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USF freshmen's cameo evolves into prominent role

This scoop-and-score by USF freshman Kelvin Pinkney was overturned when officials ruled the ground had caused a fumble by San Jose State quarterback Montel Aaron.

AP photo

This scoop-and-score by USF freshman Kelvin Pinkney was overturned when officials ruled the ground had caused a fumble by San Jose State quarterback Montel Aaron.

Initially, Bulls defensive coordinato Brian Jean-Mary's plan was to insert freshman linemen Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinkney for a few plays Saturday at San Jose State, just to "get their feet wet."

But veteran DT Kevin Bronson (injury) didn't suit up, then senior DT Deadrin Senat was ejected in the first half for targeting. So much for the cameo. Suddenly, the rookies found themselves on the field as much as Quinton Flowers.

"All of the sudden those kids got thrown into the fire," Jean-Mary said, "and I was proud of 'em."

Kegler didn't officially record a tackle, but helped clog the interior and limit San Jose State to 109 rushing yards in USF's 42-22 triumph. Pinkney led all linemen with six tackles, blocked a PAT and returned a fumble for a touchdown before officials ruled the ground caused Spartans QB Montel Aaron to lose possession.

"By no means were they perfect, we know that," Jean-Mary said Wednesday. "They made some mistakes, but at the end of the day they played hard and they tried their best and that's all you can ask for."

Jean-Mary said Bronson will be available for Saturday's home opener against Stony Brook, while Senat also is eligible to start since he sat out the second half at San Jose State. Presuming the Bulls open a comfortable lead against their Division I-AA foe (or even if they don't), the rookie tandem should have their respective numbers called again.

Just not quite as frequently.

"They were both plus-side as far as the grading scale," Jean-Mary said, "so they made enough plays to overcome some of the mistakes."

HELPING HARVEY VICTIMS: USF will hold a moment of silence during Saturday's game to recognize victims of Hurricane Harvey, which has ravaged and/or flooded Houston and other parts of southeast Texas.

The American Athletic Conference -- on behalf of its member schools -- announced Tuesday it will make a $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross to support the Texas rescue and relief efforts.

To donate to the American Red Cross, browse to www.redcross.org/donate, or call 1-800-HELP-NOW. To make an immediate $10 donation, text ‘HARVEY’ to 90999.

ODDS AND ENDS: All Bulls fans are being encouraged by the school to wear green for Saturday's 4 p.m. home opener. ... Freshman OL Jeremiah Stafford, who traveled to San Jose State but didn't play, was wearing a protective boot on his left foot at Wednesday's practice. CB Mekhi LaPointe also appeared to be rehabbing an unspecified injury. ... Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert hinted Wednesday that Cameron Ruff and Michael Galati for now will remain at right guard and center, respectively. ... Gilbert said Saturday's victory, in which USF ran a school-record 101 plays, was hardly the first time one of his units has hit the century mark. His 2014 Bowling Green squad ran 113 in a 45-42 win against Indiana. "I think we've maxed out like, around 124 or so," he said.

AUDIBLE: "They're an old-school northeastern team. They're gonna come up, they'll roll up their sleeves and they're gonna test you at the line of scrimmage. They have some big guys and they want to play some smash-mouth football, so it's gonna be a big-time challenge for our front seven. We don't look at classification as far as level of football or where they're from. ... All we know is, when we turn on the film, they try to maul people and they'll go big personnel." -- Jean-Mary on Stony Brook

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Strong: Bulls getting healthier as home opener nears

USF coach Charlie Strong said a handful of players who missed the season-opening win against San Jose State should be ready for Saturday's home opener against Stony Brook.

Photo by Travis Pendergrass

USF coach Charlie Strong said a handful of players who missed the season-opening win against San Jose State should be ready for Saturday's home opener against Stony Brook.

Now that his team has worked out its kinks, cobwebs and jitters on the West Coast, Bulls coach Charlie Strong expects two things in Saturday's home opener.

