With recruiting mired in its NCAA-mandated "dead period," Bulls coach Willie Taggart spent an informal hour in his office with four reporters Wednesday afternoon.Full Story
Newsy nuggets were few, and Taggart spent much of the hour reiterating his philosophy, the deficiencies of 2013 and his aspirations for the future. He believes a Bulls appearance in the four-team national title playoff someday is conceivable, "but I can't be the only one to believe that."
Other significant sound bites:
* Taggart can sign up to 31 players this recruiting season, including six that can count retroactively to the prior year's total. He'll announce his junior college signings with all the others on national signing day in early February.
* He wouldn't be shocked if a handful of kids transferred, but expects no member of this past season's two-deep chart to move on. For now, he expects all his assistants back, but added, "You never know, especially in this profession."
* When he talked about quarterback competition for next spring, Taggart mentioned Matt Floyd along with Steven Bench and Mike White (he can't discuss unsigned QBs). The key word was competition. "We were 2-10, ain't nobody safe," he said. "Not even Mike White."
* He'll continue calling the offensive plays.
* His greatest disappointment, he suggested, was the Bulls' inability to establish a consistent run game (3.0 yards per carry, four rushing TDs). "We've got to get bigger, we've got to get stronger, we've got to get faster," Taggart said. "There ain't no going around that." The average weight of his five starting interior linemen was 296 pounds. That number must eclipse 300, he said.
* He said the season took a bit of a toll on him personally, and might have taken more had he not been in this position before. "Just being back home and wanting to make everybody happy and please everyone," he said. "You wanted that perfect book that you read, everything was great about it and it was all interesting. ... You wanted things to go perfect. ... But it didn't go that way. I'd say from that standpoint it probably took a toll."
* Despite losing his top four defensive ends to graduation or NFL aspirations (i.e. Aaron Lynch), Taggart said he feels good about the position going forward.
* He said he's not sure if this year's team had enough players who truly hated losing. "We've got to get it to where everybody hates losing," he said. "That's when we'll learn to win."
* Every player on the roster will be held accountable. "As long as I'm the head football coach, I'm not going to allow anyone to eat off this university for free," he said. "We're going to get what we need out of these guys, and I want them to get what they can out of this university. But it's going to go both ways. No bus riders and steak eaters."
In the wake of USF's double-overtime win against Florida Gulf Coast, the guy who may have been most responsible for the Bulls' 68-66 escape -- albeit indirectly -- spoke on local talk radio Wednesday. Full Story
Former NBA shooting guard Trent Tucker, whose last-gasp winner against the Chicago Bulls in 1990 prompted the creation of the rule that saved USF on Tuesday, spoke the next afternoon with WDAE 620-AM guest host Todd Wright.
Prompting the appearance: FGCU senior Chase Fieler's disallowed catch-and-shoot basket off a pinpoint inbounds throw from the opposite baseline at the second overtime buzzer. Photos showed Fieler got the shot off before the clock light illuminated atop the backboard.
NCAA Rule 5 (Article 4) says when three-tenths or less remain on the game clock -- the time remaining when Jamail Jones made the inbounds throw -- a player can't gain possession and try for the field goal. In such a scenario, a tip-in is the only allowable basket.
No such guideline existed 23 years ago, when Tucker's New York Knicks topped Michael Jordan's team. In that case, one-tenth of a second remained.
"We had the ball out of bounds," Tucker told Wright.
"We were going to run a lob pass for Patrick Ewing, but Michael Jordan -- being the smart player that he was -- read the play. And I knew that Mark Jackson (who made the inbounds throw) was up against the five-second count. ... I was a decoy to empty out the backside but Michael didn't go along with me as a decoy.
"So I went up the sideline knowing that Mark Jackson was up against the five-second count. He gave me a little flip pass. I tried to shoot the ball as fast as I could. The ball goes in, the game's over and we run off the floor to make sure they had no time to bring us back in to re-play that (second)."
The Bulls filed an official protest, to no avail. The Trent Tucker Rule was installed in time for the following season.
Its interpretations vary only slightly from college to pro to FIBA play. In the NBA, for instance, only a tip-in is allowed if a field goal is made with two-tenths of a second or less to play.
