Photo provided by the American Athletic Conference
USF men's tennis coach Matt Hill has resigned after four highly successful seasons for the same job at Arizona State.
USF men's tennis coach Matt Hill, who led the Bulls to their third consecutive American Athletic Conference title this past spring, has resigned after four seasons to re-start the program at Arizona State.Full Story
"Matt did an incredible job with our tennis program, both on and off the court, during his four years at USF,” Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said in a news release. "We thank him for his dedicated service and for leading tremendous student-athletes in this men's tennis program to unprecedented success."
One of the more inspirational coaching figures on campus, Hill, who conquered bone cancer as a teen to become a Division II player, led the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons, highlighted by a Sweet 16 berth in 2015.
On his watch, No. 1 player Roberto Cid twice reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA men's singles championships.
"Matt is truly one of the bright young standouts in collegiate coaching, and we wish he and his wife, Katie, nothing but the best going forward," Harlan said. "I spoke to the team this afternoon and pledged that we will find a great leader who will help them continue their push to be among the nation’s best.”
At Arizona State, Hill essentially will be building a program from scratch. The university reinstated men's tennis in May after an eight-year hiatus.
LARA CERRI | Times
USF safety Craig Watts is among 17 Bulls football signees already on campus.
Conventional wisdom suggests any football news in June or July likely is grim: ineligible player, transfer, arrest or worse.Full Story
Considering that school of thought, here's your aberration for the day: Seventeen of the Bulls' 18 football signees already are on campus, team spokesman Brian Siegrist confirmed Wednesday. The 18th, Butler (Kan.) Community College DE Tramal Ivy, will arrive for fall camp, Siegrist added.
It marks the second consecutive year of near-spotless retention for a Willie Taggart signing class. Of the 21 players who signed in February 2015, only one -- WR Jarvis Baxter -- never joined the program.
USF's Summer B session began Monday. Taggart and two or three select players will join him at the American Athletic Conference Football Media Days in Newport, R.I. on Aug. 1 and 2, with preseason camp set to commence later that week.
After two sparkling seasons at Division II Florida Southern, former Freedom High golf standout Jimmy Jones is transferring to USF, the Bulls announced Monday.Full Story
Jones, who won a district title at Freedom as a sophomore in 2011 and was a three-time member of the Times' All-Hillsborough County team, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
He will be the first Bulls men's player to have competed for a Tampa high school since Richard Kittelstad (Blake, Sickles) in 2011.
"It’s nice to have somebody from Tampa playing golf for the hometown school at USF," men's golf coach Steve Bradley said in a USF news release. …
At this early stage, the three newest members of USF baseball's pro fraternity appear to be transitioning solidly to the short-season Class A level.Full Story
Former Bulls closer Tommy Eveld, the Diamondbacks' ninth-round draft pick, has posted a 2.45 ERA in three relief stints with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops. In 3.2 innings, Eveld has allowed a run on three hits with two strikeouts and a walk.
Meantime, Rays 12th-round draftee Brandon Lawson has allowed two earned runs in 4.2 relief innings for the Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades. In his pro debut Wednesday, the right-handed Hernando High alumnus allowed one hit over the final two innings of a 12-inning, 3-2 loss to the Lowell Spinners.
Lawson took the loss when Lowell scored an unearned run in the top of the 12th on an error. In two appearances, Lawson has a 3.86 ERA with three strikeouts and no walks.
And OF Luke Maglich? The Phillies' 34th-round pick has struggled offensively so far (.176) in five games for the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters, but hit a game-winning, two-out RBI-single in the 13th inning of Wednesday's 1-0 triumph against Mahoning Valley.
BOYZELL HOSEY | Times
Behind president Dr. Judy Genshaft (center), USF recently earned "emerging preeminence" status by the Florida Board of Governors Strategic Planning Committee
For all the preseason adoration showering USF, and for all the pricey renovations being done to its home stadium, arguably nothing has bolstered the Bulls' Power Five aspirations lately like one highfalutin-sounding phrase.Full Story
That lofty academic status, awarded last week to USF by the Florida Board of Governors' Strategic Planning Committee, will bring $5 million to the school's Tampa campus and increase the luster of its scholastic cachet nationally.
It also might -- just might -- boost the Bulls' remote chances of getting into a Power Five league, experts say.
