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Taggart: Renovated offense 'will be fun'

Entering his third season, USF football coach Willie Taggart promises an offense with higher tempo and more spread-style looks.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Entering his third season, USF football coach Willie Taggart promises an offense with higher tempo and more spread-style looks.

Before embarking on a brief holiday break, USF coach Willie Taggart spent an hour Tuesday afternoon with three local reporters in his second-floor office in the Selmon Athletics Center. All the front-and-center issues -- from Taggart's newest hires to the offensive renovations to the pressure he faces entering Year Three -- were addressed. Here are the highlights.

So what's your overview on the makeup of the new staff? (Ole Miss linebackers coach Tom Allen is the new defensive coordinator, while former Purdue coach Danny Hope is co-offensive coordinator with quarterbacks coach David Reaves)
"Very excited about it. I think both (Allen and Hope) bring some energy, both of them are very enthusiastic. People feel that way around 'em, just their energy and passion for being a football coach. Both of them bring something different but good to our football team."

How did the co-offensive coordinator concept come about, and how does it work?
"One, you just look at our football team and we're trying to find ways to score points. ... I know we've been struggling running the football and that's something we felt like we could get better at. I know Coach Hope's a really good offensive line coach and good teacher. ... I thought David could run the pass game. I thought he did a good job of understanding the pass game, he had a good feel for the pass game and I thought we all could work together."

How did Tom Allen get on your radar?
"Being pretty good friends with (Ole Miss coach) Hugh Freeze from the Sun Belt (Conference) days. I got in touch with Hugh and...got a chance to bring Tom down here, and I'm very impressed with him. I got a chance to watch film and watch his linebackers play, and was impressed with those guys and how hard they play; they're disciplined. ... But more importantly, his passion and his love for the kids and understanding it's all about them. And he understands the bay area too, he's been here."

So he'll recruit the bay area?
"Yeah. Everybody's gonna recruit this area. All 10 coaches, and that's counting me, have a part in the bay area. We're gonna milk the bay area. Every part of the bay area, we're gonna milk it. Every single coach is gonna have a part of it."

Is your offense gonna change? Are we gonna see an overhaul, a different style?
"I think you'll see some things differently. I think you'll see more up-tempo and going faster. I think you'll see us spread out a little bit. You're gonna see a lot of different things about it, but not get too far away from what our guys understand and know what we do. I think a lot of it is
just formation. Everybody's running the same plays, it's coaching 'em up and doing it better, executing. I think that's one thing we want to be able to do offensively, is just execute, execute, execute. I know that's something that we struggled to do consistently, and I think a big part of that is simplifying some things and just letting 'em play so they can do it when things get tough (so) they can do it routinely."

So are you gonna have some spread looks, or is this gonna be a spread offense?
"We're gonna have a little bit of everything. It will be fun, I'll say that. It'll be fun and we're gonna put our kids in position to make plays, let 'em play football, let 'em go fast."

You have a run-game coordinator, a pass-game coordinator, a play-caller and a play clock. How will all that work on game day?
"I call the plays, simple. ... Again, I think there will be times where I'm gonna need a suggestion, then, 'Hey David, give me a pass play.' Or David might say, 'Coach, what do you think about this?' ... I'll call the plays and I'll get suggestions. ... We'll work really well together throughout the week to where we know exactly what we're gonna do as an offense."

Is (former Manatee High coach) Joe Kinnan gonna have a role in your program?
"Right now I'm trying to find a defensive backs coach, then I'm gonna work from there. ..."

Is he on the radar?
"Right now the only thing on the radar is DBs. If he can coach the DBs he can be on the radar."

After the last game, (athletic director) Mark Harlan said it was his job to do everything he could to help you get what you needed to build a winning program. What was your takeaway as you evaluated the season and looked ahead?
"First of all, I think we have ourselves one hell of an athletic director. He calls it like he sees it and is honest in what he sees and you can appreciate that. But he also wants to know what he can do to help. I will say he's done everything I've asked for and he's been very helpful. ... I think he's doing a great job. We talked about a lot of different things in where we can go and where we're at and where we need to go. I think we're all on the same page."

