TAMPA — When the NCAA men's hockey Frozen Four was staged locally for the first time two Aprils ago, every local amenity — from yachts to warmth to MacDill Air Force Base — was exhausted to impress skaters and spectators alike.
That first impression led to a second date.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced Tampa has been awarded the 2016 Frozen Four, again to be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The announcement comes 20 months after 18,818 filled the same arena to watch Boston College top Ferris State, 4-1, in the 2012 final....
Officially, it's not listed on the press release revealing the inaugural all-American Athletic Conference team, but it's there. And it's glaring.
Sift carefully through the first and second teams, and you get warmer. Then line by line, scroll down the individual honors -- offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, specialists of the year -- and voila, it jumps out at you.
The snub of the year, given to USF place-kicker Marvin Kloss.
The Groza Award finalist, whose 11 field goals of 40-plus yards led the nation, did not make the all-conference team as chosen by its 10 coaches. They opted for Memphis freshman Jake Elliott (first team) and UCF junior Shawn Moffitt (second)
Those two combined for 11 conversions of 40 or more yards.
Yet the Bulls weren't totally dissed by the coaches, who chose five USF players for the 54-member team released Thursday. The entire team can be found here.
Third-year sophomore DE Aaron Lynch, whose six sacks led the Bulls, was their only first-team pick. The 17th first-team all-conference pick in program history (encompassing three conferences), he's USF's first defensive player to earn first-team recognition since Terrell McClain in 2010.
TE Mike McFarland (23 catches, 288 yards) and senior TB Marcus Shaw (765 rushing yards, three TDs) were second-team offensive picks.
Leading tackler DeDe Lattimore (98 tackles) and senior DT Luke Sager (25 tackles, one fumble recovery) made the second-team defense.
UCF coach George O'Leary, who guided the Knights to an 11-1 record, outright conference title and Fiesta Bowl berth, was a unanimous coach-of-the-year choice.
Knights QB Blake Bortles (3,280 passing yards, four fourth-quarter comebacks) and Louisville DE Marcus Smith (12.5 sacks) were chosen the offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively.
Memphis punter Tom Hornsey (45.2 yards per attempt) and Houston returner Demarcus Ayers (1,000 all-purpose yards) were named special teams players of the year. Houston freshman QB John O'Korn (2,889 passing yards, 26 TDs) was named rookie of the year....
His raspy 42-year-old voice is soft, almost at a whisper frequency on this afternoon.
Presumably, Jose Fernandez is saving it for the film session or ensuing practice, where he'll undoubtedly reach high octaves exhorting his players to attack the basket and show some pride on defense.
To date, they've done neither with great consistency. As a result, the USF women are off to a more modest start (5-3) than anyone expected.
"I really like our team, I think we're really talented, I think we're deep in a lot of spots," said Fernandez, whose club -- hyped as perhaps the best in school history -- was picked to finish third in its conference in the preseason.
"It's just not (translating) into how we'd like to be playing right now. But that's our job to get these guys better and to continue to improve. I think this team has the ability to do that."
More than a month into the season, the Bulls are shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and an abysmal 24.7 percent (40-for-162) from 3-point range.
Part of that may be attributed to the lingering knee injury of senior sharpshooter Inga Orekhova (8-for-33 from long range), who has since undergone surgery that will sideline her until January. But Fernandez also points to his club's hasty shot selection.
"We've seen zone (defense) all year," he said. "Until we start doing a much better job of attacking things better and not settling for jumpers and knocking open shots down, that's going to continue to happen."
But what seems to irritate Fernandez even more is the collective effort on the other end, where the graduations of elite defenders Andrell Smith and Tiffany Conner have been glaring.
While Fernandez replenished his lineup in the offseason (eight-player signing class), the group clearly hasn't meshed defensively.
"That's just the main primary thing that, being honest, we have to work on," said sophomore F Alisia Jenkins, averaging a double-double (10.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg). "And we've been working on it."
In last week's 60-55 loss at Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles finished 8-for-19 from long range and hit 13 of 24 field goals in the second half. Ten days before against a short-handed Clemson team, the Tigers milked the clock while the Bulls missed 42 shots.
Clemson, by contrast, finished 27-for-49 from the floor and won 68-63.
"We've got a lot of guys that are playing minutes that have to do a much better job of containing the dribble and taking possessions personal," Fernandez said. "That's what we're struggling with right now."
Alas, a turning point could be three days and one time zone away. The Bulls will have benefited from a five-day layoff when they play at 14th-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday. Fernandez still believes in his team's abilities, but has seen its vulnerabilities.
"I like this team, I like their attitude, I like their work ethic, but we're not even close to putting it together yet," Fernandez said.
"We can beat anybody in the country but also lose to anybody in the country, the way we're shooting the ball and the way that we're not defending."...
On tape, Stan Heath saw a dynamo, a ball-handling blur who levitated to the basket as if drawn by magnetic force. Corey Allen dashed, darted, defended, even rebounded.
