NEWPORT, R.I. — The early date and Thursday night spotlight already made it a 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 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. 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 five-day turnaround from a Saturday game at Nevada.
"It's a challenge, definitely a challenge …" 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 was 4-0 when it opened the Big East schedule with a lopsided loss at Pittsburgh, sparking a slump that saw the Bulls drop seven of their last eight. USF's seniors are excited to play a conference game early and set the tone for a different conference season.
"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; it played conference games in the fourth week of 2005 and 2007. The schools' past 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 win 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' coach.
"It has all the makings to be a great game," Rutgers 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."