You're on your third offensive coordinator in three years, and second defensive coordinator in three years. Are you concerned from a stability standpoint of what some of these older guys have had to withstand here?
"No, I'm not. One thing I've learned, our guys know how to adjust. ... A big part of it is just having a big structure plan for them and making all of those guys accountable to working with that plan. Again, when everyone's bought all in, it will take care of itself. It's not rocket science."

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Jimmy Herget named AAC Preseason Pitcher of the Year

USF junior right-hander Jimmy Herget has been named the American Athletic Conference's Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Photo provided by USF

USF junior right-hander Jimmy Herget has been named the American Athletic Conference's Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

USF junior right-handed ace Jimmy Herget, a Jefferson High alumnus coming off consecutive sparkling seasons, has been named the American Athletic Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year in a poll of the league's eight coaches.

Herget and Bulls junior SS Kyle Teaf also made the 15-member preseason all-conference team. USF, which returns nearly its entire batting order and a pitching staff that accounted for 410 of last year's 510 innings, is ranked fifth in the preseason poll.

The entire preseason all-conference team and preseason poll can be found here.

Herget, the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2013, posted the conference's second-lowest ERA (1.26) in 15 starts last season, compiling an 8-6 record that included two complete games. In 107.1 innings, he struck out 90 and allowed one home run.

Teaf, the only Bull to play in all 58 games last year, hit a team-best .354 with seven doubles, 22 RBI and 41 runs scored.

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Women's hoops: Jenkins makes Lions see 20-20

USF junior Alisia Jenkins notched the sixth 20-20 game in program history Sunday, totaling 23 points and 21 rebounds in an overtime win at Penn State.

John Kersten | USF Athletics

USF junior Alisia Jenkins notched the sixth 20-20 game in program history Sunday, totaling 23 points and 21 rebounds in an overtime win at Penn State.

A year after hobbling into American Athletic Conference play, USF's women (9-3) have traded in that limp for a swagger.

They can thank resident rebounding machine Alisia Jenkins for much of it.

The Bulls concluded non-conference play Sunday afternoon with a 90-87 overtime win at Penn State, highlighted by Jenkins' sparkling effort both in the clutch and paint.

Facing a Nittany Lions team featuring five players 6-foot-2 or taller, the 6-1 junior notched her eighth double-double of the season (23 points, 21 rebounds), becoming only the sixth USF player to record a 20-20 game and finishing four rebounds shy of Wanda Guyton's school single-game record.

No USF player had collected at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same game since Stefanie Prescott pulled it off (20 points, 21 boards) against Division II Florida Southern on Feb. 13, 1990.

"She was special tonight, relentless on the glass," said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose club opens league play next Sunday at home against East Carolina. "Her effort and energy were remarkable."

Jenkins put the Bulls ahead 77-75 when she tipped in a contested Courtney Williams missed layup with 19 seconds to play. Penn State scored seven seconds later, forcing the extra session.

After seven overtime lead changes, Jenkins and Williams teamed for four free throws in the last 41 seconds to seal things. Williams, 1-for-10 in the first half, finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds.

"Going 1-for-10 in the first half, then she goes for 34, I just don't  understand it but I'm glad she stayed positive and continued to stay with it," Fernandez said.

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Danny Hope aboard as new USF staff takes shape

Barring an 11th-hour glitch, USF coach Willie Taggart could have his coaching staff formally replenished before Christmas.

The makeup of Taggart's reconfigured staff really began taking shape Friday with the school's announcement that former Purdue coach Danny Hope has joined the Bulls staff as co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.

