Tampa, Fla. - USF is off to its third straight 3-0 start and will open up American Athletic Conference play this Saturday night at home against East Carolina.

  • USF is 7-1 all-time against ECU 
  • The Bulls have won three straight against ECU, including a 61-31 win over the Pirates  last season 
  • This is the sixth AAC opener for USF, who is 4-1 in their previous five conference openers

Bull Speed Ahead 

Let’s face it; USF stole a game from Illinois in Chicago last week. That game was anything but a “Saturday in the Park” (Chicago, “Chicago V” album, 1972). The Bulls slept through the first half and opened the fourth quarter down 19-7. However, a win is a win is a win. USF rallied on offense and locked down their defense. So here we are staring at a Bulls team that is 3-0 through the meat of its non-conference schedule. The fun part for USF is that a win this weekend would mean heading to October undefeated (the Bulls have a bye week next week). 

Barnett’s Bulls still improving

The USF offense can score points. There is no question. I have spoken with different football folks around the area and one common theme keeps coming up: offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert looks comfortable. Why would it be more important for Gilbert to be at ease? Well, let’s remember that Gilbert had not been at a program for more than a year since he was at Eastern Illinois from 2012-2013. There is no doubt that Gilbert has his quarterback in Blake Barnett. But there is also a real sense that Gilbert has the right pieces to the puzzle for this offense. He has led USF to four games with 600-plus yards of offense in less than two seasons. 

Blake Barnett is quickly becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference. Let me be clear: no one is better than McKenzie Milton from UCF. But guys like Barnett and Houston’s D’Eriq King are having impressive starts to the season. Barnett is second – only to King - in the AAC in passing yards per game (307.7) and is 11th in the nation in this category. 

Jordan Cronkrite is quickly becoming the next USF running back fans will love. Another good sign is that USF has four of the top 14 receivers in the AAC: Randall St. Felix (4th), Darnell Salomon (11th), Tyre McCants (12th) and Mitch Wilcox (14th). It is also cool to note that Wilcox is tied for third in the nation among tight end receptions with 14. 

Bulls Defense in the middle of the pack

USF’s defense is currently ranked seventh in the AAC allowing 405 yards per game. That number is inflated because of the Bulls game against Georgia Tech where the Yellow Jackets totaled 602 yards of offense. If you look at the Bulls against Elon and Illinois, they are only giving up 307 yards per game, which would rank them third in the AAC. 

USF is the second best pass defense in the AAC allowing only 131 passing yards per game. The Bulls are also tied for second in the conference with four interceptions on the season. 

A Pirates Life for Me 

What a crazy September this has been for ECU.  First, the Pirates lose their opener to North Carolina A&T. Then the team beats North Carolina, has its game against Virginia Tech canceled because of Hurricane Florence, and then spends this week over in Orlando to prepare for Saturday’s game in Tampa. 

But as ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said: “We're not seeking any normalcy…we are seeking a great start to our conference schedule."

USF and ECU are both averaging 36 points per game. ECU doesn’t have the best rushing attack in the world but watch out for Anthony Scott. He will get the majority of touches out of the Pirates backfield. Reid Herring has done a decent job at QB but he does not light up the world. He is certainly no Thomas Sirk who went 20-for-43 with 389 total yards and four total touchdowns against the Bulls last season. Herring has four main receivers who all have double-digit receptions: Blake Proehl (12), Trevon Brown (11), Deondre Farrier (10) and Terrell Green (10). 

ECU’s defense is only allowing an average of 332 yards of offense. They are in for a rude awakening this Saturday against USF. The Pirates are only one of two teams in the AAC without an interception. 

Prediction Time

One thing that is clear to me is that ECU never seems to be afraid of the Bulls. Go back to 2016 in Tampa when the Pirates stuck around for a 38-22 loss. In 2015 it was a 22-17 win for USF on the road. Last year the Bulls put up 61 on the road but the game never felt like a blowout. 

Will USF put up 60? I don’t think so. Will they get to 40? Yes. And that is all they need to do. 

USF 42 ECU 20