Apparently, not all of the college football stratosphere has grown enamored with East Carolina senior QB Shane "Cap'n" Carden, who brings the nation's seventh-ranked offense (581.5 ypg) to Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 11.
Count Bulls DL Eric Lee among those yet to be bowled over. When asked Wednesday about Carden, who has more career 400-yard passing games (five) than USF's entire program (one), Lee said: "Nothing special."
"He's like any other quarterback. He's short, that's...the only assessment. Of course you can't underestimate or overestimate though. You've just gotta go out and come out here and practice for whoever is in front of you."
Naturally, Coach Willie Taggart begged to differ. Incidentally, Carden, who already has thrown for 1,469 yards and 11 TDs in only four games for the 22nd-ranked Pirates, is listed at 6-foot-2.
"I don't think (Lee) was looking at the same East Carolina film," he said.
"Really talented football team. The quarterback's a stud. You watch the kids play and they play with a lot of confidence, they play fast. ... They've all been playing together for a while now, and you can see it in the way they react to negative things that happen in the game. They don't get flustered or anything, they respond, and they respond fast."
MACK RECOGNIZED: Bulls freshman TB Marlon Mack, still 15th nationally with 536 rushing yards, has been named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Freshman Performer of the Year Watch List.
Mack is one of only two players from the American Athletic Conference -- Tulane RB Sherman Badie is the other -- on the 30-player list. Though his performance has tailed off considerably since his surreal debut (school single-game record 275 rushing yards) against Western Carolina, he still ranks 26th nationally in rushing yards per game (107.2).
ODDS AND ENDS: With a bye this weekend and no major injuries reported following the Wisconsin game, the Bulls should be at or near full strength when they host East Carolina for homecoming. ... WR Andre Davis (sternum) wore a white full-contact jersey Wednesday and still appears on track to return for ECU. "Andre's got to continue to get in football condition," Taggart said.
AUDIBLE: "Who you talkin' about, the backup?" -- Taggart's initial reaction when told of Lee's comments about ECU's quarterback
On more than one night during the worst winter of his life, Anthony Collins would sit in front of the TV in his off-campus apartment, living vicariously through the college or NBA guards slashing and spotting up on the screen.
Sometimes, he'd break down in tears, not so much from the throbbing knee but the aching psyche. Only two years after his burst and ball distribution had propelled the Bulls into unprecedented NCAA Tournament realms, the point guard couldn't walk the ball upcourt without wincing....
Chris Moore's career night almost never materialized.
In the days leading to the Cincinnati junior's record-setting receiving performance Saturday at Ohio State, Moore was limited by an undisclosed muscle ailment that limited him to a day and a half of practice last week.
The soreness didn't deter him in single coverage. Moore, who teamed with USF's Andre Davis to help lead Jefferson to a state title in 2010, had three catches for three long TDs -- 60, 83 and 78 yards -- in the Bearcats' 50-28 loss to Ohio State. On the 60-yarder, he made an acrobatic grab over Buckeyes safety Von Bell on an underthrown Gunner Kiel pass.
His 73.7 yards per catch set an NCAA single-game record.
"I asked our receiver coach if he was ready to go on Friday, and he said, 'Coach, he's running good,'" Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said Monday on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference.
"Actually he had four TDs and one called back (illegal receiver downfield). ... Chris is an experienced receiver; he had a very good year last year. This year we have speed on both sides of the field...and it's just hard to double guys."
GRIEF IN BULK: For the second time in a year, the Bearcats found themselves waylaid by tragedy when Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore, a 19-year-old walk-on running back, was killed Thursday afternoon in a motorcycle accident.
The players were informed after Thursday's practice. Kennedy-Palmore's death occurred almost a year to the day after Bearcats OL Ben Flick died in an automobile accident in which two teammates were injured.
"You hate to have any experience in that kind of field, but we've got a little experience in going through it last year," Tuberville said. "It was obviously on the minds of our players going to play Ohio State in Columbus."