"From that point on, they ran stop clock, stopwatches, every major sports outlet at that time...had a clock on how fast a person could get the shot off," Tucker said. "And they came up with the rule that said it has to be three-tenths or more for a guy who could catch and shoot."
Thirty USF athletes, including 13 football players, receive their degrees Saturday at commencement ceremonies at the Sun Dome, the school announced.
Among the recipients: second-team all-American Athletic Conference DT Luke Sager, who has earned a master's in entrepreneurship in applied technologies.
Sager, whose high school alma mater (Niceville) played in Friday's Class 7A state final in Orlando, received his undergraduate degree in communication last year with a 3.22 GPA. Full Story
Anthony Hill, Austin Reiter, Brandon Salinas, DeDe Lattimore, Derrick Hopkins, JaQuez Jenkins, Lawrence Martin, Luke Sager, Fidel Montgomery, Tevin Mims, Stephen Bravo-Brown, Mark Joyce, Julius Forte
Jimmy Baxter, Mike McCloskey, Musa Abdul-Aleem
Samuel Hosseini, Stiven Salinas, Kyle Nicholls
Catherine Leibbrandt, Hannah Jasurda, Kaitlin Hardcastle, Sharla Passariello
Ilaura Reeves, Stephanie Juergens
Track & Field
Allissa Cummings, Kiersten de la Vega, Shelly Dulman
Marvin Kloss has finally bagged an awards-season prize, albeit later than most expected.Full Story
A first- and second-team omission on the all-American Athletic Conference team selected by coaches, Kloss was chosen a second-team pick on the Athlon All-America team released
One of three Groza Award finalists, Kloss is the eighth player in Bulls history to earn first-, second- or third-team all-America status, and the sixth in the BCS era. Bill Gramatica (1998) is the only other USF kicker to be named an all-American.
Kloss' 2013 numbers have long since been committed to memory by Bulls fans: His 11 field goals of 40 or more yards -- and four of 50 or more -- led the nation. His 13 consecutive field goals, a streak spanning 11 weeks, were a school record.
A two-time AAC Special Teams Player of the Week, Kloss scored all 21 of USF's offensive points in its two triumphs.
Officially, it's not listed on the press release revealing the inaugural all-American Athletic Conference team, but it's there. And it's glaring.Full Story
Sift carefully through the first and second teams, and you get warmer. Then line by line, scroll down the individual honors -- offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, specialists of the year -- and voila, it jumps out at you.
The snub of the year, given to USF place-kicker Marvin Kloss.
The Groza Award finalist, whose 11 field goals of 40-plus yards led the nation, did not make the all-conference team as chosen by its 10 coaches. They opted for Memphis freshman Jake Elliott (first team) and UCF junior Shawn Moffitt (second)
Those two combined for 11 conversions of 40 or more yards.
Yet the Bulls weren't totally dissed by the coaches, who chose five USF players for the 54-member team released Thursday. The entire team can be found here.
Third-year sophomore DE Aaron Lynch, whose six sacks led the Bulls, was their only first-team pick. The 17th first-team all-conference pick in program history (encompassing three conferences), he's USF's first defensive player to earn first-team recognition since Terrell McClain in 2010.
TE Mike McFarland (23 catches, 288 yards) and senior TB Marcus Shaw (765 rushing yards, three TDs) were second-team offensive picks.
Leading tackler DeDe Lattimore (98 tackles) and senior DT Luke Sager (25 tackles, one fumble recovery) made the second-team defense.
UCF coach George O'Leary, who guided the Knights to an 11-1 record, outright conference title and Fiesta Bowl berth, was a unanimous coach-of-the-year choice.
Knights QB Blake Bortles (3,280 passing yards, four fourth-quarter comebacks) and Louisville DE Marcus Smith (12.5 sacks) were chosen the offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively.
Memphis punter Tom Hornsey (45.2 yards per attempt) and Houston returner Demarcus Ayers (1,000 all-purpose yards) were named special teams players of the year. Houston freshman QB John O'Korn (2,889 passing yards, 26 TDs) was named rookie of the year.
