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Full disclosure: My AP football ballot

This week's ballot bids adieu to Missouri, Cincinnati and Kansas State, and heartily welcomes Mississippi State, East Carolina and Penn State.

FSU remains at No. 1 because the 'Noles found a way to win -- or Clemson found ways to lose -- without Jameis Winston. Again, I'm not big on style points; beat a quality foe with your backup QB and you're not likely to slip a centimeter on my ballot.

Farther downward, I'm convinced about Mississippi State and ECU, but no longer sold on Cincinnati. The Bearcats (2-0), No. 21 on my preseason ballot, have surrendered 927 total yards to Toledo and Miami (Ohio). Cincy's tumble has nothing to do with style points; it's about the Bearcats' inability to tackle.

In their place is Penn State, bereft of a big win but visibly poised for a return to national prominence under James Franklin.

1. FSU
2. Oklahoma
3. Alabama
4. Oregon
5. Auburn
6. Baylor
7. Texas A&M
8. Notre Dame
9. UCLA
10. South Carolina
11. Georgia
12. Michigan State
13. Stanford
14. Ole Miss
15. Nebraska
16. Mississippi State
17. Arizona State
18. East Carolina
19. Oklahoma State
20. Wisconsin
21. USC
22. BYU
23. Penn State
24. LSU
25. Ohio State

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UConn-USF: Click here for all the coverage

Taking a cue from USF's performance Friday against UConn, we've put everything together for at least one night.

Our entire Huskies-Bulls postgame package can be found on the ensuing links. First, the game story from USF's 17-14 win, which marked the eighth consecutive time this matchup has been decided by seven or fewer points.

And our game notebook leads with a closer look at Lakewood High alumnus Rodney Adams' first college TD catch (and another pass he'd like to have back). 

Additionally, Tampa Bay Times correspondent Jeff Odom raises a few talking points (including another inexcusable snafu by a game official). And for good measure, we provide video of post-game interviews with Adams and QB Mike White.

 

 

 

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Taggart audibles, will call more plays

Less than a month after relinquishing most play-calling duties to his offensive staff, Coach Willie Taggart said Thursday he'll have more input when the Bulls (1-2) host Connecticut (1-2) in both teams' American Athletic Conference opener Friday.

Before the season, Taggart tabbed coordinator Paul Wulff and quarterbacks coach David Reaves to be the team's primary play-callers so he could focus on managing other facets of the game.

But with the Bulls' offense ranking near the bottom of Division I in multiple categories including pass offense (113th), total offense (113th) and scoring offense (96th), Taggart said he needs to step back into the decision-making process.

"I'm going to be a little more involved in (play-calling)," Taggart said. "I think all our guys do a good job of studying and putting the game plan together and they rely heavily on each other. But I'm getting back in it and I'm going to help out a lot to try and do what we can to get our offense going."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Taggart said OL Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe) and RB Darius Tice (sprained knee) will play against UConn.

Additionally, senior WR Andre Davis, who will miss his third consecutive game with a bruised sternum, will "definitely" return this season, Taggart said. "It's an injury that heals with time, but (Davis) will be back sooner rather than later," Taggart said. "It will be good to get him back."

O-LINE READY: With the return of Jozwiak, Taggart is confident the offensive line will bounce back against the Huskies.

Though mum on the possibility of any personnel changes, Taggart said there was a different attitude in practice this week, which he hopes will translate to the game. With Jozwiak out, the Bulls have surrendered five total sacks the last two games.

"They responded well (at practice)," Taggart said. "I think they were ticked off and I wanted them to be ticked off, but I don't think that's a response I want to get just in practice, because they've been practicing well. I want them to respond in a game...like they're capable of." …

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Bresnahan: Wolfpack's 'window dressing' caused problems

Four days after his unit graded out woefully against N.C. State, Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is hoping it can revert to straight-As.

Alignment, assignment, adjustment, alert. On Wednesday, Bresnahan indicated a collective failure to follow those principles in Saturday's 49-17 loss led to the mass confusion when N.C. State motioned and disguised its looks.