His team to be sharper, and his injury list to be shorter.

Strong indicated the 19th-ranked Bulls should be close to full strength when they face Division I-AA Stony Brook at Raymond James Stadium. OG Michael Wiggs, LB Danny Thomas and WR Deangelo Antoine -- all of whom missed Saturday's 42-22 win against San Jose State -- are expected back.

Additionally, DT Kevin Bronson, who made the trip to San Jose State but didn't dress out, was suited up for Tuesday's practice.

"We’re a fairly healthy team," Strong said Tuesday. "The one you won’t see right now is (WR) Ryeshene Bronson."

Bronson, nursing a shoulder injury, attended Tuesday's practice but didn't suit up.

Also returning will be DT Deadrin Senat, ejected in Saturday's first quarter for targeting. NCAA rules state a player ejected in the first half for targeting must sit out the second half of that contest. His penalty served, Senat is eligible to start against Stony Brook.

TEACHABLE MOMENT? Strong said he's using Saturday's dreadful start (a 16-0 deficit) to stress to his players the importance of preparation and irrelevance of preseason rankings. 

On Tuesday, he noted the most prominent errors -- a kickoff out of bounds, blocked punt, dropped passes -- all are correctable.

"What was really good too was that the players didn’t feel like they played well either," Strong said.

"Your team feels like they didn’t play well, you know that you’re making strides to better the program. I’m kind of glad that some of the guys didn’t play well so that we can go and correct them and really push them this week at practice."

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling attributed the poor start to opening-night excitement.

"We got out a little bit, tried to press a little bit too much, just make a play," he said. "We just relaxed and went out and played our game, and things started to work our way." …

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Know the foe: Stony Brook

Stony Brook left tackle Timon Parris has started all 33 games in his college career.

Photo provided by Stony Brook Athletics

Stony Brook left tackle Timon Parris has started all 33 games in his college career.

A look at Stony Brook, which faces USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Seawolves
'16 record: 5-6
Coach: Chuck Priore (12th season at Stony Brook, 67-58; 17th season overall, 106-67)

The breakdown: While this game will be Stony Brook's first against a ranked Division I team, the Seawolves probably won't be intimidated. Though their roster features 52 freshmen, the 'Wolves returns nine defensive and six offensive players who started at least nine games last season. ... The 'Wolves hang their figurative hat on their defense. Behind senior rover Tyrice Beverette (98 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and 250-pound "anchor" (edge rusher) John Haggart (four sacks, four forced
fumbles), they ranked third in Division I-AA in total defense (274.4 ypg) and ninth against the run (101.1 ypg) in 2016. ... Offensively, their best hope is probably to keep Quinton Flowers off the field, meaning a heavy dose of handoffs to 190-pound senior Stacey Bedell (698 rushing yards, 10 TDs last season) and 210-pound junior Donald Liotine (259 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, two TDs). Don't be shocked to see both in the backfield at the same time. Six-foot-2 QB Joe Carbone completed only 52 percent of his passes last year (for 1,017 yards), tossing three TDs and 12 interceptions. The blockers on his left side -- senior LT Timon Parris (6-5, 320) and senior LG Armani Garrick (6-3, 330) -- have started all 33 games of their college careers. ... P Marc Nolan averaged 40.7 yards last season; he could be summoned extensively Saturday.

Odds and ends: Stony Brook was picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason poll (voted on by coaches and sports-information directors). ... The Seawolves' roster features seven players from Florida, but none from the bay area. ... Stony Brook's 59-14 loss at USF in 2010 was the Seawolves' first game against a Division I foe. ...

Audible: "Don't...get beat deep, that's their main goal. Just keep everything in front of them. So we're gonna nickel-and-dime 'em and do what we can to take our shots when we can and run the ball when we can as well." -- Bulls WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling on Stony Brook's defense

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Charlie Strong lauds Tyre McCants' two-block play

USF tailback D'Ernest Johnson scored two touchdowns Saturday at San Jose State.

