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New AAC format has Bulls bound for Navy

USF's first season of divisional play in the American Athletic Conference will feature a new destination: Annapolis, Md.

A trip to Navy -- coming aboard as the conference's 12th team next fall -- highlights the Bulls' league road slate in 2015. That visit, and all other Bulls home and road conference games for the next four seasons, were announced Thursday by the AAC.

Dates and times for future conference games haven't been announced.

The addition of a 12th team allows the split into East and West divisions and addition of a conference title game, to be held at the home site of one of the division champions. The glaring geographic discrepancy: Navy is in the West Division, Cincinnati the East.

Starting in 2015, schools will play every opponent in their division and three from the opposite division annually, ensuring each school plays every AAC foe at home and on the road at least once in a four-year cycle.

"This format is a sensible and fair model that will protect traditional rivalries and allow each school to travel across our geographic footprint on a regular basis," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a league news release. …

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Men's hoops: Bulls seeking a brisk start

As we reported in today's editions of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bulls men's basketball team must compensate for their lack of depth and experience with scrappiness. It's essential in this year of transition, where the schedule is devoid of gimmes and high on grinds.

But in addition to battling until the 40th minute, Orlando Antigua wouldn't mind a brisk start in the first or second.

Playing catch-up has evolved into a bothersome trend for this squad, which hosts its former Big East nemesis, Seton Hall, tonight.

"We've got to turn it up early," sophomore PF Chris Perry said.

In Monday night's 68-63 loss to Georgia Southern, the Bulls found themselves down by nine with roughly seven minutes to play in the first half. In an 82-71 loss at Alabama, they trailed by that same margin 5 1/2 minutes into the game.

Though they later rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat Hofstra, the Bulls nonetheless trailed by 10 with 1:41 to go in the first half. At N.C. State, they were in an eight-point hole less than four minutes into the contest.

"My challenge to our student-athletes is, let's not keep putting ourselves in that position so that we have to exert so much energy to get back in the game," Antigua said following the Georgia Southern loss, his team's third in a row.

"How 'bout starting the game that way. How 'bout competing early on the way we want to compete on every possession, which is what we talk about every day in practice, and not putting ourselves in a position where we have to swim upstream so much."

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Danny Hope reportedly set to join USF's staff

Former Purdue coach Danny Hope, who has a connection of sorts to Willie Taggart, is expected to be named USF's new offensive line coach, Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans reported Thursday morning.

Evans' tweet cited an unnamed source. If true, Taggart would have one remaining vacancy on his staff and two unfilled jobs: secondary coach and offensive coordinator.

It is believed former Manatee High coach Joe Kinnan, for whom Taggart played in the early 1990s, remains in consideration for an offensive-assistant spot, which could result in new defensive coordinator Tom Allen doubling as a position coach.

In any scenario, Taggart, the Bulls' primary play-caller in 2013 and most of the '14 season, likely will remain his own coordinator. …

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A closer look at Tom Allen

A few facts -- both random and relevant -- about Tom Allen, reportedly hired as USF's new defensive coordinator.

* Allen graduated from New Castle (Ind.) High, alma mater of Indiana University basketball legend Steve Alford and home to the largest high school basketball gym in the world (capacity 9,325).

* In 1994, Allen led now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School to a 7-4 record and Class 2A playoff berth, the first postseason appearance in the school's 18-year history. Allen eventually was named the St. Petersburg Times' Coach of the Year for Hillsborough County.

* During Allen's two seasons as Armwood's defensive coordinator in 1995 and '96, the Hawks posted the school's best two seasons (8-2, 10-2) to that point. The '96 team, in fact, captured the program's first playoff berth.

* The first NFL player Allen coached? Would have to be Mike Pearson, a former Gators All-American left tackle and the Jacksonville Jaguars' second-round pick in 2002. Pearson played for Allen at Temple Heights and later followed him to Armwood.

* Allen has worked for Hugh Freeze at three different colleges: Lambuth (Jackson, Tenn.), Arkansas State and Ole Miss

* Allen was Ole Miss' special teams coach of record in October 2013 when PK Andrew Ritter nailed a 41-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to clinch a 27-24 win against then-No. 6 LSU. It was the Rebels' first victory against a top-10 program in four years.

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Report: USF hires Tom Allen as defensive coordinator

An Indiana native who shares an alma mater (New Castle High) with UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, Allen has spent the last three seasons on the Rebels staff at Ole Miss, but has worked for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze at various stops since 2008.

