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Football notebook: AAC honors Davis

Less than 48 hours after his record-setting day in USF's historic comeback win at Tulsa, senior WR Andre Davis was named offensive player of the week by both the American Athletic Conference and collegesportsmadness.com.

It was the first AAC player-of-the-week honor for Davis (six receptions, 154 yards, three TDs), who eclipsed Carlton Mitchell's school record with his sixth career 100-yard receiving effort. He's now tied with DeAndrew Rubin for USF's all-time record for TD receptions (14).

His 85-yard scoring catch -- in single coverage -- in the fourth quarter tied for the second-longest pass play in school history.

"I told (the coaches) in the first half they were gonna match me up one-on-one," Davis said after Saturday's game. "That's what I love."

Senior DT Elkino Watson (seven tackles, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss at Tulsa) made the league's five-player honor roll.

INJURY REPORT: Coach Willie Taggart said S Jamie Byrd (hip), CB/KR/PR Chris Dunkley (shoulder) and OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) all practiced Sunday afternoon. Dunkley and Cliett sat out Saturday's game; Byrd exited during the contest. "Day by day they're getting better," Taggart said.

ANOTHER AFTERNOON KICK: The conference announced USF's Nov. 1 home game against Houston will kick off at 4 p.m., and will be broadcast live on ESPNews. For those scoring at home, three of the Bulls' first six home contests will kick off at 4 or earlier. No time has been set for the Nov. 28 showdown with UCF.

MACK ON TRACK: After his 130-yard, two-TD effort at Tulsa, freshman TB Marlon Mack finds himself on pace to become only the third 1,000-yard rusher in USF history within a month.

Mack enters Friday night's game at Cincinnati ranked 23rd nationally in rushing (133 carries, 727 yards, 103.9-yard average). He needs only 46 yards against the Bearcats -- 119th nationally against the run (242.3 ypg) -- to eclipse B.J. Daniels' 5-year-old freshman rushing record (772).

ODDS AND ENDS: After film review, LB Nigel Harris was credited with USF's lone forced fumble at Tulsa, giving him four on the year, which ties the school record. ... Since Davis' return from a bruised sternum, USF's offense has averaged 381 yards its last two games. In its first five, it averaged 233. ... The Bulls' 38 points at Tulsa were their most in a road game since 2008, and their most in a conference road game since '07. ... After another sparkling effort at Tulsa (five attempts, 46.4-yard average), junior Mattias Ciabatti has moved up to ninth nationally in punting (45.6).

AUDIBLE: "I think they're just knowing their scheme better. ... They move formations quite a bit, they do a good job with it. Last year it looked like they even confused themselves a little bit by doing all of it. But it takes a while to get that in and they've done a very good job of just sticking with it." -- Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, when asked where it appears USF has improved the most from 2013

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Taggart giving cold shoulder to weather concerns

After a series of sermons warning against mental fatigue, Coach Willie Taggart now is preaching about the dangers of mental frostbite.

Which is to say, he doesn't want his players dwelling on the potentially cold conditions awaiting them Friday night in Cincinnati.

"We've just got to play football," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday. "We can't get caught up in that. ... We've got to play in it, they've got to play in it. I don't buy that 'getting used to it' or not."

The Bulls (3-4, 2-1 AAC), who have not kicked off in weather below 58 degrees all year, could face some noticeable frigidness at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Friday's projected low for the area is 43 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. …

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USF-Tulsa: Click here for coverage

You're one-stop shopping locale for the greatest comeback victory in USF history can be found here.

All of the Tampa Bay Times' coverage from the Bulls' 38-30 win at Tulsa has been consolidated on this post. First, our game story, with Coach Willie Taggart's halftime message to his resurgent team.

Next, our Bulls-Hurricane notebook, highlighted by Taggart's account of how Patriots QB Tom Brady just might have inspired Mike White's dazzling second-half effort (211 passing yards, three TDs).

Additionally, we offer our sights and sounds, tweets and talking points from the historic afternoon.

