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Men's hoops schedule finalized

USF coach Orlando Antigua's club will have five home games against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Orlando Antigua's club will have five home games against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season.

Time will determine whether USF's men have souped up their roster, but few can doubt the horsepower they've added to their schedule.

While the majority of the Bulls' 2015-16 slate has been known for some time, the full final schedule was released Tuesday, and by virtually any standard, it's solid. USF will play nine games against teams that finished last season with an RPI of 54 or better, and has five home contests against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament.

"This is a challenging schedule for us, as five of our 13 non-conference opponents played in postseason tournaments last season," Coach Orlando Antigua said in a USF news release. "Our conference (American Athletic) has been regarded as one of the best in the country and this season will be no different with many experienced and senior-laden teams."

The list of high-RPI foes doesn't include South Carolina, expected to return its entire starting lineup from a 17-16 club. The historical subplot in that Dec. 5 game in Columbia: It will pit the only two Hispanic head coaches (Antigua and USC's Frank Martin) in Division I.

Eight days before, on Black Friday, the Bulls face Kentucky in a late-afternoon contest in Miami.

For the second season in a row, all AAC teams play an 18-game conference slate with home-and-home series against eight teams. The Bulls face UConn and Tulsa once each, with the Huskies coming to Tampa (Feb. 25).

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Know the Foe: FAMU

A look at Florida A&M, which faces the Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Rattlers

2014 record: 3-9 (3-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)

Coach: Alex Wood (first season at FAMU; fifth full season overall, 25-23)

The breakdown: A journeyman coach, Brown's previous lives include the head coaching gig at James Madison, assistant stints in the NFL, and running backs coach for two University of Miami national title teams (1989, '91). At FAMU, he has installed a no-huddle, hurry-up, pro-style attack similar to the one he employed while offensive coordinator at the University at Buffalo (2011-14). "We will snap the ball with 17 seconds on the play clock, seeking to average 95 plays or more every game," Wood says in FAMU's official game release. Question is, how effective can the system be with the roster Wood inherited? FAMU, held to 10 or fewer points five times last season,
averaged 288.2 yards a game in '14 -- 16 fewer than USF.

Odds and ends: FAMU is seeking its first victory in Tampa since a 41-7 rout of rival Bethune-Cookman in 1996 in the old Houlihan's (Tampa) Stadium. ... New Rattlers defensive coordinator Theo Lemon has experience at virtually every collegiate level, but none since 2008. ... The only locals on FAMU's two-deep chart are fullbacks Kevin Newman (Jesuit) and Leon Cusic (Middleton), and reserve K/P Austin Miller (Tampa Bay Tech). ... First-year Rattlers starting QB Carson Royal had 22 pass attempts in 2014, two more than Bulls starter Quinton Flowers.

Taggart's take: "Coach Wood, when he was at Buffalo, they ran up-tempo, and we expect that. We have similarities in some of the things we do, but I know a lot of it will be different than how they ran it at Buffalo. So from a tempo standpoint, we expect that. ... Again, for us, it's all about us and being ready for us and doing our assignment, our technique and being sound at what we're doing. I think that's what we've got to get our football team to, where we're competing against ourselves. ... That's what the great teams do, they compete against themselves each and every week."  

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Bulls depth chart rife with local flavor

Fourteen former bay area prep standouts -- half of them starters -- are featured on the Bulls' two-deep, game-week depth chart released Tuesday.

The highest concentration of home-grown talent appears in the secondary, where husky Jamie Byrd (Pasco), rover Devin Abraham (East Lake) and FS Tajee Fullwood (Tampa Bay Tech) all are listed as starters. Elsewhere, freshman Jordan Reed -- a Plant alumnus -- is listed as the second-team slot receiver after not appearing on the preseason two-deep chart.

"That's one thing we said when we came here, that...this bay area was gonna be the heart of our football team," said coach Willie Taggart, whose team opens the season Saturday at home against Florida A&M. …

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Bulls unsure what to expect from FAMU

In terms of the opponent's tendencies, the Bulls could find themselves a bit in the dark when the Raymond James Stadium lights go on Saturday.

FAMU, again projected as a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference bottom feeder following a 3-9 season, has a new coaching staff, leaving the Bulls not totally certain of what to expect schematically. New coach Alex Wood, whose journeyman career includes Division I-A and NFL stops, spent the past four years as offensive coordinator at the University at Buffalo.

As a result, Taggart's staff has been studying Buffalo tape, but even that could be tricky. A spread-style team upon Wood's arrival, Buffalo went more under center -- back lined up directly behind the quarterback -- in 2011, and by '12 collected more than 2,000 rushing and passing yards.

