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Mike White to start against UCF

Sophomore Mike White has been named the starter for USF's season finale Friday against UCF.

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Sophomore Mike White has been named the starter for USF's season finale Friday against UCF.

Sophomore Mike White will make his 10th start of the season, and second in a row against UCF, when the Bulls host the Knights on Friday, Coach Willie Taggart said.

White (21-for-35, 244 yards, no TDs, no turnovers) said he tweaked an ankle and mildly hyper-extended a knee while being sacked late in the third quarter of Saturday's 31-20 loss at Memphis, but insisted afterward he was fine.

Benched during an Oct. 24 loss at Cincinnati, he reassumed the starting role Saturday while freshman Quinton Flowers dealt with family commitments stemming from the murder of his half-brother on Nov. 13. Flowers attended Bradley Holt's funeral in Miami on Saturday morning, and arrived in Memphis about an hour before kickoff.

"Mike White did a good job of coming back and getting his confidence back and playing with confidence," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday.

"And I thought Steven Bench (6-for-11, 57 yards, one TD) came in and did some good things as well when Mike went down. I think Quinton (two carries, 4 yards) just had a lot of things going on with him the day of, the funeral and long travel and a lot of emotions going on."

INJURY UPDATE: Taggart seemed optimistic WR Rodney Adams (21 catches, 315 yards, two TDs) will return for the UCF game after being sidelined the last two contests with a groin injury. "I am very hopeful," Taggart said. "He practiced (Sunday) and that was a great relief, having him out there. But I'm hopeful that he'll continue to progress and be ready for Friday."

WALK-ONS WANTED: A mandatory meeting for all prospective football walk-ons will be held Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. inside the Selmon Athletics Center. All prospects must undergo a physical, be enrolled in 12 hours at USF, be a degree-seeking student with NCAA eligibility, and be registered with the
NCAA Eligibility Center. For information, contact director of player personnel Paul Gonnella at pgonnella@usf.edu.

ODDS AND ENDS: A total of 20 Bulls seniors will be honored in their college finale Friday. ... Fifth-year senior WR Jordan Duval, a Hillsborough High alumnus who earned a scholarship in the preseason, recently left the program, the school confirmed. ... TB Marlon Mack (1,009 rushing yards) is on pace to become one of only three freshmen to lead a conference in rushing this season. The other two are Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin (MAC) and Oklahoma's Samaje Perine (Big 12). ... Senior WR Andre Davis enters his last game with 13 school receiving records after tying Elgin Hicks' 11-year-old mark for TD catches in a season (seven) on Saturday.

AUDIBLE: "If you don't have a hate for a school that's in the same conference as you that's 86 miles away, I don't know what a rivalry is." -- senior C Austin Reiter on facing UCF

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Has USF improved? Final answer might come Friday

The question has consumed a whole college football demographic, eliciting debate both healthy and heated. From sports bars to cyberspace, the topic perpetuates, gaining steam that has sent it barreling into a defining weekend.

Has USF really improved from 2013 to '14?

The answer could arrive Friday, when the Bulls (4-7, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) host UCF (7-3, 5-1) in their season finale. A victory against a bowl-eligible rival, and few can argue the Bulls took a significant stride from the 2-10 debacle of last autumn. A loss, and the debate will rage.

To this point, the answer depends on each individual's criteria.

If it's sheer wins and losses, the Bulls have doubled their win total from '13, but the triumphs have come against one Division I-AA team, and three Division I programs with a combined record of 4-27.

If it's statistics, well, the Bulls have progressed in some areas (i.e. offensive production) and regressed in others (i.e. defense). As for scheme and strategy? Deliberations will rage as to how the quarterbacks were employed, and whether the switch to the 3-4 was ill-advised or borne of necessity.

"Our program is progressing well. Not as fast as others expect it to, but it's moving in the right direction," Coach Willie Taggart said after Saturday's 31-20 loss to Memphis. "We've got a lot of young guys playing and helping our football team out that's only gonna get better, and we've got to go out and continue to recruit well and continue to build our program like we all want it.

"Look at the team we played today, they were in the same situation we're in (3-9 in '13) and things changed for them and it will change for us as well."

What's certain to change -- perhaps drastically -- is the perception of this season if the Bulls prevail Friday. Until then, and perhaps afterward, the deliberations will percolate.