AP photo

USF tailback D'Ernest Johnson scored two touchdowns Saturday at San Jose State.

Each week, Bulls coach Charlie Strong compiles an "effort tape" from a game (or even a practice) to highlight what he calls an "unbelievable effort to make a play."

The star of this week's tape: Tyre McCants.

USF's brawny junior receiver continued receiving praise from his coach for the two blocks he made during D'Ernest Johnson's 50-yard touchdown run in Saturday's 42-22 romp of San Jose State.

"It was just two unbelievable blocks by him," Strong said Monday on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference.

The clip of the play -- which has darn near gone viral -- can be seen here. After finding the middle bottled up, Johnson bounced outside to his left, and caught McCants' first block -- of LB Trevon Bierria -- around the Spartans 45.

Then near the 20, McCants flattened CB Andre Chachere just as Chachere appeared ready to grab Johnson from behind.

"When he scored, I said, 'Listen, you go over and thank Tyre, he's the one that really sprung you and got you going,'" Strong said.

SLAPSTICK TO SPECIAL: Strong said ball placement and a flubbed blocking assignment accounted for the initial struggles on special teams Saturday.

They began on the opening kickoff, when Emilio Nadelman booted it out of bounds, and continued when Jonathan Hernandez shanked his first punt for 18 yards. Hernandez's fourth attempt was blocked, setting up San Jose State's second TD.

"We go out and try to block a guy coming off the edge instead of letting the guy come to us, because he's got to come through us to block it," Strong said. "And we go out and he beat us on an up-and-under move."

Hernandez redeemed himself, averaging 41.1 yards on a 11 tries (a USF single-game record), pinning three inside the 20.

ODDS AND ENDS: QB Quinton Flowers' 1-yard scoring keeper Saturday was the 31st rushing TD of his career, putting him one shy of Marlon Mack's school record. ... Junior LB Jimmy Bayes registered the first three tackles of his career Saturday. ... How did Deatrick Nichols fare in his nickel back debut? Six tackles (tied for second-most on team) and a pass breakup.

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USF journal: Offense hits century mark of sorts

USF senior D'Ernest Johnson had 99 of USF's 315 rushing yards Saturday.

Photo by Travis Pendergrass

USF senior D'Ernest Johnson had 99 of USF's 315 rushing yards Saturday.

So this is how Sterlin Gilbert's offense rolls.

Or more specifically, runs.

Despite a very shaky start and a pace that never appeared to hit fifth gear, the Bulls set program records for offensive plays (101) and rush attempts (74) in Saturday's 42-22 romp of San Jose State. Using the run to set up single coverage in the pass game, the Bulls amassed 315 rushing yards.

It represented 57 percent of their 548 total yards.

"It gets to the point where you get the defense very tired, and that's what you like to see in a defense," QB Quinton Flowers said. "You pick 'em apart and just keep moving. ... Sometimes the DBs, they get so locked into the run and before you know it, we can take a big shot."

Seniors D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice finished with 99 and 94 yards, respectively; while former Fivay High star Davion Sutton had 47 yards on 10 carries in relief work. No Bulls scoring drive lasted longer than 3:31, and that one spanned 12 plays.

"We wanna go fast, we want tempo, and if can get first downs and stay on the field, we should get a bunch of plays," Strong said.

A RUFF START: Strong said the surprise shift of fifth-year senior Cameron Ruff -- last year's starting center -- to right guard, was necessitated by redshirt freshman G Michael Wiggs' injury late in the preseason.

Junior Michael Galati, who competed with Ruff for the center job in the 2016 preseason, started there Saturday.

"We put our five best (linemen) out there," Strong said.

INJURY REPORT: The Bulls lost their two starting tackles -- Marcus Norman and Eric Mayes -- to apparent leg cramps in a three-play span in the third quarter. Strong said WR Darnell Salomon, who scored the first touchdown of 2017 on a 24-yard pass from Flowers, also suffered cramps.

