Even with their season opener looming, Bulls coaches have spent recent days continuing to dissect tape of high school talent.
Thing is, the prep quarterback they've been studying lately is someone they hope to sack, not sign.
No college tape exists of new Towson QB Morgan Mahalak, an Oregon transfer who never took a snap for the Ducks, so the Bulls have resorted to watching footage of Mahalak during his dual-threat days at Marin Catholic High in Kentfield, Calif....
Three games to watch
Vs. FSU, Sept. 24: If both teams enter undefeated, this could be the biggest contest in USF history. If both enter undefeated and the Big 12 still hasn't made a decision regarding expansion, it undoubtedly will be hyped as the biggest contest in USF history.
At Cincinnati, Oct. 1: One way or the other, the FSU game will exact an emotional toll on the Bulls, who immediately must re-focus for this pivotal East Division matchup in the American. USF hung 51 first-half points on the Bearcats in last year's 65-27 embarrassment, before a Friday night national TV audience. We're guessing that defeat remains lodged in Cincy's collective craw....
For the better part of four years, USF coach Willie Taggart has been reminded that Bulls fans will return to Raymond James Stadium once the team starts winning.
Based on season-ticket sales, that hypothesis is proving true.
The school reported Tuesday 15,842 season tickets have been sold for the 2016 season, in which USF is expected to contend for the American Athletic Conference title. The total is an increase of 3,028 from last season, and represents a 33-percent increase in general-public season ticket sales from '15.
The numbers don't include student tickets distributed. USF students receive tickets as part of their annual fees.
"I tell all of you now, I cannot wait until Saturday night to see what RayJay's gonna look like," Taggart, whose team hosts Towson in Saturday's season opener, said during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
"I can't wait, I'm excited. Ready to see our fan base come out and really show up and show out and show their appreciation for what our guys are doing."
The school also reported an increase in "flex plan" ticket sales of more than 1,600 from last season. That plan allows the purchase of tickets to three of this season's seven home games.
USF's announced average attendance (tickets distributed) was 26,578 last season, but its actual average (turnstile count) was 17,801 according to the Tampa Sports Authority.
But with the program on the uptick -- its 8-5 record in '15 was its first winning season in a half-decade -- and a home date with FSU on Sept. 24, those numbers are almost certain to catapult.
"Everybody talks about Florida State. No, Towson," Taggart said Tuesday. "We're gonna pack RayJay (for) Towson. Mark my words, I believe in the Bulls fans. They're gonna be there."...
Three games to watch
vs. FSU, Oct. 8: Thanks to a benevolent September slate, the 'Canes should be 4-0 when their biggest rival hits town. With due respect to FAU and Appalachian State, this showdown will accurately gauge UM's progress — and deficiencies — at the dawn of the Mark Richt era.
vs. North Carolina, Oct. 15: Quite possibly the de facto Coastal Division title game. We'd say the Heels hung 59 points on Miami — and interim coach Larry Scott — last November, but in reality the 'Canes partially hung themselves. They committed 12 penalties for 103 yards and had three turnovers....
Five days before they emerge from the southwest tunnel of Raymond James Stadium, the Bulls already have pulled off some nifty misdirection.
Courtesy of their game-week depth chart.
Presumed starting RT Billy Atterbury now a backup left tackle? Onetime projected starting striker Nate Godwin possibly a third-teamer? Four-star freshman WR Darnell Salomon nowhere to be found on the two-deep roster? D'Ernest Johnson -- not Tajee Fullwood -- the starting punt returner?
Presumably, Coach Willie Taggart will fill us in on the reasoning behind some of these personnel decisions at his normal weekly press conference Tuesday. Until then, we'll do our best to make head or tail of them here.
* The unexpected move of Atterbury, who exited spring practice as the starting right tackle and seemed to have the job locked up as recently as a couple of weeks ago, might be a promotion in the long run. Arguably no position up front is more critical than left tackle, and starter Kofi Amichia is a senior. If Atterbury develops and gets a few quality game reps in 2016, he shapes up as the starting left tackle the next three seasons.
* Godwin said Saturday the hamstring that previously had nagged him is fine now, but clearly it hindered him in the spring and -- presumably -- part of the summer. As a result, sophomore Khalid McGee maximized his opportunity, plain and simple. That said, the striker depth chart clearly lists McGee "OR" Sickles High alumnus Nate Ferguson "OR" Godwin, in that order. Translation: The starter hasn't formally been determined yet.
