs' head coach.
"It has all the makings to be a great game," defensive back Duron Harmon said. "I'm excited to play them that early and see where we stack up against one of the better marquee opponents in the Big East. And that's (Schiano's) stadium. I hope if he's not too busy that he gets to come out and watch. We still have a lot of love for Coach Schiano because he's done great things for all of us as Rutgers men. We're forever indebted."