Additionally, DT Kevin Bronson made the trip but didn't suit up. As a result, freshmen Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinkney played extensively. Pinkney had six tackles, blocked a PAT and appeared to return a fumble roughly 30 yards for a touchdown.

Officials, however, ruled San Jose State QB Montel Aaron was down on the play after a review.

"I didn't think my big man could run like that," Strong said. "Everybody was shocked on the sideline. He didn't know the quarterback was down, but it's just fun to watch a big guy rumble and stumble that far in the end zone."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Bulls now are 16-5 in openers, and have won four in a row. ... USF's 28 second-quarter points were the most SJSU has allowed in a period in nearly seven years. ... The first jet sweep we've seen of the Strong era -- game or practice -- occurred in the third quarter. Marquez Valdes-Scantling gained 3 yards on it. ... San Jose State fell to 0-10 in season openers against ranked teams.  

AUDIBLE: "I was just trying to get us outta there 'cause we knew we had the ball at the start of the second half." -- Strong, when asked why he didn't take a shot at midfield (on fourth down) on the last play of the first half

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Thirteen freshmen travel with Bulls to San Jose State

USF opened the season Saturday evening at San Jose State.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF opened the season Saturday evening at San Jose State.

Thirteen USF true freshmen were among the 70 players who traveled with the Bulls to San Jose State.

Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said earlier in the week at least six defensive freshmen would make the trip. Offensive players joining them include receivers Chauncy Smart, Randall St. Felix, Jernard Phillips and Kevaughn Dingle.

The gluttony of freshmen receivers may be partially attributed to the fact veterans Deangelo Antoine and Ryeshene Bronson are injured and didn't travel. LB Danny Thomas also remained home with an unspecified injury.

Here are the freshmen on the travel roster:

DB Naytron Culpepper
LS Zack Deitz
WR Kevaughn Dingle
LB Keirston Johnson
DT Kevin Kegler
DB Mekhi LaPointe
WR Jernard Phillips
DT Kelvin Pinkney
WR Randall St. Felix
K Marco Salani
WR Chauncy Smart
C Jeremiah Stafford
DB Donelle Thomas

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USF to launch 24/7 radio station devoted to Bulls sports

USF is launching a station on iHeartRadio devoted exclusively to Bulls sports, presumably with heavy attention on football.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF is launching a station on iHeartRadio devoted exclusively to Bulls sports, presumably with heavy attention on football.

USF is putting its athletic department to a daunting digital-age challenge: learning whether its athletic department can provide enough content to sustain 24/7 radio programming.

The school announced that "USF Bulls Unlimited" -- a free, 24-hour, 365-day station dedicated exclusively to Bulls sports -- launches Saturday at noon on iHeartRadio. Longtime 620-AM producer/personality Darek Sharp will serve as executive director for digital broadcasting.

A re-broadcast of the school's inaugural football game -- an 80-3 romp of Kentucky Wesleyan on Sept. 6, 1997 -- will be the first program to air.

In a statement released by USF, athletic director Mark Harlan said: "This is really unique in college athletics to deliver live events, coaches shows, archived replays of great games and orginal athletics programming across the spectrum of all our sports and have it available wherever Bulls fans may be in the world free of charge."

Original content, such as Bulls Beat and The American Now, also will be featured. In addition to his executive-director role, Sharp also will join the Bulls' official radio team for football broadcasts.

"This is going to be big," Sharp said in the same news release. "I've always been proud to cover Tampa Bay sports, but this will be unprecedented as far as the amount of coverage -- and I mean every sport, believe me." …

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Mekhi LaPointe among USF freshmen on travel squad

Former Armwood High star Mekhi LaPointe (center), who had 10 interceptions for the Hawks as a junior, has made the USF travel roster.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former Armwood High star Mekhi LaPointe (center), who had 10 interceptions for the Hawks as a junior, has made the USF travel roster.