"The window dressing N.C. State gave us gave us problems," said Bresnahan, whose unit surrendered 589 yards, one shy of the most allowed by the program in a game.

"We didn't just settle down and play the final formation. We let all the window dressing affect us, and then we didn't play. We didn't play with the same intensity, the same physicality that we've been doing. Therefore you don't create the turnovers, you don't create the big plays that we've
been able to create."

As a result, Bresnahan is re-emphasizing those four A's this week: Get aligned correctly to execute your assignment, know any adjustment that comes within the package, and alert yourself prior to the motions of what will transpire.

"The bottom line is football, and they can do all the window dressing they want," Bresnahan said. "When the ball is snapped, you've got to go play your assignment, you've got to play your rules and you've got to do it aggressively if you're gonna be successful."

NO SIGN OF THE SPREAD: For the first time this season, Bresnahan's unit won't have to defend against a spread-style attack. …

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In '11, Taggart had similar start, seismic finish

As coach at Western Kentucky in 2011, Willie Taggart's team lost its first four before winning seven of its last eight.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

As coach at Western Kentucky in 2011, Willie Taggart's team lost its first four before winning seven of its last eight.

At a time when optimism seems harder to attain than first downs in the Bulls constituency, we offer a potentially encouraging history lesson:

In Willie Taggart's second season at Western Kentucky, following a 2-10 debut, the Hilltoppers lost their first four games. During that span, they committed 15 turnovers to their opponents' seven.

Then, they won seven of their last eight.

On Tuesday, Taggart again noted how similar that 2011 breakthrough season at WKU seems to this one, which the Bulls -- 2-10 a year ago -- have begun with two losses in three games.

"Again, so many similarities it's crazy," Taggart said. "I was talking to (former WKU) Coach (Jack) Harbaugh and he was like, 'It's funny, it seemed like we had this conversation four years ago at Western.'"

Following a 14-3 season-opening loss to Kentucky, the '11 Hilltoppers were drubbed on consecutive weekends by Navy (40-14) and Indiana State (40-16). The turning point, however, occurred in a 26-22 home loss to Arkansas State, then coached by current Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.

In that game, officials overturned an apparent WKU first-down rush in the fourth quarter, and current Bucs tailback Bobby Rainey came up short on fourth down. Arkansas State responded with a 67-yard drive, scoring the game-winner with 43 seconds to go. The defeat extended what was then a nation-worst 18-game home losing streak for the Hilltoppers.

They won their next five, defeating Middle Tennessee State on the road in double overtime only five days after the loss to the Red Wolves.

"We got sick and tired of losing, and guys just came together," Taggart recalled Tuesday. "It was a controversial call and guys were crushed and were hurting. ... And the next game we won in double-overtime and it just took off from there. We started believing."

As frustration percolates locally, Taggart, whose '11 season is more closely chronicled in this story, said he'll do exactly what he did three autumns ago: Refuse to digress from his plan.

"If you get off plan with what you believe in, it's not gonna work," he said. "You can't waver because people are unhappy. The thing you've got to do is keep working and try to make 'em happy by getting your team right and winning some ball games."

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Football report: Davis still sidelined

USF again will be without senior WR Andre Davis for Friday night's American Athletic Conference opener against Connecticut, and could remain sidelined for the foreseeable future, Coach Willie Taggart said Tuesday.

Davis, 14 catches and 162 yards shy of the school's career record in both categories, has missed the last two games after injuring his sternum while making a diving catch in the season opener against Western Carolina. Taggart did not have a timetable for when the senior could return.

"It's going to take some time to get him right, Taggart said.

"We'll have to go with the (other receiving options) we have and keep going. ... We want Andre to come back when he's 100-percent healthy. That's the only way he's going to help our football team and he's not 100 percent right now."

Taggart said the team plans for OL Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, turf toe) to return against the Huskies. The junior was in full pads at practice.

GET PHYSICAL: After watching the Bulls muster only 159 yards and eight first downs in Saturday's 49-17 loss to N.C. State, Taggart reiterated Tuesday he wants to see his offense play with aggressiveness against UConn.