Progression or Regression?
A statistical look at the current Bulls compared to this time last season (national rankings in parentheses).

Rush Offense
2013: 98.2 ypg (115)
2014: 117.3 ypg (109)

Pass Offense
2013: 165.2 ypg (109)
2014: 196.9 ypg (91)

Total Offense
2013: 263.7 ypg (120)
2014: 314.2 ypg (116)

Scoring Offense
2013: 13.9 ppg (118)
2014: 18.7 ppg (114)

Rush Defense
2013: 142.6 ypg (31)
2014: 186.4 ypg (88)

Pass Efficiency Defense
2013: 133.29 (84)
2014: 143.39 (106)

Total Defense
2013: 355.8 (30)
2014: 412.5 (77)

Scoring Defense
2013: 28.9 ppg (76)
2014: 28.0 ppg (75)

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Full disclosure: My latest AP football ballot

Because no highly-ranked team had the decency to get upset Saturday, the attention of most pundits naturally shifted to style points.

It's one criterion I can't stand.

If Alabama had eked its way past Western Carolina, amassing flags and fumbles in the process, the Tide might get demoted on my ballot today. Otherwise, I'm not penalizing, say, an unbeaten team (i.e. FSU) for outlasting a quality opponent (i.e. Boston College) in less-than-stellar conditions in late November.

The only tremor on my ballot occurred at the bottom, where Ole Miss plummeted from 12th to 25th after its third consecutive loss to a Division I team. Elsewhere, Minnesota replaces Nebraska after a solid victory in Lincoln, and Arkansas makes its top-25 debut while USC bows out.

1. Alabama
2. FSU
3. Oregon
4. Ohio State
5. Mississippi State
6. Baylor
7. TCU
8. Georgia
9. Michigan State
10. Kansas State
11. UCLA
12. Wisconsin
13. Arizona State
14. Arizona
15. Auburn
16. Missouri
17. Oklahoma
18. Georgia Tech
19. Minnesota
20. Marshall
21. Colorado State
22. Arkansas
23. Utah
24. LSU
25. Ole Miss

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McFarland's resurgence continues

Even as the curtain sets on USF's season, the tight end position is making a curtain call.

Question is, does Mike McFarland have one more encore-worthy performance in him?

The 6-foot-5 Blake High alumnus, seemingly absent for certain stretches of 2014, had four receptions for a career-best 64 yards in Saturday's 31-20 loss to Memphis. Three occurred on third down, all of which the Bulls converted.

"Sometimes it's funny that he kind of ends up so wide-open because he's the biggest dude on the field," QB Mike White said.

Toss in last week's clutch effort at SMU, and McFarland has seven catches for 108 yards in his last two contests. In USF's previous three games -- Tulsa, Cincinnati, Houston -- the tight end position totaled 10 receptions.

So how to explain the resurrection?

"Just coaches being able to call plays and put me in position to make a play," McFarland said.

"We're calling some plays to get him open and he's running nice routes," Coach Willie Taggart said. "Again, earlier in the year we weren't throwing to our tight ends as much, and seeing that's gonna be a big part of our offense, we're running some plays to get him open."

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Football report: Rodney Adams won't play at Memphis

Sophomore WR Rodney Adams, the Bulls' second-leading receiver, will miss his second consecutive game Saturday at Memphis because of a nagging groin injury, Coach Willie Taggart announced on his weekly teleconference Thursday.

Adams (21 catches, 315 yards, two TDs) was a last-minute scratch in the Bulls' 14-13 win against SMU and did not participate in a portion of a scrimmage open to the media on Wednesday.

"Rodney is still dealing with an injury and we're trying to figure out exactly what it is but he won't play this week," Taggart said.

Taggart also indicated it's unclear whether OL Thor Jozwiak will play after suffering an unspecified injury during practice on Tuesday. Jozwiak missed all of last season due to a heart condition, and sat out two games earlier this season because of shoulder and turf toe injuries.

Taggart said the latest ailment isn't heart-related. "He had an incident (Tuesday) in practice and he's really like, day-to-day right now," Taggart said.

If Jozwiak can't go, Taggart said redshirt freshman Jeremi Hall or sophomore Dominique Threatt will likely take the junior's place.