At least a half-dozen freshman defensive players -- including former Armwood High ball hawk Mekhi LaPointe -- will travel with the Bulls to San Jose State, defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said Wednesday.

Other rookies joining LaPointe (a defensive back) will be DT Kelvin Pinkney, DT Kevin Kegler, CB Donelle Thomas, CB Naytron Culpepper and LB Keirston Johnson.

"I don't know how much they'll play," Jean-Mary said, "but they'll be in the two-deep and will be available if needed."

Fewer freshmen are expected on offense, though Jeremiah Stafford is listed as the No. 2 center behind Cameron Ruff. If the current depth chart holds, three non-rookies -- WR Stanley Clerveaux, RG Brooks Larkin and LT Eric Mayes -- will make their starting debuts Saturday.

Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said Wednesday that Larkin and Mayes remain first-teamers at their respective spots.

BRACING FOR 'EM ALL: Because the Bulls don't know which of San Jose State's three quarterbacks they could see Saturday, Jean-Mary said his staff has planned -- and contingency-planned -- for just about anything.

Regardless of who takes the first snap for the Spartans (sophomore Josh Love, redshirt freshman Montel Aaron or redshirt sophomore Sam Allen), Jean-Mary said he expects to see an offense similar to USF's. New SJSU offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder has worked with Gilbert at three different schools, including Texas in 2016.

"When you really don't know who the quarterback's gonna be or exactly what offense (they're) gonna run, you have to have all your bases covered," Jean-Mary said.

"We have to be alert for what we could possibly see. So we've tried to cover everything we could see from A to Z, which in all honesty, has probably made us better coaches. Sometimes you get so focused in a particular offense, you don't check all the boxes if they come out in something new. We feel like we've covered everything that we feel like they could possibly run." 

ODDS AND ENDS: Both Jean-Mary and Gilbert said they'll coach from the sideline. ... WR Ryeshene Bronson (shoulder) didn't suit up Wednesday (the Bulls were in shells) and now seems doubtful for Saturday's game. ... RB D'Ernest Johnson is only six catches from Rafael Williams' school record for career receptions by a running back (68). Johnson's 28 catches last season were the most of any returning Bull.

AUDIBLE: "I think it will be very similar to what we do. He was with me last year (at Texas), we were together at Eastern (Illinois) and (Bowling Green), which is basically this offense. And I think you're gonna see a very similar look out there at what they're gonna try to do. I know their head coach (Brent Brennan) is an offensive guy, so I'm sure he'll have his thumbprint on it somehow someway." -- Gilbert on Sowder

AUDIBLE, PART II: "I tell everybody, if you didn't know Greg was a walk-on the first day that we came out here in winter conditioning and we saw him running around, and then in spring practice, you would've thought he was a scholarship player. And not just a young scholarship player, probably a two- or three-year veteran. He carries himself with so much class and he's such a humble kid, sometimes you forget how menacing of a player he can be on the field." -- Jean-Mary on sophomore DE Greg Reaves, awarded a scholarship last week

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Deatrick Nichols to start at nickel for USF

USF senior Deatrick Nichols, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference cornerback in 2015, has moved to nickel back.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior Deatrick Nichols, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference cornerback in 2015, has moved to nickel back.

If the Bulls' most recent depth chart holds true until Saturday, senior Deatrick Nichols will make his debut at nickel back against San Jose State.

A two-time all-conference cornerback with eight career interceptions, Nichols appears slightly thicker this preseason (listed at 190 pounds) and has drawn raves from coaches. As a result of his move inside, junior Mazzi Wilkins -- a Plant High alumnus -- is almost certain to make his first career start at cornerback opposite junior Ronnie Hoggins.

"The guy who's having an unbelievable camp for us right now is Nichols," Coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday. "And a guy who's really come on is Mazzi."