And for good measure, we recorded the postgame interviews with White and top target Andre Davis.

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Bulls alumnus headed back to Series

USF alumnus Dave Eiland is pitching coach for the World Series-bound Royals.

Times file photo

USF alumnus Dave Eiland is pitching coach for the World Series-bound Royals.

In at least one inconspicuous way, USF will be represented on baseball's grandest stage.

Kansas City Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who spent two seasons with the Bulls (1986-87) after transferring from the University of Florida, seeks his second World Series ring when his club faces San Francisco in the upcoming Fall Classic. A Zephyrhills native, Eiland served in the same capacity when the Yankees won the world championship in 2009.

Eiland made 17 starts for the '86 Bulls club that reached the NCAA Tournament, and led the team in innings pitched (107) the following season. He spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, compiling a 12-27 mark primarily as a starter.

His Royals staff posted the 12th-best collective ERA in baseball (3.51) in the regular season,  and lowered it to 2.92 in its four-game sweep of Baltimore in the American League Championship Series.

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Football report: 'Horns-Bulls series confirmed

The worst-kept secret on Fowler Avenue became official Thursday when USF confirmed an agreement in principle with Texas to play a three-game series in 2019, '22 and '24.

With approval from the University of Texas System Board of Regents next month, the Bulls are slated travel to Austin on Aug. 31, 2019 and Sept. 7, 2024, and host the Longhorns in their season opener on Sept. 3, 2022. It will be the first meetings between the programs.

Texas will pay USF $1.2 million for the final game in Tampa, ESPN reported.

“The University of Texas is one of the most recognizable and tradition-rich brands in college football and we are excited to be able to bring the Longhorn football program to Tampa,” USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

Last month, USF announced home-and-home series with Syracuse ('15-16), Northern Illinois ('16-17) and BYU ('21-22). ESPN first reported the Texas series last month, and American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco essentially confirmed it while meeting with reporters at Raymond James Stadium prior to last week's East Carolina-USF game.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Coach Willie Taggart said the prognosis of LB Reshard Cliett's and CB Chris Dunkley's undisclosed shoulder injuries continues to improve, and he's "hoping" both will be healthy enough to play against Tulsa on Saturday. "At first, we didn't think they would," Taggart said. "But they're getting better daily."

O-LINE OUTLOOK GOOD: With three senior starting offensive linemen -- C Austin Reiter, LT Darrell Williams and RG Quinterrius Eatmon -- departing at season's end, plenty of questions loom about whether the team will have the personnel to replace them.

Taggart, however, isn't worried. In addition to a pair of returning starters, LG Thor Jozwiak and RT Brynjar Gudmundsson, the Bulls are in seemingly good hands with up-and-comers such as former Jesuit standout Cameron Ruff and sophomore Dominique Threatt.

Additionally, Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons, a former four-star recruit from St. Pete Catholic, could slide in at a tackle position if he is cleared to play in 2015 by the NCAA.

"I think we're building some really good depth," Taggart said. "I think those guys have gotten so much better and, to be honest with you, I think those guys are pushing our starting guys."

AUDIBLE: "I think that must-win games started (in the opener) against Western Carolina. For us and our football team, every game we play in is a must-win to try and get our team back to where everybody wants it and back to winning. This is just the next football game that we're playing. ... We can't just isolate one game or another. I don't think that's the culture or the way we want to do things around here." -- Taggart when asked if he considers Saturday's game a must-win for the Bulls.

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Bresnahan taking second-half woes 'personally'

While Coach Willie Taggart suggests the root of his team's recent second-half funks lies between his players' ears, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has been looking elsewhere.

Primarily, in the mirror.

On Wednesday, Bresnahan said he has been taking his unit's second-half execution failures personally, assuming blame for the Bulls not being in the proper run fits or coverage schemes during their two-game skid. Wisconsin and East Carolina both totaled more than 300 second-half yards in their victories against USF.

"When you come out in the first series of the second half and you've got (ECU) at first-and-20 and then first-and-30 in the first drive, and then they score a touchdown, that's unacceptable," Bresnahan said.

