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North Miami WR Clerveaux commits to USF

USF has picked up another commitment for 2014, as Stanley Clerveaux, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound receiver from North Miami, announced Wednesday that he has accepted a scholarship to play for the Bulls.

Clerveaux had Cincinnati among his final options but said his decision came down to USF and Marshall. He had tried to commit to the Bulls last month, but said he was told Willie Taggart had to look more at his game tape before they'd take his commitment; just days later they called to say he had an offer and could commit, and he finalized his decision Wednesday after talking with his father.

We'll have more on Clerveaux tomorrow, and in a curious update, USF commitment Tajee Fullwood, the WR/DB from Tampa Bay Tech, tweeted Wednesday night that he remains committed to USF but "my recruitment is still open." Take that however you'd like to ...

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Replay USF chat with Greg Auman

Greg Auman will be chatting Friday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Times files

Greg Auman will be chatting Friday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Want to talk about the USF football team's camp preparations? The American Athletic Conference preseason media poll? Something else? Whatever's on your mind, join Times beat reporter Greg Auman for a live chat Friday, Aug. 2, starting at 12:30 p.m.

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Newport Q&A with USF receiver Andre Davis

Still filing stuff from Rhode Island -- flying back home out of Providence and stopping for a minute in Baltimore, but want to share a Q&A with USF junior receiver Andre Davis, who represented the Bulls today along with defensive tackle Luke Sager. Davis had a breakout year in 2012 with six touchdowns and a monster game in the win at Nevada and he talked with us about the changes under new coach Willie Taggart.

Q: Being here, you get an appreciation for where USF is perceived in this new league. What's your attitude going into the season as far as what you guys can do as a team to establish yourself in the American?

A: I'm very confident. I know we can do big things in this conference. We have a great new coach. The defense is looking amazing. The offense is looking real good as well. I'm just ready to get in and get playing so we can show them that we're no pushover. We're going to do big things in this league.

Q: Where do you see the biggest difference? Where does this team show you it's better than it was a year ago? …

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Aresco: American belongs in NCAA's top tier

NEWPORT, R.I. -- With increased talk that the NCAA's top football conferences could break off to their own elite division, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said Tuesday that his league deserves a place among the nation's top tier.

"Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future, we expect to be part of it," Aresco said. "The American Athletic Conference belongs in it, and not because we say we do."

The American will have an automatic BCS bid for its champion this year, carried over from the Big East in the model that ends this season. But moving forward, the conference is outside the top five leagues, knowing only that the highest ranked champion from the "group of five" conferences -- the American, the Mountain West, the MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt -- will have a guaranteed spot in the new top-tier "host" bowl games. …

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Barbs fly! USF, UCF already acting like rivals

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Commissioner Mike Aresco has touted the renewed USF-UCF rivalry as one of the great new things to come with the American Athletic Conference, and as the league hosted its annual football media day, the two head coaches traded barbs in what will only build as the Bulls and Knights prepare for their meeting in Orlando on Nov. 29.

UCF coach George O'Leary, asked about how he's gotten to know USF coach Willie Taggart, started the fun by challenging USF's ambitious recruiting goals, which include keeping a presence in his backyard.

"I was laughing. He got there and he said he's going to own the I-4 corridor," O'Leary said. "I said to him 'Obviously, you've got to go back and look at your geography.'"

Taggart, smiling later in response, said he knew what he was saying when he said it, and his goal hasn't changed.

"We're doing a pretty good job at it, too," said Taggart, who has six of his 12 commitments for 2014 from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. "We're doing what we said we were going to do when we came here. I'm a football coach. I'm not into geography and all that."

The teams are close rivals on more than just a state map -- the American's preseason media poll came out, and UCF came in fourth place, one spot ahead of the Bulls. Taggart said he likes the fact that USF is playing UCF every year now as conference rivals.

"I think it's good for the state when you have something like that, good for both universities, to go out and compete against someone you don't like too well," he said. "It's always good to compete and have rivalries. I think that's what college football is all about."

USF beat UCF four years in a row from 2005-08, but hasn't played UCF since, replacing them on the schedule with nonconference opponents like Western Kentucky and Ball State. O'Leary has been publicly lobbying for the series to be renewed for some time. Asked on Tuesday if his fans were excited for the renewal, O'Leary joked "Excited? They drive me nuts."

O'Leary sees tangible benefits to the rivalry, which should result in strong attendance wherever the game has played. USF sold out the last UCF game in Tampa in 2007 with an announced crowd of 65,948, and the 2008 game in Orlando drew 46,805 fans, UCF's second-highest total at Bright House Networks Stadium.

"That, to me, is a natural rival," O'Leary said. "It's an I-4 game. It's a win-win. Thanksgiving weekend's a tough weekend to draw, I don't care who you are, unless you're playing in a rival game. Georgia-Georgia Tech, Alabama-Auburn. It used to be Texas-Texas A&M, I don't know if it still is or not. That's going to be a win-win from a stadium, economy, everything concerned."

