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Football report: Natural rivalry, natural hate

Several USF players made one thing certain Tuesday: There will be no endearing feelings in Friday's season finale against UCF.

"It's a natural hate," senior DT Todd Chandler said of the rivalry. "We really don't like those guys. A lot of the young guys don't really understand the emotions behind it. But it's something you're born in.

"It's like those old-school cowboys-and-Indian movies. You're born to hate UCF and you inherit that hate once you sign that letter of intent to South Florida."

Coach Willie Taggart has been trying to inspire his younger players by showing highlights from the team's four consecutive wins against the Knights from 2005-08 inside the locker room.

"We have a lot of young guys here who not only don't really understand that rivalry tradition, but our young tradition that we do have here at USF," Taggart said. "I think it's important that we make sure they understand the importance of it."

The antipathy between the schools was seemingly intensified Monday when UCF seniors Terrance Plummer, Josh Reese and Clayton Geathers reportedly refused to acknowledge the Bulls as a rival during a press conference.

Junior TE Sean Price said that just motivates the team more.

"It's definitely disrespectful, but that just gives us a bigger chip on our shoulder," he said. "If they come in on us, they're gonna get hit in the mouth. We're underdogs and ... underdogs always come out on top. So, we're gonna play our butts off."

PACKED HOUSE WANTED: While he understands a noon kickoff is not the most appealing thing for spectators, Taggart expressed desire for people to show their support by coming to the game.

"I know how many people told me we better beat them, we need you there to help us and we expect for them all to be there," he said.

"Our football team needs everybody there to help us. Our guys are making improvements, but we can make big-time improvements having them there to have our backs. ... There's no excuse. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, not Friday."

BETTER VIEW: Offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said there were no major reasons why he was in the press box instead of the field for the first time this season during Saturday's loss at Memphis.

"It was two things," Wulff said. "(Quarterbacks) coach (David) Reaves can be down working with the quarterbacks a little bit with Quinton (Flowers) playing more and for me being able to see a calmer setting and be able to, between series, kind of have more room to work and write things down."

ODDS AND ENDS: Junior OL Thor Jozwiak (concussion) suited up in full pads and participated in drills during Tuesday's portion of practice open to reporters. Senior LB Reshard Cliett took part in warmups, but was seen doing arm exercises in the rehab area ... Taggart said the team will enjoy its Thanksgiving meal on Thursday at Champion's Choice dining hall on campus. "It will be nice. Always look forward to that, having our guys get together and really realize why we're all here," he said.

AUDIBLE: "I asked my mom to bring me a plate up, because I know she's going to throw down and cook something nice. ... I know she's told me about five or six times that we're having Thanksgiving at our house and I keep saying 'Sorry, mama, I can't be there. But you can bring a plate to me.' " -- Taggart on his personal plans for Thanksgiving

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Know the foe: UCF

UCF's Breshad Perriman (No. 11) and J.J. Worton are the Knights' two leading receivers.

Ronald Martinez | Getty Images

UCF's Breshad Perriman (No. 11) and J.J. Worton are the Knights' two leading receivers.

A look at UCF, whom the Bulls face Friday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Knights

Record: 7-3, 5-1 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- Bethune-Cookman, 41-7; Houston, 17-12; BYU, 31-24 in OT; Tulane, 20-13; Temple, 34-14; Tulsa, 31-7; SMU, 53-7; Losses -- Penn State, 26-24; Missouri, 38-10; UConn, 37-29)

Coach: George O'Leary (11th season, 79-59; 18th season overall, 131-92)

The breakdown: UCF must win to stay in contention for the American Athletic Conference title. .... While arguably not as skilled as the 2013 team, these Knights are more seasoned, especially on defense. Eight projected defensive starters are seniors or fourth-year juniors. ... The Knights rank
fourth nationally in pass defense (163.3 ypg) and first in pass-efficiency defense (97.47), led by sophomore CB Jacoby Glenn (six INTs). ... Offensively, the Knights have totaled at least 400 yards in four consecutive games, but three of those have been against Tulsa, UConn and SMU, and the Knights lost to the Huskies. In that same three-contest stretch, Knights quarterbacks have thrown as many picks (seven) as TDs.

