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Bulls land 4-star receiver Salomon

The stock of USF's 2016 signing class spiked significantly Monday after the Bulls received a non-binding verbal commitment from Miami Central WR Darnell Salomon.

Deemed a four-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals, Salomon (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) is the first four-star prospect from the Class of '16 to commit to USF, which now has no fewer than 14 commitments. Until as recently as September, he wasn't believed to be strongly considering USF. …

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Full disclosure: My latest AP ballot

I faced a hard choice on this week's ballot, setting me up for criticism -- varying in degree from scathing to subtle -- regardless of how I decided.

Which makes it no different than any other week. This time around, I'd invariably be branded a homer or hypocrite (or perhaps worse in the unfiltered galaxy of cyberspace), depending on the direction I took. All well and good. Let the vitriol fly; you won't hit a jaded conscience.

I put USF on my ballot.

Only a week ago, I indicated the Bulls' mid-September loss at Maryland was simply too ugly for them to warrant a ballot spot. Then I scrutinized the rest of my rankings. If I'm going to absolve other prominent teams (i.e. Oklahoma, FSU, North Carolina, Washington State, etc.) of unsightly defeats, I must do the same for the Bulls.

Moreover, I consider them among the 25 best teams in the country today (Apparently, so do a few others). Such is the inexact science of balancing a body of work against recent performance.

Elsewhere, I'm likely to catch flak for keeping Clemson at No. 1 despite the Tigers' struggle at 3-9 South Carolina. As an opponent of the style-points philosopy, I can't bring myself to penalize a team for entering its most hostile environment of the season -- with the rivalry dynamic at work -- and winning.

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Michigan State
5. Ohio State
6. Iowa
7. Stanford
8. FSU
9. Notre Dame
10. North Carolina
11. TCU
12. Baylor
13. Oklahoma State
14. Houston
15. Oregon
16. Florida
17. Ole Miss
18. Utah
19. Michigan
20. Northwestern
21. Navy
22. Temple
23. USC
24. LSU
25. USF

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USF-UCF: Click here for coverage

The wait from now until Saturday's waning hours -- when the UConn-Temple game is decided -- likely will be excruciating for most Bulls fans, who need a Huskies triumph for their team to secure a berth in the American Athletic Conference title game.

When the waiting becomes too great to bear, one can always bide his or her time by re-living one of the most gratifying Bulls triumphs of recent memory.

First, our game story from USF's 44-3 romp of UCF, which technically lasted exactly three hours (but was over way before then). In addition, Tampa Bay Times correspondent Jeff Odom offers five things you might have missed from the game (including athletic director Mark Harlan's latest thoughts regarding an on-campus stadium).

And staff photographer Octavio Jones' photo gallery isn't to be missed. Nor is this postgame Periscope wrapping up the night.

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Know the Foe: UCF

UCF quarterback Justin Holman has been hampered by various injuries during most of the Knights' 0-11 season.


UCF quarterback Justin Holman has been hampered by various injuries during most of the Knights' 0-11 season.

A look at UCF, which hosts USF on Thursday at Orlando's Bright House Networks Stadium

Nickname: Knights

Record: 0-11, 0-7 American Athletic Conference
Wins: None
Losses: vs. FIU, 15-14; at Stanford, 31-7; vs. Furman, 16-15; at South Carolina, 31-14; at Tulane, 45-31; vs. Connecticut, 40-13; at Temple, 30-16; vs. Houston, 59-10; at Cincinnati, 52-7; at Tulsa, 45-30; vs. East Carolina, 44-7

Coach: Danny Barrett* (first season, 0-4)