The recruiting battles will continue all year -- UCF signed five players from the Tampa Bay area in February, and O'Leary has picked up two commitments in those counties for 2014 as well. Taggart said USF's relative youth, playing in its 17th season of college football, makes it hard to build strong traditional rivals, but having the Knights on the schedule every year could do just that.

"We're a young program. We couldn't have much of a rivalry," he said. "I know we played UCF before. I look forward to it. It's great for our conference and great for our state."

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USF football picked fifth in American media preseason poll

Busy morning here in Rhode Island, with three hours of interviews as part of the American Athletic Conference's annual football media day. That included the unveiling of the league's preseason media poll, which has USF picked to finish fifth out of 10 teams, one spot below rival UCF.

Louisville is an overwhelming favorite to win the league, getting 28 of 30 first-place votes, with Big East carryovers Cincinnati and Rutgers following after. UCF had a solid lead on USF, gaining 210 vote-points to USF's 155, with Houston, Connecticut, SMU, Temple and Memphis rounding out the preseason rankings.

"We're not last," joked USF coach Willie Taggart, who has taken over a team that went 1-6 in each of its final two seasons in the Big East. "I don't put a lot into it, because the people that vote for us are not there at practice every day with us, haven't been through the offseason with us, so they really don't know our team. I know in the past, they had South Florida 1 or 2, and maybe it's good for our guys to finally be down there where nobody expects much. It's time for us to go out and make it happen."

Here's the official preseason poll results:

1.Louisville (28)   298

2. Cincinnati (2)   257 …

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Sager seeks revival for USF defensive line

Tuesday's Times has a feature on USF defensive tackle Luke Sager, who has emerged as a senior leader at perhaps the Bulls' strongest and deepest position. He talks about the Bulls getting back to the kind of defensive line he first encountered at USF -- a dominant pass-rushing presence led by George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul in 2009. Can the defensive line lead the Bulls back to defensive success? We'll have more notes from the American's clambake later tonight ...

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Readers' ballots: USF 4th in American

We asked you readers for your preseason picks on the American Athletic Conference's football standings for 2013, and 24 of you collectively have USF finishing fourth in the 10-team league, one spot ahead of rival UCF.

Louisville, looking at a top-10 ranking nationally behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, was picked first on 18 of 24 and no lower than second on any ballot. Cincinnati edged Rutgers for second place in the readers' poll, with USF -- picked anywhere from first to seventh in the voting -- taking fourth, ahead of UCF. Memphis was last on 21 of 24 ballots, getting two 9ths and an 8th from the readers ...

The readers' picks are very much like my own ballot submitted for the league's preseason media poll -- the top five are exactly the same, and the only difference is you have Houston sixth, three spots ahead of where I have them. Given that you hadn't seen my ballot when you submitted yours, I'm not sure what to take from that.

Here's your predicted standings, with first-place votes in parentheses, then total vote-points. 10 for a first, 9 for second and so on -- you've done this before ...

1. Louisville (18)  234

2. Cincinnati (4)   200

3. Rutgers           189 …

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Full disclosure: My American preseason football ballot

Greg Auman likes Charlie Strong's Louisville Cardinals to win the AAC.

Getty Images

Greg Auman likes Charlie Strong's Louisville Cardinals to win the AAC.

Greetings from Rhode Island -- odd to have that ring familiar for a Florida writer now after all these years coming up for preseason football media gatherings. The American is following in the Big East tradition of hosting the media in scenic Newport for its annual Summer Kickoff, and tonight's clambake will again be at the Eisenhower House.

I flew up on the same flight as USF's entourage -- defensive tackle Luke Sager and receiver Andre Davis -- and we'll have a feature in Tuesday's paper on Sager and the big role the defensive line could play in the Bulls' upcoming season. Tuesday morning will also bring the American's official preseason media poll, where I had a ballot. The Times allows us to vote in such things only if we disclose our ballot publicly, so here you have it.

We'll post the results of our fan balloting later, but for now, this is my ballot from 1 to 10. I look forward to your comments and criticism ...

1. Louisville
2. Cincinnati
3. Rutgers
4. USF
5. UCF
6. SMU
7. UConn
8. Temple
9. Houston
10. Memphis

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Your turn: Give us your American football picks

The American Athletic Conference has its preseason football Summer Kickoff on Monday and Tuesday in Rhode Island, and Tuesday morning will see the league's first American preseason media poll unveiled.

I'll be there and will post my ballot here for your perusal on Monday, but first, I'll invite you to submit your own preseason poll in the comments here, ranking all 10 teams from top to bottom. We'll do two things with this -- remember your picks for kudos in December, and put together a collective fan poll from all of your entries.

And just so you don't get confused by the comings and goings, here are your 10 team to rank in this year's American, in alphabetical order: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU, UCF, USF, Temple.

We'll set a deadline of 2 p.m. Monday for your ballots -- I'll post my mine then, and you'll get the official media poll on Tuesday morning around 9 or so ... Thanks, and good luck!

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Chase is on: QB Litton backs out of commitment

Ah, recruiting.

