South Florida Bulls (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. San Jose State Spartans (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Saturday, August 26th, 7:30 PM
Where: CEFCU Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF -20/SJS +20
Over/Under Total: 67
South Florida heads to the west coast to take on San Jose State in an opening weekend matchup of two teams that have never met before and have vastly different expectations heading into the season.
The Bulls are coming off their best football season in school history, finishing with a record of 11-2 and ranked in the polls at years end for the first time ever. Their only losses were against Florida State and eventual AAC Conference champion Temple, and this year they are setup incredibly well with a great new head coach in Charlie Strong, plenty of experience with sixteen starters back and a schedule that ranks 124th out of the 130 teams in college football in difficulty and includes just four teams that went to a bowl last season. They face three of them in a tough final month that has games against Cincinnati, Houston, Tulsa and UCF, but South Florida should still find themselves favored in every game they play this season and a New Years Day Six and possible dark horse BCS Playoff candidate with a legitimate chance of going undefeated.
Along those same lines, Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers enters the year with 40-1 odds to win the Heisman, and as the prolific leader of a team with an opportunity of running the table, there is a lot of value in backing him as he begins his senior season in Tampa. In 2016 Flowers became the first quarterback in Florida FBS History to throw for 2000 yards and rush for 1000 when threw for 2,812 with a 24-7 TD/INT ratio while running for 1.530 yards, 16 touchdowns and an AAC record for yards per carry with 7.7. That YPC average also ranked as fourth in the nation, and only Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson had more rushing yards by a quarterback in 2016. All of that and more eventually earned Flowers the 2016 CFPA National Performer of the Year, which is given annually to the best in college football based upon a scientific ranking that measures every players overall effectiveness in the game. In doing so he became the first player in five years to have won the CFPA award that also didnt win the Heisman with the previous four winners having been Derrick Henry, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel.
Flowers is far from alone on the offense, with a strong offensive line in front of him and senior running back DErnest Johnson joining him in the backfield after taking over the starting role with Marlon Mack onto the NFL. The wide receivers group lost Rodney Adams to pro level as well, but still return their remaining top 6 of 7 in receptions and expect Marque Valdes-Scantling and sophomore tight end Mitchell Wilcox to be the principal targets for Flowers when he looks downfield.
With Strong as the new head coach and a Heisman candidate in Flowers at quarterback, the Bulls defense enters the season under the radar, especially after struggling mightily in 2016 when they finished 92nd in scoring, 122nd in passing and 120th in yards allowed per game. They should be able to greatly improve on all of those numbers, with an especially experienced squad that returns nine starters and ten of the eleven either a senior or junior, most notably three players who all made the AAC All-Conference Second team - nose tackle Deadrin Senat, cornerback Deatrick Nichols and linebacker Auggie Sanchez, who also finished second in the conference last season in tackles with 120. All three will be looking to start their year in grand fashion against a San Jose State team that looks to be greatly overmatched in the talent department.
Offensively the Spartans will be looking to improve in every facet of their game from 2016, when they ranked 103rd in scoring and 94th for total yards per game. They may find issues in attempting to do so especially with a new starter at quarterback, where they will rely on JUCO transfer Michael Carrillo to lead the offense, in addition to having to replace their top two players at the wide receiver position. And its not like they have a strong running game to fall back on, having finished 87th nationally a season ago and expected to have one of the weaker backfields in their conference.
The San Jose State defense returns plenty of experience with eight starters back and much like last season when the team finished 19th in passing yards allowed per game but then 103rd in points allowed and 122nd against the rush, their lone strength is expected to be in the defensive backfield. All four starters return including safeties Maurice McNight and Treveon Bierna along with cornerback Andre Chachbre, who had 14 pass breakups and four interceptions last season to help earn 1st Team All-Mountain West honors. Their biggest issue is amongst the front seven where junior linebacker Frank Ginda is the only returning playmaker, leaving them especially exposed this week trying to defend against a quarterback like Quinton Flowers, who will likely have ample time to move around in the pocket to either find an open receiver or make a play with his feet.
Another problem facing San Jose State is their repeated struggles against quality teams, going 1-21 in the past three seasons in games they were underdogs in, including a disappointing 6-16 against the spread. Unfortunately for the Spartans, South Florida is the opposite with a 18-1 record in their last 19 games as a favorite with a 7-2-1 mark against the number in their last ten when favored by double digits. San Jose State has also found difficulty against non-conference opponents, putting up a record of 3-9 in their last 12 regular seasons game against non-Mountain West teams, with all three wins also coming against lowly FCS opponents. The final major hurdle facing the Spartans is their sideline staff, with Brent Brennan entering as the new head coach along with different coordinators on both of the offense and defensive side of the ball, with all three never having held a similar position in their careers.
With far more talent at both the playing and coaching level, South Florida should be able to name the score this weekend against San Jose State and have little to no issue covering the 20-point spread. Furthermore, for those interested in preseason prop bets I would suggest taking South Florida to win the American Athletic Conference and definitely top their over/under in wins mark of 10 in addition to the previously mentioned odds of 40-1 on Flowers to win the Heisman Trophy.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: USF -20
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