The breakdown: Few teams in recent Division I-A memory have plummeted as rapidly and profoundly as the Knights, who have been decimated by injuries and other forms of attrition since Day One. Collectively, the Knights have had 49 games missed by offensive starters or projected starters due to injury, and 31 by defensive starters (or projected starters). As a result, UCF has employed seven different starting offensive lines, and six different starting combinations in the secondary. Additionally, the Knights' 33 first-time starters this season is tied for the most nationally with (also-winless) Kansas. ... Among the battered Knights is junior QB Justin Holman (hand, ankle), who sustained a high-ankle sprain in last week's 44-7 loss to East Carolina but is expected to play Thursday. Holman, who lost essentially his entire receiving corps from last season, ranks 10th in the American Athletic Conference in passing (168.2 ypg). His top target, redshirt freshman Tre'Quan Smith, has established UCF freshman records for receptions (45) and yards (622). The run game, crippled when all-conference TB William Stanback was dismissed three games into the season, ranks last nationally (80.7 ypg). Leading rusher C.J. Jones has 329 yards -- 7 fewer than Bulls sophomore Marlon Mack has totaled in his last two games. Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Bresnahan -- dismissed from the same job at USF last December -- is almost certain to be job-hunting again this winter. His unit ranks 115th nationally (464.9 ypg) and is 126th in pass-efficiency defense (166.61).

Odds and ends: UCF ranks third in Division I-A for fewest seniors; only nine are set to be recognized before Thursday's season finale. ... Twelve of the 17 Knights who signed with the program in February have played, compared with seven of USF's 21 signees. ... Lakewood High alumnus Shaquill Griffin leads UCF with two interceptions. ... LT Aaron Evans, an Armwood alumnus, is the only offensive lineman who has started every game at his position.

Taggart's take: "I'm sure they're going through a lot, but they have some talent on their football team...and that talent's got to grow. We've been there before, but that's what you see on there, you see guys that are just trying to make it work. They're going through a tough situation right now."

*-interim coach

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Fernandez adds 4 signees

The team with one of the most global rosters in women's basketball went mostly domestic during the early signing period.

USF announced its four November signees Monday, three of whom hail from the U.S. The foreign signee: 5-foot-9 G Enna Pehadzic, who led Denmark's under-18 national team in scoring (17.6 ppg) during this past summer's European Championship.

The current Bulls roster features seven foreign-born players.

"Enna will bring depth to our backcourt," Coach Jose Fernandez said in a USF news release. "She can play the point guard and the shooting guard position. I’m excited about her being with our program."

The other signees: 6-3 F Jazzmaine Bond (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 6-1 F Tamara Henshaw (Flagler Palm Coast) and 6-2 F Shae Leverett (Rincon, Ga.).

Bond averaged 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks as a junior for Blackman High, which won Tennessee's Class 3A state title. Henshaw averaged a double-double (11.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg) for FPC, which reached the Class 8A state tournament last winter.

Leverett, a 1,000-point career scorer from South Effingham High, averaged 16.9 points and 13.8 boards while earning 5A second-team all-state honors in Georgia.

"With this class, we addressed the areas we needed," Fernandez said. "We needed to bolster our front line, and with the signing of Jazzmaine, Tamara and Shea, we added some key components to our line."

In other USF news, the Bulls (2-1) moved up a spot -- from 19th to 18th -- in the latest Associated Press poll following Thursday's three-point loss at No. 5 Baylor.

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Bulls expecting UCF's best game of 2015

USF prepares to take the field before its upset of Temple earlier this month.


USF prepares to take the field before its upset of Temple earlier this month.

Collectively, USF's staff has coached or played in some of the nation's most prominent rivalries including Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-FSU, Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Stanford-Cal.

As a result of those experiences, the Bulls coaches have had no problem reaching a consensus this week: They will get winless UCF's most inspired effort of the year.

"You've got to be really mature as a team to not fall for what you see on film," said defensive coordinator Tom Allen, preparing his unit for a decimated Knights offense that ranks last in Division I-A (274.4 ypg). "That's not what you're gonna see. These rivalry games bring out a whole different element. ... You can't discount that."

