Back in the Top 25 for the first time since late last season, South Florida gets the opportunity to display its talents before a national television audience when the No. 23 Bulls face Tulsa on Friday night.
Kickoff on ESPN is 7 p.m. ET at Chapman Stadium in Tulsa.
The Bulls (5-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) will showcase junior running back Jordan Cronkite, a transfer from Florida who rushed for a school and conference record with 302 yards last week in a 58-42 win over Massachusetts.
Cronkite scored on runs of 77, 76, and 30 yards. He averaged 13.1 per carry and moved his per-game average up to 151.5 yards per games, third among FBS rushers.
“To rush for 300 yards, it’s amazing,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. “I wanted him to get 300 yards, so I left him in the game.”
Why leave him in late?
“Because of the way he played that night,” Strong said, “he deserved to get it.”
Cronkite has rushed for at least 100 yards in three consecutive games, with 567 during a three-game span second only to the 591 rushing yards by Andre Hall (2004) in program history.
“You watch him play and you really see that burst,” Strong said. “When he hits that burst, then he takes off and it’s hard for guys to go catch him.
“He has outstanding speed, runs behind his pads, can run through tacklers, and does a really good job of just protecting the football.”
Cronkite looks to have an opportunity for another big night against a Tulsa defense that has yielded more than 207 yards a game to opponents on the ground.
The Golden Hurricane (1-4, 0-2 AAC) lost 41-26 loss to Houston last week despite leading 26-17 with 13 minutes to play. Tulsa is averaging nearly 207 yards per game rushing itself.
“The strength of their offense is their offensive line,” Strong said. “You look at the center, the guard and the tackle, all three of those are three-year starters. They’re similar to us, they have running backs that can play.”
Running backs Corey Taylor and Shamari Brooks have rushed for 411 and 375 yards, respectively, though Brooks missed the last game because of an ankle injury.
Starting quarterback Luke Skipper also was out with an injury. Brooks is expected back this week, but Skipper apparently has lost his job to redshirt freshman Seth Boomer.
Boomer was 13-of-31 passing for 227 yards with an interception and touchdown in his collegiate debut last week against Houston. He lost a fumble along with throwing the pick late in the loss.
Mistakes have sunk Tulsa’s opportunities all year. The Golden Hurricane have turned the ball over 16 times and rank 124th nationally among FBS teams in turnover margin, not a good statistic.
“We’ve played at times well enough in every game we’ve played in to win,” coach Phillip Montgomery said.
The loss was the 14th in the last 17 games for Tulsa, which makes this opportunity against USF even bigger for Montgomery’s crew.
“We’re living week to week,” Montgomery said. “A big win here at home would be great. You add on playing on Friday night playing against the No. 23 team in the nation would be great for us.”
The Friday night affair is Tulsa’s third consecutive weeknight outing. In addition to the game against Houston, South Florida also played on a Thursday in late September, losing at Temple. USF has another Friday game, against UCF on Thanksgiving weekend.
Tulsa’s Montgomery, once a high school coach, is not enamored of the Friday affairs.
“It’s great for us to have another opportunity to play on national television in kind of being the only thing on at that point,” he said. ” But the traditionalist in me, and you know my background, Friday nights are for high school football.
“I’d love to keep it that way, but we’re going to play whenever they tell us to play.”