"And I start with myself, look in the mirror and say, 'What can we do better to get our guys to come out of the locker room and play with the same intensity?' Because they played lights-out for the first half in Wisconsin, lights-out for the first half last week, then we give up a series of plays."

TULSA TIME: While Tulsa (1-5) clearly doesn't have the success or seasoning of 18th-ranked East Carolina, Bresnahan said the Golden Hurricane have proven capable not only of stretching the field, but remaining on it.

Tulsa has run more offensive plays (514) than the Pirates (455), who also have played six games. While QB Dane Evans (138-for-250, 1,627 yards) has thrown nine picks, Bresnahan said the 6-foot-2 sophomore has improved each week.

"They can run the ball (141.2 ypg), and then they've got a quarterback that can make all the throws," Bresnahan said.

"He's got a very strong arm. Accuracy at times can be a little off, but he's a competitor and they're going to stretch the field again on us, so that's important to understand. ... Very similar to what we saw against ECU. A little bit different approach to it, but the same style."

QUINTON'S CAMEOS: While the first-quarter insertion of freshman QB Quinton Flowers against East Carolina left some fans puzzled, Taggart indicated Tuesday the dual-threat rookie's game reps will continue. The Bulls went three-and-out -- on three run plays -- on Flowers' lone series.

"We're trying to get him in there and find ways to...get the ball to him in his hands," Taggart said. "I think as we continue to go you'll start to see that in a lot of different ways. ... But he's a guy that can help produce some more offense, something that we need, and we've got to keep finding ways to do that."

ODDS AND ENDS: All three banged-up defensive starters -- CB Chris Dunkley (shoulder) OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) and WLB Nigel Harris (ankle) -- suited up for Wednesday's practice, staged in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. ... Two walk-on quarterbacks, Purdue transfer Austin Parker and Ocala Vanguard alum Adam Robles, have been added to the roster. Robles threw six TD passes against crosstown rival Forest as a junior, breaking a school mark held by Daunte Culpepper. ... Senior Elkino Watson said Wednesday he already has lined up at all three spots on the defensive line, including one play at nose tackle. ... Because some of the Bulls' shifts and routes were being thrown off by the added markings at Raymond James Stadium, their practice fields have been lined exactly the same as RayJay's -- down to the last hash.

AUDIBLE: "It may be hard to hear at this point in time at 2-4, but this team is getting better. And I'm excited about where we're at. Am I disappointed with the overall record? Yeah, but not discouraged." -- Bresnahan

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Envelopes, please: Honoring the best of Bulls' opening half

At this stage, freshman TB Marlon Mack may be not only the Bulls' top rookie, but the team MVP.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

At this stage, freshman TB Marlon Mack may be not only the Bulls' top rookie, but the team MVP.

We're here at halftime of the Bulls' 2014 season, polishing off our nachos and listening to the Herd of Thunder's horn-drenched riffs resonate through the humid air. Elbow room, as you might expect, is at a surplus here in our section. …

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One year in, White finding comfort level

Eleven games into his career as a starter, sophomore QB Mike White said he feels he finally can shed the "young" label from his name.

Though the Bulls have won only twice since White made his first start in a nationally televised 35-23 loss at Houston last Oct. 31, the Fort Lauderdale native said Tuesday he has learned a lot during the last 12 months and feels like he's progressing well.

"I've pretty much played a full season now and I'm starting to get the grasp of things and feel comfortable," said White, seventh in Division I in passing yards per completion (15.43).

"Sometimes, I feel like I make kind of stupid mistakes, young mistakes that I've got to get out of. But I'm experienced now."

In six games (five as a starter) in 2013, White threw for 1,083 yards, three TDs and nine interceptions. This season, he is 53-for-121 for 818 yards, three TDs and four picks.

"He was thrown into the fire (last season) and when I say thrown into the fire, it's not like he got a lot of reps in training camp or a lot of reps during the week," Coach Willie Taggart said. "He was throwing the ball with scout team and servicing our defense.