His raspy 42-year-old voice is soft, almost at a whisper frequency on this afternoon.Full Story
Presumably, Jose Fernandez is saving it for the film session or ensuing practice, where he'll undoubtedly reach high octaves exhorting his players to attack the basket and show some pride on defense.
To date, they've done neither with great consistency. As a result, the USF women are off to a more modest start (5-3) than anyone expected.
"I really like our team, I think we're really talented, I think we're deep in a lot of spots," said Fernandez, whose club -- hyped as perhaps the best in school history -- was picked to finish third in its conference in the preseason.
"It's just not (translating) into how we'd like to be playing right now. But that's our job to get these guys better and to continue to improve. I think this team has the ability to do that."
More than a month into the season, the Bulls are shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and an abysmal 24.7 percent (40-for-162) from 3-point range.
Part of that may be attributed to the lingering knee injury of senior sharpshooter Inga Orekhova (8-for-33 from long range), who has since undergone surgery that will sideline her until January. But Fernandez also points to his club's hasty shot selection.
"We've seen zone (defense) all year," he said. "Until we start doing a much better job of attacking things better and not settling for jumpers and knocking open shots down, that's going to continue to happen."
But what seems to irritate Fernandez even more is the collective effort on the other end, where the graduations of elite defenders Andrell Smith and Tiffany Conner have been glaring.
While Fernandez replenished his lineup in the offseason (eight-player signing class), the group clearly hasn't meshed defensively.
"That's just the main primary thing that, being honest, we have to work on," said sophomore F Alisia Jenkins, averaging a double-double (10.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg). "And we've been working on it."
In last week's 60-55 loss at Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles finished 8-for-19 from long range and hit 13 of 24 field goals in the second half. Ten days before against a short-handed Clemson team, the Tigers milked the clock while the Bulls missed 42 shots.
Clemson, by contrast, finished 27-for-49 from the floor and won 68-63.
"We've got a lot of guys that are playing minutes that have to do a much better job of containing the dribble and taking possessions personal," Fernandez said. "That's what we're struggling with right now."
Alas, a turning point could be three days and one time zone away. The Bulls will have benefited from a five-day layoff when they play at 14th-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday. Fernandez still believes in his team's abilities, but has seen its vulnerabilities.
"I like this team, I like their attitude, I like their work ethic, but we're not even close to putting it together yet," Fernandez said.
"We can beat anybody in the country but also lose to anybody in the country, the way we're shooting the ball and the way that we're not defending."
If USF's final performance of 2013 evoked no hope, at least the final parting shot did.Full Story
"USF will be back on top, I can guarantee that," senior LB DeDe Lattimore said.
Granted, Lattimore didn't say when. And if the Bulls' 2013 finale is any sign, it could be a matter of decades instead of autumns. Yet the final numbers on the worst season in USF football history aren't all grisly and grim.
Some, in fact, are likely to inspire more hope than nausea. The most promising ones can be found on the depth chart for that 31-6 drubbing at Rutgers.
Sixteen of the 22 starters were underclassmen. Go two-deep, and the figure elicits more encouragement: 32 of the top 44 players have eligibility remaining.
That doesn't include the kicker, punter, long snapper, holder and primary returners -- none of whom were seniors.
Now, for the opposite perspective: USF returns a ton of people from a lousy offensive team. This is where those who lack the stomach for gore might wish to turn away.
The Bulls (2-10) finished the season 121st out of 123 Division I teams in total offense (256.4 yards per game). Their 11 offensive TDs were two fewer than anyone else at their level. Their scoring offense (13.8 ppg) ranked 120th.
And while they finished 22nd nationally in total defense (350.8 yards per game), the strides made by that unit were offset by the team's 102 penalties, second-most in Division I behind only Baylor (103).
So where do the Bulls go from here? Directly to the weightroom. As for the coaches, they'll hit every recruiting trail to which a GPS can lead them. Taggart was recruiting hours after the Bulls' charter flight hit Tampa pavement Sunday.
His top priorities: power and girth, neither of which the Bulls possess in sufficient amounts to operate the power-run style of play Taggart employs. Of his 20 verbal commitments for 2014, three are projected offensive guards. He could use some more.