"We've got to develop a physical, tough attitude on that side of the ball," he said. "That's football. Football is a game where you can be physical without going to jail and hit someone without going to jail. And I want guys to hit people and ... let out all of those emotions. We've got to do that."

ODDS AND ENDS: A day after Taggart said there was no longer  job security along the offensive line, offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said there "could be a change or two" made this week, but did not offer any specifics. ... After punting seven times against N.C. State, Mattias Ciabatti moved to second in the American and 10th in the nation in punting average (46.8). ... Mike White and Quinton Flowers' combined five pass completions against the Wolfpack was two shy of the program-worst mark of three (Charleston Southern 2002, Louisville '04).

AUDIBLE: "Last week, I thought we had our best week of practice. We were constantly making plays in practice and I was like, 'Wow, this is awesome. We're getting ready to put on a fireworks show (against N.C. State).' Then, it was like it was Fourth of July and raining. We couldn't let the fireworks go off." -- Taggart, summing up his team's performance on Saturday. The 32-point loss to N.C. State was USF's worst margin of defeat to a Division I-A school since a 49-16 loss to Rutgers in 2008.

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Know the foe: UConn

First-year Connecticut coach Bob Diaco brings the Huskies to Raymond James Stadium for a prime-time game Friday against USF.

Brad Horrigan | Hartford Courant

First-year Connecticut coach Bob Diaco brings the Huskies to Raymond James Stadium for a prime-time game Friday against USF.

A look at Connecticut, which faces the Bulls on Friday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Huskies

Record: 1-2 (Win -- Stony Brook, 19-16; Losses -- BYU, 35-10; Boise State, 38-21)

Coach: Bob Diaco (first season)

The breakdown: Like Willie Taggart, Diaco is trying to restore a program that face-planted itself in mediocrity. The early returns are mixed; UConn struggled to get past I-AA Stony Brook but its defense held normally potent Boise State to 292 total yards. UConn will enter Raymond James Stadium ranked fourth in the American Athletic Conference in total defense (368.3 ypg). "Overall, the whole group continues to fortify our DNA," said Diaco, Notre Dame's defensive coordinator when it reached the 2012 BCS Championship Game. "I can't say it's set but it's starting to really look and take shape in being a team that will play hard hard for four quarters and never give up." ... Opening day starting QB Casey Cochran, who led the Huskies to victories in their last three games of 2013, has walked away from the game due to repeated concussions. Fifth-year senior Chandler Whitmer, his replacement, had some nice moments against Boise State but was sacked seven times and tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions including a pick-six. ... Sophomore Tim Boyle -- who started last year against USF -- is Whitmer's backup. 

Odds and ends: The last four meetings between UConn and USF have been decided by seven or fewer points. ... WR Geremy Davis has caught at least one pass in 29 consecutive games, tying for the longest active streak nationally. ... TB Lyle McCombs, who torched USF for 164 rushing yards last season, was dismissed from the team in the offseason.

Taggart's take: "They play a 3-4 (defense) and they move to an even-man front at times. But they're really stout, they're big up front. They try to two-gap you and really bottle you in. Again, their front seven is really physical. Our guys have got to come ready to play. They're good against the run and they're really good on third down (14th nationally). It's going to be an interesting ball game."

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Taggart: O-line must improve

Though billed as a noticeably stronger unit following an offseason of increased bulk and bench presses, the USF offensive line's collective muscle mass sustained a muscle massacre Saturday.

In the wake of that debacle against N.C. State, Coach Willie Taggart is challenging the group to step up. Immediately.

Appearing on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference, Taggart said he was disappointed how the Wolfpack dominated both lines of scrimmage in their 49-17 rout, but was especially displeased with an o-line -- featuring three seniors and junior among the starters -- that allowed three sacks and nine QB pressures.

"I think going into the season we were saying that was gonna be the strength of our football team...and we're not doing as well as we should right now," Taggart said.