Quarterbacks coach David Reaves has been promoted to the other co-coordinator role. While Reaves will oversee the Bulls passing game and Hope will coordinate the run game, Taggart will "resume all play-calling duties" next season, a USF news release said. …

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Nine Bulls honored by Phil Steele

USF senior kick returner Chris Dunkley was among three Bulls earning first-team honors on Phil Steele's All-American Athletic Conference squad.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior kick returner Chris Dunkley was among three Bulls earning first-team honors on Phil Steele's All-American Athletic Conference squad.

Bulls freshman RB Marlon Mack, P Mattias Ciabatti and KR Chris Dunkley lead a cavalcade of nine USF players selected to national college football analyst Phil Steele's All-American Athletic Conference team.

Mack, Ciabatti and Dunkley -- the AAC leaders in rushing, punt average and kick-return average, respectively -- all were first-team picks. Mack and Ciabatti also were first-team selections on the coaches All-AAC squad.

Senior TE Mike McFarland, who rallied from an early-season injury to finish second on the team with a career-best 27 catches, earned second-team honors with senior OL Quinterrius Eatmon. Employed at guard and tackle in 2014, Eatmon graduated with 46 career starts, second-most in USF history.

Third-team honors went to school career receiving leader Andre Davis, senior C Austin Reiter (36 starts in last three seasons), sophomore OLB Nigel Harris (77 tackles, six forced fumbles) and senior PK Marvin Kloss (13-for-17 FGs, 23-for-23 PATs).

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New AAC format has Bulls bound for Navy

USF's first season of divisional play in the American Athletic Conference will feature a new destination: Annapolis, Md.

A trip to Navy -- coming aboard as the conference's 12th team next fall -- highlights the Bulls' league road slate in 2015. That visit, and all other Bulls home and road conference games for the next four seasons, were announced Thursday by the AAC.

Dates and times for future conference games haven't been announced.

The addition of a 12th team allows the split into East and West divisions and addition of a conference title game, to be held at the home site of one of the division champions. The glaring geographic discrepancy: Navy is in the West Division, Cincinnati the East.

Starting in 2015, schools will play every opponent in their division and three from the opposite division annually, ensuring each school plays every AAC foe at home and on the road at least once in a four-year cycle.

"This format is a sensible and fair model that will protect traditional rivalries and allow each school to travel across our geographic footprint on a regular basis," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a league news release. …

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Men's hoops: Bulls seeking a brisk start

As we reported in today's editions of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bulls men's basketball team must compensate for their lack of depth and experience with scrappiness. It's essential in this year of transition, where the schedule is devoid of gimmes and high on grinds.

But in addition to battling until the 40th minute, Orlando Antigua wouldn't mind a brisk start in the first or second.

Playing catch-up has evolved into a bothersome trend for this squad, which hosts its former Big East nemesis, Seton Hall, tonight.

"We've got to turn it up early," sophomore PF Chris Perry said.

In Monday night's 68-63 loss to Georgia Southern, the Bulls found themselves down by nine with roughly seven minutes to play in the first half. In an 82-71 loss at Alabama, they trailed by that same margin 5 1/2 minutes into the game.

Though they later rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat Hofstra, the Bulls nonetheless trailed by 10 with 1:41 to go in the first half. At N.C. State, they were in an eight-point hole less than four minutes into the contest.

"My challenge to our student-athletes is, let's not keep putting ourselves in that position so that we have to exert so much energy to get back in the game," Antigua said following the Georgia Southern loss, his team's third in a row.

"How 'bout starting the game that way. How 'bout competing early on the way we want to compete on every possession, which is what we talk about every day in practice, and not putting ourselves in a position where we have to swim upstream so much."

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Danny Hope reportedly set to join USF's staff

Former Purdue coach Danny Hope, who has a connection of sorts to Willie Taggart, is expected to be named USF's new offensive line coach, Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans reported Thursday morning.

Evans' tweet cited an unnamed source. If true, Taggart would have one remaining vacancy on his staff and two unfilled jobs: secondary coach and offensive coordinator.

It is believed former Manatee High coach Joe Kinnan, for whom Taggart played in the early 1990s, remains in consideration for an offensive-assistant spot, which could result in new defensive coordinator Tom Allen doubling as a position coach.