Odds and ends: UCF has won 13 consecutive non-Saturday games. ... The player-coach connections in this series are plenteous. Among them -- O'Leary and Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan worked on Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross' staff from 1988-91. ... The bay area players on UCF'sroster are twins Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin (Lakewood), C Aaron Evans (Armwood), QB Pete DiNovo (East Lake), DB Kyle Gibson (Armwood), DB Brendin Straubel (Jefferson), TE Zack Laurinaitis (Countryside), OL Chris Larsen (Palm Harbor University) and DL Tony Guerad (Tampa Bay Tech).

Taggart's take: "They're a veteran football team, a senior-dominant football team. ... And not only a senior-dominant football team but a football team that knows how to win, that has played a lot together. ... It's a football team where you can't beat yourself, you can't make mistakes, you
can't turn the ball over, and you've got to score touchdowns when you're in the red zone."

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Mike White to start against UCF

Sophomore Mike White has been named the starter for USF's season finale Friday against UCF.

AP Photo

Sophomore Mike White has been named the starter for USF's season finale Friday against UCF.

Sophomore Mike White will make his 10th start of the season, and second in a row against UCF, when the Bulls host the Knights on Friday, Coach Willie Taggart said.

White (21-for-35, 244 yards, no TDs, no turnovers) said he tweaked an ankle and mildly hyper-extended a knee while being sacked late in the third quarter of Saturday's 31-20 loss at Memphis, but insisted afterward he was fine.

Benched during an Oct. 24 loss at Cincinnati, he reassumed the starting role Saturday while freshman Quinton Flowers dealt with family commitments stemming from the murder of his half-brother on Nov. 13. Flowers attended Bradley Holt's funeral in Miami on Saturday morning, and arrived in Memphis about an hour before kickoff.

"Mike White did a good job of coming back and getting his confidence back and playing with confidence," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday.

"And I thought Steven Bench (6-for-11, 57 yards, one TD) came in and did some good things as well when Mike went down. I think Quinton (two carries, 4 yards) just had a lot of things going on with him the day of, the funeral and long travel and a lot of emotions going on." …

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Has USF improved? Final answer might come Friday

The question has consumed a whole college football demographic, eliciting debate both healthy and heated. From sports bars to cyberspace, the topic perpetuates, gaining steam that has sent it barreling into a defining weekend.

Has USF really improved from 2013 to '14?

The answer could arrive Friday, when the Bulls (4-7, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) host UCF (7-3, 5-1) in their season finale. A victory against a bowl-eligible rival, and few can argue the Bulls took a significant stride from the 2-10 debacle of last autumn. A loss, and the debate will rage.

To this point, the answer depends on each individual's criteria.

If it's sheer wins and losses, the Bulls have doubled their win total from '13, but the triumphs have come against one Division I-AA team, and three Division I programs with a combined record of 4-27.

If it's statistics, well, the Bulls have progressed in some areas (i.e. offensive production) and regressed in others (i.e. defense). As for scheme and strategy? Deliberations will rage as to how the quarterbacks were employed, and whether the switch to the 3-4 was ill-advised or borne of necessity.

"Our program is progressing well. Not as fast as others expect it to, but it's moving in the right direction," Coach Willie Taggart said after Saturday's 31-20 loss to Memphis. "We've got a lot of young guys playing and helping our football team out that's only gonna get better, and we've got to go out and continue to recruit well and continue to build our program like we all want it.

"Look at the team we played today, they were in the same situation we're in (3-9 in '13) and things changed for them and it will change for us as well."

What's certain to change -- perhaps drastically -- is the perception of this season if the Bulls prevail Friday. Until then, and perhaps afterward, the deliberations will percolate.

Progression or Regression?
A statistical look at the current Bulls compared to this time last season (national rankings in parentheses).

Rush Offense
2013: 98.2 ypg (115)
2014: 117.3 ypg (109)

Pass Offense
2013: 165.2 ypg (109)
2014: 196.9 ypg (91)

Total Offense
2013: 263.7 ypg (120)
2014: 314.2 ypg (116)

Scoring Offense
2013: 13.9 ppg (118)
2014: 18.7 ppg (114)

Rush Defense
2013: 142.6 ypg (31)
2014: 186.4 ypg (88)

Pass Efficiency Defense
2013: 133.29 (84)
2014: 143.39 (106)

Total Defense
2013: 355.8 (30)
2014: 412.5 (77)

Scoring Defense
2013: 28.9 ppg (76)
2014: 28.0 ppg (75)

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Full disclosure: My latest AP football ballot

Because no highly-ranked team had the decency to get upset Saturday, the attention of most pundits naturally shifted to style points.

It's one criterion I can't stand.