"They have the most starts on our football team, the most experience on our football team. You look at all the skill positions, they're young guys but they're talented and we've got to provide an opportunity for the quarterback to throw the ball to those guys and be able to hand it off to them so they can run."

The unit could be bolstered by the return of 321-pound junior LG Thor Jozwiak, who practiced Sunday after missing the last two games with shoulder and toe issues. Additionally, Taggart said starting jobs will be open to competition in the days leading to Friday's AAC opener against Connecticut at Raymond James Stadium.

Only six offensive linemen logged action Saturday. "Nobody has job security; we're not doing that anymore around here," he said.

"Guys have to be able to hold up their part of the bargain and play at the level we know they're capable of. I just know we're not playing at that level up front. I know they're so much better and we need for them to be better, and they will be better." 

INJURY UPDATE: Jozwiak may not be the only Bull close to coming off the shelf. Senior WR Andre Davis, who has missed the last two games with a bruised sternum, was set for a doctor's appointment Monday afternoon, Taggart said.

"Those guys will hold guys accountable, and they've been trying to do it," Taggart added. "I think it's different when you're actually out there with them and trying to motivate and get 'em going. ... So getting those guys back will be very beneficial, very helpful for our football team in a lot of ways."

ODDS AND ENDS: Friday's game against UConn will be televised on ESPN, the conference announced Monday. ... The Bulls' Sept. 27 game at No. 19 Wisconsin will kick off at noon and be televised by ESPNU or ESPN2, USF confirmed. ... Actual attendance for the N.C. State game was 17,198, according to the Tampa Sports Authority. ... Through three games, the Bulls are ranked 113th nationally in total offense (300.3 ypg) and 100th in total defense (453.3 ypg). ... After being projected for a bowl game by ESPN's Brett McMurphy (Independence) and Mark Schlabach (Military) following the Maryland game, the Bulls failed to make the projections of either this week. 

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Full disclosure: My latest AP ballot

During the season's initial weeks, as the fly-by-nighters are sifted from the legitimate contenders, watch for a lot of fluctuation on this ballot.

Case in point: South Carolina, whom I dropped altogether last week, but now re-insert into my top 10. Granted, defensive concerns remain in Columbia, but the 'Cocks have posted consecutive quality wins (East Carolina, Georgia) after flopping against Texas A&M on opening night. The ball coach is righting the ship in short order; who'd like to play South Carolina right now?

Similarly, USC takes a profound tumble (from No. 7 to 20) following its loss to Boston College. Though I typically try to avoid dropping a team below one it has defeated this early in the season (i.e. Stanford ranked ahead of the Trojans), I believe it all will play itself out. This is only Week Three.

And chalk it up to stubbornness or stupidity (I'm sure most of you will point to the latter), but UCLA remains in my top 10. I know the Bruins are the nation's ugliest 3-0 team, but they're 3-0 nonetheless, with two wins on the road (yes, playing Texas in Dallas is a road game). Again, it all will play itself out, perhaps as early as Sept. 25 (see UCLA at Arizona State).

1. FSU
2. Oklahoma
3. Alabama
4. Oregon
5. Auburn
6. Baylor
7. Texas A&M
8. Notre Dame
9. UCLA
10. South Carolina
11. Georgia
12. Michigan State
13. Stanford
14. Ole Miss
15. LSU
16. Missouri
17. Arizona State
18. Nebraska
19. Oklahoma State
20. USC
21. Cincinnati
22. Wisconsin
23. Kansas State
24. BYU
25. Ohio State

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N.C. State-USF: Click here for all the coverage

From observations to opinion to abysmal numbers, the N.C. State-USF postmortem is here in its entirety.

First, the game story from the Bulls' 49-17 loss, with some video of S Jamie Byrd's postgame interview.

Additionally, Times columnist Tom Jones pulls nary a punch in his bleak assessment of the Bulls program 15 games into the Willie Taggart era.

Finally, our Wolfpack-Bulls notebook focuses on QB Quinton Flowers' debut, and correspondent Jeff Odom offers his collection of observations -- from tweets to taunting penalties.

