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Bulls alumni defend former strength coach

Former USF defensive lineman Todd Chandler said he recalls no Bulls player requiriing hospitalization after an offseason conditioning workout.

Times file photo

Former USF defensive lineman Todd Chandler said he recalls no Bulls player requiriing hospitalization after an offseason conditioning workout.

Since reports surfaced late Monday about three Oregon football players being hospitalized following a strength-and-conditioning workout, opinions have flown like cyberspace projectiles.

Some are blunt and benign, others pointed and provocative. …

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USF's Rodney Adams to miss Shrine game

USF receiver Rodney Adams (87) won't play in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game due to an injury.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF receiver Rodney Adams (87) won't play in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game due to an injury.

For the first time in a decade, USF won't have a representative in the East-West Shrine Game.

WR Rodney Adams, selected to compete in Saturday's contest at Tropicana Field, said he's still rehabbing the ankle he injured on the unforgiving Legion Field turf at the Birmingham Bowl, and won't play.

Practices for the all-star contest began Monday in St. Petersburg. A Lakewood High alumnus, Adams grew up minutes from the Trop.

The Bulls have had at least one player in the game each of the last nine seasons, and 14 overall.

At least two other players with state connections -- FSU OG Kareem Are and Navy QB Will Worth -- also are sidelined. Worth, who attended Newsome High, broke his foot in the American Athletic Conference title game on Dec. 3.

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Will Arizona pursue USF's Mark Harlan?

Expect USF athletic director Mark Harlan to be pursued for the same job at Arizona, his alma mater.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Expect USF athletic director Mark Harlan to be pursued for the same job at Arizona, his alma mater.

Upon being hired as USF's athletic director nearly three years ago, Mark Harlan indicated one of his primary responsibilities would be to listen.

Constituents, co-workers, even critics -- Harlan vowed to lend an ear to all of 'em.

Stands to reason he might extend the same courtesy to his alma mater, which just might try to entice him to return home.

With Arizona AD Greg Byrne reportedly set to accept the same job at Alabama, Harlan already is being mentioned as a potential replacement for Byrne at Arizona. Harlan earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in education from UA, and met his wife there.

He also previously served as a fundraising administrator at UA.

Harlan didn't immediately respond to a text message Monday. He's completing the third year of a five-year deal that pays him $500,000 annually with incentives.

He's barely a month removed from his most applauded hire at USF, bringing former Texas and Louisville football coach Charlie Strong to replace Willie Taggart. …

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Road to 300: Jose Fernandez's 5 biggest USF wins

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez seeks career victory No. 300 at home Tuesday against Memphis.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez seeks career victory No. 300 at home Tuesday against Memphis.

He was only 29 when fate fed him the opportunity of a lifetime -- a Division I head coaching gig.

Jose Fernandez, then a first-year Bulls assistant, was given a two-year contract and the reins to USF's foundering program in the wake of predecessor Jerry Ann Winters' scandalous resignation in October 2000. USF finished 4-24 that season, the program's worst ever.

Nearly a generation later, the mediocrity -- and much of Fernandez's hairline -- have receded. Tuesday night against Memphis, the 45-year-old married dad of a built-in basketball team (five girls) can earn victory No. 300.

For those scoring at home, that's a .567 winning percentage (299-228), with 12 postseason berths. Subtract that first season, and Fernandez has averaged nearly 19 wins during his tenure in Tampa.

"I've been here 17 years so I should be able to have won a lot of games in 17 years," Fernandez cracked. "I've had a lot of good players and a lot of good players on this team. You don't win those games without good players and great people that you work with."

In recognition of the impending milestone, we've chosen what we deem the five biggest wins of Fernandez's tenure (in no particular order). See if you agree with our list:

USF 71, Texas Tech 70
March 23, 2013 (Lubbock, Texas)
How can the program's first NCAA Tournament win be omitted from this list? Sharpshooter Inga Orekhova's 3-pointer from the corner tied the score at 66-all with 1:09 to play, and the Bulls hit five of six free throws the rest of the way to clinch a watershed moment in local women's hoops.