In any scenario, Taggart, the Bulls' primary play-caller in 2013 and most of the '14 season, likely will remain his own coordinator. …

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A closer look at Tom Allen

A few facts -- both random and relevant -- about Tom Allen, reportedly hired as USF's new defensive coordinator.

* Allen graduated from New Castle (Ind.) High, alma mater of Indiana University basketball legend Steve Alford and home to the largest high school basketball gym in the world (capacity 9,325).

* In 1994, Allen led now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School to a 7-4 record and Class 2A playoff berth, the first postseason appearance in the school's 18-year history. Allen eventually was named the St. Petersburg Times' Coach of the Year for Hillsborough County.

* During Allen's two seasons as Armwood's defensive coordinator in 1995 and '96, the Hawks posted the school's best two seasons (8-2, 10-2) to that point. The '96 team, in fact, captured the program's first playoff berth.

* The first NFL player Allen coached? Would have to be Mike Pearson, a former Gators All-American left tackle and the Jacksonville Jaguars' second-round pick in 2002. Pearson played for Allen at Temple Heights and later followed him to Armwood.

* Allen has worked for Hugh Freeze at three different colleges: Lambuth (Jackson, Tenn.), Arkansas State and Ole Miss

* Allen was Ole Miss' special teams coach of record in October 2013 when PK Andrew Ritter nailed a 41-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to clinch a 27-24 win against then-No. 6 LSU. It was the Rebels' first victory against a top-10 program in four years.

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Report: USF hires Tom Allen as defensive coordinator

An Indiana native who shares an alma mater (New Castle High) with UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, Allen has spent the last three seasons on the Rebels staff at Ole Miss, but has worked for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze at various stops since 2008.

University of Mississippi

An Indiana native who shares an alma mater (New Castle High) with UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, Allen has spent the last three seasons on the Rebels staff at Ole Miss, but has worked for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze at various stops since 2008.

Ole Miss linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Tom Allen, whose Tampa roots run nearly a quarter-century deep, is expected to be named USF's new defensive coordinator as early as today.

ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, who played for Allen at now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School and later was an Armwood quarterback when Allen served as Hawks defensive coordinator, reported the hire Monday morning.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that Allen had interviewed for the job.

"One of the best men I know, and that I've ever known," said Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, Allen's defensive line coach at Armwood in 1995 and '96. "That's a quality hire right there."

Allen replaces Chuck Bresnahan, dismissed earlier this month after his unit regressed sharply from 2013. USF finished the season ranked 71st nationally in total defense (402.8 ypg), twice surrendering 589 yards -- 1 shy of the program record for one contest. …

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Final stampede: 31 USF athletes to walk across stage

USF athletic director Mark Harlan with many of the Bulls student-athletes set to graduate this weekend.

USF Athletics

USF athletic director Mark Harlan with many of the Bulls student-athletes set to graduate this weekend.

Thirty-one USF student-athletes, including 13 football players, are receiving diplomas this weekend at the school's fall commencement ceremonies.

The weekend's first graduation exercise was set for Friday evening, with three more ceremonies on Saturday.

USF posted a program-record 83-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) earlier this year. Seven of the 31 are graduating with honors, and nearly half (14) finished with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, according to the school.

One member of the group -- former men's soccer player Brandon Curriston -- is receiving a graduate degree.

“Three percent of all high school graduates make it on a collegiate roster. Take that group and talk about what we’re talking about here today in graduating,” first-year athletic director Mark Harlan said during a breakfast reception Friday morning for graduates and their families.

“When we say congratulations that is a deep, deep word because it’s an amazing feat these student-athletes have accomplished."