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Mid-September madness: A few hoops headlines

USF power forward Chris Perry is projected as one of the nation's "breakout sophomores" by Sports Illustrated.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF power forward Chris Perry is projected as one of the nation's "breakout sophomores" by Sports Illustrated.

Though three weeks remain until the start of basketball practice, the Bulls men have crept into a handful of headlines recently. To summarize:

* The NCAA granting a medical hardship waiver to PG Anthony Collins clearly is the most encouraging of the recent news items. With two years' eligibility remaining, Collins could be a key component for a 2015-16 Bulls team that will be far more seasoned than this winter's group. The current roster features nine players who have never appeared in a Division I game.

* New USF men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua's historic run with the Dominican Republic national team ended with Saturday's 10-point loss to Slovenia in the Round of 16 of the FIBA World Cup. The game marked the nation's first appearance in the knockout round of the event, and its first World Cup appearance in 36 years. The team went 2-3in pool play, defeating New Zealand and Finland. 

“It was a great experience for myself and our team, going against the best teams in the world,” said Antigua, who begins preseason practice with the Bulls on Oct. 3. “Representing my country was a great honor and something I hope to continue to do in the future. I’m excited to start working with my USF team as we are getting ready for the start of the season.”

* PF Chris Perry, who has transformed his once-burly 6-foot-8 frame, is one of five projected "breakout sophomores" by Sports Illustrated. Perry's listed at 266 pounds (his freshman-season weight) on the Bulls' current roster; he's probably closer to 240 these days. …

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Football report: White return still possible

Coach Willie Taggart said a good chance remains that sophomore QB Mike White will start against N.C. State on Saturday, though it likely will be a game-time decision.

White, who suffered a compression fracture to his left forearm on the first play of last week's 24-17 loss to Maryland, has practiced this week with a hard cast and glove on his left (non-throwing) hand. …

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Bulls forcing fumble issue with 'Turnover Tuesdays'

The most positive narrative spun from the Bulls' first two games is how the defense has made a statement with its eight turnovers gained (fourth nationally) and five fumble recoveries (tied for third).

On Wednesday, coordinator Chuck Bresnahan had a statement of his own: Not good enough.

He wants his unit to be No. 1. To that end, his staff has created "Turnover Tuesday," in which defensive players rotate through four stations, each focusing on a specific turnover-creating drill. When full-squad work commences, coaches keep track of turnovers.

"We practice stripping the ball. D-linemen, we're even trying to catch picks. We do all of the above," said DT Derrick Calloway, who forced one of Maryland's six turnovers Saturday. "As far as whatever we can do to get the ball out of the other person's possession, that's what we do."

In Tuesday's practice, the Bulls forced five turnovers. Bresnahan wanted seven.

"It sounds good, five turnovers, but when you want to continue to be the best in the country, we don't want to be second-best or third-best, we want to be the best in the country in creating turnovers," Bresnahan said. "And the way they've attacked it, I've been proud of them."

INJURY UPDATE: QB Mike White (fractured left forearm) wore a glove on his left hand and took pre-practice snaps under center, mishandling one. Neither WR Andre Davis (sternum) nor LG Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe) were present during the initial part of practice open to reporters.

HEALTHY ROTATION: Any concerns about the Bulls' depth along the defensive front, especially in searing mid-afternoon September heat, haven't been fully realized to this point. USF rotated six down linemen against Maryland, with each getting at least one tackle.

Through two games, USF ranks 32nd nationally in run defense (98 yards per game), albeit against rushing attacks ranging from mediocre (Western Carolina) to middle of the pack (Maryland).

"The one thing that I have noticed this year, more than probably any place I've been in a while...it's been totally unselfish," Bresnahan said. …

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Football report: Could Flowers' career sprout Saturday?

USF's erratic offense may soon receive a boost from a new contributor: freshman dual-threat QB Quinton Flowers.

Coach Willie Taggart and offensive coordinator Paul Wulff indicated Tuesday the team had hoped to use the three-star recruit from Miami in certain packages during the first two games, but could not find a time suitable to do so.