"Not only was it new for him, but for everyone else too. So he didn't really stand a chance to be very successful at that point. ... He still needs more experience and more time, but I think he's so much better because of those games he played in last year."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Taggart said he expects sophomore WLB Nigel Harris (ankle) to play on Saturday against Tulsa after missing the East Carolina game. Additionally, LB Reshard Cliett and CB/KR/PR Chris Dunkley -- both of whom have unspecified shoulder injuries -- are day-to-day, Taggart said.

PART OF THE PLAN: It is no fluke that FB Kennard Swanson has played a bigger role in the Bulls' offense the last two games.

The redshirt freshman had two catches for 74 yards against Wisconsin on Sept. 27, including one for 51 yards before a fumble. Against East Carolina on Saturday, Swanson had five carries for 23 yards and one reception for 16.

"That was a position we felt like we didn't have last year, so you didn't see it as much then," Taggart said. "He's a guy that, not only can he run the ball, not only can he block, but he's really good at catching the football. He's got really soft hands out of the backfield.

"To me, for us to be the football team that we want to be, it starts with that guy. The fullback."

ODDS AND ENDS: White said he did not have any pain while playing without the rubber splint on his fractured left forearm against ECU. He said doctors have told him he's close to 100-percent healthy. ... Former Bulls defensive end and 49ers rookie LB Aaron Lynch recorded his first career sack against the Rams on Monday night.

AUDIBLE: "The goals we set back in the offseason are still ahead of us and it starts with this game. We can't go to a bowl game without winning this game. We can't win a conference championship without starting and winning this game. So each week, we're going to go with a week-by-week basis and that's what it's going to take." -- White on whether Tulsa is considered a must-win for the Bulls.

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Know the foe: Tulsa

Tulsa sophomore QB Dane Evans leads the Golden Hurricane into Saturday's contest against USF.

Jack Dempsey | AP photo

Tulsa sophomore QB Dane Evans leads the Golden Hurricane into Saturday's contest against USF.

A look at Tulsa, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium

Nickname: Golden Hurricane

Record: 1-5, 1-1 American Athletic Conference (Win -- Tulane, 38-31 2OT; Losses -- Oklahoma, 52-7; Florida Atlantic, 50-21; Texas State, 37-34 3OT; Colorado State, 42-17; Temple, 35-24)

Coach: Bill Blankenship (fourth season, 23-22)

The breakdown: Few teams are greener than the Golden Hurricane, who have played eight true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen and 22 sophomores this season. ... While USF has struggled mightily to finish games, Tulsa doesn't seem to know where to begin. The Hurricane have been outscored 141-42 in the first half this season, with that deficit narrowing considerably (106-99) after halftime. ... Though three of its 11 seniors start in the secondary, Tulsa has been woefully susceptible to the big play, allowing 28 of 30-plus yards (including 11 TDs). ... Sophomore WR Keevan Lucas is having a monster year (53 catches, 649 yards, seven TDs) highlighted by a 13-catch, 233-yard performance against Tulane. ... Defensively, veteran junior "bandit" back Michael Mudoh (53 tackles) is the bellcow.

Odds and ends: Tulsa has the smallest enrollment of all Division I programs (3,429). By contrast, USF has 45,074 students. ... Blankenship is one of 12 Division I coaches serving as head coach at their alma mater. ... Among Tulsa's prominent football alumni is Bucs coach Lovie Smith.

QB Mike White's take: "I would say that this game is going to be a really aggressive and physical game. Up front, they do a lot of things. They stunt, they kind of time up their blitzes well, so I think that's going to be a huge aspect -- the physical part of it. I think they're constantly
getting better. ... They play for their coach. They play hard."

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AAC notebook: Cougars get spark with new QB

A Houston team in dire need of any ember it could find got two significant sparks in Saturday's 28-24 win at Memphis: one from an opportunistic defense and another from a quarterback change.

Yep, the John O'Korn era in Houston appears to be on hiatus.