"An enhanced academic standing and recognition by not only the state of Florida but also the academic community, certainly enhances USF’s opportunities at becoming a member of a Power Five conference," said Dr. Andy Gillentine, associate dean and professor of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at South Carolina.
"Conference expansion is about more than just athletic prowess. Conferences wish to improve their academic reputation as well."
So far, only Florida and FSU have achieved "preeminence" since the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, which grants as much as $15 million in additional state funds that meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks.
USF currently meets nine of those 12 benchmarks in areas such as national rankings, average GPA and SAT scores for incoming freshmen, and the number of doctoral degrees awarded each year. …
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
USF No. 2 all-time scorer Courtney Williams, drafted eighth overall by the Phoenix Mercury in April, was traded to the Connecticut Sun over the weekend.
After six brief cameos with the Phoenix Mercury, former USF women's offensive dynamo Courtney Williams has been traded to the Connecticut Sun.Full Story
Williams, who totaled 25 minutes in six appearances with the team that drafted her eighth overall in April, was dealt to the Sun -- along with the draft rights to 20th overall pick Jillian Alleyne and a 2017 second-round pick -- for veteran Kelsey Bone.
"We are excited about acquiring both Courtney and Jillian," said Sun coach Curt Miller, whose 3-11 club is last in the WNBA's Eastern Conference.
"This gives us two more young pieces as we build around our young nucleus. Courtney was a dynamic scorer at the collegiate level and brings an athleticism at the guard position that is needed on our roster."
Williams, USF's No. 2 all-time scorer and No. 3 rebounder, simply couldn't crack a Mercury backcourt that already included two-time Naismith Player of the Year Diana Taurasi and three-time WNBA All-Star Penny Taylor. In 25 minutes, Williams totaled three points and seven rebounds for Phoenix.
By comparison, Indiana Fever G Tiffany Mitchell, taken one spot after Williams in the draft, is averaging 11.9 points and 1.5 assists in more than 25 minutes per game. The No. 7 pick, Washington Mystics swing player Kahleah Copper, is averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 boards in more than 17 minutes.
Alleyne, who arrives in Connecticut with Williams, tore an ACL in February while playing for Oregon and is out for the entire WNBA season. The co-Pac 12 Player of the Year, she finished her college career ranked second in NCAA history in double-doubles (92) and third in rebounds (1,712).
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF linebacker Nigel Harris (57) tackles Temple's Jahad Thomas during the Bulls' 44-23 romp last season. This year's rematch projects as one of the American Athletic Conference's most significant games in 2016.
If you missed any part of our recent preview of the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season, we've got you covered.
The link to each portion can be found below.
And as we type, only 69 days remain until the season kicks off with three Thursday night games (Tennessee-Martin at Cincinnati, Maine at UConn, Tulane at Wake Forest)
Top 10 offensive skill players
Ten must-see games
Top 10 offensive linemen
Top 10 story lines
Top 10 newcomers
Top 10 defensive playersFull Story
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols led the Bulls with four interceptions last season.
This week, we're continuing our in-depth look at the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season from various angles. Players, pivotal matchups, prevailing story lines -- all are being dissected. Today: top 10 defensive players (in alphabetical order)Full Story
CB Sean Chandler, Jr., Temple
Arguably the most inspirational guy on this list, Chandler's climb from an impoverished childhood to Division I dominance (66 tackles, four interceptions in '15) is chronicled in this video. Known widely as "Champ," Chandler hadn't completed his freshman season at Temple when Owls players voted to award him a single-digit jersey, which goes only to the program's toughest, most committed players.
LB Nico Marley, Sr., Tulane
Seems ol' Bob produced run-stoppers and reggae music with equal proficiency. The grandson of Bob and son of former University of Miami LB Rohan Marley, Nico enters his senior year with 36 starts and 36.5 tackles for loss (fourth-most in school history). Will be interesting to see how he adjusts to new coach Willie Fritz's emphasis on rugby-style, shoulder-level tackles to the midsection, a proven method Fritz gleaned from Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
CB Deatrick Nichols, Jr., USF
Nichols' production in 2015 (62 tackles, team-high four interceptions, two forced fumbles) reveals only part of the story. It's when he produced that propelled him to all-conference status. In the win against Syracue (which may have saved his coach's job), Nichols had a sack, forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss. Against Temple, where USF clinched bowl eligibility, he had a pick and a pass breakup. On the Friday night stage against Cincinnati, Nichols added two more interceptions including a pick-six.
