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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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Collins granted hardship waiver

The most frustrating season of Anthony Collins' basketball life won't count against his collegiate eligibility.

USF announced Tuesday afternoon the NCAA has granted a hardship waiver for Collins, the Bulls' sleek point guard who was limited to eight non-conference games last season due to complications from offseason knee surgery. Collins will be a junior this winter, and enters the 2014-15 season ranked sixth on the school's career assists list (402).

He wasn't made available for comment Tuesday.

One of the catalysts in the Bulls' historic 2012 postseason run, Collins had surgery in the summer of 2013 to remove an inflamed bursa sac from his left knee. Slowed throughout the preseason, he missed the Bulls' first two games but averaged 6.9 points and 5.9 assists over the next eight. He shut things down for good just before Christmas upon developing tendinitis in the knee.

USF finished 12-20; Coach Stan Heath was fired two days after the season ended.

Collins scored in double figures in 10 of USF's last 11 games in 2012, when the Bulls won the program's first two NCAA Tournament games. In a second-round win against Temple, he scored a team-high 17 points and added five assists.

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Taggart: White could return for N.C. State

USF LB Nigel Harris is the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF LB Nigel Harris is the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

Coach Willie Taggart said Monday there's a "possibility" sophomore QB Mike White could return for Saturday's home game against N.C. State after tests revealed only a mild fracture to his left (non-throwing) forearm.

If White is cleared, he'll remain the starter, with Steven Bench returning to the backup role. Bench finished 14-for-36 for 162 yards (and a 15-yard rushing TD) in relief of White in Saturday's 24-17 loss to Maryland.

"If Mike's ready to go, Mike's our quarterback," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference Monday.

"We're not gonna have a bunch of musical chairs going on; Mike hasn't done anything to lose his job. If Mike's not ready to go Steven will go and be ready for it, and if Mike's ready to go Mike will be the guy."

White sustained the injury after being taken down following a 12-yard completion to TE Sean Price on Saturday's first play from scrimmage. Taggart said X-rays and an MRI revealed only a compression fracture, in which the break didn't go all the way through the bone.

How White practices and responds to the injury will determine his status, Taggart said.

"A lot of times you don't use that arm as much, other than handing the ball off or protecting yourself when you're falling, and I think that's what Mike did when he hurt himself," Taggart added. "So I think that would be more the concern than anything."

HARRIS HONORED: Sophomore LB Nigel Harris, a Hillsborough High alumnus, was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, less than 48 hours after his career afternoon (team-high nine tackles, sack, two forced fumbles, fumble recovery) against Maryland.

"It was big-time," Taggart said. "Not only Nigel played well but the entire defense, but Nigel was everywhere. He was flying around and using his athletic ability, which we thought would be good for us."

Through two games, Harris leads the country with three forced fumbles and is tied with S Jamie Byrd for the team lead in tackles (17).

SPECIAL TEAMS SHAKE-UP? In the wake of what Taggart said was probably the worst special teams performance of his 14-game tenure at USF, look for several starting jobs to re-open on the unit this week in practice.

Presumably, K Marvin Kloss (4-for-5 on field goals in '14) and P Mattias Ciabatti (45.4 average) are safe, but the personnel changes around them could be numerous. In Saturday's loss, the Bulls had a punt blocked, botched a field-goal try due to a low snap, and allowed three Terrapins returns of at least 37 yards.

"We've got to make sure we get the right guys on there and guys that take pride in our special teams and make plays on there," Taggart said. "We didn't play with a lot of passion and pride the way we did in (the past), and we've got to get back to that and make sure everyone's doing their part.

"The one blocked punt (which deflected off a Bulls upback), they didn't even try to block it. It was just a lack of focus and technique and...we can't do that. We've got to stay focused."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart had no update Monday on the respective statuses of WR Andre Davis (bruised sternum) and LG Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe). ... Despite managing only 73 yards against Maryland, Bulls freshman TB Marlon Mack fell only two spots -- from No. 1 to 3 -- among the nation's Division I rushing leaders (348 yards). ... Ciabatti's 45.4-yard punting average ranks 21st nationally.

AUDIBLE: "We could've done some things better offensively to help him and get the ball to him a little more, but I thought overall Marlon did well, especially with the makeshift line that we had going in. ... But we've got to find different ways to get Marlon the ball and get him going in space. ... And like some of the other freshmen, Marlon had some mistakes as well, which isn't uncommon." -- Taggart on Mack's effort Saturday

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Attendance for first 2 games hits 8-year low

The scene at Raymond James Stadium 10 minutes before Saturday's Maryland-USF kickoff.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

The scene at Raymond James Stadium 10 minutes before Saturday's Maryland-USF kickoff.