"And defensively, they have a guy (Theo Lemon) that's coached at a couple of different places and hadn't coached in a couple of years (since 2008), so we really don't know much what to expect from that standpoint," Taggart said.

"We understand they're gonna be a 4-3 defense, and we've just got to be ready for anything as we go. But like we've been talking with our guys, it's not really about the opponent, but what we do and about us going out and executing what we do and understanding how we do it."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said his staff still hasn't decided on a starting kicker (Emilio Nadelman or Michael Hill) or right guard (probably Cameron Ruff or Dominique Threatt), but could have an answer as early as Tuesday. ... Taggart praised the August performance of FS Tajee Fullwood when asked on Monday's American Athletic Conference weekly teleconference about defensive players who have stepped up this preseason. "Tajee's had a really, really good training camp," Taggart said. "We're expecting big things from him this season."

AUDIBLE: "You go into first games and you never know what may happen. You always make the most improvement from Game One to Game Two, and you go into Game One and you don't know what's gonna happen. You've just got to prepare and go out and trust your technique and trust what you prepare for, and execute. We're planning on going and executing and playing our best ball game since I've been here." -- Taggart, when asked Monday if he expects his team to experience a learning curve Saturday night

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Morning glory: Bulls upset Hoyas in delayed match

As defender Brandon Riley got into position for a corner kick in the 28th minute of Monday morning's game against No. 3 Georgetown, the USF senior remembered the advice coach George Kiefer recently had imparted:

Just hold your spot and let it come to you.

Watching the arching kick from Lindo Mfeka, Riley did just that, as the ball found his head in front of the box for his first career goal in USF’s 2-0 upset against the Hoyas.

It was the Bulls’ first regular season victory over an opponent ranked that high -- the Hoyas were third in the NSCAA preseason coaches' poll -- since they toppled St. John’s in October, 2005.

“I’d do anything to help my team, man,” said Riley, an Orlando native. “I saw the ball coming, so I just ducked my head in there and got it done. I’m so happy. I’m happy we got the win.”

In a match that was postponed a day because of inclement weather, USF (2-0) showed little signs of rust.

From the onset, the Bulls dominated the Hoyas (0-1-1), peppering goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski, but failed to make the most of any chances in the initial minutes. Riley had a golden opportunity to give USF an advantage with a header on an early corner, but the ball sailed over the cross bar.

Then, after Riley's goal broke the stalemate, forward Nazeem Bartman nearly found the back of the net on a free kick minutes later, but the ball clanked off the post before being cleared out of the box by a Georgetown defender.

In the 77th minute, the Bulls finally found the insurance tally they needed as junior Kendan Anderson chipped in a long feed from Atsou Ayah past Marcinkowski’s left side from 12 yards.

“They were really focused,” Kiefer said. “I think we just harp on it: Why do they play? When you really have a good meaning as to why you play, then these little distractions are not anything. I thought they were clearly, extremely focused for the entire match.”

From there, USF held on. Senior goalkeeper Spasoje Stefanovic needed to make just one save – on a point-blank shot, nevertheless – and the defense did the rest to seal the victory. USF outshot the Hoyas 15-9.

The win marked the ninth time a Kiefer-coached squad has beaten a top-10 team since he took over for John Hackworth in 2002.

“Our coach tells us not to get comfortable, because a team like this – a very talented team – can put a goal in very quickly,” Riley said. “So we had to stay on them the whole game and I feel like we did well for that.

"I’m really proud of these guys. I’m really proud.”

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Taggart: Flowers doesn't have to lead (at least not yet)

"What we're asking Quinton (Flowers, 9) to do is be the best football player he can be, be the best student he can be and have fun,'' says head coach Willie Taggart, left.

SCOTTY SCHENCK | Times

"What we're asking Quinton (Flowers, 9) to do is be the best football player he can be, be the best student he can be and have fun,'' says head coach Willie Taggart, left.

He'll be summoned to sprint out and set his feet, to zone read or zip one downfield in play-action. He'll have to improvise, even audible on occasion. …

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Plant's Jordan Reed in mix for punt-return gig

With punt returner Hassan Childs (torn right ACL) sidelined for the season, the Bulls are considering turning to a freshman to fill the vacancy.

Linebackers/special teams coach Raymond Woodie said Thursday former Plant High standout Jordan Reed currently leads the tight competition, which also includes Tampa Bay Tech alumnus Tajee Fullwood and receivers Tyre McCants and Chase Whitehead.