NO QB DECISION: Though he praised their performance in practice, Taggart declined to announce whether Mike White, Quinton Flowers or Steven Bench will start at quarterback against the Tigers. If White gets the nod, he'll be the Bulls' third different starter in as many games.

"Those guys had a good week of practice," Taggart said. "They've been operating our offense really well and getting us going and I can say that we're going to have (a starter named) on Saturday."

AUDIBLE: "With this young football team, if they could get some extra practice time in, it would be great moving forward. I think that's good with all football teams, but I look at our team in particular and all the young players that we do have, and if they can get those 15 extra practices before spring practice, I can only imagine how much better they're going to be development-wise." -- Taggart on the additional benefits that a bowl berth could give his program. The Bulls must win their final two games to become eligible.

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Fullwood, others make depth-chart strides

Lost amid Saturday night's surreal finish at SMU was the start, which featured a handful of new faces for USF.

Freshman S Tajee Fullwood -- a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus -- made his inaugural collegiate start along with sophomore DT Derrick Calloway and CB Deatrick Nichols as a nickel back.

Calloway stepped in for veteran Elkino Watson, who didn't make the trip due to an unspecified team-rules violation. The others were promoted based on performance, coaches said.

"It's just the way it's been going, and again, we're not afraid to put the guys that we feel like are making the impact during the week in practice," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who watched Fullwood stuff RB K.C. Nlemchi for a 3-yard loss on a bubble screen for the first of his two tackles.

"(Fullwood) played a solid 60-minute game for us. Again, we're not afraid to play the youth."

The youngsters remain in contention for starting roles this week at Memphis, Bresnahan said.

O-LINE TWEAKS: Coach Willie Taggart indicated senior Quinterrius Eatmon has slid from right guard to right tackle -- where he played last season -- while junior Brynjar Gudmundsson has moved back inside to guard. Redshirt freshman OG Jeremi Hall, a backup in seven games this season, appeared to be taking first-team reps in the early stages of Wednesday's practice.

Additionally, sophomore OG Dominique Threatt made his first game appearance Saturday since the Wisconsin contest. "We're trying to create some competitiveness," Taggart said. "That's one area that we hadn't had a lot of, and I know with some competitiveness in there you'll get more out of guys."

DEFUSING THE DOWNFIELD PLAY: Though still groping for consistency, USF's defense has managed to thwart the big play -- a Bresnahan peeve -- in its last two contests. A 45-yard SMU pass in the second quarter was the lone play longer than 25 yards the Bulls have allowed in their last two contests.

"And that's a big difference in the game," Bresnahan said. …

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Know the foe: Memphis

Memphis CB Bobby McCain had three interceptions against USF last season, including a pick-six.


Memphis CB Bobby McCain had three interceptions against USF last season, including a pick-six.

A look at Memphis, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Nickname: Tigers

Record: 7-3, 5-1 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- Austin Peay, 63-0; Middle Tennessee, 36-17; Cincinnati, 41-14; SMU, 48-10; Tulsa, 40-20; Temple, 16-13; Tulane, 38-7; Losses -- UCLA, 42-35; Ole Miss, 24-3; Houston, 28-24)

Coach: Justin Fuente (third season, 13-20)

The breakdown: Among the most improved teams in all of Division I, Memphis already has equaled its victory total from the previous two seasons combined and is bowl eligible for the first time in six years. Fuente's formula is neither elaborate nor sexy; the Tigers are winning with a solid run game (league-best 188.6 ypg), ball security (league-fewest 15 turnovers lost) and a veteran defense that ranks 28th nationally (345.4 ypg). Eight of Saturday's projected defensive starters are seniors including DE Martin Ifedi (school-record-tying 21 career sacks) and CB Bobby McCain, whose four career interception returns for TDs are tied for the most among active Division I players. One McCain pick-six came in last year's 23-10 romp of the Bulls, when he intercepted Mike White three times. ... Third-year sophomore QB Paxton Lynch already is the school's No. 3 all-time passer (4,355 yards) and ranks third in the league in pass efficiency (137.2) behind only Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel and East Carolina's Shane Carden.