"We're a weak football team, we're a small football team," Taggart said immediately after the Rutgers debacle. "Especially up front on the offensive line, we've got to get bigger
and stronger. That is high on the priority list."
Other needs: playmakers out wide; a signature from committed Miami Jackson dual-threat QB
Quinton Flowers; a sturdy downhill runner and replenishments on the defensive line.
If third-year sophomore Aaron Lynch (team-best six sacks) enters the NFL Draft, USF will lose five of its top eight defensive linemen. It also loses its heart and soul (Lattimore) and three senior cornerbacks.
But clearly, the Bulls appear better equipped to move forward defensively than offensively. Nonetheless, Taggart's not changing his run-first philosophy. No way.
"We're not changing," he said. "Our guys have had too much change around here. We need some
consistency. ... The way we play is the way we play."
So Taggart's staff will recruit, evaluate, self-examine, recruit, condition and strengthen, and recruit. In the process, maybe they'll find the power and playmakers needed to help Taggart's bus run far more efficiently.
"The team don't need nobody but Coach T," Lattimore said. "Coach T, he knows what he's doing."
In the wake of consecutive double-doubles against George Mason and Alabama, 6-foot-8 USF forward Chris Perry has been named American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week.
Perry totaled 14 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday's 66-64 victory against the Crimson Tide, including a layup with 2:31 to go that stretched the Bulls' lead to 60-52. It marked the first time a Bull had notched back-to-back double-doubles since Victor Rudd did it in early January.
Three nights before, Perry collected 14 points and 11 boards in his team's improbable 68-66 triumph at George Mason, when the Bulls rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final 12:19.
"(The honor) feels pretty good, but even better that my team's winning again," Perry said. "We're learning how to play together, really coming together as a team."
Perhaps not coincidentally, Perry's back-to-back sparkling efforts have occurred with he and 6-10 classmate John Egbunu in the starting lineup together. In five of the Bulls' first six games, Perry came off the bench. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Thanks in part to a unique motivational ploy from its coordinator, USF's defense has spent the final stretch of the season playing out of its mind instead of playing out the string.Full Story
With tensions mounting and bowl hopes dwindling in early November, veteran coordinator Chuck Bresnahan challenged his group to finish the last four games among the nation's top 10 in total defense.
"We reached a point where there was some frustration building in, and when you let that roll downhill like a cancer -- I hate to use that word -- it can really, really tear a team apart and a unit apart," Bresnahan said. "So we tried to give them something to focus on."
Since then, the Bulls have allowed an average of 265.7 yards in three games, which would rank third nationally -- behind only Michigan State and Louisville -- if it held up over the course of the season.
"We've always had something to play for," senior DT Luke Sager said, "but then having this as one of our goals definitely helped us come out to practice and come to the games and play harder."
In USF's last four contests, opposings offenses have been held to at least 99 yards below their season average. The last two foes -- SMU and UCF -- scored 16 and 12.8 points fewer than their season average coming in, respectively.
"It's really a seniors' challenge and everybody's bought into it, wants to send 'em out the right way," Bresnahan said. "And the best way to do it is to worry about something you can control."
ROOKIES DRAW RAVES: Bresnahan lauded the play of the shorthanded secondary, which featured four freshmen, in Friday's 23-20 loss at UCF. Two senior starters -- Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins -- were suspended before kickoff and have since been dismissed.
UCF junior QB Blake Bortles threw two picks -- tying his season high -- and had his fourth-lowest passing yardage total (219) of the season. Nearly one-fourth of the total came on his 52-yard TD strike to Breshad Perriman late in the fourth quarter.
"It's a collective effort," Bresnahan said. "And I think they'd be the first one to tell you that it's everybody else working around them and doing their job and not trying to do too much that allows them to go back and just relax and play."
AUDIBLE: "I'm just gonna speak from the heart and let it flow." -- senior DE Ryne Giddins, on what he'll say if the seniors are allowed to give a final address to the team
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
JaQuez Jenkins, a former Lakewood High standout, spent time at both safety and cornerback.
The college careers of USF defensive backs Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins have ended two games prematurely.Full Story
Coach Willie Taggart announced Tuesday the seniors, both of whom were suspended for Friday's loss at UCF due to an undisclosed team violation, have been dismissed from the program. Both are set to graduate in December, he added.