ANTI-BELICHICK: At least one football coach in New England isn't immune to candor.
In the wake of his team's 36-10 loss Saturday to Temple, Connecticut coach Bob Diaco lay bare his frustration on Monday's teleconference, citing the "game-changing plays" and "bad-luck moments" plaguing his 1-4 team. Case in point: two Owls defensive TDs -- including a 93-yard interception return -- and a Temple safety.
"We surrendered 16 uncontested points and we're not gonna beat St. Mary's High School doing that," Diaco said.
"The team's improving in so many massive areas I can't even tell you. And yet continue to get plagued by (the game-altering plays). ... And it's created a losing which you run the risk of it altering a culture that you've built and that you're working toward. We're managing and trying to stomp out any kind of deceleration with attitude and culture which becomes harder and harder as you continue to lose."
ODDS AND ENDS: Temple (3-1, 1-0) already has eclipsed its 2013 win total. ... East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill has authored a children's book entitled, "A Pirate's ABCs," an acronym for Avoid Bad Company. ... Cincinnati LB Jeff Luc has collected 18 tackles in back-to-back games. ... Memphis CB Bobby McCain, who had two interceptions in the Tigers' 24-3 loss at Ole Miss, now has 10 for his career. ... Three USF players -- Marlon Mack, Marvin Kloss and Rodney Adams -- have scored as many or points as SMU's entire team (12)....
USF wouldn't immediately confirm an ESPN report Monday that the Bulls had reached an agreement on a three-game football series with Texas, but later acknowledged a home-and-home deal with BYU for 2021 and '22.
ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported both deals, indicating the Texas-USF agreement calls for the Bulls to visit Texas in 2019 and '24, with the Longhorns coming to Tampa in '22.
USF announced late Monday afternoon it will host BYU on Sept. 25, 2021 and travel to Provo, Utah, for a Friday night game on Sept. 23, 2022....
In the wake of their most flag-infested performance of the season, the Bulls were set to commence bye-week workouts Monday night with penalties and third-down efficiency -- on both sides of the ball -- as the key points of emphasis.
"If we can get better in those areas I think we'll have ourselves a pretty good football team," Coach Willie Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference earlier in the day.
Despite drawing a season-high 11 flags in Saturday's 27-10 loss at Wisconsin, the Bulls still are averaging the second-fewest penalty yards in the league (50.4). The 11 infractions were one more than they committed in the prior two games combined.
Several extended drives for Wisconsin, which converted only one of seven third-down tries in the first half but went 4-for-5 in the second. As a result, USF had the ball for 39 seconds in the fourth quarter.
Nonetheless, Taggart said he's "encouraged" by his team in general as it nears the season's halfway point.
"Going up to Wisconsin and that environment and competing like they did, I was really impressed with those guys," he said.
"The more they continue to play games like that, the better they're gonna be. I think it shows our guys that they can compete with those players, those teams, and we've just got to get better at some of the little things and not beat ourselves."
UNDER THE LIGHTS: The conference announced Monday the Bulls' Oct. 11 homecoming game against East Carolina will kick off at 7 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPNU. It will be the Bulls' third consecutive game -- and fourth this season -- to be broadcast on an ESPN network.
The 22nd-ranked Pirates (3-1), who host SMU on Saturday, lead the league in all four major offensive categories: total (581.5 yards per game), scoring (43.2), pass (392.0) and rush (189.5).
COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN: Taggart said a "miscommunication" resulted in USF handing off to Marlon Mack for a 2-yard gain on third-and-goal from the 10 on its second possession Saturday. The drive ended with Marvin Kloss' 26-yard field goal.
"Actually we had a play and the quarterback (Mike White) had a mixed signal," Taggart said. "He didn't get the signal of the play that we had called and he thought he had another play and called the run play. ... Two plays before that, we fumbled the snap, then we ran on second down, and
the third play was miscommunication."
