TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The daunting challenge South Florida faces hosting 10th-ranked Alabama isn’t lost on Alex Golesh.
The first-year coach is rebuilding USF’s once-thriving program and understands the nationally televised game Saturday against the Crimson Tide (1-1) offers an opportunity to showcase what he’s trying to accomplish with the Bulls.
Just don’t try to sell him on a David vs. Goliath matchup.
Golesh knows it’s going to take time to make USF relevant again, so he’s focused on laying the foundation rather than getting caught up in the hype surrounding facing a perennial power that’s won six national championships under coach Nick Saban.
“We’ve won four games in three and a half years? I’d say they’re all a challenge,” Golesh said. “That’s what we’re trying to change, that you’ve got to rely on something other than a hope and a prayer. You’ve got to rely on a foundation.”
The former Tennessee offensive coordinator envisions the Bulls evolving into a program capable of competing on a national stage. USF once climbed as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007 before falling on hard times over the past decade.
Alabama is a 31½-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Crimson Tide are coming off a 34-24 loss to Texas and eager to get back on track.
USF (1-1) opened with a road loss at Western Kentucky before snapping an 11-game losing streak with a 14-point win over FCS foe Florida A&M last week.
“Every week is important. This week just happens to be on a national stage,” Golesh said. “It’s another measuring stick for us, another test as we lay the foundation.”
Alabama is 13-1 following a regular-season loss since 2008. And while the Crimson Tide have yet to drop consecutive regular-season games over that stretch, they did follow a defeat to rival Auburn with a loss to Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
Saban expects his team to respond to the loss to Texas.
“In our eyes, to respond is to play to the ‘Bama standard. That’s what we’re going to do,” offensive lineman Tyler Booker said.
“We had a lot of opportunities to capitalize off of their mistakes, and that’s what we didn’t do,” Booker added. “That’s not playing to the ’Bama standard.”
The game Saturday is the first of three scheduled between the Crimson Tide and the Bulls over four seasons. USF will visit Tuscaloosa in 2024 and 2026. Alabama won the only previous meeting, 40-17, in 2003. The Bulls led 17-7 before being outscored 33-0 down the stretch.
The Crimson Tide hasn’t faced USF in 20 years, but this won’t be the first time the defense has been exposed to the offensive system the Bulls are running under Golesh. The Bulls coach was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee when the Volunteers outlasted Alabama 52-49 last season.
RUNNING BACKS STALLED
None of Alabama’s running backs with more than four carries are averaging 4.0 yards or better. Jase McClellan has run 22 times for 90 yards (3.8 average) and one touchdown. Roydell Williams has gained 48 yards on 13 carries (3.7). The Tide had to replace first-round draft pick Jahmyr Gibbs, who plays for the Detroit Lions.
Alabama’s linemen talked during the offseason about playing a more physical brand of football. They haven’t done a great job of protecting quarterback Jalen Milroe, who was sacked five times by Texas. The line has three new starters, including freshman left tackle Kadyn Procter, one of the top recruits in the nation.
Alabama has only lost three regular-season games against nonconference teams in Saban’s 16-plus seasons. Two of those — Florida State and Louisiana-Monroe — came in 2007. The third was the loss to Texas last week.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.