Among the football graduates is former RB Michael Pierre, who was forced to give up the game last summer due to neck and spinal cord injuries, but remained on scholarship and earned a degree in criminology. …

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Former Armwood assistant joins names of USF candidates

Some of the latest tidbits we've gleaned regarding USF's ongoing search for two new coordinators and a defensive backs coach:

* Ole Miss linebackers/special teams coordinator Tom Allen, a former Tampa high school coach, has interviewed for the defensive coordinator job. Allen, wrapping up his third season on the Rebels staff, was defensive coordinator at Armwood in the mid-90s and served as head coach at now-defunct Temple Heights the three seasons before that. Over the last two decades, the teams on which he has coached amassed a record of 208-57, according to his Ole Miss bio.

* UCF coach George O'Leary said Thursday evening Knights defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan hasn't informed him of his interest in the same job at USF. An Armwood High alumnus and son of ultra-successful Hawks coach Sean Callahan, Kirk Callahan is believed to be in strong consideration for one of the Bulls' defensive vacancies. "That would be up to Kirk," O'Leary said. "I let all the coaches talk to whoever they need to talk to, as long as I know about it."

* Legendary former Manatee High coach Joe Kinnan still appears to be a viable candidate for an offensive spot on Coach Willie Taggart's staff. Published reports from Sarasota and Manatee counties have indicated such, and people who have worked with Kinnan, 69, say he's interested. Taggart was quarterback on Kinnan's 1992 Manatee team that won a state title.

* Another possibility -- albeit remote -- for the defensive coordinator job is D.J. Durkin, who has served in the same capacity at Florida the last two seasons and is serving as the Gators' interim coach for the Birmingham Bowl. Durkin worked on the Stanford staff (2007-09) the same time as Taggart.

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Anthony Collins' knee holding up 'fine'

USF point guard Anthony Collins, sidelined all except eight games last season with lingering knee problems, has played more than any other Bull so far this year.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF point guard Anthony Collins, sidelined all except eight games last season with lingering knee problems, has played more than any other Bull so far this year.

A month into his inaugural season in Tampa, Bulls men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua's concerns are diverse. Depth is one, as is production from his big men and occasional mental lapses.

Of zero concern at this point is the health of PG Anthony Collins.

"I feel fine," the fourth-year junior said Wednesday.

The left knee that betrayed Collins after eight contests last season has shown neither wear nor weakness despite extensive use at this point. So far, he's averaging 35.6 minutes -- three minutes more than any other Bull -- and leads the American Athletic Conference in assists (6.5 per game) and assists-turnover ratio (52 assists, 21 turnovers).

Is he surprised? "Not really," said Collins, granted a medical-hardship waiver by the NCAA in the offseason. "I don't know what else to say, it feels normal."

Antigua said at this stage, he's not even cognizant of the knee. Though he observes Collins doing his daily "maintenance," he doesn't know that it's bothering him at all.

"Aside from your normal aches and bumps and bruises from playing, the amount of time that we're asking him to play, both he and Corey (Allen Jr.), they're fine," Antigua said. "And I think that speaks to the preseason work and the summer work; those guys are in great shape."

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USF recruiting: Assessing the Bulls' biggest needs

For Bulls coach Willie Taggart, the holiday season likely will be lean on tinsel and turkey and heavy on hustle and bustle.

Amid his search for new coordinators and a defensive backs coach, Taggart is scouring the state (and beyond) in pursuit of more girth, speed and agility. Entering arguably the most critical year of his coaching life, Taggart finds his roster still short on depth at critical spots. Another coveted recruiting class is imperative.

With that in mind, here are what we deem the five areas of most pressing need, followed by a look at those who already have made non-binding oral commitments to USF.

1. Defensive Line
Attrition at defensive end forced Chuck Bresnahan to switch to a 3-4 alignment last season, and it turned out to be the last major philosophical tweak of his USF career. The Bulls failed to pressure quarterbacks (93rd nationally in sacks) and finished the regular season ranked 84th nationally against the run (182.9 ypg). Now, the two leading tacklers from that unit, Todd Chandler and Elkino Watson, are graduating. Four regulars -- ends Demetrius Hill and Eric Lee and tackles Derrick Calloway and Deadrin Senat -- are slated to return, but the rest of the returning linemen combined for five tackles in 2014. Fortunately for Taggart, he already has commitments from at least two defensive ends.