USF 73, LSU 64
March 21, 2015 (Sun Dome)
Unquestionably the most significant home victory of the Fernandez era. A Sun Dome crowd of 5,560 watched USF win the program's second NCAA Tournament game behind junior Courtney Williams (17 points, 12 boards) and clutch free-throw shooting (22-of-29). The boisterousness hit a crescendo when Laura Ferreira hit two 3-pointers in a 24-second span at the outset of the second half, giving the hosts a 12-point lead. "I thought the roof on this place was gonna go off," Fernandez said.

USF 75, Kansas 71
April 4, 2009 (Lawrence, Kan.)
The largest crowd ever to watch a Bulls or Jayhawks women's game (16,113) packed Allen Fieldhouse for this WNIT final. Behind tourney MVP Shantia Grace (16 points, five assists), the Bulls captured the school's first postseason championship of any kind. The triumph capped a 27-10 season that probably should've ended in the NCAAs. (It wouldn't be the last time a Fernandez team was snubbed by the NCAA committee.)

USF 60, Mississippi St. 58
March 30, 2014 (Starkville, Miss.)
The legend of Courtney Williams may very well have been spawned in this WNIT semifinal. The host Bulldogs had taken a one-point lead with 4.2 seconds to play when Williams -- then a sophomore enjoying a breakout season -- took the inbounds pass, drove downcourt and hoisted the winning 3-pointer from the right wing.

USF 89, TCU 84
Feb. 2, 2004 (Sun Dome)
Fernandez's first win against a ranked team was a doozy. Freshman Jessica Dickson scored 20 in regulation to rally USF from an 11-point hole, hit a desperation 35-foot heave at the end of the first overtime, then scored nine in the second to finish with 36 points. Dickson, of course, remains the program's career scoring leader.

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USF women bounce back, roll past ECU

If Saturday's proceedings at the Sun Dome were any sign, USF is allowing the sting of the worst loss in program history to fizzle instead of fester.

Four nights after a nationally televised, 65-point humiliation at top-ranked Connecticut, the 20th-ranked Bulls responded with a 79-48 rout of East Carolina before an announced crowd of 2,090.

A 15-0 run shortly after halftime essentially sealed things for USF (14-2, 3-1 American Athletic Conference), which shot 50.9 percent (27-of-53) from the floor and hit nine 3-pointers. Senior Ariadna Pujol (23 points), junior Maria Jespersen (20) and sophomore Kitija Laksa (20) led the Bulls.

"We had an off-day after the UConn game. That was terrible," Jespersen said. "We just wanted to get back in the gym and work harder so we'd be more prepared for next time."

Six minutes into Saturday's game, the Bulls already had three treys, equaling their total in a frigid long-range shooting night (3-of-20) at UConn. They built a 13-5 lead before a momentary defensive lapse -- accompanied by a scoring drought of nearly six minutes -- allowed the Pirates (10-8, 1-4) to cut their deficit to 15-14.

But a Laksa jumper with 7:09 to play in the first half started an 11-2 USF run, capped by a Jespersen 3-pointer. Laksa's trey with 15 seconds to play before halftime gave the Bulls a 35-22 lead.

Their lead never fell below single digits again. Coach Jose Fernandez's only significant beef: Allowing ECU to finish with 15 offensive rebounds after having none in the first half.

"We needed to play and put that (UConn) game behind us," said Fernandez, who seeks his 300th career win Tuesday at home against Memphis. "I think our kids put it behind us the last two days, the way that we've practiced, so that's been good."

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Strong, staff embark on final recruiting stretch

A month into his new gig, Bulls coach Charlie Strong's heralded recruiting chops are being put to a stern test.

At a point when in-state recruiting never has been more fierce, Strong is trying to retain some of the recruiting momentum built by predecessor Willie Taggart. Retaining some of Taggart's most prominent verbal commitments would be ideal.

It's premature to say whether Strong, hindered by a late start, will succeed right out of the box.

With 2 1/2 weeks remaining until national signing day, USF's 2017 recruiting class is ranked fifth in the American Athletic Conference by 247Sports, and eighth by Scout.com.The Bulls have 12 non-binding verbal commitments and two "soft" ones, according to 247Sports.

That total doesn't include Miami Central WR Jernard Phillips, a three-star prospect who has confirmed via Twitter that he already has enrolled at USF.

So far, at least two Taggart pledges, Jefferson DE J'Bril Glaze and Orlando Dr. Phillips WR Emare Hogan, have de-committed (Glaze has since committed to Virginia Tech). …

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Quinton Flowers wins national honor

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers has been named College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers has been named College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year.