University of Mississippi

An Indiana native who shares an alma mater (New Castle High) with UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, Allen has spent the last three seasons on the Rebels staff at Ole Miss, but has worked for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze at various stops since 2008.

Ole Miss linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Tom Allen, whose Tampa roots run nearly a quarter-century deep, is expected to be named USF's new defensive coordinator as early as today.

ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, who played for Allen at now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School and later was an Armwood quarterback when Allen served as Hawks defensive coordinator, reported the hire Monday morning.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that Allen had interviewed for the job.

"One of the best men I know, and that I've ever known," said Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, Allen's defensive line coach at Armwood in 1995 and '96. "That's a quality hire right there."

Allen replaces Chuck Bresnahan, dismissed earlier this month after his unit regressed sharply from 2013. USF finished the season ranked 71st nationally in total defense (402.8 ypg), twice surrendering 589 yards -- 1 shy of the program record for one contest. …

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Final stampede: 31 USF athletes to walk across stage

USF athletic director Mark Harlan with many of the Bulls student-athletes set to graduate this weekend.

USF Athletics

USF athletic director Mark Harlan with many of the Bulls student-athletes set to graduate this weekend.

Thirty-one USF student-athletes, including 13 football players, are receiving diplomas this weekend at the school's fall commencement ceremonies.

The weekend's first graduation exercise was set for Friday evening, with three more ceremonies on Saturday.

USF posted a program-record 83-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) earlier this year. Seven of the 31 are graduating with honors, and nearly half (14) finished with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, according to the school.

One member of the group -- former men's soccer player Brandon Curriston -- is receiving a graduate degree.

“Three percent of all high school graduates make it on a collegiate roster. Take that group and talk about what we’re talking about here today in graduating,” first-year athletic director Mark Harlan said during a breakfast reception Friday morning for graduates and their families.

“When we say congratulations that is a deep, deep word because it’s an amazing feat these student-athletes have accomplished."

Among the football graduates is former RB Michael Pierre, who was forced to give up the game last summer due to neck and spinal cord injuries, but remained on scholarship and earned a degree in criminology. …

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Former Armwood assistant joins names of USF candidates

Some of the latest tidbits we've gleaned regarding USF's ongoing search for two new coordinators and a defensive backs coach:

* Ole Miss linebackers/special teams coordinator Tom Allen, a former Tampa high school coach, has interviewed for the defensive coordinator job. Allen, wrapping up his third season on the Rebels staff, was defensive coordinator at Armwood in the mid-90s and served as head coach at now-defunct Temple Heights the three seasons before that. Over the last two decades, the teams on which he has coached amassed a record of 208-57, according to his Ole Miss bio.

* UCF coach George O'Leary said Thursday evening Knights defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan hasn't informed him of his interest in the same job at USF. An Armwood High alumnus and son of ultra-successful Hawks coach Sean Callahan, Kirk Callahan is believed to be in strong consideration for one of the Bulls' defensive vacancies. "That would be up to Kirk," O'Leary said. "I let all the coaches talk to whoever they need to talk to, as long as I know about it."

* Legendary former Manatee High coach Joe Kinnan still appears to be a viable candidate for an offensive spot on Coach Willie Taggart's staff. Published reports from Sarasota and Manatee counties have indicated such, and people who have worked with Kinnan, 69, say he's interested. Taggart was quarterback on Kinnan's 1992 Manatee team that won a state title.

* Another possibility -- albeit remote -- for the defensive coordinator job is D.J. Durkin, who has served in the same capacity at Florida the last two seasons and is serving as the Gators' interim coach for the Birmingham Bowl. Durkin worked on the Stanford staff (2007-09) the same time as Taggart.

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Anthony Collins' knee holding up 'fine'

USF point guard Anthony Collins, sidelined all except eight games last season with lingering knee problems, has played more than any other Bull so far this year.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF point guard Anthony Collins, sidelined all except eight games last season with lingering knee problems, has played more than any other Bull so far this year.

A month into his inaugural season in Tampa, Bulls men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua's concerns are diverse. Depth is one, as is production from his big men and occasional mental lapses.

Of zero concern at this point is the health of PG Anthony Collins.

"I feel fine," the fourth-year junior said Wednesday.