"They've done a lot for our football program and unfortunately made a mistake and they've got to deal with their mistake," Taggart said.
"We're trying to change a culture in our entire football program to one that is total commitment to the football team and winning, and we will. There are consequences that come with anything that counters that. And those consequences will be paid."
Neither player's name appeared in a local arrest-records search. In a text message to the Tampa Bay Times, Jenkins declined to comment specifically on the dismissal. …
USF 6-foot-2 senior guard Inga Orekhova, the top returning scorer from the Bulls' NCAA Tournament team last season, will miss roughly 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery Monday to her left knee, Coach Jose Fernandez confirmed.
No medical redshirt is anticipated. "We expect her back," Fernandez said.
A preseason all-American Athletic Conference pick, Orekhova had an MRI early last week. Fernandez didn't specify the nature of the injury, but it coincided with her erratic shooting touch at the season's outset.
In six games, she's tied for fifth on the team with 7.0 points per game, shooting 25.9 percent (14-for-54) from the floor and 8-for-33 (24.2 percent) from 3-point range.
Orekhova was limited in the second half of a 93-35 romp of N.C. Central on Nov. 17, and came off the bench four days later against Clemson, when she scored six points (2-for-10 from the floor) in a 68-63 loss.
"We went through some testing and stuff and some treatment, and then it just progressively got worse," Fernandez said. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Coach Willie Taggart said Monday senior defensive backs Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins remain indefinitely suspended, leaving their status for Saturday's season finale at Full Story
Rutgers in question.
Both missed the Bulls' 23-20 loss Friday at UCF due to an undisclosed violation of team rules, but the revamped, freshman-heavy secondary mostly shined in their absence.
Rookie Hassan Childs, thrust into Joyce's safety spot, had four tackles. Classmate Nate Godwin, the other regular safety, had a fourth-quarter interception on which USF's offense couldn't capitalize. Freshman CB Lamar Robbins had a second-quarter pick.
"It was great for those guys to step in there and not miss a beat," Taggart said. "We probably played by far our best defense of the season. It was good to see that out of our young guys. At one point, there were all freshmen in the secondary."
One player definitely out Saturday is backup junior MLB Hans Louis, whom Taggart said tore his ACL Friday night.
FRIGID FINALE: If penalties and turnovers weren't enough to concern the Bulls, they also somehow must place mind over the mercury. Saturday's projected low at Rutgers is 25 degrees, with a 50-percent rain chance.
Friday's kickoff at UCF -- 59 degrees -- was USF's coldest of the year. Taggart won't hear any of it.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday. "We're Floridian, we talk about heat down here, baby."
MR. VERSATILE: Rutgers coach Kyle Flood suggested Monday that Scarlet Knights senior Jeremy Deering -- a Leto High alumnus -- will have a solid shot at a pro career.
The reason: Deering's versatility. At various points, Deering has lined up at kick returner, receiver, tailback and safety for Rutgers. Currently sixth on the team in tackles (37), Deering has 993 total yards for his career, and 2,078 career all-purpose yards.
"He's big, he's strong, he's fast," Flood said. "But it's really his ability to be selfless that has created a tremendous career for him and I think is going to give him an opportunity at the next level."
ODDS AND ENDS: The Bulls now rank 21st nationally in total defense (350.4 ypg), but 121st in total offense (266.0 ypg). ... Rutgers freshman return specialist Janarion Grant, a former three-way Pasco High star who returned his first collegiate kick for a 100-yard TD, received his first college offer from USF. ... On Monday's teleconference, UCF coach George O'Leary said, "You can see that the game between us and USF is going to grow into a great game for the (conference)."
AUDIBLE: "Like I've been telling them all year, you're going to miss it. Try to enjoy the moment, enjoy the game, enjoy playing with your teammates, enjoy practicing this week with your teammates -- you're going to miss it all. Don't forget to have fun in your last game with this team. Just go out and have fun." -- Taggart, when asked what his message is to his seniors entering the season's last game
I couldn't cast a ballot in the immediate wake of the Miracle on Iron. To fairly assess where Auburn should reside in my top 25, I had to allow the emotion to subside. Then I had to ponder it, sleep on it then ponder it some more. Full Story
Twelve hours later, I arrived at this personal conclusion: The Tigers (11-1) pulled off the greatest finish in college football history, but they're still No. 3 in America.