Wharton QB Chase Litton, a key part of USF's strong local recruiting push for Willie Taggart's first full recruiting class, posted on Twitter on Friday night that he has backed out of his commitment and re-opened his recruitment. And oh, by the way, he's reportedly in Gainesville this weekend for the Gators' "Friday Night Lights" recruiting event.

"I want to apologize to USF but I will be decommitting and opening my recruitment up for my senior year," Litton wrote Friday after online reports had him visiting the Gators.

Litton joins a long list of quarterbacks who have committed to the Bulls, only to back out down the road -- Tyler Cameron did it in 2012, choosing Wake Forest, and Asiantii Woulard did it last year, choosing UCLA. The Bulls have four scholarship quarterbacks this year and three of them are expected back, in sophomores Matt Floyd and Steven Bench, as well as incoming true freshman Mike White. …

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Fernandez completes coaching staff, adds Dickson

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez has filled out his coaching staff, hiring longtime Florida International assistant Desma Thomas Bateast as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator and bringing in former Bulls great Jessica Dickson as an administrative assistant.

Thomas Bateast, 39, spent seven years on FIU's staff, recruiting an All-American and the nation's leading scorer out of USF's backyard in guard Jerica Coley of St. Pete Catholic. She was inducted into the University of Miami's Sports Hall of Fame last year, having played basketball for the Hurricanes from 1992-97.

"It's an opportunity to coach at a higher level, with a dynamic andenergetic coach," said Thomas Bateast, who took a job last month as head coach at NAIA St. Thomas University in Miami, but left to join USF's staff, calling it "an easy but tough decision."

She'll replace Carrie Banks, who left this month to join the staff at Northwestern; Dickson, USF's all-time leading scorer and a recent Hall of Fame enshrinee with a retired jersey in the Sun Dome rafters, takes over for Miya McCurdy, who took a job at Ohio State. …

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USF receivers: Who steps up alongside Davis?

Andre Davis has established himself as the top player in the group, solidifying that with two touchdown receptions in the spring game.


Andre Davis has established himself as the top player in the group, solidifying that with two touchdown receptions in the spring game.

Continuing our run through USF football, position by position, we talked to USF receivers coach David Reaves last week about the group of playmakers he'll have in Willie Taggart's West Coast offense this fall.

A few big names aren't back from last season, with Sterling Griffin transferring (likely to Louisiana Tech) and Terrence Mitchell moved to corner, suspended and transferring out himself. Andre Davis has established himself as the top player in the group, solidifying that with two touchdown receptions in the spring game. Who's next in line to catch passes from USF's as-yet-unnamed starting quarterback? Lots of notes on that and more here ...

-- Davis broke out last year with perhaps the biggest receiving game in USF history, getting 12 balls for 191 yards and two touchdowns in USF's comeback win at Nevada. But he didn't get a 100-yard game again all season -- while he didn't miss any games, he was slowed by a knee injury and defenses putting extra attention on him. His final four games? Just 88 yards on 11 catches with no touchdowns. Still, expectations are high for him improving on all his numbers, including his team-best six touchdown receptions. …

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Mathies: More rotation, wrinkles on defensive line

USF football coach Willie Taggart, left, instructs Tevin Mims during spring practice in March.


USF football coach Willie Taggart, left, instructs Tevin Mims during spring practice in March.

Defensive line might be the strength of USF's 2013 football team, both in talent and depth, and defensive line coach Eric Mathies said his priority is finding the best combination and rotation of players to lead the Bulls' defense.

"My biggest concern, and our biggest challenge, is figuring out who plays when and in what situations," Mathies said Monday, preparing for the start of preseason camp Aug. 4. "As the game goes, if we're up on people and it becomes a passing game, I want to be able to say 'I'm putting my best pass-rushers on the field.' I'm not really worried about the run. Or if it's a tight ballgame, I want to be able to put my best run guys on the field. We've got the numbers."

Rotating players in, both at end and tackle, is crucial to having the same level of pressure on opposing quarterbacks at the end of games, something USF struggled with last season in losing several leads in the closing minutes. …

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USF's Sheridan breaks down four-man QB battle

There's not a clear favorite between the two returning scholarship quarterbacks or the newcomers, including Penn State transfer Steven Bench.

AP photo

There's not a clear favorite between the two returning scholarship quarterbacks or the newcomers, including Penn State transfer Steven Bench.

Continuing our position-by-position run through USF football leading up to the start of practice in less than two weeks, we stop today with Nick Sheridan, Willie Taggart's promising young quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

Quarterback is arguably USF's most intriguing position in the preseason, with a legitimate four-wide battle for the starting position job. There's not a clear favorite between the two returning scholarship quarterbacks, senior Bobby Eveld and sophomore Matt Floyd, or the newcomers, in Penn State transfer Steven Bench and true freshman Mike White. All but Floyd have a redshirt year available, so it's reasonable to think whoever isn't in the top two is a candidate to redshirt, barring injuries during the season.

-- I asked Sheridan, given the complexity of Taggart's West Coast offense -- play calls are often 10 to 12 words, with multiple options and reads out of each formation and complex pre-snap shifting and motion -- how reasonable it is to think a quarterback could have his first practice in August and be in command of the offense enough to be playing at the end of the month. …

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