On Monday, Allen recalled the 2013 Egg Bowl, a 17-10 Mississippi State overtime triumph in Starkville. Then Ole Miss' special teams coordinator/linebackers coach, Allen watched injured Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott (shoulder) come off the bench to rally the hosts, who entered the game 5-6.

"Even though they weren't winless, they were still having a season that was less than they had hoped," Allen said. "But beating Ole Miss was all they needed to do to have a successful season."

Interim Knights coach Danny Barrett, promoted after George O'Leary retired following UCF's 0-7 start, said his team will be motivated by all the rivalry's familiar elements: proximity of the schools, intensity of the matchup and the Knights' two-game win streak in the series.

"It's our final home game, it's the last game for a handful of seniors that we have," Barrett said. "So our guys are gonna go out and play hard for sure and try to finish off this year with at least one positive in the midst of a tough year."

NICHOLS HONORED: As expected, Bulls sophomore CB Deatrick Nichols was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of Week on Monday following his career game (two interceptions, one returned for a TD, eight tackles) in Friday's 65-27 rout of Cincinnati.

"Other than giving up that long ball (on a Bearcats TD), he had a phenomenal game," Allen said. "The thing he does, he studies film better than anybody that I've had on the back end. Therefore, he anticipates and can jump routes. The pick-six he got was because of film study."

EMPTYING THE BENCH: A fringe benefit to Friday's rout of Cincinnati was offensive line coach Danny Hope rotating liberally up front for one of the few times this season.

Hope, who has used the same starting line all year and has substituted minimally the last couple of months, used 10 offensive linemen against Cincinnati.

"It was good to get the (starters) out of there," Hope said after Monday morning's practice. "I think they were a little fresher and healthier to start this week off. There's been a lot of football in 2 1/2 weeks, so being able to play our (backups) is big in a lot of ways."

Among those not used Friday was Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons, essentially cementing his redshirt status this season.

ODDS AND ENDS: In ESPN's latest bowl projections, Brett McMurphy projects a USF-Western Kentucky matchup in the Miami Beach Bowl, while Mark Schlabach predicts Bulls-Old Dominion in the St. Petersburg Bowl. ... Hope, who has been part of more rivalry games than any other staffer, said Colorado State-Wyoming (the "Border War") is the most underrated one he has experienced. "Unbelievable, and I've been in a bunch of (rivalries)," said Hope, a Wyoming assistant in 1996. "That one really caught me off-guard." ... Allen said he never has been associated with a first half like Friday's, when the Bulls built a 51-3 lead. "I don't even remember beating a bad team like that," he said.

AUDIBLE: "They changed up some things offensively than what they did before. ... But the key is that Chuck was there. He knows the personnel, what type of players they are, what type of people that they are, and that's really the only advantage you would get." -- Barrett on whether Knights (and former USF) defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan can provide any type of edge for UCF

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Can ex-Bull Bresnahan help UCF?

USF sophomore cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) had two interceptions against Cincinnati, returning one for a touchdown.


USF sophomore cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) had two interceptions against Cincinnati, returning one for a touchdown.

One of the less conspicuous story lines emanating from this week's USF-UCF contest may or may not evolve into one of the more significant.

If the Knights possess any noticeable edge, it might be first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's insight into the Bulls personnel. Bresnahan spent the previous two years in the same job on Willie Taggart's staff before being dismissed last December.

And while the Bulls have changed virtually everything in terms of scheme and signals since Bresnahan's departure, he still knows many of USF's starters. No matter, Taggart said.

"Everything's different from when (Bresnahan) was here, other than some of the guys. And even those guys are different now," Taggart said following Sunday evening's practice. "They've grown up and they've gotten better and have a better understanding of what's going on in college football now."

Bresnahan's unit, by the way, ranks 115th nationally (464.9 ypg). His 2014 Bulls unit, which converted to the 3-4 from a four-man front, also allowed more than 400 yards a game (402.8). …

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Full disclosure: My latest AP ballot

Gonna cut you off at the pass, Bulls fans. No, you won't find USF on my ballot this week.