DE Haason Reddick, Sr., Temple
The departure of first-team All-American (and Bednarik Award winner) Tyler Matakevich leaves a noticeable void in the middle of the Owls defense, but no such problem exists up front, thanks in part to Reddick. A disruptive force on the edge (12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) last season, Reddick and classmate Praise Martin-Oguike form one of the conference's top d-line bookends.
MLB Auggie Sanchez, R-Jr., USF
This converted fullback has evolved into the undisputed quarterback of the "Bull Shark" 4-2-5 attack. Though not the most athletically gifted linebacker in the league, Sanchez compensates with instinctiveness, indefatigable study habits and old-school toughness. The team's defensive MVP last season, Sanchez's 117 tackles tied for second-most in a season in Bulls history.
DT B.J. Singleton, Sr., Houston
A second-team all-conference pick last season, Singleton was an interior force in the AAC title game, recording three tackles and three QB hurries in Houston's 24-13 win against Temple. His ability to take on multiple blockers in the center of Houston's 3-4 scheme has allowed Cougars linebackers to flourish (see Taylor, Steven).
DT Tanzel Smart, Sr., Tulane
One of the league's top NFL prospects, Smart (6-foot-1, 304 pounds) had 15 tackles for loss last season, an astounding total for an interior lineman. If his production and physical upside weren't enough, he's also believed to be one of the Green Wave's hardest workers.
CB Jamar Summers, Jr., Connecticut
Say this about the Huskies: They know how to produce quality DBs. A year after UConn FS Byron Jones was taken by Dallas in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Huskies have another potential pro in Summers, who finished third nationally with eight picks in 2015. One of those occurred in the waning moments against Houston at the UConn 29, preserving the Huskies' 20-17 upset.
LB Steven Taylor, Sr., Houston
For all of the Cougars' offensive potency last season, they ranked eighth against the run (108.9 ypg) and could be slightly better in '16. With potential NFL prospects (see Singleton, B.J.) taking on more than one blocker up front, the linebacker corps could flourish. Taylor, who led the league with 10 sacks last season, is arguably the best of the bunch.
LB Eric Wilson, Sr., Cincinnati
Any defensive renaissance in Cincy likely starts with Wilson, a Northwestern transfer who had a team-best 106 tackles for the Bearcats in 2015. At 6-foot-2, 219 pounds, he may project as a safety at the next level. We project with Wilson and a more seasoned supporting cast, the Bearcats will improve noticeably from last season, when they allowed more than 400 yards a game (78th nationally).
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
USF's women's basketball team helped propel the Bulls to a record overall showing in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings.
USF's 2015-16 sports season formally finished two Fridays ago, but a lingering final accolade is forthcoming.Full Story
The Bulls will finish with the school's highest point total ever (350) in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, the school confirmed Tuesday.
USF's exact finish among Division I schools won't be official until the College World Series concludes, but it's currently 65th, which ranks second among American Athletic Conference programs behind only Connecticut (58th).
"Unbelievable performance," athletic director Mark Harlan told an audience of boosters Tuesday evening at Ulele Restaurant in Tampa. "I can single out a bunch of unbelievable performances across the board, and we were really young this year. So look out ahead."
The Learfield Cup awards points to schools for postseason appearances in a predetermined number of men's and women's sports. More points are granted for those advancing farther in the postseason.
USF, for example, earned 50 points in men's tennis, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament; and 50 in women's basketball, which also reached the NCAA tourney's second round. The football team earned 25 for reaching a bowl game.
Harlan also indicated USF student-athletes recently notched a collective GPA above 3.0 for the third consecutive semester, and teamed with coaches to total more than 4,000 community service hours in the past academic year.
"Fifty different organizations served by Bulls student-athletes, coaches and staff," Harlan said.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
After sitting out a season, USF receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is expected to emerge as one of the American Athletic Conference's top newcomers in 2016.
This week, we're continuing our in-depth look at the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season from various angles. Players, pivotal matchups, prevailing story lines -- all are being dissected. Today: top 10 newcomers (in alphabetical order)Full Story
RB Duke Catalon, R-So., Houston
A Texas transfer, Catalon will get the chance to wield an immediate impact in a Cougars backfield gutted by graduation and attrition. Deemed the No. 10 running back nationally by 247Sports coming out of Houston's Eisenhower High, Catalon (6-foot, 210 pounds) might be a bellcow back in most offenses. Alas, Cougars QB Greg Ward Jr. is pretty nimble also.