* Fifth-year senior Alex Mut, who might rank among the team leaders in resilience, currently is listed as Marquez Valdes-Scantling's backup at the X-receiver spot. Either Mut leapfrogged some pretty talented dudes with his preseason effort, or coaches are rewarding him for persevering through injuries and general anonymity the past four years. Regardless, Mut's next collegiate reception will be his first. We just can't see him holding off the likes of Salomon and rangy redshirt sophomore Stanley Clerveaux all season.
* We can see Tajee Fullwood being edged by Devin Abraham for the starting free safety job, and there's no doubt both will play -- a lot. But Fullwood not returning punts initially? The Tampa Bay Tech alumnus ranked 26th nationally last season with 10.4 yards per return. Is it outrageous to suggest he simply might have been beaten out for the job? Of course not. Last we checked, new first-teamer D'Ernest Johnson has the ability to make a play or two.
* Anyone notice three of last year's Division I transfers -- FS Austin Hudson, MLB Cecil Cherry and QB Asiantii Woulard -- aren't on the two-deep roster? That's a testament to USF's vastly improved depth, plain and simple. (but of those three, we predict Cherry will get on the field first).
* The depth chart doesn't specify nose or three-technique, but Bruce Hector and Deadrin Senat are the starting defensive tackles, and Kevin Bronson is Hector's backup. We're presuming Senat's the nose, making Hector and Bronson arguably the best three-technique tandem in the American Athletic Conference.
If the latest USF football depth chart holds true, eight players from bay area high schools -- five on defense -- will start Saturday night's season opener against Towson.
The Bulls released their updated chart Monday afternoon. Of the starting 22, only four are seniors, with only 10 seniors among the top 44 on the two-deep chart. Moreover, only one of the major specialists -- veteran LS Alex Salvato -- is in his final season....
A look at FCS foe Towson, which faces USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium
2015 record: 7-4 (5-3 Colonial Athletic Association)
Coach: Rob Ambrose (eighth season at Towson, 43-41; ninth season overall, 46-48)
The breakdown: While the Bulls have film of Towson, they've seen nary a clip of the Tigers' power-based offense with Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak taking the snaps. A four-star recruit from California's Marin Catholic, Mahalak totaled more than 3,300 yards as a senior and was chosen for the Under Armour All-American Game. His arrival could alter the whole dynamic of the Tigers' scheme, which in the past has featured resident wrecking ball Darius Victor (5-foot-8, 217 pounds), seeking his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Victor and Mahalak will operate behind a line featuring no fewer than four returning starters. On the other side, the Tigers -- expected to operate a 3-4 alignment -- return four of their top six tacklers from last season's team, which ranked 20th in the FCS in both total defense (318.5 ypg) and run defense (125.9 ypg). Among them is fifth-year senior OLB Jordan Mynatt, who led Towson with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2015.
Odds and ends: Towson also opened the '15 season against an American Athletic Conference team, falling 28-20 at East Carolina. In that game, Victor ran for 137 yards and the Tigers controlled the clock for 33:36. ... Only three seasons ago, Towson reached the FCS title game, losing to -- who else -- North Dakota State. ... DL Max Tejada, a Jacksonville Bolles alumnus, is the only one Tigers player from Florida. ... During a recent camp competition, 283-pound DE Zain Harps Upshur flipped a tire 14 times in 30 seconds.
Willie Taggart's take: "They're a blue-collar football team. They run the power. ... They line up with two backs and get downhill, have a real good running back. They find a lot of different ways to run the power play. Earlier in my career, we found a lot of different ways to run it as well, and they do a good job with it."...
Bulls fourth-year junior Cameron Ruff, a Jesuit High alumnus, will start at center in Saturday night's season opener against Towson.
Coach Willie Taggart made the announcement during Monday's American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference. The starting left guard exiting spring drills, Ruff switched back to center -- where he played sparingly in 2014 -- before preseason camp and competed with redshirt freshman Michael Galati.
Saturday's contest will be Ruff's second career start. Look for USF's starting offensive front to feature TE Kano Dillon, RT Billy Atterbury, RG Dominique Threatt, Ruff at center, LG Jeremi Hall and LT Kofi Amichia.
Taggart said the only other lingering position battle, at punter, remains undecided. Walk-on Brent Gordon, who punted in last year's Miami Beach Bowl after all-conference starter Mattias Ciabatti was suspended, is competing against FSU transfer Jonathan Hernandez....