The left knee that betrayed Collins after eight contests last season has shown neither wear nor weakness despite extensive use at this point. So far, he's averaging 35.6 minutes -- three minutes more than any other Bull -- and leads the American Athletic Conference in assists (6.5 per game) and assists-turnover ratio (52 assists, 21 turnovers).

Is he surprised? "Not really," said Collins, granted a medical-hardship waiver by the NCAA in the offseason. "I don't know what else to say, it feels normal."

Antigua said at this stage, he's not even cognizant of the knee. Though he observes Collins doing his daily "maintenance," he doesn't know that it's bothering him at all.

"Aside from your normal aches and bumps and bruises from playing, the amount of time that we're asking him to play, both he and Corey (Allen Jr.), they're fine," Antigua said. "And I think that speaks to the preseason work and the summer work; those guys are in great shape."

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USF recruiting: Assessing the Bulls' biggest needs

For Bulls coach Willie Taggart, the holiday season likely will be lean on tinsel and turkey and heavy on hustle and bustle.

Amid his search for new coordinators and a defensive backs coach, Taggart is scouring the state (and beyond) in pursuit of more girth, speed and agility. Entering arguably the most critical year of his coaching life, Taggart finds his roster still short on depth at critical spots. Another coveted recruiting class is imperative.

With that in mind, here are what we deem the five areas of most pressing need, followed by a look at those who already have made non-binding oral commitments to USF.

1. Defensive Line
Attrition at defensive end forced Chuck Bresnahan to switch to a 3-4 alignment last season, and it turned out to be the last major philosophical tweak of his USF career. The Bulls failed to pressure quarterbacks (93rd nationally in sacks) and finished the regular season ranked 84th nationally against the run (182.9 ypg). Now, the two leading tacklers from that unit, Todd Chandler and Elkino Watson, are graduating. Four regulars -- ends Demetrius Hill and Eric Lee and tackles Derrick Calloway and Deadrin Senat -- are slated to return, but the rest of the returning linemen combined for five tackles in 2014. Fortunately for Taggart, he already has commitments from at least two defensive ends.

2. Receiver
An upgrade here is absolutely essential, especially if the rumors of USF gravitating toward a spread scheme are true. Three of this past season's top four receivers are gone, leaving lanky speedster Rodney Adams as the only established wideout. To be fair, the current roster may possess more talent than we realize; Kentucky transfer A.J. Legree couldn't play this past season and 6-foot-3 freshman Stanley Clerveaux was hurt all year. Nonetheless, the Bulls are desperate for playmakers on the edge; bubble screens to the backs will take you only so far.

3. Offensive Line
The Bulls have recruited well at this spot and apparently continue to, but one never can have enough o-linemen, especially teams bent on establishing the run. Center Austin Reiter must be replaced with tackles Darrell Williams and Quinterrius Eatmon, but guards Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson return. Four 2014 signees redshirted this past season, and a few youngsters (Jeremi Hall, Cameron Ruff, Kofi Amichia) got some work this year.

4. Linebacker
Regardless of the new defensive coordinator's scheme, the needs here are pressing. The Bulls' top four linebackers this past season combined for 10 sacks, and six of them (Reshard Cliett) just went out the door. OLB Nigel Harris was productive in '14 and ILB Auggie Sanchez performed nobly in his first season, but the unit seemed to struggle way too often against the run and in short pass coverage (We're still wondering how receivers were isolated over the middle week after week). Again, this may be a spot where reinforcements already are on the roster (freshman Josh Black, redshirts Jimmy Bayes, Vincent Jackson, Nick Holman).

5. Quarterback
As Will Muschamp will attest, college rosters must have three quarterbacks who can play. Because we don't see all three of this past season's QBs sticking around, Taggart must sign one this February. He already has a pledge from 6-foot-2 pro-style QB Brett Kean, who recently led Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward to  a state title. If Kean honors his commitment, USF should be in decent shape.
 
Class of 2015 commitments
CB Deangelo Antoine, Orlando Oak Ridge (5-9, 165)
OT Billy Atterbury, CCC (6-4, 285)
WR Jarvis Baxter, Trinity Valley (Athens, Texas) CC (5-10, 175)
C Cameron Campbell, Hollywood Flanagan (6-3, 270)
DE Marlon Gonzalez, North Fort Myers (6-4, 260)
QB Brett Kean, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward (6-2, 190)
S Khalid McGee, Miami Northwestern (5-10, 185)
OT Marcus Norman, Sebastian River (6-6, 255)
ATH Trevon Sands, Southwest Miami (5-10, 180)
LB Nico Sawtelle, Jensen Beach (6-1, 215)
DE Danny Thomas, Tallahassee Godby (6-2, 220)
TE Mitchell Wilcox, Tarpon Springs (6-4, 230)

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Marlon Mack named AAC Rookie of the Year

USF freshman Marlon Mack, who led the American Athletic Conference in rushing, has been named AAC Rookie of the Year.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

USF freshman Marlon Mack, who led the American Athletic Conference in rushing, has been named AAC Rookie of the Year.