Odds and ends: Carrollwood Day alumnus Robert Davis, Hillsborough County's No. 2 all-time high school rusher, is a Tigers backup tailback who scored his first career TD last week at Tulane. The other local on Memphis' roster, Gaither alumnus Ernest Suttles (10 tackles, two sacks), originally signed with Nebraska but was dismissed after allegedly assaulting a teammate. ... Tigers DL coach Ricky Hunley, a two-time All-American linebacker at Arizona and College Football Hall of Famer, held the same job on Steve Spurrier's final staff (2001) at Florida.

Taggart's take: "They've got some veteran (defensive) guys that have played a lot of football together, first and foremost. ... But they're confident, they've got a lot of consistency on their staff and in what they're doing. They've created some turnovers, which is key, but they play hard, they play highly competitive and they get a lot of guys to the football. You watch 'em play and they're fundamentally sound in what they do, but more importantly, they run to the ball and create havoc...and it seems like they have fun doing it, too."

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Wulff: SMU rally should spawn confidence

Despite nearly 3 1/2 stagnant quarters Saturday at SMU, offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said he believes the final result -- Bulls 14, Mustangs 13 -- will give his unit some extra inspiration moving forward.

Trailing 13-0 in the fourth quarter, sophomore QB Mike White replaced freshman Quinton Flowers with 9:45 to play, and rallied the Bulls with consecutive TD drives. The final one -- 21 plays -- is believed to be the longest in program history. …

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Bulls sign Brazilian national teamer

USF's men's basketball program has received its third -- and presumably, final -- letter of intent of the NCAA early signing period, this one from 6-foot-8 Brazil native Tulio Da Silva.

Deemed a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, Da Silva is playing this winter at Jacksonville's Arlington Country Day. He averaged six points and 6.2 rebounds for Brazil at the FIBA U18 Americas Championships, and posted better numbers (7.5 points, 12.5 boards, 1.2 blocks) at the Nike Global Challenge in Chicago in August.

"Tulio is a really special player," Bulls coach Orlando Antigua said.

"He is somewhat unheralded right now as people are just starting to get to know him. ... He is someone who can have a really big impact for us on the boards, running in transition and playing the way we want to play in multiple positions."

Da Silva joins Sunrise Christian (Kansas) standouts Jahmal McMurray and Luis Santos as early USF signees. McMurray attends the Sunrise prep academy; Santos attends the high school.


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Black Friday comes bright and early for Bulls, UCF

Thanks to the "world-wide leader," Bulls fans will be rising at roughly the same time as the zealous shopping throng on Black Friday.

The American Athletic Conference announced Monday the Bulls' Nov. 28 home game against UCF, where a USF bowl berth could be at stake, will kick off at noon and be televised on ESPN2.

Most presumed another prime-time Bulls-Knights encounter such as the one in Orlando last season. But USF athletic director Mark Harlan, whose school requested a night kickoff, said ESPN2 had first choice from the AAC slate and went with the Bulls and Knights. …

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Full disclosure: My latest AP football ballot

Today, I feel pretty good about my No. 1 team. Fact is, I feel good about my top four. Sign me up for that playoff committee.

On second thought, no thanks. I catch enough grief for this bleepin' ballot each Sunday.

Georgia and Wisconsin make the biggest leaps this week, catapulting nine and seven spots, respectively, after stunning romps of quality foes. Ohio State, which topped a solid opponent (Minnesota) on the road in miserable weather, jumped from No. 7 to No. 4.

Elsewhere, I bid adieu to Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke; and bid aloha to Colorado State, USC (again) and Georgia Tech.

1. Alabama
2. FSU
3. Oregon
4. Ohio State
5. Mississippi State
6. Baylor
7. TCU
8. Georgia
9. Michigan State
10. Kansas State
11. UCLA
12. Ole Miss
13. Wisconsin
14. Arizona State
15. Arizona
16. Auburn
17. Missouri
18. Oklahoma
19. Georgia Tech
20. Utah
21. Nebraska
22. Marshall
23. Colorado State
24. USC
25. LSU

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Andre Davis vows redemption, delivers

Bulls senior WR Andre Davis didn't just find atonement Saturday night, he forecast it.

A locker room full of coaches and teammates bore witness.

Davis' fumble following a 14-yard catch in SMU territory with 1:22 remaining in the first half compelled the senior captain to publicly vow redemption before his teammates at halftime.

