No. 16 USF rides Bull market into Tulane territory

NEW ORLEANS -- University of South Florida coach Charlie Strong has been around great football programs before, so comparisons come rather easily for a man who has seen his share of undefeated starts.

The No. 16 Bulls (6-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) will put their nation-leading 11-game winning streak on the line against improved Tulane (3-3, 1-1) on Saturday night in Yulman Stadium, but Strong isn't afraid to tell the world how good his team is.

A victory over Tulane would give USF its best start in school history and continue the Bulls' search for national affirmation.

"We're good enough to go and compete with anyone," Strong said Tuesday after his Bulls garnered their highest poll ranking since 2008. "We have a good football team. I've seen some of these (other) teams play, and I wouldn't be afraid to play them."

The Bulls have done much more than win 11 straight games. During their last 23 contests, USF has scored at least 30 points, matching a mark set by Chip Kelly's 2011-12 Oregon teams for the longest such streak in NCAA history.

The streak opened with a 44-23 victory over Temple on Nov. 14, 2015, and USF has averaged 42.6 points in those games. The Bulls are averaging 42.8 points this season, but Strong is concerned about his defense stopping Tulane's rejuvenated option offense.

"We know this, whenever you go on the road, you've got to play your best and you've got to be at your best," Strong said. "We're going to get their best. Tulane has a really explosive offense."

Strong's calling card has always been defense, and that's been the case in his first year with USF. The Bulls rank No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense (77.8 yards per game) and No. 8 in rushing offense (293 yards). Top-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Georgia are the only other teams that rank in the top 10 in both categories.

USF also ranks first in the nation in interceptions (15) and turnover margin (plus-13).

Making the offense go for USF is senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who surpassed 3,000 career rushing yards in a 33-3 romp over Cincinnati last week. He has rushed for more yards as a quarterback than Florida's Tim Tebow.

"I came here to do what I'm doing now, make my family proud, make my mom proud, just be a difference maker on the team," Flowers said. "I've just got to continue doing it."

Tulane, revived under second-year coach Willie Fritz, is coming off a disappointing 23-10 loss to Florida International on Saturday. Fritz said the Green Wave will have their hands full trying to stop the USF attack.

"Their quarterback (Flowers) is a Heisman Trophy candidate and they run the ball extremely well," Fritz said. "They've got big back and a big offensive line, but they also throw the ball very effectively. And, defensively, I don't think they get enough credit. They've got good corners and they play a lot of man coverage. They have a big defensive line."

After rolling up 653 yards in total offense in a 62-28 rout of Tulsa, Tulane couldn't make many offensive plays against FIU. Running back Dontrell Hilliard rushed for only 90 yards and junior quarterback Jonathan Banks was 5 of 16 passing for 36 yards.

"Dontrell didn't get enough touches last week," Fritz said.

USF's special teams have also been superb. Senior kicker Emilio Nadelman made all four field goal attempts against Cincinnati and is 14 of 15 this season.

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