One of the worst-kept secrets in Tampa finally was confirmed Tuesday when USF coach Charlie Strong announced graduate transfer Blake Barnett will start the Bulls' season opener Saturday against Elon.
The opening-night starter for Alabama only two seasons ago, Barnett — a seldom-used backup at Arizona State last season — edged fourth-year junior Brett Kean and third-year sophomore Chris Oladokun in a three-player derby in preseason camp.
He becomes the 15th starting quarterback in the Bulls' 22-season history.
"You look at him, he has a really strong arm," Strong said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. "He can release the ball. And he runs a lot better than we thought, what we gave him credit for."
Strong said he polled every offensive and defensive assistant on who should start, acknowledging the decision wasn't a consensus. He added Barnett's experience and maturity (he's a 22-year-old married father of an infant son) also were factors in the decision.
"He's actually a pretty good athlete," Bulls senior WR Tyre McCants said. "He's done some things this camp that surprised a lot of us."
A consensus five-star prospect from Corona, Calif., Barnett was pulled in the first half of his lone start for the Crimson Tide, a 52-6 win against USC in 2016. He transferred to a junior college later that month, and moved to Arizona State prior to the start of the '17 season.
He was unable to beat out incumbent Manny Wilkins for the Sun Devils' starting job, and attempted only five passes all year. He'll enter Saturday's game 14-for-24 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception as a collegian.
Strong said Barnett reached out to him about transferring to USF last spring. His arrival officially was announced in May.
"He's seen it all, so I don't worry about his mental makeup at all," Strong said. "I think this is good for him because you don't have all the glare and expectations. So I think it allows him to really just calm down and be himself."