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Bless Your Hearts ECU administrators and trustees. Seems you have a champagne taste for athletics, but are stuck with a...

Primetime awaits USF-ECU, and Bucs-Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Raymond James Stadium is shown lit up for the first time in this Aug. 11, 1998 photo. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Cincinnati South Florida Football
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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, September 21, 2018

Raymond James Stadium is set to host two primetime football games in the coming days, beginning Saturday when East Carolina plays at 3-0 South Florida at 8 p.m.

USF stages its home games at the stadium in Tampa more known as the venue for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.

The Bucs, who also are off to hot start at 2-0, will welcome in the Pittsburgh Steelers for Monday Night Football. There should be plenty of time Sunday for Raymond James to be completely switched from college to pro mode, but South Florida coach Charlie Strong said earlier this week the Bulls’ kickoff times are not as dependent on the NFL schedule as it might seem initially.

Like a lot of things in sports, Strong said television is a big factor.

“I think it has a lot to do with the conference and where we are slotted with ESPN to be on TV,” he said.

The USF-ECU matchup will be broadcast on ESPNews. The Bucs-Steelers game two nights later will kick off at 8:15 on the ESPN flagship network.

The American Athletic Conference has three Saturday games at 8 p.m. this week. In addition to the Pirates (1-1) at USF, ESPN3 will stream Texas Southern at Houston and South Alabama at Memphis.

Memphis, USF and Houston have a combined 7-2 record, which also likely makes it more enticing for ESPN to put those home teams in night action.

South Florida’s season opener was against Elon at 6 p.m. with an attendance of 31,217. It was a noon kickoff a week later for the Bulls at Raymond James, but also a better opponent in Georgia Tech, and the crowd bumped to 34,182.

Through only a few weeks of the college football season, frontrunner Central Florida is the only AAC squad with an average home attendance above 40,000 at 43,269. ECU (38,969) ranks second and USF (32,700) is third.

“This is the first 8 p.m. game for us (this season), so I don’t know how much effect it is going to have,” Strong said. “Fans are fans and they are still going to come to the game. With it being so late, I don’t think it is going to bother them for whoever is going to come out and watch us play.”

The Bulls’ first four games of this year are at an NFL venue. Three are at Raymond James, and they beat Illinois 25-19 last Saturday at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.

For East Carolina, simply playing a game could provide a boost after its Week 3 matchup at Virginia Tech was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. The Pirates had one of their best performances of the Scottie Montgomery coaching era two weeks ago in a 41-19 rout of North Carolina.

The team has been in Orlando, Fla., for more than a week now and is set to travel to Tampa today.

“It is different territory, but it’s the same goal and the same mission and we are here for business only and that is to come out of South Florida with a ‘W,’” Pirate senior linebacker Cannon Gibbs said. “We’re just ready to get after it. … We are ready for Saturday evening and to be in that primetime atmosphere and a late-night game to compete at a high level.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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