TAMPA — For all the self-infliction and squandered possessions, the Bulls' football season hasn't been a total wash. USF's mascot and "Money" kicker remain in the hunt for national honors.
Rocky the Bull is among eight finalists in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, with the winner unveiled at the bowl game of the same sponsor. PK Marvin Kloss is among three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top kicker.
One honor is fan-driven, the other foot-driven. Rocky's fate is at the mercy of the zeal and social media savvy of Bulls partisans, who vote and lobby online. The Groza winner will be determined by a panel of coaches, reporters and previous winners, among others.
If any have been paying attention, Kloss would seem to have a solid case. As coach Willie Taggart indicated Tuesday, the statistical data "speaks for itself."
In his first season as the everyday placekicker, the 6 foot, 198-pound redshirt junior from Naples, who also started at strong safety at Barron Collier High, has been the nation's best from beyond 40 yards.
Kloss' 11-week school-record streak of 13 made field goals included nine of 40-plus yards and four of 50 or more. After missing his first attempt in the season opener, he was flawless until his 49-yarder Nov. 16 against Memphis sailed wide left.
The other finalists — FSU's Roberto Aguayo and Texas' Anthony Fera — have nine of 40-plus yards between them. Each has only one of 50 or more, and neither of those determined the outcome of a game.
By contrast, the Bulls (2-8) are winless without Kloss, who also has 14 touchbacks on 35 kickoffs. In USF's 26-20 victory against Cincinnati, he nailed all four of his field goals — including 52- and 40-yarders — on a night in which the offense didn't score.
The next Saturday at Connecticut, his 44-yarder into a brisk wind with 4:03 to go clinched a 13-10 triumph. Earlier, he had tied the score with a 47-yarder.
"I am thankful for him," Taggart said. "I think every time he goes out, our entire team is very confident that he's going to make it."
Yet the award isn't a lock. Aguayo will garner favor for volume (80-for-80 PATs) and Fera — also a punter — for versatility (41.7 yards per punt). Each also has only one missed field goal, though most of their attempts have been inside 40 yards.
If voters have short memories, well, Kloss has missed three of his past four field-goal tries. But if long-range proficiency in the clutch and sheer value to a team are any criteria, the kid Taggart has nicknamed "Money" should cash in on awards night.
ROOKIES DRAW RAVES: In their first four games, Bulls basketball freshman behemoths John Egbunu and Chris Perry had shown more than a few flashes of their seemingly vast potential. But Monday against No. 5 Oklahoma State, the hype surrounding the two earned its best validation yet.
From no less an authority than Cowboys coach Travis Ford, who watched the pair total 25 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in USF's 93-67 loss.
"Both of them are very talented, big, skilled, understand how to play. We saw all this on film and have been very impressed," Ford said.
"I thought a couple of times we did not do a good job of physically battling those guys. … I'm very impressed with them. … They didn't quit playing, either."
Bulls coach Stan Heath, who watched his offense periodically stall in the backcourt Monday, indicated the two — combining to average 17.4 points and 12 rebounds in five games — should become more of a focal point.
"We definitely have to utilize those guys more," he said. "We're a work in progress. We don't know game to game where those freshman are gonna be, but seeing what they were able to do tonight, we've got to build on that."
BULL BITS: Befitting a Black Friday football game, UCF is urging its fans to wear black for the USF contest, billing it as "Blackout at Bright House" night. … In its two defeats, USF's women's basketball team has shot a combined 32.4 percent (46-for-142). In its four wins, it has shot 43.9 (125-for-285). … Average actual attendance for the football team's seven home games this year (per the Tampa Sports Authority) was 20,378. … Look for baseball coach Lelo Prado to release his 2014 roster within the next couple of weeks.