Elsewhere on the depth chart (dated Aug. 16), third-year sophomore Brooks Larkin is listed as first-team right guard, while redshirt junior Stanley Clerveaux -- injured most of his first two seasons -- is listed as a starting receiver opposite Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Neither Larkin nor Clerveaux has started a college game.

Sophomore DE Greg Reaves, awarded a scholarship last week, is listed as a starter alongside three seniors: DT Deadrin Senat, DT Bruce Hector and DE Mike Love. Junior Chris Barr is listed as the first-team slot receiver ahead of Deangelo Antoine and Tyre McCants.

INJURY UPDATE: Strong didn't sound optimistic when asked if senior WR Ryeshene Bronson (shoulder) will be available Saturday. Also expected to be sidelined is G Glen Bethel, who was on crutches last week and doesn't appear on the two-deep chart.

"I don't know just where we are right now (with Bronson)," Strong said. "He hasn't been in our plans, so usually by Tuesday or Wednesday...if he's not ready, then he won't be. But we still have some time up until game time."

ODDS AND ENDS: Strong indicated defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary will be the primary play-caller. "I sit in the meetings with them, but...I've got enough experienced guys in that room that they can run it," he said. "I mean, every now and then I say, 'Run this defense,' but I won't just completely (take over)." ... RB D'Ernest Johnson said the Bulls have been studying tape of Oregon State's defense; new San Jose State coordinator Derrick Odum was the Beavers' secondary coach the last two seasons. ... The Bulls head to California on Thursday, presumably to get acclimated to Pacific time. ... Johnson and FS Tajee Fullwood split punt-return reps during Tuesday's segment of practice open to reporters. ... Ben Holden will handle CBS Sports Network's play-by-play for Saturday's game, with Randy Cross serving as analyst and John Schriffen on the sidelines.

AUDIBLE: "He was with us last year at Texas, and actually him and Sterlin (Gilbert) have the same background being at Bowling Green and everywhere. But the key thing for us on defense is not so much worry about what he's gonna do, but we have to worry about ourselves." -- Strong on San Jose State offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder, who served as Strong's offensive quality-control coach at Texas last season. Sowder also worked with Gilbert at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois.

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Know the foe: San Jose State

San Jose State junior Malike Roberson led the Spartans with 508 rushing yards last season.

Terrell Lloyd | San Jose State University Athletics

San Jose State junior Malike Roberson led the Spartans with 508 rushing yards last season.

A look at San Jose State, which hosts USF on Saturday at CEFCU Stadium

Nickame: Spartans
'16 record: 4-8
Coach: Brent Brennan (first season overall)

The breakdown: Brennan, a San Jose native making his Division I head coaching debut, said Monday his three-player quarterback derby continues. Whomever wins the job -- sophomore Josh Love is the only one to have played in a Division I game -- is likely to operate an offense strikingly similar to USF's. Spartans offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder was Charlie Strong's offensive quality control coach at Texas last season, and previously worked with Bulls offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and Bowling Green ('14). "It probably will benefit Sterlin just as much as it does us, I would say," Brennan said Monday. "But I do think there will be some similarities in terms of the scheme on offense." ... The Spartans' projected first-team offensive line has 123 combined career starts, most in Division I. Question is, can some skill guys blossom around them? San Jose State averaged 24.4 points last season, which ranked 103rd nationally. ... Defensively, the Spartans return seven players who have started at least 10 games, and those seven endured their share of lumps in 2016. The Spartans allowed 246.7 rushing yards per game (122nd nationally), and surrendered 5.66 points per drive (128th) when opponents got inside their 40. Brennan said he hopes an infusion of juco talent -- including former Arizona State LB Jamal Scott -- will help fortify the unit.

Odds and ends: If you haven't seen this viral clip of Spartans running backs coach Alonzo Carter, do yourself a favor. In a previous life, Carter was a backup dancer for MC Hammer. ... In each of the last three seasons, San Jose State has finished in the top 12 nationally in fewest penalties per game. ... Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan spent part of the previous decade at SJSU, where he was credited with helping then-AD Tom Bowen resurrect and restructure a floundering sports program previously crippled by rampant academic ineligibility.