Reed, a consensus three-star prospect, had 304 yards on punt returns as a Panthers senior last season.

"It's time for someone to step it up," Woodie said. "Out of those four -- going into next week -- we're going to know. ... I really think we're going to find the guy to solidify those spots."

STILL BATTLING: Woodie said the starting kicking job between sophomore Emilio Nadelman and senior Michael Hill (Tarpon Springs) remains up for grabs as the team begins game-week preparations for its Sept. 5 opener against Florida A&M.

Nadelman is USF's only option with collegiate experience, kicking off three times against Western Carolina last season.

"Those guys are battling; we haven't named the starter yet," Woodie said. "Everybody got spoiled with Marvin Kloss (now graduated) and now those guys will get a chance to really get experience."

ODDS AND ENDS: LG Thor Jozwiak (left ankle), injured in the waning minutes of Wednesday's practice at Raymond James Stadium, was in a walking boot during Thursday morning's on-campus workout. ... P Mattias Ciabatti said he has been working on adding an "Aussie-style" rugby kick to his repertoire, hoping it gives him additional hang time.

AUDIBLE: "I would love to use him, but Coach (Willie Taggart) told me, 'I don't think so,' and to find someone else. So that's what I did." -- Woodie when asked if he has considered RB Marlon Mack as an option to field punts.

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DB Hassan Childs out for season

While injuries haven't reached pestilent proportions at USF this August, the Bulls hardly are entering their inaugural game week of 2015 unscathed.

Reserve rover (strong safety) Hassan Childs sustained a torn right ACL at a recent practice and will miss the season, Coach Willie Taggart reported Wednesday. A junior with three career interceptions, he becomes the Bulls' second ACL casualty this month, joining redshirt freshman WR Stanley Clerveaux.

"It (stinks) for the kid, but it's part of the game," Taggart said after Wednesday morning's workout at Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls essentially ran through their game-day routine in shells.

"We heal differently around here, so we expect for him to be back sooner than what the doctors say, but to be back stronger than what he is now too."

Fortunately for Taggart, the secondary remains one of the Bulls' deepest areas.

Former area prep standouts Tajee Fullwood (Tampa Bay Tech) and Devin Abraham (East Lake) appear capable of playing both safety spots, and projected starting rover Nate Godwin recently returned from a hamstring injury. …

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Reilly not ready...yet

Though he's getting closer to returning to a normal practice schedule, OL Reilly Gibbons likely won't play in the Sept. 5 season opener against Florida A&M, Coach Willie Taggart said Tuesday.

Gibbons, a Stanford transfer granted an NCAA waiver that allows him to play immediately, is recovering from an unspecified knee procedure. He spent virtually all of preseason camp rehabbing the knee and observing full-team work.

"I’d say in about another week or so, you’ll probably see him out doing more drills with our offensive linemen," Taggart said.

Taggart reported nothing new on the status of another offensive lineman, junior college transfer Glen Bethel, who hasn't appeared this preseason. Taggart said earlier this month Bethel was completing a class.

LEAN SNAPPER: A year after an error-free season, junior LS Alex Salvato was among three veteran walk-ons awarded a scholarship by Taggart at a team meeting Saturday night. Salvato is listed on the official team roster at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds -- highly generous on both counts.

On Tuesday, he said he weighs 165, making him the Bulls' lightest down lineman (offensive or defensive) by nearly 70 pounds.

"Undersized my whole life, but it just kind of makes you have to work harder a little bit," said Salvato, who played at Lakeland's Victory Christian. "It makes you really have to earn what you get. You kind of get overlooked, you've got to kind of get people's attention back toward you." …

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While Flowers starts, linebackers will sit

USF coach Willie Taggart indicated Quinton Flowers' mobility gave him a mild edge in his duel with senior Steven Bench.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Willie Taggart indicated Quinton Flowers' mobility gave him a mild edge in his duel with senior Steven Bench.

Roughly 15 hours after naming Quinton Flowers his starting quarterback, USF coach Willie Taggart indicated the 21-year-old sophomore's mobility gave him a mild edge in his duel with senior Steven Bench.

"I think both of 'em can run with their legs. Quinton is unique," Taggart said after Tuesday morning's practice. "He can make guys miss. He can do some things the average Joe can't do, and I think that's what makes him different."