In the wake of a record-shattering regular season, Bulls QB Quinton Flowers has picked up his second significant award.

Flowers has been named the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) National Performer of the Year. The honor comes almost six weeks to the day after Flowers was named American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

The significance of this honor: It's based more on scientific formula than human vote. The official CFPA site says "recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams."

Previous National Performer of the Year winners include Heisman recipients Derrick Henry, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston.

Flowers finished the regular season ranked in the top 20 in Division I-A in nine offensive categories, setting school season records for total offense (4,342 yards), rushing yards (1,530), rushing touchdowns (18), total TDs (42) and 300-total-yard games (nine). 

USF (11-2) finished with the program's best record ever.

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Analysis: No Band-Aid fix for USF basketball

USF center Ruben Guerrero is the only recruit from the Orlando Antigua era to have any sort of lasting impact on the program.

Orlando Sentinel photo

USF center Ruben Guerrero is the only recruit from the Orlando Antigua era to have any sort of lasting impact on the program.

College basketball never has held a monopoly on virtue. Like most other segments of society, it has long since succumbed to the undertow of instant gratification.

Hence the reason the quick fix has evolved into standard operating procedure in the sport. From Westwood to Krzyzewskiville, one-and-dones are prevalent. And there's a mercenary feel to the way some players with baggage (i.e. transfers, jucos) are summoned to help a foundering program suddenly flourish.

Can't blame coaches for maximizing how the system's set up. And to be sure, it works splendidly at some places.

But it has flopped recently at USF. And whomever is hired as the program's 10th permanent coach must avoid the allure of such a philosophy at all costs.

Time to rebuild the Bulls with patience and pragmatism. Adding a local player or two also would help.

This must be athletic director Mark Harlan's prerequisite to any and all candidates. We'll even offer a rough draft of the mission statement.

Listen, there's nowhere to go but up. I want you to bring in kids of character who will stick. Develop them. It will take time, but I'm willing to give you that time. Make the bay area a recruiting priority. Let's do this the right way.

The other way has been downright dreadful.

When Orlando Antigua's debut season dawned in the fall of 2014, USF had three kids who had played NCAA basketball the season before. Upon his dismissal Jan. 3, the roster remained one of the youngest (no seniors).

In between, a procession of transfers with baggage, juco signees and kids deemed a recruiting gamble found their way to the Muma Center, some exiting as briskly as they arrived. Meantime, some Stan Heath holdovers (i.e. Zach LeDay, Anthony Collins) bolted or were run off, only to find success at other major programs.

The result: 23 victories in 2 1/2 seasons, and one NCAA probe for possible academic violations. The only Antigua signee to have any kind of lasting impact has been 7-foot junior Ruben Guerrero, recently awarded the NCAA Division I Male Sportsmanship Award.

Guerrero's ambassadorship notwithstanding, time to can this quick-fix method.

Harlan's new hire must be committed to a three- or four-year process. He must home in on recruits committed to developing into good college players, not those with one eye one the NBA before they unpack. He must know how to get to Tampa Prep or Berkeley Prep or Tampa Catholic without a GPS. 

His aspiration must be to build a Butler South, not a Kentucky spinoff. If interim coach Murry Bartow is committed to such a philosophy, by all means give him a serious look.

Perhaps gratification won't arrive instantly, but it likely will come eventually. Along the way, the program can foster hope.

Sure beats the hopelessness to which Bulls fans have been exposed.

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Bulls getting major love in way-too-early '17 rankings

Quinton Flowers (9) and USF are ranked in a handful of inaugural top-25 projections for 2017.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Quinton Flowers (9) and USF are ranked in a handful of inaugural top-25 projections for 2017.

A few slivers of the celebratory Clemson confetti still was floating in the dark Tampa sky when some college pundits began releasing their preseason rankings for 2017.

College football appetites remain insatiable year-round, so we get it. And face it, most of it's fun reading.

And even more fun if you're a Bulls fan, who are finding their team getting a lot of love in these grain-of-salt forecasts.

USF is 10th -- TENTH -- in the initial preseason top 25 rankings compiled by CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd, and 20th on the ballot of ESPN's Mark Schlabach.

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel has USF 21st.

"Charlie Strong walks into a loaded locker room," Dodd writes. Schlabach notes (correctly) that USF has a weak non-conference schedule and gets American Athletic Conference foes Houston, Temple and Tulsa at home.