2. Receiver
An upgrade here is absolutely essential, especially if the rumors of USF gravitating toward a spread scheme are true. Three of this past season's top four receivers are gone, leaving lanky speedster Rodney Adams as the only established wideout. To be fair, the current roster may possess more talent than we realize; Kentucky transfer A.J. Legree couldn't play this past season and 6-foot-3 freshman Stanley Clerveaux was hurt all year. Nonetheless, the Bulls are desperate for playmakers on the edge; bubble screens to the backs will take you only so far.

3. Offensive Line
The Bulls have recruited well at this spot and apparently continue to, but one never can have enough o-linemen, especially teams bent on establishing the run. Center Austin Reiter must be replaced with tackles Darrell Williams and Quinterrius Eatmon, but guards Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson return. Four 2014 signees redshirted this past season, and a few youngsters (Jeremi Hall, Cameron Ruff, Kofi Amichia) got some work this year.

4. Linebacker
Regardless of the new defensive coordinator's scheme, the needs here are pressing. The Bulls' top four linebackers this past season combined for 10 sacks, and six of them (Reshard Cliett) just went out the door. OLB Nigel Harris was productive in '14 and ILB Auggie Sanchez performed nobly in his first season, but the unit seemed to struggle way too often against the run and in short pass coverage (We're still wondering how receivers were isolated over the middle week after week). Again, this may be a spot where reinforcements already are on the roster (freshman Josh Black, redshirts Jimmy Bayes, Vincent Jackson, Nick Holman).

5. Quarterback
As Will Muschamp will attest, college rosters must have three quarterbacks who can play. Because we don't see all three of this past season's QBs sticking around, Taggart must sign one this February. He already has a pledge from 6-foot-2 pro-style QB Brett Kean, who recently led Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward to  a state title. If Kean honors his commitment, USF should be in decent shape.
 
Class of 2015 commitments
CB Deangelo Antoine, Orlando Oak Ridge (5-9, 165)
OT Billy Atterbury, CCC (6-4, 285)
WR Jarvis Baxter, Trinity Valley (Athens, Texas) CC (5-10, 175)
C Cameron Campbell, Hollywood Flanagan (6-3, 270)
DE Marlon Gonzalez, North Fort Myers (6-4, 260)
QB Brett Kean, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward (6-2, 190)
S Khalid McGee, Miami Northwestern (5-10, 185)
OT Marcus Norman, Sebastian River (6-6, 255)
ATH Trevon Sands, Southwest Miami (5-10, 180)
LB Nico Sawtelle, Jensen Beach (6-1, 215)
DE Danny Thomas, Tallahassee Godby (6-2, 220)
TE Mitchell Wilcox, Tarpon Springs (6-4, 230)

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Marlon Mack named AAC Rookie of the Year

USF freshman Marlon Mack, who led the American Athletic Conference in rushing, has been named AAC Rookie of the Year.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

USF freshman Marlon Mack, who led the American Athletic Conference in rushing, has been named AAC Rookie of the Year.

Bulls freshman Marlon Mack, who finished his inaugural college season as the American Athletic Conference's leading rusher, has been named the league's Rookie of the Year in a ballot of AAC coaches.

All of the conference honorees, released Wednesday morning, can be found here. East Carolina 4,300-yard passer Shane Carden, the school's career leader in at least five offensive categories, was named Offensive Player of the Year. UCF CB Jacoby Glenn (seven interceptions) and Memphis LB Tank Jakes (85 tackles, six sacks) were named co-Defensive Players of the Year.

Memphis' Justin Fuente, who led the Tigers (9-3) to their first conference crown in 43 years, was named Coach of the Year.

Mack, who posted only the fourth 1,000-yard season in program history (202 carries, 1,041 yards, nine TDs) is the second Bull to earn conference Rookie of the Year honors, joining QB Matt Grothe (Big East, 2006). …

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