Sure, I considered the Bulls, albeit briefly. While they're undeniably the hottest team in the American Athletic Conference today, they're still not among the nation's top 25 when considering their collective body of work.

For all its recent dominance, USF still has four losses, and you'll find no four-loss team -- Power Five or otherwise -- on my ballot. The loss to Maryland is impossible to ignore, and the defeat against Memphis is gradually getting more unsightly as the Tigers keep regressing.

Even so, I can lend the Bulls some latitude over the Memphis loss, but not Maryland. Had the Bulls beaten the Terps, they'd probably be on my ballot today.

Not that I expect this explanation to appease many of you.

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Michigan State
5. Baylor
6. Iowa
7. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
9. Oklahoma State
10. Florida
11. Stanford
12. Michigan
13. North Carolina
14. FSU
15. TCU
16. Washington State
17. Oregon
18. UCLA
19. Navy
20. Houston
21. Northwestern
22. Ole Miss
23. Temple
24. Mississippi State
25. Pittsburgh

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AAC chief: Colleges, preps can co-exist on Fridays

Call it one of those quirks of fate, a timely chance to share a significant Friday night plight with a key college figure.

The same day the Tampa Bay Times published this Tom Jones column decrying the infringement of televised college football on a night (Friday) normally reserved for high schools, we had a chance to ask American Athletic Conference commissioner (and former network TV executive) Mike Aresco about it.

His response: A generation ago, he might have believed Fridays should remain the sole domain of the high schools, but now he believes colleges and preps can co-exist -- to a degree.

"Only a handful of games are played at the college level (on Fridays) and people that are loyal to their local teams will go to their local high school games...and that's the key," Aresco said prior to USF's contest -- on Friday night, no less -- against Cincinnati.

"They've got their own fan bases, obviously. It does affect a few teams in a few markets on Friday night, but very few (college) teams do it more than once or twice."

For non-Power Five conferences (such as the AAC) trying to establish an identity, nationally televised Friday contests have evolved into a gold mine of sorts. The AAC has had 15 games attract at least a million viewers this season compared to 11 all of last season, according to Aresco. Presumably, a handful of those have been Friday contests.

"Thursdays have been taken over by the NFL and the only time a college program can get the kind of national attention, even more so than Saturdays (is on a Friday)," Aresco said.

"First of all, there aren't that many of them being played (on a Friday). So, for the most part, you want people to watch the games and all, but I think people who are devoted to high school football will go to the games and it's never been easy. But it's like anything else, I think there's a place for both now on Fridays."

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Cincinnati-USF: Click here for coverage

If you're like Willie Taggart, you're probably awake at this wee hour (post-annihilation adrenaline) re-living one of the most overwhelming Bulls victories ever.

Here then, is a chance to re-live it through our prose and perspective.

First, our game story from the Bulls' 65-27 rout of Cincinnati, nudging them one step closer to a division title. Additionally, Times correspondent Jeff Odom points out five things you might have missed (Anyone else see that textbook open-field tackle by Michael Hill?)

Finally, our bookends to the wild evening: A pregame chat with American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, who said USF's turnaround is "huge" for the league; and our postgame Periscope to summarize the Bulls' surreal senior night.

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How the East will be won

USF coach Willie Taggart's team remains very much alive in the American Athletic Conference's East division race.

AP photo

USF coach Willie Taggart's team remains very much alive in the American Athletic Conference's East division race.

With a meaningful mid-November comes muddled scenarios. With conference hopes arrive confusion.

With an American Athletic Conference division crown within reach, just how much scoreboard watching must the Bulls do in the next two weeks? Well, none. Willie Taggart won't have it.

"We ain't watching anybody," he said in the wake of Saturday's 44-23 win against Temple. "We're only worried about the Bulls. We've got to take care of us."

As for those who won't suppress the temptation of following the sports ticker, here are the plausible East scenarios. (Shout-out to Chuck Sullivan in the AAC office for mentioning some remote scenarios we didn't even consider).