Bulls freshman Marlon Mack, who finished his inaugural college season as the American Athletic Conference's leading rusher, has been named the league's Rookie of the Year in a ballot of AAC coaches.

All of the conference honorees, released Wednesday morning, can be found here. East Carolina 4,300-yard passer Shane Carden, the school's career leader in at least five offensive categories, was named Offensive Player of the Year. UCF CB Jacoby Glenn (seven interceptions) and Memphis LB Tank Jakes (85 tackles, six sacks) were named co-Defensive Players of the Year.

Memphis' Justin Fuente, who led the Tigers (9-3) to their first conference crown in 43 years, was named Coach of the Year.

Mack, who posted only the fourth 1,000-yard season in program history (202 carries, 1,041 yards, nine TDs) is the second Bull to earn conference Rookie of the Year honors, joining QB Matt Grothe (Big East, 2006). …

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Nationally, Bulls-to-Big 12 has little traction

Even as my weekly USF notes column, essentially calling for Bulls fans to cool their collective jets on Big 12 talk, was being launched into cyberspace, similar sentiments were sprouting nationwide.

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples penned this column on the Big 12's best future options in the wake of its College Football Playoff snub (Note: A USF entry into the league garners major scoffing).

A Dallas Morning News story proclaims, "No likely expansion candidate or markets will cause the Big 12’s TV partners to bump up their existing contracts." Translation: Current TV revenue would be split 12 ways instead of 10. Exactly who would favor that?

And for every Bulls constituent hopeful of having his or her team being propelled into the Big 12 conversation, there's a fan at Colorado State or BYU likely harboring the same aspirations.

Elsewhere, The Sporting News reports Big 12 officials have had informal discussions with Cincinnati.

None of this is intended to elicit the spirit of Debbie Downer into expansion dialogue. A USF promotion to a Power-Five league could occur in the future.

Just not the near future. 

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Coordinator conjecture: Some possible USF coaching candidates

Because the appetite for USF coordinator conjecture is insatiable, we've compiled an early list of possible candidates to fill the three vacancies (including secondary coach) on Willie Taggart's staff.

Bear in mind, none of these gigs arrive with long-term stability, which could scare off some promising candidates. Taggart is 6-18 in two seasons and first-year athletic director Mark Harlan's message is clear: USF is too special to annually sit out the bowl season. Another year of mediocrity and the office vacancies in the Selmon Athletics Center could triple.

But for now, names will drift around cyberspace like white particles in one of those snow globes. Here are a few we deem at least feasible:

Corey Bell, FAU defensive backs coach
A Miami guy who knows a thing or two about resurrecting programs. Bell was 25 when he was hired at Edison High, which had gone 0-10 the year before his arrival. He led the program to five consecutive state playoff berths and sent scores of kids to college. USF alone signed five Edison players in one class (2004). …

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Both USF coordinators out

USF offensive coordinator Paul Wulff (above) and defensive counterpart Chuck Bresnahan reportedly aren't being retained by Bulls coach Willie Taggart.

DEMETRIUS FREEMAN | Times

USF offensive coordinator Paul Wulff (above) and defensive counterpart Chuck Bresnahan reportedly aren't being retained by Bulls coach Willie Taggart.

USF confirmed Monday morning that offensive coordinator Paul Wulff, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and secondary coach Ron Cooper have been dismissed in the wake of the Bulls' 4-8 season.

"I would like to thank Chuck, Paul and Ron for everything they have done in helping move the USF football program forward," Coach Willie Taggart said in a three-paragraph news release issued by the school.

"They are first-class people and I wish them the best in their future endeavors."

Josh Newberg of 247Sports, citing anonymous sources, first reported the dismissals Sunday night. Efforts by the Tampa Bay Times earlier in the evening to reach Bresnahan, Taggart and sports information director Brian Siegrist all were unsuccessful.