Cougars resident utility player Greg Ward Jr. totaled 263 yards -- including 95 on 17 carries -- to lift the Cougars (3-3, 1-1), who also got five turnovers from their defense.

Ward, who had replaced O'Korn -- last year's AAC Freshman of the Year -- in an 18-12 loss at UCF nine days before, completed 14 of 25 passes for 168 yards. A 5-foot-11 sophomore from Tyler, Texas, Ward was a three-star dual-threat QB prospect at the prep level, and served as O'Korn's backup all of last season.

This year, he had 15 catches at receiver and was averaging 7 yards on nine punt returns. Coach Tony Levine has since relieved him of those roles.

"Just the small number of plays he had shown prior to Memphis at quarterback, he could make some things happen, extend plays," Levine said.

"Two of our best run plays in the last game were plays that were passes where there was a rush there or great coverage downfield, and he just tucked it and ran. ... He's not a wildcat quarterback, he's dual-threat. He can throw it extremely well and he can run it."

SLEEPLESS IN CINCINNATI? Few teams in America are spiraling downward with as much velocity as Cincinnati (2-3, 0-1), which has surrendered 146 total points (48.7 per game) during its current three-game skid.

The latest debacle occurred Saturday at Miami, where the 'Canes recorded three offensive TDs of 40 or more yards in a 55-34 romp. Miami's point total was its highest against a Division I foe in 12 years.

"Every loss I've had in my career has been my fault. That's my job to get 'em ready to play and get 'em better each week," Bearcats second-year coach Tommy Tuberville said Monday. "I don't care who you play...it's my job to take the players we've got on our football team and put together a game plan to out-play and out-coach the other team, and we haven't done that."

SECOND COMING: Tulane senior QB Nick Montana (yeah, that guy's son), the 2013 starter who lost his job to Tanner Lee in a preseason derby, stepped in for his injured teammate Saturday and led the Green Wave (2-4, 1-1) to an ugly 12-3 win against Connecticut. Montana (19-for-26, 135 yards) directed the Green Wave's only TD  drive, which ended with a 7-yard scoring pass.

"(Montana) really managed this football game the way we wanted it to be managed," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Temple is 4-1 for only the fifth time since 1971. ... Nine of UCF's last 13 victories have been by a TD or less, including Thursday's 31-24 overtime victory against BYU. ... Houston has forced at least one turnover in 29 consecutive games.

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Taggart: Bulls must conquer mental fatigue

In the wake of the Bulls' second consecutive second-half meltdown Saturday, Coach Willie Taggart suggested his team's issues down the stretch don't so much involve strength and conditioning as they do psychology.

"I think as our football team continues to get better, we've got to learn to play for 60 minutes and not 30 minutes, and I think that other 30 minutes that we're not playing is really between our ears," Taggart said Monday on the American Athletic Conference football teleconference. …

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Aresco on USF: "We need them"

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco attended Saturday's East Carolina-USF game.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco attended Saturday's East Carolina-USF game.

Before watching his first American Athletic Conference game Saturday evening at Raymond James Stadium, Commissioner Mike Aresco spent roughly 15 minutes with reporters, touching on a variety of timely topics. Here are some highlights: …

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Full disclosure: My latest AP football ballot

My most agonizing day at the AP ballot box began with cerebrum-stretching contemplation, and never got any easier.

I started by violating my personal rule of not dropping the top-ranked team after a victory. I tabbed FSU No. 1 in my preseason ballot and believed the 'Noles warranted that position until someone knocked them off.

But Mississippi State's unprecedented season -- with three consecutive wins against top-10 opposition -- is too impressive to ignore. Today, the Bulldogs' are atop both the AP poll and my ballot.

Not that it got much easier from there.

What do we make of Baylor, which won a basketball game against TCU? How far should Auburn fall? Or Texas A&M? Is Notre Dame for real? And does anyone want to win the Pac-12 title?

All things I asked myself as the morning grew warmer and the coffee got colder.

For better or worse, these are the answers I formulated.