His 4-yard TD catch from Mike White with four seconds to play sealed a 14-13 Bulls come-from-behind win.

"He mentioned to the team that we were down because of his mistakes and he was gonna make up for 'em in the second half. He was gonna come back and give it everything he had to make up for it," Coach Willie Taggart recalled.

"All his teammates said, 'It wasn't just you' and 'We got your back.' Sure enough, he came back and made up for it in a big way."

Davis finished with six catches for 59 yards, becoming the first Bull to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards in the process. Earlier in the game-winning drive, which stretched 21 plays and covered 75 yards, he had an 8-yard catch and third-and-9. …

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Reports: Brother of Bulls QB Quinton Flowers killed

USF freshman QB Quinton Flowers, no stranger to family tragedy, has encountered it again even as he prepares for his inaugural college start.

Flowers' 24-year-old half brother, Bradley Holt, was murdered early Thursday evening outside an apartment complex in Miami's Allapattah neighborhood while engaged in what police described as a "good Samaritan" act.

Flowers, whom Bulls coach Willie Taggart announced earlier this week would start Saturday night's game against SMU, chose to travel with the team to Dallas, where USF's charter plane landed late Friday afternoon.

In a Facebook post late Thursday night, Flowers wrote: Its crazy how when things go good for me but a blood member have to get took away. R.I.P. BIG BRA BRAD Playing for you this week

“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in our football program and the USF family are with Quinton and his family as they cope with this senseless tragedy," Taggart said in a statement.

"Quinton is a special young man who has had to endure far more at his young age than anyone should. We will do everything we can to help see him through this very difficult loss.” …

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Football report: Taggart watching backup QB derby

Throughout early August, quarterbacks Mike White and Steven Bench battled daily in preseason camp to earn the starting nod.

Twelve weeks later, the duo finds itself gridlocked in a much more dispirited competition to determine who will serve as the backup to freshman Quinton Flowers on Saturday at SMU.

"Both of them are good football players and we believe in them both. But they also understand too that we've got to produce at that position," Coach Willie Taggart said on his weekly teleconference Thursday.

"Someone's got to separate themselves at that position and when they have an opportunity to do it, we would like to see them do it."

White started USF's first eight games, but was stripped of the role after a 34-17 loss at Cincinnati, where he committed four turnovers and was pulled in the second half. Bench threw two fourth-quarter TDs in place of White and started against Houston on Nov. 3, but failed to ignite the Bulls' floundering offense in a 27-3 defeat.

"I think this will be telling for all of us," Taggart said. "Who's going to go in a shell and who's going to compete and say, 'I'm going to get my job back?' ...

"It's a tough situation for both, but you can handle it two different ways: a positive way or a negative way. And that's what we're watching."

NO SPECIFICS ON CHANGES: Aside from the quarterbacks, Taggart was mum when asked what specific personnel changes would be made Saturday.
"We have another day of practice (Thursday)," he said. "But there are some guys that are playing that were (first-stringers) with the (second-stringers) and some guys that were (second-stringers) with the (first-stringers) and they're doing a darn good job in that position at practice."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Taggart said LB Rahmon Swain will miss his second consecutive game with a lingering ankle injury.

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Bulls basketball lands second signee

USF's men's basketball team received its second prominent signature in as many days Thursday with a letter of intent from 6-foot-8, 245-pound PF Luis Santos.

A four-star forward from the Bronx, Santos is currently playing at Sunrise Christian Prep in Wichita, Kan., which also has produced fellow Class of 2015 signee Jahmal McMurray and current Bulls C Ruben Guerrero. Last season, he averaged 11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds in 14 games.

His previous high school was St. Raymond for Boys in the Bronx, alma mater of Bulls coaches Orlando and Oliver Antigua. Santos is considered a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

“Luis is someone that we’ve watched and known for some time," Orlando Antigua said in a statement released by USF. "He has a big body, great hands, is a ferocious rebounder and someone who has a physical presence. He will be a great addition to the Bulls family.”

The Bulls still are expecting a letter of intent from 6-8  Arlington Country Day standout Tulio Da Silva. The NCAA's early signing period for men's basketball continues through Wednesday.

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