Temple (8-2, 5-1)
The Owls capture the division with any quantity of wins or USF losses totaling two in the final two weeks. If the Owls lose their final two games -- at home against Memphis and UConn -- they still can win the division if the Bulls lose their last two games and UConn loses to Houston.

USF (6-4, 4-2)
The Bulls capture the division outright with wins against Cincinnati (Friday) and UCF (Thanksgiving night) and one more Temple loss. The Bulls, obviously, hold the head-to-head advantage against the Owls if both finish 6-2 in the conference. USF also prevails in a three-way tie with Temple and UConn because it defeated both.

Cincinnati (6-4, 3-3)
Yes, the Bearcats still possess a realistic shot at the division crown, though they must win at USF and at East Carolina, and hope for Temple to lose out. They would prevail in three-way ties with USF-Temple and Temple-UConn, and even win a four-way tie based on division record. Two of the Bearcats' three AAC losses have been to West teams.

UConn (5-5, 3-3)
Try to follow along: The Huskies actually still can win the division if they win out (against Houston and Temple) AND Temple and USF lose out AND Cincinnati loses to East Carolina. 

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Bulls say Bearcats won't 'trap' them

In the wake of one of USF's most resounding -- and celebrated -- upsets in years, it might be easy for some to classify the Bulls' matchup Friday with Cincinnati as a potential trap game.

But the Bulls insist there will be no hangover from Saturday's 44-23 victory against, Temple or any peeking ahead to their Thanksgiving night game at rival UCF.

Senior LB Zack Bullock, a Sebring native, said Tuesday the team isn't satisfied with only reaching bowl eligibility for the first time in five years. It still has its eye on the American Athletic Conference title.

"I don't see how it can be a trap game," he said. "We haven't necessarily won anything. We have everything still in front of us, so we're excited. We've got everything to play for.

"The Temple deal was just something we had to do in order to reach our goal. It's just like this game, it's something we had to do. ... It's going to take some extreme focus to get done."

BIG MACK: Coach Willie Taggart said he took note of sophomore TB Marlon Mack surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season against Temple, though it was relegated to subplot amid the stirring victory.

Mack, who became only the second player in program history to post two 1,000-yard seasons, rushed for a season-high 230 yards and two TDs on 21 carries against the Owls.

"I challenged Mack at the beginning of the year, 'Don't have a sophomore slump,'" Taggart said. "It goes back to you're either getting better or you're getting worse. No one stays the same. ... And he's determined to be better than he was, and I think he is better than what he was his freshman year." …

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Know the Foe: Cincinnati

Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore has tied Cincinnati's career TD-receptions record (25).

AP photo

Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore has tied Cincinnati's career TD-receptions record (25).

A look at Cincinnati, which faces USF on Friday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Bearcats

Record: 6-4, 3-3 American Athletic Conference
Wins: 52-10 vs. Alabama A&M, 37-33 at Miami (Ohio), 34-23 vs. Miami (Fla.), 37-13 vs. Connecticut, 52-7 vs. UCF, 49-38 vs. Tulsa
Losses: 34-26 vs. Temple, 53-46 vs. Memphis, 38-24 at BYU, 33-30 at Houston

Coach: Tommy Tuberville (third season at UC, 24-12; 20th season overall, 154-89)

The breakdown: The Bearcats' pedestrian record belies their potent offense. Speaking of that record, their four defeats have come against teams with a combined 33-7 mark. QB Gunner Kiel, who briefly relinquished the starting job to freshman Hayden Moore earlier in the year, leads the American Athletic Conference's most prolific (585.6 ypg) -- and possibly most seasoned -- attack. Every projected Bearcats offensive starter is a junior or senior, with three fifth-year receivers -- Shaq Washington, Max Morrison and Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore -- combining for 138 catches and 16 TDs. Though Cincy employs a single-back, spread look, three backs -- Mike Boone, Hosey Williams and Tion Green -- each have run for at least 620 yards. "They know what they're doing," Bulls senior DE Zack Bullock said. "You have to rile them up. You have to get people off their spots, because that stuff is timing and stuff like that, and most good offenses are." Defensively, Cincinnati has been ravaged by injuries in the secondary, where only one starter remains from the season opener. While Cincy's defense has allowed 400 or more yards six times, the Bearcats lead the American in opponents' third-down efficiency (30.6 percent). By contrast, USF's offense ranks 11th in third-down percentage (32.1).