Look for similar rankings to emerge in coming days. To this point, the only one we've seen so far that doesn't include USF is this one from the Orlando Sentinel.

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USF announces 3 more football hirings (UPDATED)

The official Bulls football coaching staff announcements continue at an accelerated pace, with three more formally named to Charlie Strong's staff Wednesday.

Offensive line coach Matt Mattox, defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator Corey Bell and tight ends/special teams coach Justin Burke bring the number of formally announced staff hirings to seven.

Additionally, Strong's director of player personnel at Texas, Mike Giglio, announced via Twitter he's headed to USF, presumably in the same role. …

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USF 19th in final AP poll, among 4 state schools ranked

Former USF interim coach T.J. Weist (center) and the Bulls hoist the Birmingham Bowl trophy following their overtime win against South Carolina.

AP photo

Former USF interim coach T.J. Weist (center) and the Bulls hoist the Birmingham Bowl trophy following their overtime win against South Carolina.

Bulls fans awoke Tuesday morning to a milestone: For the first time ever, USF has finished a college football season ranked in the Associated Press poll.

The Bulls (11-2) were 19th in the final rankings released in Tuesday's wee hours, shortly after the conclusion of the College Football Playoff national title game.

No other American Athletic Conference team finished in the top 25. USF, a 46-39 overtime winner against South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, was one of only two AAC teams to win in the postseason (Tulsa was the other).

The Bulls are almost certain to be ranked in the '17 preseason poll. Sixteen players who started in Birmingham are expected back next season, including reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year Quinton Flowers.

FSU and Florida also surged on the heels of impressive bowl triumphs. The 'Noles (10-3) moved up two spots to eighth following their Orange Bowl triumph against Michigan, while the Gators (10-4) jumped six spots to 14th following their 30-3 Outback Bowl rout of Iowa.

Miami (9-4) re-entered at No. 20 in the wake of its 31-14 victory against West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

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Full disclosure: My final AP football ballot

Due to a lack of concrete criteria, the season's final ballot might be the trickiest.

Should rankings reflect an overall body of work, or who's playing best at the end? With no clear answer, I opted for both.

Which is to say, I set myself up for a hailstorm of flak. But why should this ballot be any different than the previous 15?

FSU, at No. 7, represents Exhibit A in my attempt to strike such a balance. The 'Noles arguably resembled a top-five team in their Orange Bowl win against Michigan, but I can't rightfully ignore their embarrassment at Louisville or loss to North Carolina.

Similarly, the Wolverines (10-3) dropped three of their last four, but defeated Penn State, Colorado and Wisconsin earlier in the season. As a result, UM remains in my top 10.

And as you read this, USF almost certainly will have finished a season ranked for the first time in its history. The Bulls are 17th on my ballot.

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. USC
4. Washington
5. Oklahoma
6. Penn State
7. FSU
8. Wisconsin
9. Ohio State
10. Michigan
11. Oklahoma State
12. Stanford
13. Virginia Tech
14. LSU
15. Western Michigan
16. Florida
17. USF
18. Miami
19. Colorado
20. Iowa
21. Utah
22. West Virginia
23. Kansas State
24. Tennessee
25. Temple

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So much for rebuilding: Bulls surge into UConn showdown

USF junior Maria Jespersen is averaging nearly a double-double (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) for the Bulls.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

USF junior Maria Jespersen is averaging nearly a double-double (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) for the Bulls.

This wasn't how logic drew it up. Based on the scoring punch and sturdy rebounding that departed from USF's roster last spring, the Bulls were projected to rebuild, reassess and, dare we say, regress.

Yet through 14 games, what they've done mostly is refute.

"Tradition doesn't rebuild," Coach Jose Fernandez said.

If the season's first half is any sign, USF (13-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) is evolving from top-25 upstart to mainstay before its fan base's eyes. Tuesday, the nation gets a glimpse of the No. 20 Bulls as they try to keep top-ranked Connecticut (14-0, 2-0) from earning its 90th consecutive win, which would tie its own NCAA record (men or women).

Less than 10 months after No. 2 all-time scorer Courtney Williams, career rebounding leader Alisia Jenkins and sleek point guard Shalethia Stringfield exited, the Bulls are scoring more (79.0 ppg to 72.7), rebounding more (45.6 rpg to 42.8) and distributing the ball more efficiently than last year's NCAA second-round qualifier.