MLB Cecil Cherry, R-Fr., USF
Few Bulls have over-achieved like MLB Auggie Sanchez the last two seasons, yet even Sanchez will have to bring it daily in practice to hold off Cherry. A sturdy (6-foot, 240 pounds) four-star recruit from Lakeland's Victory Christian, Cherry has been on campus nearly a year after transferring from Texas. If he continues building off his solid spring, Bulls coaches simply won't be able to afford to keep him off the field.
QB Riley Ferguson, R-Jr., Memphis
This 6-foot-4 heir to NFL draftee Paxton Lynch has the chops to keep Memphis' program on the uptick. After redshirting at Tennessee in 2013, Ferguson moved to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, where he threw for 35 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards last fall. He displayed his big-game moxie at North Carolina's Butler High, where he threw five TD passes in the 2012 state title game. It was Butler's second state title in three seasons with Ferguson at the helm.
WR Devin Gray, Jr., Cincinnati
Someone has to catch passes for the Bearcats, who lost their top five receivers from 2015. We're betting Gray, who had 69 receptions at Sierra (Calif.) College last fall, will assume a lot of that slack. Won't hurt that whomever's on the other end of those passes -- likely Gunner Kiel or Hayden Moore -- has a bunch of experience.
WLB E.J. Levenberry, R-Jr., Connecticut
Levenberry had 39 tackles for FSU's 2013 national title team, but transferred a year later after his role diminished. Huskies coach Bob Diaco, who recruited Levenberry (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) while defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, had a roster spot waiting for him in Storrs. A starting spot? That's up to Levenberry, though his strength and lateral movement might make it tough to keep him off the field. In UConn's spring game, Levenberry had five tackles including half a tackle for a loss.
QB Gardner Minshew, So., East Carolina
When junior QB Kurt Benkert transferred after spring practice, new Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery was left with senior Rutgers transfer Phillip Nelson and some rookies. Hence the signing of Minshew, who threw for nearly 3,300 yards while leading Northwest Mississippi Community College to a juco national title last fall. A defiance of the juco stereotype, Minshew threw for more than 11,000 yards at Brandon (Miss.) High and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Don't be stunned if he's starting sooner rather than later.
DE Ed Oliver, Fr., Houston
The conference's lone five-star signee (and a Parade All-American to boot), Oliver is a home-grown talent whose signing really could help Coach Tom Herman corner the market on Houston prospects (if Herman sticks around long enough). The defensive MVP at the Under Armour All-America game in January, Oliver (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) is a tweener-type d-lineman who could play inside or on the edge.
DE Michael Scott, R-Fr., SMU
No AAC team will be benefit from young blood as much as SMU, and Scott could lead the transfusion. A Power Five recruit who de-committed -- then re-committed -- to the Mustangs, Scott (6-foot-4, 246 pounds) reportedly had a breakthrough spring and is expected to provide a pass rush to a defense that previously had none. The Mustangs ranked 111th last season in sacks (1.33 per game).
WR Dredrick Snelson, Fr., UCF
Having inherited a winless team, it stands to reason new Knights coach Scott Frost will be inclined to play a lot of rookies. The most heralded of the incoming group is Snelson, an Under Armour All-American who spurned a bushel of Power Five programs to come to Orlando. In Frost's offense, Snelson, who helped lead Pembroke Pines Flanagan to the Class 8A state title last season, could line up at a smorgasbord of spots. …
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF can alter the balance of power in its conference -- and perhaps its state -- with an upset of FSU on Sept. 24 at Raymond James Stadium.
This week, we're continuing our in-depth look at the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season from various angles. Players, pivotal matchups, prevailing story lines -- all are being dissected. Today: top 10 story linesFull Story
Hotseats are scarce this year in The American, which may represent a college football aberration. If anyone's on the clock, it might be Cincinnati's Tommy Tuberville, whose defensively challenged team lost four of its last six in 2015, including a humiliating 42-7 loss to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl. The Bearcats' first two conference games are home dates with Houston (Sept. 15) and USF (Oct. 1). If they drop both, Cincy cyberspace could get a bit turbulent.