FootballScoop.com, also citing unnamed sources, had the same report late Sunday night. It is believed the players were informed at a team meeting earlier in the afternoon.

USF, 6-18 in Taggart's two seasons, failed to qualify for a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year. Immediately following the Bulls' season-ending 16-0 loss to UCF, first-year athletic director Mark Harlan indicated he would meet with Taggart to examine the program moving forward. …

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Women's hoops: Bulls fall to Red Storm

On the same day USF junior Courtney Williams conquered a millennial milestone, her team couldn't conquer its extensive scoring droughts or the sheer collective will of St. John's.

Williams' missed baseline 3-point try at the buzzer, the last in a litany of errants Bulls shots, preserved the Red Storm's 55-52 triumph Sunday before an announced Sun Dome audience of 1,648. USF, hopeful of earning its first Associated Press top-25 ranking with a victory, fell to 6-3.

The day's consolation: Williams' 15 points, giving her 1,001 for her career. But etched more indelibly in her mind afterward were her 14 misses -- she finished 5-for-19 from the floor -- and seven turnovers.

"I should've made better decisions," said Williams, the 21st player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark. "I had almost half the (17) turnovers, so that's horrible."

USF sank six of their first 10 shots, but went 12-for-44 the rest of the day, finishing 4-for-18 from long range. The lowlight: a first-half scoring drought of roughly 10 minutes, during which St. John's (7-0) went on an 11-0 run.

Twelve of the Red Storm's 16 second-chance points came in the opening half.

"That's where the big difference was," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said.

The Bulls responded with a 12-2 run of their own sparked by 5-foot-11 freshman Laura Ferreira, who scored seven of her 14 points during that stretch, giving USF a 28-23 lead at the break.

But the hosts hit one outside basket in the final 20 minutes and essentially had no answer for Red Storm juniors Aliyah Handford (25 points) and Danaejah Grant (17), who had 28 of their team's 32 second-half points. Handford's jumper with 2:13 to go gave St. John's a 53-50 lead, but USF committed three turnovers the rest of the way.

"St. John's has a couple of guys on their team...that didn't let 'em lose tonight," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said. "We didn't have that on our side, and that's part of growing and maturing and somebody coming in the huddle besides the coaches saying, 'Hey, we're not gonna lose this game.'"

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Andre Davis named Bulls MVP

WR Andre Davis, pictured with Coach Willie Taggart, was named the Bulls' overall team MVP on Saturday.

Photo provided by USF

WR Andre Davis, pictured with Coach Willie Taggart, was named the Bulls' overall team MVP on Saturday.

Senior Andre Davis, who will exit USF with a degree and 13 school receiving records when he graduates next weekend, won the John & Cynthia Ruzic MVP Award at the Bulls' season-ending banquet Saturday night.

Eleven of those honored return in 2015. Davis (36 catches, 594 yards in eight games) was among 21 seniors -- four of whom already have earned their degrees -- recognized. Eleven more graduate next weekend, and the rest are on schedule to graduate next spring or summer, according to the school.

Freshman TB Marlon Mack, who led the American Athletic Conference in rushing yardage (1,041) and notched only the fourth 1,000-yard season in program history, was named Offensive MVP. Junior S Jamie Byrd (team-best 95 tackles) won the Defensive MVP award.

Junior Mattias Ciabatti, whose league-best punting average (44.4) also established a school record, was named Special Teams MVP. The Hillsborough High alumnus also led the AAC in punts downed inside the 20 (22) and punts of 50-plus yards (18).

Senior C Austin Reiter, who has started every game the last three seasons, was presented the Tough Man Award. Fifth-year senior DT Todd Chandler (37 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two recovered fumbles) won the Defensive Lineman Award. TB D'Ernest Johnson (257 total yards) was named Freshman of the Year.

Other award winners: WR Alex Mut (Academic Excellence), LS Alex Salvato (Most Improved Player), WR Deonte Welch (Lee Roy Selmon Award), DB Trevon Griffin (Jim & Laurie Ragsdale Outstanding Walk-On), WR Chase Whitehead (Offensive Scout Team), DE Kevin Bronson (Defensive Scout Team), and LB Auggie Sanchez and OL Brynjar Gudmundsson (Frank Morsani Leadership Award).

Davis, PK Marvin Kloss and LB Reshard Cliett were presented Captains Awards. USF donor and Iron Bull Committee chairman Jeff Fishman was presented the I Got Your 6 Award for his support.

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