Now, with starter Mike White nursing a fractured left forearm and backup Steven Bench (14-for-36, 162 yards, one INT vs. Maryland) the Bulls' only other quarterback to take a college snap, Wulff said there's a good chance Flowers could see the field as soon as Saturday against N.C. State.

"We've got to decide if he's going to play or not and the plan is he's going to play," Wulff said. "We need to move forward towards that and we'll see how this week progresses and have a clearer vision on how we want to do that on Saturday."

Wulff said Flowers' main hurdle has been learning the team's West Coast offense after running a different system at Miami Jackson High.

"He's worked at it. It's so much different from where he's come from and what he's had to do in high school," Wulff said.

"So it's not like he was in a system that was similar like a lot of young quarterbacks are when they get to college. For Quinton, he didn't have this system. ... He's done a good job with what he's had to learn so far."

STILL PROGRESSING: Senior TE Mike McFarland confirmed a torn left meniscus caused him to miss nearly all of preseason practice.

McFarland, who hinted he's still not 100 percent, said he suffered the injury on the second or third day of training camp and had to have it scoped. The Blake High alumnus played sparingly against Western Carolina before catching four passes for a career-high 55 yards against Maryland.

"I'm still rehabbing and everything and just working back into the rotation to get things how they used to be," he said. "Just keep pushing forward, moving forward and everything will be all right."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart did not have an update on the statuses of WR Andre Davis (sternum) or OL Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe). Neither practiced during the 30 minutes of viewing time for reporters Tuesday. Meantime, White suited up in full pads and threw a few passes to sophomore walk-on QB Evan Wilson. Taggart said the chances of him playing are "very, very high." ... WR Rodney Adams, a St. Petersburg native, said the team's picture day on Aug. 23 was the first time he had ever been inside Raymond James Stadium. He described the experience as "jaw-dropping."

AUDIBLE: "There's always room for improvement. That's what we strive for. We set the bar high (against Maryland) and we've got to get higher. Hopefully we'll get seven turnovers this game." -- Sophomore LB Nigel Harris when asked if he thought the defense could force more than six turnovers against N.C. State 

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Know the foe: N.C. State

N.C. State QB Jacoby Brissett, a University of Florida transfer, brings the Wolfpack to Raymond James Stadium to face USF on Saturday.

AP photo

N.C. State QB Jacoby Brissett, a University of Florida transfer, brings the Wolfpack to Raymond James Stadium to face USF on Saturday.

A look at N.C. State, which faces the Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Wolfpack

Record: 2-0 (defeated Georgia Southern, 24-23, in opener; defeated Old Dominion, 46-34, on Saturday)

Coach: Dave Doeren (second season at N.C. State, 5-9; fourth season overall, 28-13)

The breakdown: While flourishing offensively (959 total yards) against Georgia Southern and ODU, the Wolfpack's nickel-based defense couldn't stop either. Georgia Southern might have exited Raleigh with an upset had it not lost a fumble at the Wolfpack 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. ... Offensively, brawny 6-foot-4 Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett has sparkled, going 23-for-27 for 322 yards on his five drives ending with a TD pass. ... Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to the 2013 Orange Bowl, brought in the Wolfpack's highest-ranked recruiting class in more than a decade in February. Moreover, N.C. State had the nation's second-highest number of freshmen (52) on the first day of preseason camp, one fewer than Pitt.

Odds and ends: N.C. State is the second-least penalized team in Division I, collecting only five (all pre-snap) for 25 yards. ... Wolfpack sophomore WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (five receptions, 76 yards) was a Lakewood High teammate of Bulls WR Rodney Adams. ... The Pack's place-kicker, punter and long snapper all are four-year starters.

Taggart's take: "(Brissett) is accurate; he's a big kid. You better bring everything you have when you go tackle that kid. He has a strong arm, a really strong arm. They throw a lot of quick game, little hitches and some balls to get those completions. But they do a good job of window dressing some things and play-action to get guys open. You can tell he's comfortable with their offense and I think that's one of the reasons why he's having success. He knows where he's going with the ball and does a good job looking guys off as well."

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