Big 12 expansion
Until Big 12 honchos vote yeah or nay on expansion (perhaps later this summer), this issue will hang over The American like mid-July humidity. If expansion is approved, darn near every league contest becomes a de facto audition for membership. Remember when temporary Big 12 chairman David Boren suggested his league would seek candidates that added to the "reputational strength" of the Big 12? Well, consider what a Houston win over Oklahoma, or a USF victory against FSU, would do for reputations.
...and speaking of Houston-Oklahoma
The American served notice last season with two teams (Houston, Navy) making the final Associated Press top 25 poll. That momentum keeps surging if reigning conference champ Houston upends Oklahoma in NRG Stadium on the season's opening weekend. Toss in a Temple win at Penn State and/or USF upset of FSU, and maybe the nation really does start perceiving the AAC as the sixth Power Five league.
Brighter days for Knights?
At this level, the time needed for a rebuilding job depends on the architect and materials on hand. We've seen it done overnight (Gus Malzahn at Auburn) or in a few years (Willie Taggart at USF). So what kind of timetable should beleaguered UCF fans expect under new coach Scott Frost? Tough to say. Finding the people to fit his Oregon-style offense could take a recruiting cycle or two. As it stands, Frost inherits a bunch of guys who have played a lot, albeit for an 0-12 team. Our projection: The Knights return to bowl eligibility in 2017.
Will the Bull run continue?
The given-year fortune of USF football has graduated from subplot to story line. With a schedule that sets up nicely, and every significant offensive skill player back from last season's 8-5 team, the Bulls can alter the league's balance of power and fortify the AAC's stature nationally. They also could nudge the on-campus stadium conversation forward. Yep, 2016 is that important in Tampa.
No. 5 hits No. 1
Barring any kind of calamity, Bulls junior RB Marlon Mack enters the fall needing only 310 yards to break Andre Hall's USF career rushing yardage record (2,731). While we're on the subject of school records, Tulsa QB Dane Evans - a 4,300-yard passer in 2016 -- enters the season needing 2,605 yards to eclipse Paul Smith's school mark (10,936).
With one-third of the conference featuring first-year coaches, it's natural to ponder which newcomer has the best chance at succeeding right away. Frost, East Carolina's Scottie Montgomery and Tulane's Willie Fritz all have some overhauling to do, but new Memphis coach Mike Norvell inherits a solid situation with the Tigers. If former Tennessee QB Riley Ferguson pans out as Paxton Lynch's heir, Memphis might -- might -- match or even improve on last year's 9-4 mark.
Navy senior QB Tago Smith assumes the league's most unenviable job: replacing college football all-time touchdown leader Keenan Reynolds. Smith won't enter the season wide-eyed; he has played in 18 games and totaled nine TDs of his own. Moreover, the graduation of veteran QBs hasn't exactly been a mortal blow to this program. At least three times in the past 13 years, Navy has bid farewell to a multi-year starter behind center. On two of those occasions, the Midshipmen won 10 games the following season.
To promote his brand, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is big on having the college stage mostly to himself, which is done with nationally televised weeknight games. This season, the league's weeknight slate again is loaded: Houston at Cincinnati (Sept. 15), Temple at Memphis (Oct. 6) and USF at Temple (Oct. 21) are among the non-Saturday highlights.
Crashing the playoff?
We'll adjourn with a reality check: Any American team hoping to crack the four-team College Football Playoff must (A) play a staunch non-conference schedule, and (B) go undefeated. Anything less is pure pipe dream. When the initial 2015 CFP rankings were released last November, Memphis was 8-0 with a victory against Ole Miss, yet the Tigers were ranked 13th. When the final rankings came out, Houston (12-1) was the highest-ranked Group of Five team, at No. 18. We're not saying it's impossible but, well, maybe we are.
JOEY KNIGHT | Times
USF softball player Meredith Bissette (center), joined by teammates Cassidy Boyle (left) and Lauren Evans, received a Sports Community Hero award at Thursday night's Sneaker Soiree.
If USF sophomore Meredith Bissette has her way, the surprise cameo she made at Thursday night's Sneaker Soiree won't be her only emotional return to the bay area.Full Story
Bissette, forced to leave the Bulls softball team upon being diagnosed with pelvic cancer in early April, said she still has a goal of returning to the team for the 2017 season. First, she must undergo a sequence of medical procedures in August, then assess the risks involved with resuming her athletic career.
