Previewing USF’s 2023 opponents

After nearly defeating Florida at The Swamp last season, USF will have another chance to pull off a historic upset against another ranked SEC program, Alabama, on Sept. 16. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

In arguably the most anticipated season in USF football history since first kicking off in 1997, the Bulls will compete under a rebuilt American Athletic Conference. 

First year head coach Alex Golesh joins the Bulls after leading the nation’s top offense at Tennessee, so all eyes will be on USF this season to see if the program can turn itself around.  

After Houston, UCF and Cincinnati departed for the Big 12, the AAC added UTSA, UAB, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice and FAU. Five of the six newcomers will face off against the Bulls this season. This is also the first season since 2013 that USF and UCF will not participate in the War on I-4 rivalry. 

Highlights of this year’s matchups include a bout with SEC powerhouse Alabama as well as a road trip to the Roadrunners to take on the 2022 Conference USA champions.  

                USF at Western Kentucky, Sept. 2

Head coach: Tyson Helton (fifth season)

Record in 2022: 9-5 (6-2 CUSA)

The Hilltoppers will return with redshirt senior quarterback Austin Reed at the helm, who’s 4,744 passing yards led the nation last season. His 40 passing touchdowns also ranked third in the country. 

Junior wide receiver Malachi Coley led the team with 1,295 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, also leading the nation with 975 yards after the catch and 40 broken tackles.

Containing Western Kentucky’s prolific passing attack will be crucial to securing a difficult road test to open the season. 

                USF vs. Florida A&M, Sept. 9

Head coach: Willie Simmons (sixth season)

Record in 2022: 9-2 (7-1 SWAC)

USF will open its home season when Florida A&M travels to Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 9. The Rattlers finished last season ranked 23rd in the FCS, the second highest subconference of D1 football. 

USF won 38-17 the last time the teams met in 2021. The Bulls have never lost to the Rattlers, going 4-0 since their first meeting in 2005. 

                USF vs. No. 4 Alabama, Sept. 16

Head coach: Nick Saban (16th season)

Record in 2022: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)

By far the most difficult opponent the Bulls will face all season, Alabama begins the 2023 season ranked No. 4 in the country. The Crimson Tide boasted six All-American selections last season, highlighted by junior cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. McKinstry is considered to be one of the top prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft. 

Alabama has yet to name a starting quarterback at the time of publication, with five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster including returning sophomore Jalen Milroe. Last season’s starter, Bryce Young, was selected No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. 

Compiling a 194-27 record as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Saban is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches in college football history. Under Saban, Alabama has won five national championships and has produced 44 first round NFL draft picks. Last season, the Crimson Tide were 

Historically, Alabama wreaks havoc on unranked teams. Since 2007, Saban has only lost once to an unranked team, which was a 41-38 loss against Texas A&M in 2021.   

                USF vs. Rice, Sept. 23

Head coach: Mike Bloomgren (sixth season)

Record in 2022: 5-8 (3-5 CUSA)

AAC newcomer Rice bolstered its lineup with the highest ranked recruiting class in program history after competing in the first bowl game since 2014, yet are still widely projected to finish near last in the conference, according to Athlon Sports.

Senior transfer JT Daniels will start at quarterback for the Owls, a former five-star prospect who has previously spent time with Georgia, USC and West Virginia. 

                    USF at Navy, Sept. 30

Head coach: Brian Newberry (first season)

Record in 2022: 4-8 (4-4 AAC)

Navy boasted one of the top defenses in the country last season, finishing third in the nation in rushing yards allowed at 88.9 yards per game and third in first downs allowed with 187.

Their trademark triple-option offense poses a unique threat to the Bulls, who will have to staunchly defend the run in order to avoid being upset on the road. With their unique offense attack, Navy almost exclusively runs the ball, which is notoriously challenging to defend. 

                    USF at UAB, Oct. 7

Head coach: Trent Dilfer (first season)

Record in 2022: 7-6 (4-4 CUSA)

UAB enjoyed a busy offseason, including joining the American Athletic Conference and hiring former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer as head coach.