Their assist-turnover ratio (plus-1.25) ranks 23rd nationally, and they've committed the third-fewest fouls (12.7 per game) in Division I. Among their quality wins are triumphs against Georgia (10-6) and North Carolina (12-4) in a three-night span.

"Don't get me wrong, our program wouldn't be where it was if it wasn't for those (departed) kids," Fernandez said.

"But I think it was a thing that...these guys left, and at the end of the day we're still South Florida. And (the current team) wanted to say, 'Hey, how 'bout us. We're here. Yeah, those were good guys, but now we have an opportunity to be great.'"

Williams' departure for the WNBA left Fernandez without a player who could create a basket -- often in mid-air -- as the shot clock elapsed. Collective athleticism also suffered a dropoff.

As a result, the Bulls don't press, and lean more heavily on the 3-pointer, led by reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week Kitija Laksa (21.6 ppg).

Finally healthy after ankle problems at the end of last season, Laksa has buried 54 of USF's 116 treys, and scored 37 in Saturday's 84-68 win against Tulsa.

Complementing her are 6-foot European veterans Maria Jespersen (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Ari Pujol (14.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) who have evolved from role players to key components after remaining at USF all summer.

But no one has progressed like 5-7 point guard Laia Flores, who transformed her body in the offseason and led the under-20 Spanish national team to the European Championship. Flores' 7.1 assists per game currently ranks 11th nationally.

And consider: Fernandez' rotation might be even more explosive were it not for preseason injuries to veteran sharpshooter Laura Ferreira (plantar fascia) and heralded Denmark recruit Enna Pehadzic.

"I think these kids really have an unbelievable love for one another. They hold the next guy accountable for each other, and that's why you're good," Fernandez said.

"That's what a program does. There shouldn't be rebuilding years. That means we haven't done a good job recruiting and we haven't done a good job developing. So there shouldn't be a rebuilding type of deal."

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Shaun King to be retained by USF

Shaun King, who just wrapped up his first season as USF's quarterbacks coach, has been retained on Charlie Strong's staff, with one tweak in his job description.

King will coach running backs, a source told the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday. He essentially confirmed his retention Saturday afternoon via Twitter.

"Excited to have the opportunity to help bring a championship to @USFFootball," he tweeted.

A former Buccaneers and Gibbs High quarterback, King is believed to have hit it off with new Bulls offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who will double as quarterbacks coach. King's bond with the Bulls returners -- especially QB Quinton Flowers -- and local recruiting ties also played in his favor.

It appears King will be the only member of Willie Taggart's 2016 staff to be retained. At least three former Bulls staffers -- running backs coach Donte Pimpleton, tight ends coach David Reaves and director of football operations Sharrod Everett -- followed Taggart to Oregon.

USF holds its first 2017 team meeting Sunday.

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Mack leaving for NFL; Strong reportedly hires DC

Marlon Mack exits USF as the school's all-time leading rusher.

Times file photo

Marlon Mack exits USF as the school's all-time leading rusher.

A dizzying news day at USF continued Thursday evening with all-time rushing leader Marlon Mack announcing via Twitter he will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Only the third player in state history to amass three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, he joins a loaded NFL Draft class featuring fellow underclassmen Dalvin Cook (FSU), Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Christian McCaffery (Stanford).

"The decision was not easy but after weeks of contemplating...I've decided to declare for the NFL Draft," Mack tweeted. "I would like to thank the University of South Florida for giving me the opportunity to play the game I love. ... I will always be a Bull!!"

Mack rushed for 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns during USF's first 11-win season in program history. He broke Andre Hall's 11-year-old USF career rushing record of 2,755 yards in a 45-20 victory at Cincinnati on Oct. 1.

A starter since his dazzling 275-yard, four-touchdown debut as a freshman in USF's 2014 opener against I-AA Western Carolina, the Sarasota native will conclude his college career with 3,609 rushing yards — seventh all-time among Division I-A collegiate rushers in Florida — in 36 games.

Mack is also USF's career all-purpose yards leader (4,107) and holds two other records with 20 career 100-yard rushing games and 32 career rushing touchdowns.

Mack's announcement came shortly after the school confirmed former Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will join Charlie Strong in the same capacity at USF. …

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