"Right now, yeah, I would love to go back, but we'll see when it gets here," said Bissette, presented one of two Sports Community Hero awards at the Sneaker Soiree. "That's my process right now."
Bissette's appearance at the sold-out event, in the works for roughly six weeks, marked one of the evening's most poignant moments. The event had just commenced when teammates Cassidy Boyle and Lauren Evans were called to the stage, presumably to accept the award on Bissette's behalf. Bissette then emerged from behind the curtain.
Neither player had any idea Bissette, who secretly flew to Tampa with her dad Wednesday night, would be there. Neither did USF softball sports-information director Lindsey Morrison. Coach Ken Eriksen, unable to attend due to USA Softball commitments, wasn't informed of her appearance until the 11th hour.
But Bissette said she had been in contact with Tampa Bay Sports Commission special-events director Claire Lessinger about the surprise appearance for several weeks.
"She was like, 'Yeah, we heard your story, we followed you and we wanted to have you here,'" said Bissette, who got her first collegiate base hit only days before her diagnosis. "I was like, 'Okay!'"
In what has been deemed a "medical mystery," the pelvic cancer is gone, Bissette said. Currently, she's battling a giant-cell bone tumor and aneurysmal bone cyst that has remained confined to her lower back.
"In my case I'm very lucky because it has the ability to metastasize to your lungs," she said. "It's not cancer, but it can still grow tumors in your lungs. And mine has not spread."
In mid-August, she'll undergo an embolization, in which blood flow to the tumor is cut off. A few days later, she said the tumor will be surgically resected in a procedure that will include the insertion of pins and rods. …
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF left tackle Kofi Amichia is one of two returning starting offensive linemen for the Bulls.
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll take an in-depth look at the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season from various angles. Players, pivotal matchups, prevailing story lines -- all will be dissected. Today: top 10 offensive linemen (in alphabetical order)Full Story
LT Kofi Amichia, Sr., USF
Amichia served as the left bookend of arguably the best Bulls offensive line ever last fall. That quintet, which started all 13 games, helped USF produce a school-record 5,741 total yards and allowed a league-low 1.12 sacks per game in American Athletic Conference play. Three of those starters -- and position coach Danny Hope -- are gone, meaning Amichia must emerge as both a leader and left-side anchor in 2016.
TE Alec Bloom, Jr., Connecticut
Bloom, who pretty much had his way with USF (five catches, 97 yards) last October, doubles as a rangy blocker (6-foot-6, 257 pounds) in UConn's two-tight formations. If he can gain more consistency as a pass catcher, Bloom could really break through in '16.
C Deyshawn Bond, R-Sr., Cincinnati
Bond, literal centerpiece of Cincinnati's most experienced unit, likely will make the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List for a third consecutive year. Athlon and Sporting News already have bestowed him with first-team preseason all-conference honors.
RG J.T. Boyd, Sr., East Carolina
Boyd, who helped ECU amass 400 or more yards in nine games last season, already has 23 career starts -- and a degree. Boyd will spend the fall working on his MBA in business administration, but we have a hunch he could earn some NFL employment. The dude set a record for Pirate offensive guards with a 670-pound squat lift.
LT Dion Dawkins, Sr., Temple
This New Jersey-born behemoth (6-foot-5, 318 pounds) would've long since earned one of Temple's single-digit jerseys (awarded to the Owls' toughest players) if the NCAA didn't prohibit offensive linemen from wearing them. Dawkins anchored a unit that allowed only 1.29 sacks a game last season (21st nationally).
LT Aaron Evans, R-Jr., UCF
This former Armwood High standout was the only Knights offensive player to start all 12 games last season. Granted, UCF's offense reeked, but the pass protection was respectable in allowing 23 sacks (55th nationally). Don't be misled by Evans' choirboy countenance; he can elicit all the ruthlessness his job demands.
RT Andreas Knappe, R-Sr., Connecticut
A 25-year-old Denmark native and former member of that country's national archery team, Knappe oozes NFL upside (6-foot-8, 320 pounds). He enters the 2016 season with 20 consecutive starts at right tackle. Put Bloom next to him and, well, the Huskies may be inclined to sweep right periodically.