For all the Tigers' resilience, I couldn't in good conscience propel them past undefeated Ohio State. While I acknowledge Auburn has played a tougher schedule, leap-frogging the Tigers over the Buckeyes would violate a personal conviction.
I've had Ohio State ahead of Auburn all along, and won't penalize the former for winning a rivalry game against a plus-.500 team in its most hostile environment of the year. It's not that Auburn doesn't deserve No. 2, it's that OSU doesn't warrant a demotion.
Elsewhere, Alabama falls only to No. 4 because the Tide's lone loss was to a top-three team on the game's final play. South Carolina remains ahead of SEC East champ Missouri because the Gamecocks (10-2) defeated the Tigers (11-1).
Texas A&M, USC and Fresno State (which hasn't played anyone) exited, while Texas, Georgia and Iowa entered. The Hawkeyes (8-4) sort of snuck up on me; their losses have been to four higher-ranked teams (Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin).
2. Ohio State
5. Oklahoma State
6. Michigan State
7. South Carolina
11. Arizona State
14. Northern Illinois
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF athletic director Doug Woolard was given a courtesy car for the 98-mile drive back to Tampa after his vehicle was vandalized during Friday's game at UCF.
University of South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard was given a courtesy car for the 98-mile drive back to Tampa after his vehicle was vandalized during Friday's game at UCF.
UCF Police Department spokesman Chad Binette confirmed the tires on Woolard's Audi were slashed at some point during the Knights' 23-20 victory against the Bulls. It was parked next to the Wayne Densch Sports Center, which is adjacent to Bright House Networks Stadium, Binette said.
Knights athletic department spokesman Brian Ormiston said Saturday that UCF athletic director Todd Stansbury personally drove Woolard's car back to Tampa on Saturday morning.
"I want to publicly apologize to Doug," Stansbury said in a statement.
"I'm disappointed and embarrassed that this happened at our facility. I'm thankful our friends at Carl Black (Orlando auto dealership) came through with transportation for him to get back home. We always encourage good sportsmanship and responsible behavior and this was neither."
UCF police are investigating. Woolard didn't elaborate on the vandalism immediately after the game, but issued a statement Saturday night. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Friday's game at UCF will feature a special reunion for USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and Knights coach George O’Leary.Full Story
The two worked together for five seasons (1987-91) on Bobby Ross' staff at Georgia Tech. Bresnahan served as inside linebackers coach and O'Leary was defensive coordinator during the Yellow Jackets' national championship run in 1990.
Bresnahan said Wednesday he hasn't kept up with O'Leary very much on a personal level in the years since, but has many fond memories from their time together.
"It was fun, we had a blast, we really did," Bresnahan recalled. "We've stayed in contact very minimal, but I've followed his career and he's done an unbelievable job."
BORTLES PRAISED: Bresnahan has plenty of admiration for UCF QB Blake Bortles (2,819 passing yards, 20 TDs, five INTs), saying the junior is among the best in college.
"He's as good as anybody in the country, I really believe that," Bresnahan said. "He's efficient, he does the things that winning quarterbacks do. He manages the run game, uses the play-action pass to complement it, and then when he has to make a play, he does.
"Once again, it's a great challenge for us and our guys love it."
Senior DL Todd Chandler said the key to stopping Bortles and Knights RB Storm Johnson is simple: Hit them quickly.
"At the end of the day, it's all about starting fast and finishing (our) hitting," Chandler said.
"Hit, hit, hit -- that's going to be our main obstacle this week. Just putting a hat on Storm Johnson and get to Bortles just as many times as we can and get them knocked down."
FLOYD A FINALIST: Redshirt sophomore QB Matt Floyd has been named a finalist for the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award, presented by the Premiere Players Sports Foundation.
The award is given to one college football player each year from Florida or South Carolina who has gone above and beyond in giving to others and performing community service. The winner will be announced during an awards dinner Dec. 10 in Tampa.