If Alabama had eked its way past Western Carolina, amassing flags and fumbles in the process, the Tide might get demoted on my ballot today. Otherwise, I'm not penalizing, say, an unbeaten team (i.e. FSU) for outlasting a quality opponent (i.e. Boston College) in less-than-stellar conditions in late November.

The only tremor on my ballot occurred at the bottom, where Ole Miss plummeted from 12th to 25th after its third consecutive loss to a Division I team. Elsewhere, Minnesota replaces Nebraska after a solid victory in Lincoln, and Arkansas makes its top-25 debut while USC bows out.

1. Alabama
2. FSU
3. Oregon
4. Ohio State
5. Mississippi State
6. Baylor
7. TCU
8. Georgia
9. Michigan State
10. Kansas State
11. UCLA
12. Wisconsin
13. Arizona State
14. Arizona
15. Auburn
16. Missouri
17. Oklahoma
18. Georgia Tech
19. Minnesota
20. Marshall
21. Colorado State
22. Arkansas
23. Utah
24. LSU
25. Ole Miss

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McFarland's resurgence continues

Even as the curtain sets on USF's season, the tight end position is making a curtain call.

Question is, does Mike McFarland have one more encore-worthy performance in him?

The 6-foot-5 Blake High alumnus, seemingly absent for certain stretches of 2014, had four receptions for a career-best 64 yards in Saturday's 31-20 loss to Memphis. Three occurred on third down, all of which the Bulls converted.

"Sometimes it's funny that he kind of ends up so wide-open because he's the biggest dude on the field," QB Mike White said.

Toss in last week's clutch effort at SMU, and McFarland has seven catches for 108 yards in his last two contests. In USF's previous three games -- Tulsa, Cincinnati, Houston -- the tight end position totaled 10 receptions.

So how to explain the resurrection?

"Just coaches being able to call plays and put me in position to make a play," McFarland said.

"We're calling some plays to get him open and he's running nice routes," Coach Willie Taggart said. "Again, earlier in the year we weren't throwing to our tight ends as much, and seeing that's gonna be a big part of our offense, we're running some plays to get him open."

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Football report: Rodney Adams won't play at Memphis

Sophomore WR Rodney Adams, the Bulls' second-leading receiver, will miss his second consecutive game Saturday at Memphis because of a nagging groin injury, Coach Willie Taggart announced on his weekly teleconference Thursday.

Adams (21 catches, 315 yards, two TDs) was a last-minute scratch in the Bulls' 14-13 win against SMU and did not participate in a portion of a scrimmage open to the media on Wednesday.

"Rodney is still dealing with an injury and we're trying to figure out exactly what it is but he won't play this week," Taggart said.

Taggart also indicated it's unclear whether OL Thor Jozwiak will play after suffering an unspecified injury during practice on Tuesday. Jozwiak missed all of last season due to a heart condition, and sat out two games earlier this season because of shoulder and turf toe injuries.

Taggart said the latest ailment isn't heart-related. "He had an incident (Tuesday) in practice and he's really like, day-to-day right now," Taggart said.

If Jozwiak can't go, Taggart said redshirt freshman Jeremi Hall or sophomore Dominique Threatt will likely take the junior's place.

NO QB DECISION: Though he praised their performance in practice, Taggart declined to announce whether Mike White, Quinton Flowers or Steven Bench will start at quarterback against the Tigers. If White gets the nod, he'll be the Bulls' third different starter in as many games.

"Those guys had a good week of practice," Taggart said. "They've been operating our offense really well and getting us going and I can say that we're going to have (a starter named) on Saturday."

AUDIBLE: "With this young football team, if they could get some extra practice time in, it would be great moving forward. I think that's good with all football teams, but I look at our team in particular and all the young players that we do have, and if they can get those 15 extra practices before spring practice, I can only imagine how much better they're going to be development-wise." -- Taggart on the additional benefits that a bowl berth could give his program. The Bulls must win their final two games to become eligible.

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Fullwood, others make depth-chart strides

Lost amid Saturday night's surreal finish at SMU was the start, which featured a handful of new faces for USF.

Freshman S Tajee Fullwood -- a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus -- made his inaugural collegiate start along with sophomore DT Derrick Calloway and CB Deatrick Nichols as a nickel back.

Calloway stepped in for veteran Elkino Watson, who didn't make the trip due to an unspecified team-rules violation. The others were promoted based on performance, coaches said.