Senior running back Jermaine Brown Jr. is returning to the team after an All C-USA Second Team nod in 2022. Brown Jr. rushed for 948 yards, ranking fourth in the conference and added eight touchdowns last season. He was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List for the 2023 season, which is awarded to the nation’s top offensive player.

Redshirt junior Jacob Zeno was named the Blazers starting quarterback. Zeno appeared in nine games last season, tossing five touchdowns. 

                USF vs. Florida Atlantic, Oct. 14

Head coach: Tom Herman (first season)

Record in 2022: 5-7 (4-4 CUSA)

After UCF departed to the Big 12, Florida Atlantic joined the AAC to become the Bulls’ presumed in-state rival. 

FAU hired former Texas head coach Tom Herman, amassing a 32-18 record over four seasons. The Owls boast one of the top offenses in the conference, adding former Texas and Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson. Senior running back Larry McCammon III earned preseason first team All-AAC honors after rushing for 1,547 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. 

Thompson threw for 2,047 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 starts last season for the Cornhuskers before joining his former coach in Boca Raton. The Owls will pose an offensive challenge for a rebuilding Bulls defense. 

                    USF at UConn, Oct. 21

Head coach: Jim Mora (second season)

Record in 2022: 6-6 

Huskies head coach Jim Mora spearheaded a dramatic transformation for the program in his first season, with UConn going from just one win in 2021 to an appearance in the 2022 Myrtle Beach Bowl. 

UConn struggled with passing last season, however, with junior quarterback Ta’Quan Robinson suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the opening game. The Huskies recently named senior quarterback Joseph Fagnano as their starter after he transferred from Maine. 

Fagnano passed for 2,231 yards and 15 touchdowns for the FCS Black Bears last season, who were coached by current Huskies’ offensive coordinator Nick Charlton.

                    USF at Memphis, Nov. 4

Head coach: Ryan Silverfield (fourth season)

Record in 2022: 7-6 (3-5 AAC)

Memphis will return with one of the top quarterbacks in the conference in junior Seth Henigan, who compiled 3,571 passing yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Henigan was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List as well as the Manning Award Watch List, awarded to the nation’s top quarterback. 

Tight end Caden Preiskorn garnered All-AAC Second Team honors last season before transferring to Ole Miss.

The Tigers have particularly struggled in conference play under Silverfield, compiling an 11-13 record in AAC despite going 21-15 overall. 

USF vs. Temple, Nov. 11

Head coach: Stan Drayton (second season)

Record in 2022: 3-9 (1-7 AAC)

After a 54-28 blowout loss last season that ultimately resulted in the firing of former head coach Jeff Scott, USF will attempt to avenge its woes from 2022 against Temple.

Under second year head coach Stan Drayton, the Owls boast a young and promising lineup. Sophomore quarterback E.J. Warner impressed late last season after a rough start, winning AAC Rookie of the Year. 

Warner threw for 3,028 yards and 18 touchdowns, becoming just the second player in program history to break the 3,000 yard mark. 

                    USF at UTSA, Nov. 17

Head coach: Jeff Traylor (fourth season)

Record in 2022: 11-3 (8-0 CUSA)

In a difficult road tilt, the Bulls will travel to San Antonio to face the Roadrunners, who are among the top teams in the AAC. 

Senior Frank Harris is one of the premier quarterbacks in the nation, who owns virtually every passing record in UTSA program history. Harris threw for 4,063 yards and 32 touchdowns last season, and was named Conference USA MVP.

UTSA defeated North Texas 48-27 to win the 2022 Conference USA Championship.

                  USF vs. Charlotte, Nov. 25

Head Coach: Biff Poggi (first season)

Record in 2022: 3-9 (2-6 CUSA)

Charlotte will travel to USF for the Bulls’ final home game of the season. The 49ers are expected to struggle this season, predicted to finish last in the conference by Athlon Sports. 

With newly hired head coach Biff Poggi, the 49ers added 30 new transfers to the roster, including former senior Bethune-Cookman quarterback Jalon Jones. Redshirt junior running back Shadrick Byrd was an honorable mention to the All-Conference USA team as a kick returner.  

Transfer additions will be a key component in a game that will feature plenty of fresh faces, as the Bulls also bolstered their roster by adding 49 new transfers.