Yet for all the sleekness playing out before his eyes, the USF coach kept going back to one profound spin move — of the roulette wheel. Allen, this skinny force of nature from a California junior college, would be a calculated gamble....
If USF's final performance of 2013 evoked no hope, at least the final parting shot did.
"USF will be back on top, I can guarantee that," senior LB DeDe Lattimore said.
Granted, Lattimore didn't say when. And if the Bulls' 2013 finale is any sign, it could be a matter of decades instead of autumns. Yet the final numbers on the worst season in USF football history aren't all grisly and grim.
Some, in fact, are likely to inspire more hope than nausea. The most promising ones can be found on the depth chart for that 31-6 drubbing at Rutgers.
Sixteen of the 22 starters were underclassmen. Go two-deep, and the figure elicits more encouragement: 32 of the top 44 players have eligibility remaining.
That doesn't include the kicker, punter, long snapper, holder and primary returners -- none of whom were seniors.
Now, for the opposite perspective: USF returns a ton of people from a lousy offensive team. This is where those who lack the stomach for gore might wish to turn away.
The Bulls (2-10) finished the season 121st out of 123 Division I teams in total offense (256.4 yards per game). Their 11 offensive TDs were two fewer than anyone else at their level. Their scoring offense (13.8 ppg) ranked 120th.
And while they finished 22nd nationally in total defense (350.8 yards per game), the strides made by that unit were offset by the team's 102 penalties, second-most in Division I behind only Baylor (103).
So where do the Bulls go from here? Directly to the weightroom. As for the coaches, they'll hit every recruiting trail to which a GPS can lead them. Taggart was recruiting hours after the Bulls' charter flight hit Tampa pavement Sunday.
His top priorities: power and girth, neither of which the Bulls possess in sufficient amounts to operate the power-run style of play Taggart employs. Of his 20 verbal commitments for 2014, three are projected offensive guards. He could use some more.
"We're a weak football team, we're a small football team," Taggart said immediately after the Rutgers debacle. "Especially up front on the offensive line, we've got to get bigger
and stronger. That is high on the priority list."
Other needs: playmakers out wide; a signature from committed Miami Jackson dual-threat QB
Quinton Flowers; a sturdy downhill runner and replenishments on the defensive line.
If third-year sophomore Aaron Lynch (team-best six sacks) enters the NFL Draft, USF will lose five of its top eight defensive linemen. It also loses its heart and soul (Lattimore) and three senior cornerbacks.
But clearly, the Bulls appear better equipped to move forward defensively than offensively. Nonetheless, Taggart's not changing his run-first philosophy. No way.
"We're not changing," he said. "Our guys have had too much change around here. We need some
consistency. ... The way we play is the way we play."
So Taggart's staff will recruit, evaluate, self-examine, recruit, condition and strengthen, and recruit. In the process, maybe they'll find the power and playmakers needed to help Taggart's bus run far more efficiently.
"The team don't need nobody but Coach T," Lattimore said. "Coach T, he knows what he's doing."...
In the wake of consecutive double-doubles against George Mason and Alabama, 6-foot-8 USF forward Chris Perry has been named American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week.
Perry totaled 14 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday's 66-64 victory against the Crimson Tide, including a layup with 2:31 to go that stretched the Bulls' lead to 60-52. It marked the first time a Bull had notched back-to-back double-doubles since Victor Rudd did it in early January....
Deprived of one of his conference tie-ins, Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl executive director Brett Dulaney spent much of the weekend trying to nail down a Plan B.
The B turned out to stand for Bobcats.
Mid-American Conference staple Ohio University (7-5) was chosen Sunday as the at-large opponent for Conference USA's East Carolina (9-3) in the sixth edition of the contest, two weeks from today at Tropicana Field....
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — They have been neither snake-bitten nor — in Saturday's case — frostbitten. USF can't pin the worst record in program history on poor calls or poor climates.
The Bulls simply are a team in transition, struggling to find the personnel and personal discipline to evolve into the program they wish to be.
On a raw central New Jersey night, in a place where USF wretchedness has gone to roost, the struggles were made vivid....
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Several USF players arrived at High Point Solutions Stadium bent on laying bare their indifference to the temperatures, which had dipped to 33 degrees by the time of Saturday's kickoff against Rutgers.
WR Ruben Gonzalez, a Robinson High alumnus, warmed up briefly in long black shorts and no shirt. A handful of other shirtless Bulls followed, including LB DeDe Lattimore and RB Michael Pierre....
USF women vs. Stetson
When/where: 1; Sun Dome, Tampa
Records: Stetson 5-3, USF 4-3
Notable: The Bulls, on a two-game skid, will struggle with nearly everyone on their schedule unless they can break out of their season-long shooting funk. In defeats to Clemson and Florida Gulf Coast, they shot 32.8 percent (42-for-128) and converted only 7 of 35 3-pointers (20 percent). … Not helping matters is that 6-foot-2 senior G Inga Orekhova (knee surgery) is out until at least mid January. … Stetson has five players with double-figure scoring averages and six averaging at least 4.4 rebounds....