Tuesday's workout -- Flowers' first as the announced starter -- came 11 days before the Bulls formally unveil their new zone-read, spread-style scheme in the season opener against Florida A&M at Raymond James Stadium. The high-tempo system is similar to what Flowers operated at Miami Jackson, where he totaled more than 8,000 yards in four seasons. …

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Quinton Flowers named Bulls' starting QB

Sophomore Quinton Flowers has been named USF's starting quarterback.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Sophomore Quinton Flowers has been named USF's starting quarterback.

USF will puts its spread-style, up-tempo offense in sophomore Quinton Flowers' hands to begin the 2015 season.

The school announced Monday evening Flowers, a 21-year-old Miami native with eight career completions, edged senior Steven Bench for the starting job in a duel that spanned the Bulls' entire 17-day preseason camp.

Coach Willie Taggart, who has had three different opening-day starters in as many seasons, is expected to comment on the decision after Tuesday morning's practice. …

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CDS alumnus Mak Djulbegovic earns a scholarship

USF fifth-year senior Mak Djulbegovic, who ended the Bulls' preseason camp as the starting right tackle, is among three veteran walk-ons who have been awarded a scholarship by Coach Willie Taggart.

Junior LS Alex Salvato and senior DL Daniel Awoleke, both of whom hail from Lakeland, are the other recipients. Salvato started in 2014 and had no erroneous snaps. Awoleke.

A Carrollwood Day alumnus, Djulbegovic appeared in 10 games each of the last two seasons, starting two. He worked his way onto the first-team offensive line this past spring and has remained entrenched their since preseason drills began Aug. 6.

"He's done well," offensive line coach Danny Hope said recently. "I thought he did outstanding in the spring, and...when spring ended he was probably playing the best out of all our offensive linemen." …

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Taggart: Starting QB will be staff decision

For all practical intents, USF's preseason camp has concluded. The ongoing two-player quarterback derby hasn't.

Following the end of Saturday morning's closed scrimmage, Coach Willie Taggart said the duel between sophomore Quinton Flowers and senior Steven Bench will end "when our coaches tell me, 'Coach, this is the guy we think should be our quarterback.'

"We're gonna rely heavily on our coaches, all of 'em," added Taggart, whose team opens its season at home against Florida A&M two weeks from tonight. "They've all seen 'em throughout this training camp, and we'll rely heavily on the film that we've seen."

Taggart said Saturday's scrimmage, which preceded USF's annual Fan Fest at the Sun Dome, was devoid of turnovers. Flowers accounted for the lone TD, checking down and finding walk-on Chase Whitehead on a zone-read play for a 25-yard scoring pass.

Taggart reiterated the QB decision will be based primarily on who makes the fewest mistakes.

"Oh, no doubt, by (all) means," he said. "If we take care of the football, like I said, I think they're all good enough athletically to play the position. Just got to be smart and take care of the ball."

DAWN PATROL: Starting next week, the Bulls will practice almost exclusively in the mornings, a modification from previous years. Taggart said several colleagues -- and the area weather pattern -- were influential in the decision. USF practiced in the mornings this past spring and fared very well academically, he said.

"Weather, I think we all know what that's like around here," said Taggart, who had to cut short Friday afternoon's practice due to lightning in the area. "But also I think our kids just do better overall when they get up and get going."

AUDIBLE: “I feel like I had a good camp. This is our last scrimmage – this is our second one. I think I performed well. I got a lot of help from my offensive line. They’ve been blocking their butts off all camp. The receivers are making plays for me, the backs are making plays for me. I feel like I’m seeing the defense very good and just doing what a quarterback’s supposed to do. So, overall, I feel good about it." -- Bench

AUDIBLE, PART DEUX: “I feel like I’m playing really good. I got my weight down, I’m moving a little faster. I ran the offense in high school. So, I’m feeling really good about it.” -- Flowers

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USF Fan Fest set for Saturday

Players and coaches from all USF fall sports teams will be available for autographs and photos at the Bulls' annual Fan Fest on Saturday.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Players and coaches from all USF fall sports teams will be available for autographs and photos at the Bulls' annual Fan Fest on Saturday.

USF Fan Fest

When/where: Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon, Sun Dome

Admission: Free

Need to know: Players and coaches from all of USF's fall sports (as well as cheerleaders and Sun Dolls) will be available for autographs and pictures. The event also will feature a Kids Area, interactive games, a raffle and a surplus sale of USF athletic gear and apparel from past teams. Fans are encouraged to use the Sun Dome parking lot. Entrance is through Gate A.

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Full disclosure: My preseason AP football ballot

While I normally enjoy going against the grain, I can't deny Ohio State its rightful spot atop the ballot. …

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