Odds and ends: Bearcats backup WR Tshumbi Johnson Jr. is the older brother of Bulls sophomore TB D'Ernest Johnson. ... Moore and freshman CB Christian Angulo (East Bay) are the only bay area alumni on the roster. Moore arrives on his hometown's grandest stage tied with Mardy Gilyard for the most career TD receptions (25) in Bearcats history. ... Cincy enters Friday's game needing only 141 passing yards and 284 total yards to establish program records in both categories. ... The Bearcats still can win the AAC East -- based on the conference's tie-breaker formula -- if they win out and Temple loses out. In that scenario, UC would have a head-to-head advantage on USF, and a better in-division record than the Owls. ... In the kid-you-not category -- the Bearcats' top two strong-side linebackers are named Leviticus Payne and Mike Tyson.

Taggart's take: "Our guys know they have a lot of the same players that were on their team last year that beat our football team pretty good (34-17) up in Cincinnati. So they know what we're getting into and what kind of team we're facing, and we've got to be on our A-game."

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Football notebook: Kudos for Mack, Taggart

Sophomore TB Marlon Mack earned three weekly honors in the wake of his sparkling night (21 carries, 230 yards, two TDs) in Saturday's 44-23 upset of then-No. 21 Temple.

On Monday, Mack, whose 272 total yards included a 20-yard touchdown reception, was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Mack now leads the conference in rushing (118.3 ypg), surpassing Temple's Jahad Thomas, who fell to No. 2 (103. 5 ypg) after being held to 65 yards by the Bulls.

Mack also was named National Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards, and the AAC's Offensive Player of the Week by College Sports Madness.

"He came out and was fresh, had a great week of practice," Coach Willie Taggart said Monday. "He had great blocks by his receivers on the perimeter and his o-linemen. Just played a great overall game."

Sophomore PK Emilio Nadelman made the AAC's five-player honor roll after converting all three of his field-goal tries -- including a career-best 47-yarder -- Saturday. Nadelman, who nearly lost his job after two misses at Navy, has hit five of six field goals since. …

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Marlon Mack honored by AAC

USF sophomore Marlon Mack had his second career 200-yard rushing effort (21 carries, 230 yards, two TDs) in Saturday's victory against Temple.


USF sophomore Marlon Mack had his second career 200-yard rushing effort (21 carries, 230 yards, two TDs) in Saturday's victory against Temple.

Sophomore TB Marlon Mack has been named American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week following his sparkling night (21 carries, 230 yards, two TDs) in Saturday's 44-23 upset of  Temple.

Mack, whose 272 total yards including a 20-yard touchdown catch, also was named National Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards, and the AAC's Player of the Week by College Sports Madness.

Mack now leads the conference in rushing (118.3 ypg). The previous leader, Temple's Jahad Thomas, fell to No. 2 (103.5) after being held to 65 yards Saturday.

"We've got some tough seniors (up front), man," said Mack, who had scoring runs of 57 and 48 yards Saturday. "Those guys have just been fighting, so every time I score, it's for them. ... I love those guys. Without them, I wouldn't be where I'm at now."

In 21 career games, Mack already has moved into fourth place (2,106 yards) on USF's career rushing list. His six 100-yard games this year ties Andre Hall's school season record.

Another Bull, sophomore PK Emilio Nadelman, made the AAC's weekly five-player honor roll after converting three field goals Saturday including a career-long 47-yarder.

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