USF vs. Alabama
When/where: 9; Sun Dome
TV/radio: ESPNU; 1010-AM
Records: USF 5-2; Alabama 4-3
Notable: The Bulls will try to build on the momentum created by one of the biggest wins under coach Stan Heath. Trailing by 17 with a little more than 12 minutes to go Wednesday at George Mason, USF rallied to win 68-66 on Corey Allen's fadeaway with two seconds to play. "What I saw is our team really come together," Heath said. "I thought the 12 minutes down the stretch we looked like a cohesive basketball team." Alabama, which has lost to Oklahoma and Duke, likely will attack USF with fullcourt pressure and a "hybrid" zone that Heath said is active. Four Tide players average at least nine points per game, led by senior G Trevor Releford (16.3 ppg). Bulls G Anthony Collins (7.4 ppg, 5.0 assists) is averaging 29.4 minutes despite a surgically mended knee Heath said remains only about "60 percent."...
USF at Rutgers, 7:30, ESPN2, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
The Bulls (2-9, 2-5 American Athletic Conference), who haven't kicked off in temperatures below 59 degrees all season, will face the cold. Snow, and temperatures dipping to about 30, is forecast for Piscataway, N.J., where USF hasn't won since 2005. While coach Willie Taggart has defiantly downplayed the weather, QB Mike White has been practicing with a glove on his throwing hand. Emotion could factor as heavily into the outcome as elements. Rutgers (5-6, 2-5), which will recognize its seniors before kickoff, needs a victory to lock up a bowl berth. The Scarlet Knights, who depart the American for the Big Ten after this season, prefer a power run game like USF with max protection in the passing attack. But they will use some zone-read looks. USF's run game, which has reached 100 yards only once in the past five contests, faces the nation's seventh-ranked run defense (102.3 yards a game)....
TAMPA — The YouTube collages capture No. 7 in all his raw brilliance. At that time, a few years backward and a couple of zip codes westward, Andre Davis mostly outclassed his coverages.
With his slinky 6-foot-1 frame, soft hands and clairvoyant alliance with quarterback Quentin Williams, the Jefferson High wideout regularly created separation from his defenders.
A nickname, "Freakshow", was conceived. Eventually, so was a state title. Davis signed with USF and made a beeline for the Big East, where the coverages were more complex, the defenders more athletic. His first two college seasons, his numbers (68 catches, 807 yards, eight TDs) were solid if not striking. His film-study habits were casual....
TAMPA -- Thanks in part to a unique motivational ploy from its coordinator, USF's defense has spent the final stretch of the season playing out of its mind instead of playing out the string.
With tensions mounting and bowl hopes dwindling in early November, veteran coordinator Chuck Bresnahan challenged his group to finish the last four games among the nation's top 10 in total defense.
"We reached a point where there was some frustration building in, and when you let that roll downhill like a cancer -- I hate to use that word -- it can really, really tear a team apart and a unit apart," Bresnahan said. "So we tried to give them something to focus on."
Since then, the Bulls have allowed an average of 265.7 yards in three games, which would rank third nationally -- behind only Michigan State and Louisville -- if it held up over the course of the season.
"We've always had something to play for," senior DT Luke Sager said, "but then having this as one of our goals definitely helped us come out to practice and come to the games and play harder."
In USF's last four contests, opposings offenses have been held to at least 99 yards below their season average. The last two foes -- SMU and UCF -- scored 16 and 12.8 points fewer than their season average coming in, respectively.
"It's really a seniors' challenge and everybody's bought into it, wants to send 'em out the right way," Bresnahan said. "And the best way to do it is to worry about something you can control."
ROOKIES DRAW RAVES: Bresnahan lauded the play of the shorthanded secondary, which featured four freshmen, in Friday's 23-20 loss at UCF. Two senior starters -- Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins -- were suspended before kickoff and have since been dismissed.
UCF junior QB Blake Bortles threw two picks -- tying his season high -- and had his fourth-lowest passing yardage total (219) of the season. Nearly one-fourth of the total came on his 52-yard TD strike to Breshad Perriman late in the fourth quarter.
"It's a collective effort," Bresnahan said. "And I think they'd be the first one to tell you that it's everybody else working around them and doing their job and not trying to do too much that allows them to go back and just relax and play."
AUDIBLE: "I'm just gonna speak from the heart and let it flow." -- senior DE Ryne Giddins, on what he'll say if the seniors are allowed to give a final address to the team
Perched atop Janarion Grant's dresser in the two-bedroom dorm he shares with three others at Rutgers is a framed poem given to him by his Pasco High coach.
For 15 years, Tom McHugh has presented the same keepsake — he doesn't divulge the verse's message — to those Pirate seniors who leave more of an imprint than impression.
"Sometimes you have a senior that you know and he's part of the team," McHugh said. "Then there's a kid you have a certain bond with. It's a poem-type thing."...