TAMPA — Undeterred by the 69-minute weather delay or recent history of their program, USF's students made a far stronger initial impression than their team Saturday night.
The Bulls' student section, consisting of the north end zone of Raymond James Stadium, appeared at near capacity at kickoff.
"I am thrilled," first-year athletic director Mark Harlan said. "Excited and very thankful."
The turnout comes in the wake of a series of new initiatives — including free bus service to and from home games for on-campus students — to endear the football program to its nearest fan base.
Students also were provided a reduced-price parking area, as well as free food during an on-campus pep rally Friday.
Harlan acknowledges no enticement matches winning.
"The student is so similar in that way to anybody else that's giving time or treasure to a product," he said.
"They do enjoy winners, and I have great respect for that. But I want to make sure, and I've said publicly, that when we win, we have all the mechanisms in place to make them feel extremely excited about being there. And in that interim until we prove it, we want to have all these elements in place."
ROOKIE SIGHTINGS: Among the Bulls newcomers who formally made their debuts were junior college transfer Jamie Byrd, a former Pasco High standout who had an interception near the WCU sideline on the Catamounts' second possession.
Elsewhere, freshman RB Marlon Mack took the season's first handoffs, collecting 19 yards on six carries through one quarter. He scored a 62-yard second-quarter touchdown. Toledo transfer (and former Lakewood standout) Rodney Adams got his initial touch on a first-quarter end-around play (for 9 yards), while TE Marlon Pope also appeared in blocking situations.
COMEBACK TURNS TO CAMEO: LG Thor Jozwiak, sidelined all of last season following surgery to correct atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), started at left guard.
Making his first appearance in a game since Dec. 1, 2012, Jozwiak exited late in the first quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. Early in the second, RG Quinterrius Eatmon also hobbled off.
return of kloss: The most encouraging sign of the first half, other than freshman TB Marlon Mack's breakout, was the familiar steady foot of 2013 Groza Award finalist Marvin Kloss. The senior converted field goals of 47 and 33 yards in the opening half, and added a 26-yarder that makes him 21-for-26 since start of last season.
ODDS AND ENDS: In a new pregame twist, the Bulls offensive starters introduced themselves in pre-recorded video snippets on the Jumbotron. Mike White's intro — the last — elicited the heartiest roar. … The Bulls' first pre-snap penalty of 2014 — an illegal snap — arrived with 11:20 to go in the first quarter. USF led the American Athletic Conference in penalty yards per game (71.8) last season.