The average announced attendance for USF's first two home games, against Western Carolina and Maryland, is the program's lowest at this point of the season since 2006.

Total announced attendance (tickets distributed) for the two contests was 64,566 -- an average of 32,283. An announced total of 53,465 (26,732 average) attended the Bulls' season-opening wins against McNeese State and FIU in '06.

Total actual attendance (those who actually came through turnstiles) for the Western Carolina and Maryland contests was even worse.

According to the Tampa Sports Authority, a total of 40,747 (20,373 average) attended this season's first two games. Saturday's contest against Maryland drew an actual audience of only 18,801, per the TSA.

 

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Full disclosure: My AP football ballot

To reiterate: In this pre-autonomy, 85-scholarship era of college football, I'm not inclined to lend great credence to style points, unless a team struggles mightily in victory against an inferior foe.

Bearing that philosophy in mind, you'll notice Nebraska dropped four spots (to No. 18) following its escape against McNeese State, and UCLA fell two (to No. 6) after a 42-35 home win against Memphis. I'm beginning to wonder, however, if Memphis warrants the inferior tag after close calls the last two seasons against the Bruins, Louisville and UCF.

Ohio State, meantime, bows out of the poll following its loss to Virginia Tech (now No. 20) before the largest audience in Ohio Stadium history. USC (No. 13 to 7) and Notre Dame (No. 16 to 11) make the biggest leaps following highly impressive wins against Stanford and Michigan, respectively.

As for Cincinnati, the Bearcats, who don't open until Friday (vs. Toledo), remain right where I had them in the preseason. I try to avoid dropping idle teams whenever possible.

And BYU joins the fray, edging South Carolina for the No. 25 spot. I know half the Texas team was suspended for its game against the Cougars, but 41-7?!

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

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Maryland-USF: Click here for all the coverage

For Bulls fans wishing to reflect on the one that got away Saturday, it's all right here:

First, the game story from the Bulls' 24-17 loss to the Terrapins, with some video from Steven Bench's postgame interview.

Additionally, Times columnist Gary Shelton writes about Coach Willie Taggart's unflinching faith in his team and system, despite failing to secure what would've been the biggest victory of his 14-game tenure in Tampa.

And correspondent Jeff Odom offers some sights, observations and tweets from the afternoon. Finally, our Maryland-USF notebook focuses on the Bulls' backup-QB situation while Mike White is on the shelf (Paging Quinton Flowers?)

 

 

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Taggart hopeful of quick return for Jozwiak

Evidently, the shoulder injury to LG Thor Jozwiak isn't as serious as initially feared.

Jozwiak has been ruled out of Saturday's game against Maryland but could return in time for the Bulls' Sept. 13 home game against N.C. State, Coach Willie Taggart said on his weekly teleconference Thursday.

Jozwiak, who missed the entire 2013 season after surgery  to correct an irregular heartbeat, was injured early in USF's 36-31 season-opening win against Western Carolina. He underwent an MRI Tuesday, but exactly what it revealed remains unclear.

"(Jozwiak) is going to be fine," Taggart said. "He just has to get some rest, let it heal up and get him back."

When asked if he thought Jozwiak would return to face the Wolfpack, Taggart replied: "The way we heal around here, I do."

In Jozwiak's place, former Jesuit High standout Cameron Ruff will make his first career start.

RETURN OF THE MACK: As expected, Taggart announced freshman RB Marlon Mack will make his second consecutive start. Mack's performance against WCU (24 carries, 275 yards, four touchdowns) tied or broke several program records and set the American Athletic Conference's single-game rushing mark.

Taggart said sophomore Darius Tice, initially slated to start against the Catamounts before suffering a sprained knee in practice, also will play.

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said TE Mike McFarland is back to full health. The senior missed most of preseason practice with an undisclosed knee injury. ... Thursday marked the three-year anniversary of the death of former USF athletic director and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, widely recognized as the architect of Bulls football. ... The second football pep rally will be Friday at noon on campus at the Marshall Student Center.

AUDIBLE: "I don't know, what do you think? That's on you. You tell me what you think. If you think he should start, I'll start him. If you don't, then we won't." -- Taggart, having some fun when a reporter asked if Mack would start against Maryland. (The reporter said he should and Taggart agreed.)

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