Audible: "Obviously, when you coach with somebody and spend as much time as Coach Sowder and Sterlin have spent together, you get a feel for each other. And then sometimes it's kind of like playing basketball in the back yard against your brother; you go twice as hard." -- Brennan

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Texas voter ranks USF 10th on preseason ballot

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (43) goes up against center Cameron Ruff during a preseason practice.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (43) goes up against center Cameron Ruff during a preseason practice.

At least one scribe who watched Charlie Strong falter at Texas believes he'll flourish at USF.

The preseason ballot of Austin (Texas) American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls says it all. A veteran voter in the Associated Press rankings, Bohls ranked the Bulls 10th -- at least two spots higher than any other voter, and nine spots higher than where USF landed in the initial poll.

Our own Matt Baker ranked USF 19th.

His general thought process: The Bulls' offense will atone for any initial defensive shortcomings. In an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times, Bohls correctly mentioned USF has several veterans returning on the two front levels of the defense (but incorrectly noted San Diego Chargers rookie Nigel Harris as one of those returners).

"With Quinton Flowers leading the offense as a legit Heisman candidate and perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback in college football and explosive D’Ernest Johnson ready to replace the departed Marlon Mack, the offense should overcompensate for a lot of defensive ills," Bohls wrote.

"And if memory serves, they had both kickers back. The schedule is fairly friendly with Illinois as a medium challenge and home dates against powers like Houston (which I also ranked) and Temple.

"Seven home games, new energy with an invigorated Charlie Strong and a good staff could have USF poised as my dark horse to reach the (College Football Playoff)."

This link reveals where each voter placed USF on his/her respective ballot. Three other voters also put USF in their top 15. Seven voters didn't rank the Bulls at all.

 

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USF's season-opening foe still waging QB derby

Evidently, Brent Brennan's first major decision as a Division I coach will be a last-minute one.

The rookie San Jose State coach said Monday afternoon he hasn't decided who will start for the Spartans in Saturday's season opener against 19th-ranked USF, and likely won't make a decision until game time.

"It's nip-and-tuck right now, it's a close battle," Brennan said on a teleconference Monday. "Three guys are up there towards the front, and we've got four more practice opportunities to hopefully let the dust settle and figure out who's gonna run out there with the first team on Saturday."

The official SJSU depth chart lists 6-foot-2 sophomore Josh Love or 6-5 redshirt freshman Montel Aaron, though Brennan said 6-2 sophomore Sam Allen also is in the mix.

Love is the only one to have played in a Division I game. He started twice last season, finishing 31-for-60 for 392 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. His net rushing total: minus-41 yards.

Aaron had a 56-yard scoring pass in an Aug. 12 scrimmage, and finished 6-for-13 for 202 yards (with 30 rushing yards) in the Spartans' spring game.

"Josh had a good camp. He's hit his throws consistently. He's probably the most mature of the group, just because he played a little bit in games," said Brennan, a former SJSU assistant who spent the past six seasons as Oregon State's receivers coach.

"But Montel Aaron has played really well also. Every time we scrimmage...Montel shows up and he makes plays. ... And then Sam has made a lot of plays, too. He's a little bit different than both of those guys; he's a little bit bigger guy, a little more solid. So he's done some good stuff in terms of getting out on the perimeter and moving around."

The Spartans and Bulls kick off Saturday at CEFCU Stadium at 4:30 p.m. (PST). The Bulls -- and a CBS Sports Network audience -- are likely to learn of Brennan's decision concurrently.

"I anticipate a decision at about 4:32 on Saturday afternoon," Brennan said.

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USF No. 19 in AP poll, matching highest preseason ranking

USF, behind senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, is 19th in the Associated Press preseason poll.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF, behind senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, is 19th in the Associated Press preseason poll.