"It's just the way it's been going, and again, we're not afraid to put the guys that we feel like are making the impact during the week in practice," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who watched Fullwood stuff RB K.C. Nlemchi for a 3-yard loss on a bubble screen for the first of his two tackles.

"(Fullwood) played a solid 60-minute game for us. Again, we're not afraid to play the youth."

The youngsters remain in contention for starting roles this week at Memphis, Bresnahan said.

O-LINE TWEAKS: Coach Willie Taggart indicated senior Quinterrius Eatmon has slid from right guard to right tackle -- where he played last season -- while junior Brynjar Gudmundsson has moved back inside to guard. Redshirt freshman OG Jeremi Hall, a backup in seven games this season, appeared to be taking first-team reps in the early stages of Wednesday's practice.

Additionally, sophomore OG Dominique Threatt made his first game appearance Saturday since the Wisconsin contest. "We're trying to create some competitiveness," Taggart said. "That's one area that we hadn't had a lot of, and I know with some competitiveness in there you'll get more out of guys."

DEFUSING THE DOWNFIELD PLAY: Though still groping for consistency, USF's defense has managed to thwart the big play -- a Bresnahan peeve -- in its last two contests. A 45-yard SMU pass in the second quarter was the lone play longer than 25 yards the Bulls have allowed in their last two contests.

"And that's a big difference in the game," Bresnahan said. …

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Know the foe: Memphis

Memphis CB Bobby McCain had three interceptions against USF last season, including a pick-six.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Memphis CB Bobby McCain had three interceptions against USF last season, including a pick-six.

A look at Memphis, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Nickname: Tigers

Record: 7-3, 5-1 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- Austin Peay, 63-0; Middle Tennessee, 36-17; Cincinnati, 41-14; SMU, 48-10; Tulsa, 40-20; Temple, 16-13; Tulane, 38-7; Losses -- UCLA, 42-35; Ole Miss, 24-3; Houston, 28-24)

Coach: Justin Fuente (third season, 13-20)

The breakdown: Among the most improved teams in all of Division I, Memphis already has equaled its victory total from the previous two seasons combined and is bowl eligible for the first time in six years. Fuente's formula is neither elaborate nor sexy; the Tigers are winning with a solid run game (league-best 188.6 ypg), ball security (league-fewest 15 turnovers lost) and a veteran defense that ranks 28th nationally (345.4 ypg). Eight of Saturday's projected defensive starters are seniors including DE Martin Ifedi (school-record-tying 21 career sacks) and CB Bobby McCain, whose four career interception returns for TDs are tied for the most among active Division I players. One McCain pick-six came in last year's 23-10 romp of the Bulls, when he intercepted Mike White three times. ... Third-year sophomore QB Paxton Lynch already is the school's No. 3 all-time passer (4,355 yards) and ranks third in the league in pass efficiency (137.2) behind only Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel and East Carolina's Shane Carden.

Odds and ends: Carrollwood Day alumnus Robert Davis, Hillsborough County's No. 2 all-time high school rusher, is a Tigers backup tailback who scored his first career TD last week at Tulane. The other local on Memphis' roster, Gaither alumnus Ernest Suttles (10 tackles, two sacks), originally signed with Nebraska but was dismissed after allegedly assaulting a teammate. ... Tigers DL coach Ricky Hunley, a two-time All-American linebacker at Arizona and College Football Hall of Famer, held the same job on Steve Spurrier's final staff (2001) at Florida.

Taggart's take: "They've got some veteran (defensive) guys that have played a lot of football together, first and foremost. ... But they're confident, they've got a lot of consistency on their staff and in what they're doing. They've created some turnovers, which is key, but they play hard, they play highly competitive and they get a lot of guys to the football. You watch 'em play and they're fundamentally sound in what they do, but more importantly, they run to the ball and create havoc...and it seems like they have fun doing it, too."

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Wulff: SMU rally should spawn confidence

Despite nearly 3 1/2 stagnant quarters Saturday at SMU, offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said he believes the final result -- Bulls 14, Mustangs 13 -- will give his unit some extra inspiration moving forward.

Trailing 13-0 in the fourth quarter, sophomore QB Mike White replaced freshman Quinton Flowers with 9:45 to play, and rallied the Bulls with consecutive TD drives. The final one -- 21 plays -- is believed to be the longest in program history. …

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Bulls sign Brazilian national teamer

USF's men's basketball program has received its third -- and presumably, final -- letter of intent of the NCAA early signing period, this one from 6-foot-8 Brazil native Tulio Da Silva.