As the Big 12 weighs as many as 20 expansion candidates, programs sound like college recruiters, pitching their academics, brand names, attendance and potential.
Perhaps USF and UCF should skip all of that and take a more direct approach as they try to persuade the power brokers in Texas and Oklahoma. Their best shot might be to focus on recruiting.
"The Big 12 doesn't need an influx of money," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. "What they really need is to open up a new recruiting territory."...
The critical third year of the Orlando Antigua era at USF likely will ensue without the Bulls' top two freshman signees.
A day after news broke that four-star PF Troy Baxter Jr. will not be joining the team, the Tampa Bay Times learned PG Andres Feliz -- a member of the Dominican Republic national team -- currently isn't with the program.
Feliz, who played his last two prep seasons at Orlando's West Oaks Academy, was not with the Bulls for Saturday's Fan Fest -- which featured every USF sports team except volleyball (currently on the road) -- at the Sun Dome.
School officials had no comment on his absence Saturday. It's unclear if Feliz's absence is related to recent reports the men's basketball program is the subject of an academic-related NCAA probe.
The absence of Baxter and Feliz leaves Brewster (N.H.) Academy Prep F Malik Fitts and PG Michael Bibby -- son of former NBA journeyman Mike Bibby -- as the only 2016 freshman signees still with the team. Both attended Fan Fest.
Teeming with international experience, Feliz, 19, averaged 18.9 points and 3.7 assists for the Dominican Republic at the FIBA World Championships two summers ago. In April, he was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland as starting point guard for the World Team....
Former Bulls QB Mike White, who transferred to Western Kentucky last year after two seasons at USF, has been named the Hilltoppers starter, the school confirmed Friday.
White, who informed Bulls coach Willie Taggart he was leaving USF the day after the 2015 spring game, edged senior Tyler Ferguson and sophomore Drew Eckels for the job. WKU opens its season Thursday at home against Rice.
"Mike has done a nice job preparing himself for this moment and operates our offense well," WKU Coach Jeff Brohm said....
Nationally touted PF Troy Baxter Jr., one of USF's most heralded signees in recent memory, has not enrolled in school and isn't expected to join the program, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.
Classes resumed at USF on Monday. Scout.com's Evan Daniels reported via Twitter on Friday afternoon that Baxter has been released from his letter of intent.
A four-star recruit, Baxter's absence essentially coincides with reports in July indicating the Bulls men's basketball program was being investigated by the NCAA for possible academic fraud. Assistant Oliver Antigua resigned the same day the reports surfaced.
Whether the probe is related to Baxter's absence is unclear.
Ranked 90th in the ESPN 100 as a senior last season at Oldsmar Christian, Baxter averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the Eagles; and watched his stock catapult with a breakthrough summer with his travel squad -- Team Breakdown -- last year.
During the Final Four weekend in April, he won the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk Contest, astounding no less an authority than celebrity judge Shaquille O'Neal. Sleek and sinewy at 6-foot-9, he was expected to lend an immediate impact as a stretch-four player for the Bulls....
TAMPA — Only three summers have passed since Willie Taggart gazed toward his left and right flanks — and slots, for that matter — and saw a wasteland.
In his play-action, power-driven scheme, nothing flourished in those nether regions. Only four times in 12 games did a quarterback throw a touchdown to a wide receiver, proving mirages can surface at South Florida as erratically as they can in the Sahara. ...
Coach Willie Taggart indicated Thursday the right foot fracture suffered earlier this week by No. 3 QB Asiantii Woulard isn't season-threatening.
But if it is, he has no problem using freshman Chris Oladokun -- a Sickles High alumnus -- in a pinch.
Woulard, the UCLA transfer beaten out by redshirt freshman Brett Kean for the backup job in preseason camp, wore a protective boot on his right foot during Thursday morning's practice. Afterward, Taggart said Woulard will "be back soon."
"But I like Chris," Taggart added....
TAMPA — He neither shanked his response with diplomacy nor muffed it with double talk.
When Jay Feely was asked Tuesday about the prudence of drafting a kicker early, the former NFL journeyman, who kicked for seven teams over parts of 14 seasons, opted for a straight-ahead style.
"I would never draft a kicker in the first three rounds," the Jesuit High alumnus, who was not drafted coming out of Michigan, said on the Arizona-based Burns & Gambo sports radio show....