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

 

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Football report: Davis still appears 'good to go'

Barring any 11th-hour catastrophe, senior WR Andre Davis looks "good to go" for Saturday's homecoming game against East Carolina, Coach Willie Taggart said Thursday.

Whether Davis, who has missed the last four games with a bruised sternum, will start remains unclear. Whenever he enters, he'll resume his pursuit of Bulls immortality. He's 13 career catches shy of Hugh Smith's all-time record (131) and 62 yards short of Carlton Mitchell's career mark (1,648).

"Again, Dre's got to continue to work and get in football shape," Taggart said. "He's missed a lot of games where his teammates have...worked themselves into football shape, and that's something Dre's continuing to do daily...so he can play at a high level all the time."

BULLETIN BORED: As expected, East Carolina QB Shane Carden refused to counter-punch at the verbal jab recently thrown his way by Bulls DE Eric Lee. When asked last week about Carden, Lee said there was "nothing special" about ECU's all-time passing leader, who has three consecutive 400-yard games.

"I heard about that. It is what it is," Carden told the Times earlier this week. "We've heard some talk before other games and our team doesn't talk too much about the opponent before the games."

DUNGY DINGED UP: Taggart revealed Thursday former Plant High standout Eric Dungy, who transferred from Oregon this past spring and was expected to provide depth at receiver, is gradually recovering from a recent shoulder injury.

Dungy has one catch, a 7-yarder against N.C. State. "He's coming along," Taggart said. "He was coming along really well for us until he had his injury, and he's starting to get back in the swing of things now..."

ODDS AND ENDS: If the Bulls come out flat Saturday, it won't be due to sloppy preparation. "We've had a great week, very enthusiastic," Taggart said. "Our guys are learning how to practice and have fun in practice. It was physical." ... This is USF's second consecutive homecoming game against a top-20 foe. Last season, the Bulls hosted No. 18 Louisville and lost, 34-3. ... An upset would make USF 2-0 in conference play for the second consecutive year and only the third time in its existence.

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Bresnahan: ECU concerns stretch beyond QB

While plenty of national attention has centered around prolific East Carolina QB Shane Carden, Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan hasn't forgotten about the rest of the Pirates' offense.

"I don't even want to give an impression of one guy," Bresnahan said Wednesday. "They have so much talent. ... From the quarterback to the running back to the receivers -- there's not a bad spot on the team. So we've got our hands full."

ECU ranks fourth in the nation in total offense (581.4 ypg) thanks in large part to Carden, whose 375.8 total yards per game ranks third in the country among individuals. Still, Bresnahan said he is making sure his players don't downplay the Pirates' rushing attack, led by senior Breon Allen (8.8 yards per carry).

But when they start to throw it, Bresnahan hopes the secondary will be ready to take advantage by getting more pressure on receivers to help force turnovers.

"This is an offense that, with the ball being thrown around the field, you do have some opportunities," he said. "They're a minus-one in turnover ratio, so ... we've got to make that an advantage for us."

GREEN, GOLD AND ... PURPLE?: To help promote homecoming week at USF, free T-shirts were handed out to students to wear around campus and during Saturday's game.

The only problem: They were purple, a primary color of ECU.

According to The Oracle, USF's student newspaper, the school's Campus Traditions Board spent $5,600 of student activity and service fees to make 1,200 purple shirts. Two hundred shirts were distributed before the student committee was notified of the oversight.
 
To correct the error, the board re-ordered 1,000 green shirts for $4,200, according to The Oracle, and the remaining the purple shirts will not be given out.
 
A spokesperson for the Center for Student Involvement, which oversees the board, did not immediately return a message Wednesday from the Tampa Bay Times.

ODDS AND ENDS: WR Andre Davis (bruised sternum) practiced without a red non-contact jersey. ... Senior LB Reshard Cliett and sophomore DB Johnny Ward both said Carden will likely be "the best quarterback we face all season."

AUDIBLE: "It's a game played in space now. It's basketball on grass." -- Bresnahan, explaining why he put an emphasis on open-field tackling during the bye week.

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