RG Ryan Leahy, Sr., Cincinnati
A co-winner of the 2015 AAC Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, Leahy (3.62 GPA) started all 13 games last season for a Bearcats offense that ranked sixth nationally (537.8 ypg). While UC will be young at most skill spots, the line could feature four starting upperclassmen. Leahy may be the best of that veteran bunch.
C Will Noble, So., Houston
Noble started the final eight games of his rookie season, graded out at a team-best 86 percent, and earned freshman All-America honors from three major news organizations. A 290-pound package of brute strength and brains, he amassed a 5.09 weighted GPA at Rouse High in Leander, Texas, graduating 15th in a class of 477.
RG Dominique Threatt, Sr., USF
Is there a more unheralded Bull on the roster? Threatt, who enters the season with 20 career starts, and Amichia are the lone returning starters from last season's durable quintet that paved the way to a record-setting season for the offense.
MONICA HERNDON | Times
Tampa Catholic rising junior Tai Strickland (21) has received his first scholarship offer, from USF.
Tampa Catholic rising junior PG Tai Strickland, son of USF assistant Rod Strickland, has received an offer from the Bulls.Full Story
It's Strickland's first offer, according to the Crusaders.
Raised around hoops royalty in hotbeds such as Washington, D.C., Memphis and Lexington, Ky., Strickland (5-foot-8, 150 pounds) played at Jesuit his freshman season before transferring to TC last summer. He averaged roughly eight points this past season, helping guard the Crusaders to the Class 4A state tournament.
In the regular season finale against Jesuit, he scored 19, hitting six 3-pointers.
Sean Gardner | Getty Images
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr., seen here in a game against Tulane last season, meets the Green Wave again in a potential trap game for the Cougars on Nov. 12.
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll take an in-depth look at the upcoming American Athletic Conference football season from various angles. Players, pivotal matchups, prevailing story lines -- all will be dissected. Today: 10 must-see games.Full Story
Houston vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 3 (at Houston's NRG Stadium)
We're calling it now: The Cougars topple the Sooners in an upset that USF fans might view with mixed emotions. On one side, it strengthens the overall cachet of the American Athletic Conference, which boasted a pair of top-20 teams in the final 2015 Associated Press poll. On the other, it fortifies Houston's case for candidacy in the Big 12, which does USF no favors in its own case for Big 12 admission.
Connecticut at Navy, Sept. 10
While this matchup may not leap out at most folks, it could signal a slight conference power shift. UConn, entering Year 3 of the Bob Diaco era, returns most of its starters from a unit that ranked 15th in scoring defense last season. Navy, meantime, must replace almost everyone on offense.
SMU at Baylor, Sept. 10
Granted, SMU's defense was putrid last year, but the same adjective applies to Baylor's offseason. Second-year Mustangs coach Chad Morris has some athletes on his roster. This one could be interesting.
Temple at Penn State, Sept. 17
Another non-conference showdown that could add a nice sheen to The American brand. Temple, a 27-10 winner against Penn State last season, hasn't defeated the Nittany Lions in consecutive years since 1931-32.
FSU at USF, Sept. 24
When this game arose in newsroom conversation the other day, it was mentioned as possibly the most important contest in the Bulls' brief history. Amid possible Big 12 expansion and a feasibility study for an on-campus stadium, USF is in dire need of a big-time win, if for nothing else than to ratchet up fan support. The Bulls have a real chance here if they can find an answer for 'Noles TB Dalvin Cook, who shredded them (266 rushings yards, three TDs) last season in Tallahassee.
Temple at Memphis, Oct. 6
The Owls' surprising 31-12 romp of Memphis last November helped propel them into the inaugural AAC title game. We expect similar implications in this Thursday night rematch, in which both teams will be playing for the second time in six days. Temple hosts SMU the prior Saturday; Memphis plays at revenge-minded Ole Miss.
USF at Temple, Oct. 21
Quite possibly the AAC East championship game when all is said and done. Could be a bit chilly in Philly, where the Owls will seek atonement for last season's embarrassing 44-23 defeat in Tampa.
UCF at Connecticut, Oct. 22
What would this list be without mention of the storied "Civil ConFLiCT"? There, we mentioned it.
Tulane at Houston, Nov. 12
The quintessential trap game. Only five days before hosting Louisville in a Thursday night matchup, the Coogs get Tulane, which likely will employ an option-style offense that Houston will see twice a year, tops.
Army vs. Navy, Dec. 10 (at Baltimore)
Do we even have to explain this one?