Deemed a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, Da Silva is playing this winter at Jacksonville's Arlington Country Day. He averaged six points and 6.2 rebounds for Brazil at the FIBA U18 Americas Championships, and posted better numbers (7.5 points, 12.5 boards, 1.2 blocks) at the Nike Global Challenge in Chicago in August.

"Tulio is a really special player," Bulls coach Orlando Antigua said.

"He is somewhat unheralded right now as people are just starting to get to know him. ... He is someone who can have a really big impact for us on the boards, running in transition and playing the way we want to play in multiple positions."

Da Silva joins Sunrise Christian (Kansas) standouts Jahmal McMurray and Luis Santos as early USF signees. McMurray attends the Sunrise prep academy; Santos attends the high school.

 

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Black Friday comes bright and early for Bulls, UCF

Thanks to the "world-wide leader," Bulls fans will be rising at roughly the same time as the zealous shopping throng on Black Friday.

The American Athletic Conference announced Monday the Bulls' Nov. 28 home game against UCF, where a USF bowl berth could be at stake, will kick off at noon and be televised on ESPN2.

Most presumed another prime-time Bulls-Knights encounter such as the one in Orlando last season. But USF athletic director Mark Harlan, whose school requested a night kickoff, said ESPN2 had first choice from the AAC slate and went with the Bulls and Knights. …

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Full disclosure: My latest AP football ballot

Today, I feel pretty good about my No. 1 team. Fact is, I feel good about my top four. Sign me up for that playoff committee.

On second thought, no thanks. I catch enough grief for this bleepin' ballot each Sunday.

Georgia and Wisconsin make the biggest leaps this week, catapulting nine and seven spots, respectively, after stunning romps of quality foes. Ohio State, which topped a solid opponent (Minnesota) on the road in miserable weather, jumped from No. 7 to No. 4.

Elsewhere, I bid adieu to Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke; and bid aloha to Colorado State, USC (again) and Georgia Tech.

1. Alabama
2. FSU
3. Oregon
4. Ohio State
5. Mississippi State
6. Baylor
7. TCU
8. Georgia
9. Michigan State
10. Kansas State
11. UCLA
12. Ole Miss
13. Wisconsin
14. Arizona State
15. Arizona
16. Auburn
17. Missouri
18. Oklahoma
19. Georgia Tech
20. Utah
21. Nebraska
22. Marshall
23. Colorado State
24. USC
25. LSU

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Andre Davis vows redemption, delivers

Bulls senior WR Andre Davis didn't just find atonement Saturday night, he forecast it.

A locker room full of coaches and teammates bore witness.

Davis' fumble following a 14-yard catch in SMU territory with 1:22 remaining in the first half compelled the senior captain to publicly vow redemption before his teammates at halftime.

His 4-yard TD catch from Mike White with four seconds to play sealed a 14-13 Bulls come-from-behind win.

"He mentioned to the team that we were down because of his mistakes and he was gonna make up for 'em in the second half. He was gonna come back and give it everything he had to make up for it," Coach Willie Taggart recalled.

"All his teammates said, 'It wasn't just you' and 'We got your back.' Sure enough, he came back and made up for it in a big way."

Davis finished with six catches for 59 yards, becoming the first Bull to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards in the process. Earlier in the game-winning drive, which stretched 21 plays and covered 75 yards, he had an 8-yard catch and third-and-9. …

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Reports: Brother of Bulls QB Quinton Flowers killed

USF freshman QB Quinton Flowers, no stranger to family tragedy, has encountered it again even as he prepares for his inaugural college start.

Flowers' 24-year-old half brother, Bradley Holt, was murdered early Thursday evening outside an apartment complex in Miami's Allapattah neighborhood while engaged in what police described as a "good Samaritan" act.

Flowers, whom Bulls coach Willie Taggart announced earlier this week would start Saturday night's game against SMU, chose to travel with the team to Dallas, where USF's charter plane landed late Friday afternoon.

In a Facebook post late Thursday night, Flowers wrote: Its crazy how when things go good for me but a blood member have to get took away. R.I.P. BIG BRA BRAD Playing for you this week

“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in our football program and the USF family are with Quinton and his family as they cope with this senseless tragedy," Taggart said in a statement.

"Quinton is a special young man who has had to endure far more at his young age than anyone should. We will do everything we can to help see him through this very difficult loss.” …

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