While it remains to be seen whether USF will have an unprecedented regular season, one thing is certain.

It already has had an historic August.

The Bulls are 19th in the Associated Press' preseason poll, matching the program's highest preseason ranking previously achieved by the 2008 team. They're the only two USF teams to be ranked before September.

Times staff writer Matt Baker ranked USF 19th on his ballot. The Bulls also were ranked 19th at the end of 2016, when they finished 11-2 and topped South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

USF is the only Group of Five team to be ranked, a potentially encouraging harbinger at the season's outset. The Group of Five conference champion ranked highest by the College Football Playoff selection committee earns a berth in a New Year's Six bowl game. The first CFP rankings will be released Oct. 31.

Here's where the Bulls have landed in the seven most prominent preseason rankings:

Associated Press: 19
Athlon: 24
Coaches poll: 21
The Sporting News: 22
Sports Illustrated: 17
Street & Smith's: 23
Phil Steele: 18

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USF wraps up preseason camp

USF wrapped up its preseason camp Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls open the season Aug. 26 at San Jose State.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF wrapped up its preseason camp Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls open the season Aug. 26 at San Jose State.

The Bulls' 2017 preseason camp, comprising 21 practices over a four-week stretch, concluded Saturday, and not a sweltering second too soon for most.

At least not for senior MLB Auggie Sanchez, who deemed it the "worst" (aka toughest) of the five camps he has endured as a Bull.

"I think it might be the worst camp just because I'm older, I've just kind of got nicks and stuff on my body, but it was physical," Sanchez said after Saturday's finale, held at Raymond James Stadium. "We did a lot of hitting and stuff, but yeah, definitely the most physical and probably the longest camp I've been a part of."

The Bulls practiced six days each of the final two weeks, with every practice held in searing mid-morning conditions. In spite of the preseason's length (the July 24 start date was the earliest in program history), no Bull appeared to suffer a season-threatening injury.

"The coaches, once we get out on the field, they make sure we go hard, and they want us to work while we're tired because in the game it's gonna get easier for you," said QB Quinton Flowers, whose team begins game-week preparations for San Jose State on Sunday afternoon. …

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Nicholas, Selvie say USF a better tackling team

USF redshirt freshman Andre Polk Jr. engages in a tackling drill with fellow linebacker Danny Thomas during a recent practice.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF redshirt freshman Andre Polk Jr. engages in a tackling drill with fellow linebacker Danny Thomas during a recent practice.

We'll learn soon enough -- in about eight days -- whether the tackling of USF's defense has improved from last season.

But two significant observers, both of whom know a thing or two about the fundamental, insist the Bulls are better.

One of them is Bulls two-time All-American DE George Selvie, who has spent the preseason working out on campus and hanging around the team with the thought of eventually joining the staff in an official capacity.

"It's a very good tackling team," said Selvie, who last played in the NFL in 2015.

"Coach (Charlie) Strong has been pushing them on defense. He's a defensive coach and he's coming out here teaching them his defense, a hard-nosed defense. That's what he wants and they're responding to it."

Former first-team All-Big East LB Stephen Nicholas, now a Bulls defensive quality-control assistant, concurred before hedging slightly.

"Most definitely," Nicholas said when asked if this is a better tackling team. "We're getting better. ... We're working at it, but we're definitely getting better at that, okay?"

At least twice last season (after losses to FSU and Temple), former Bulls coach Willie Taggart publicly called out his team's tackling -- or lack thereof. USF ranked 120th nationally in total defense (482.0 ypg) and 84th against the run (196.5 ypg).

When asked specifically about his linebackers' tackling proficiency late last week, new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary indicated he was pleased to a degree.

"It could always get better," he said. "You've got to think, as far as live reps go, it's limited, because you never want to hurt your own team. So we've had a couple of live scrimmages where we've done okay, but you'd like to see it through a full game and see how we tackle live bodies.

"We've gotten as close to live as possible, and they've been more than adequate so far."

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