No. 17 USF focused on Houston, not national ranking
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Charlie Strong believes No. 17 South Florida can play with any team in the country.
Just don’t expect the coach to be vocal about it.
At least not at this point in the season.
The Bulls (7-0, 4-0) enter Saturday’s American Athletic Conference matchup against Houston (4-3, 2-2) as one of eight remaining unbeaten FBS teams, focused on trying to stay atop the AAC’s Eastern Division rather than their standing among the nation’s best.
Strong is comfortable with where USF is situated in the rankings and mindful that there’s a lot of work yet to be done.
”It is always about the next game,” said Strong, whose team is off to the best start in school history and has the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games.
”When we started, I told them there was a target placed on their back at the very beginning, but you can’t worry about that,” Strong added. ”You’ve got to focus on the task at hand. Whichever game, whomever we’re playing, it’s all about that opponent, and it’s never about the big picture.”
For the record, Strong is confident the Bulls can compete with anyone.
The former Texas and Louisville coach also knows it would be counterproductive to tout his team for wider recognition in October, only to slip up between now and a potential regular season-ending showdown with another unbeaten team, AAC East co-leader UCF.
The emphasis for the time being is on continuing to improve.
”We haven’t played a complete game yet. It’s always either the offense takes off, the defense takes off, the kicking game (takes off). Once we get that one (complete) game, then watch out,” Strong said.
Houston is coming off a 42-38 home loss to AAC West leader Memphis that cost the Cougars a chance to climb into first place in the division.
Coach Major Applewhite said his message to players heading into Saturday is much the same as it was a week ago, when he likened the challenge the Cougars faced against Memphis to a championship boxing match.
”This is going to be a very accomplished fighter that’s going to throw punches and it’s going to be 15 rounds. It’s not something that will finish early and we get to go home, but we’re going to fight for 15 rounds,” Applewhite said. ”We’re going to have to be disciplined fighters.”
Some things to watch when the conference foes meet for the first time in three years:
USF’s Quinton Flowers is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He’s thrown for 1,245 yards, 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions, while also rushing for 613 yards and seven touchdowns. The senior has accounted for nearly 10,000 yards and 100 TDs during a career that began under former Bulls coach Willie Taggart. The Bulls are 25-4 since became the full-time starter in October 2015, averaging 41.7 points per game over that span.
”That speaks a lot to the players. There’s been different coaching staffs there, and not to take anything away from Coach Strong and his staff or Willie Taggart and his staff, but Quinton Flowers has a lot to do with that,” Applewhite said. ”That’s the reality of it.”
The Cougars rank ninth nationally with 10 interceptions, six fewer than USF’s nation-leading 16. Safety Garrett Davis leads the way with four picks, tied for the AAC lead with Bulls safety Devin Abraham.
Houston is coming off allowing 47 and 42 points in losses to Tulsa and Memphis the past two games. It likely will take the Cougars’ best defensive effort of the season to slow down USF, which has scored at least 30 points in 24 consecutive games.
LOTS OF RESPECT
Strong isn’t surprised by the success of Houston defensive star Ed Oliver, who anchors the Cougars’ line and has 30 career tackles for loss in 20 games. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound sophomore has a career average of 1.48 tackles for loss per game, tops in the nation.
”I recruited Ed Oliver when we were at Texas and knew then he was going to be an outstanding football player,” Strong said. ”He’s a guy that is really quick off the ball, very aggressive, very physical at the point of attack. He’s hard to block. I always have thought he’s one of the better defensive linemen in the country.”
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