TAMPA — A strong showing by Syracuse fans certainly helped USF to its first home sellout in 11 years on Sunday, but the Sun Dome crowd of 10,024 reinforced a strong increase in home attendance during nonconference play in the Bulls' first season in the renovated arena.
USF's nonconference announced average of 3,525 was up 50 percent from last year's 2,350, when the Bulls played their early games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Bob Martinez Center and the Lakeland Center. Even compared to two years ago, in the last season played in the Sun Dome, this year's nonconference attendance was up 19 percent, boding well for strong crowds in Big East play.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim raved Sunday about the Sun Dome's $35 million makeover, contrasting it with his team's woeful shooting even in a 55-44 victory against the Bulls.
"They've done an unbelievable job with this arena," Boeheim said. "It's a beautiful arena, as good as any of the places in the league. Pretty arena, pretty ugly offense."
It may not be good news for Stan Heath's won-loss record, but the Big East schedule is stacked with opponents that should help pack the arena. By current RPI rankings, six of the conference's top seven teams come to Tampa, with Louisville, Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame still ahead.
NEAR MISS: Willie Taggart comes to USF with a reputation as a strong football recruiter, and his coaching staff nearly had two assistants to help that cause. The Bulls were left at the altar by Plant coach Robert Weiner, who announced Tuesday he would stay at Plant after one day working as Taggart's receivers coach; Weiner would have helped recruiting in USF's back yard.
And Taggart targeted a former colleague in Stanford linebackers coach Lance Anderson, named in February by Scout.com as the nation's top recruiter. But Anderson, a potential defensive coordinator for the Bulls, told USF on Monday that he was staying at Stanford, not wanting to uproot his family.
Taggart has a key four weeks ahead before national signing day, both in locking down existing commitments and in making the most out of his available scholarships. Fans should quickly have a sense of how well he can recruit.
THIS AND THAT: Two former USF football standouts signed with NFL teams this week, LB Kion Wilson with the Steelers and WR Carlton Mitchell (Gaither) with the Cowboys. … USF women's tennis opens its season Saturday at home against Syracuse, and the Bulls are ranked No. 43 in the opening ITA rankings. Senior Katie Vasenina is ranked 35th in singles. … USF's three midyear additions in football were a pair of junior college players from Butler (Kan.) Community College, LB Rahmon Swain and CB Torrel Saffold, and K Emilio Nadelman of Miami Central, who should compete for place-kicking duties with former walk-on Marvin Kloss, who handled kickoffs last season.