PAGING PRICE: Following an offseason spent dropping weight and gaining hype, junior TE Sean Price has yet to get untracked. Named to the Mackey Award watch list over the summer, Price has only four catches for 58 yards and no TDs through five games.
On Monday, Taggart said a couple of factors -- including periodic lack of protection and a failure to sustain drives -- explain Price's numbers.
"I think part of it is, some of these games not having the ball enough," he said. "This last ball game, he was a big part of it, but we didn't have the ball much."
ODDS AND ENDS: The Bulls are set to practice through Wednesday, then have meetings and film study on Thursday before the coaches embark on a weekend of recruiting. ... Senior Chris Dunkley leads the conference in kick-return average (23.5 yards). ... According to a bye-week news release issued by USF on Monday, WR Andre Davis is "probable" for the East Carolina game.
After careful consideration and measurement of words, I've formulated a response to those who questioned my intellect when I kept UCLA in my top 10 earlier this month:
I respect your thoughts and the right to convey them. Disagreement, debate and discourse over such things are what makes our nation wonderful.
Oh, and this: I think the Bruins just scored again.
Validation's a wonderful thing.
The Bruins -- my darkhorse national playoff contender all along -- climb two spots on my ballot following Thursday night's road annihilation of Arizona State. The Sun Devils, meantime, join Penn State on the top-25 exit ramp, while Missouri and Kansas State climb back aboard.
South Carolina -- a 21-20 loser at home to Missouri -- remains on my ballot, barely. I typically don't like putting two-loss teams in the top-25 in September, but it's hard to ignore the Gamecocks' two quality wins (Georgia, East Carolina).
8. Texas A&M
9. Notre Dame
10. Michigan State
12. Ole Miss
15. Oklahoma State
16. Mississippi State
18. East Carolina
19. Ohio State
24. South Carolina
25. Kansas State...
1. Shut your "trap": Don't start about (A) Wisconsin coming out flat after last week's 68-17 romp of Bowling Green, or (B) USF representing a "trap game" for the Badgers. The former insults a Bulls defense that delivered arguably its best half of the Taggart era. The latter presumes USF was being overlooked. Wisconsin does embark on Big Ten play next week at Northwestern, but it's not like Sparty or Urban Meyer's on the immediate horizon....
MADISON, Wis. — The Bulls were hardly immune to the Midwest air traffic ordeal that disrupted the travel plans of thousands Friday.
The team's charter flight left Tampa as scheduled at 1:45 p.m. Friday, but was diverted from Madison — its original destination — to La Crosse, Wis., after roughly 3 1/2 hours in the air.
"If you were to draw a direct line to Madison, we were nowhere near it," team spokesman Brian Siegrist said....
MADISON, Wis. — What initially shaped up as the biggest statement game of the Willie Taggart era was cut off in mid-sentence Saturday.
Had negative hiccups not supplanted positive syllables at critical junctures, USF might have made a stunning national proclamation in one of the Midwest's football shrines.
Instead, the Bulls (2-3) were left to pick up the pieces. And penalty flags. And dropped balls....
USF announced a two-year home-and-home football series Friday with Northern Illinois, finalizing -- for now -- the Bulls' non-conference slate for the next three seasons.
The Bulls host the Huskies on Sept. 10, 2016, and visit Dekalb, Ill., on Sept. 23 the following year.
Barring any sort of shake-up (i.e. a "Power 5" program buying out its contract with the Bulls), USF has all its four yearly non-conference dates booked through 2017. Earlier this month, the school announced a home-and-home agreement with Syracuse (for '15 and '16).
“We continue to build one of the most competitive non-conference schedules in the nation for our football program in the coming years,” USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Northern Illinois ranks among the winningest programs in college football over the last several seasons and fits well alongside the challenging opponents we have previously announced.”
USF has won two of its three prior meetings with the Huskies, including a 27-3 triumph in the 2010 International Bowl in Toronto -- the Bulls' last postseason appearance. NIU has made six consecutive bowl appearances and has a Division I-record 27-game home winning streak.
USF Non-Conference Slate
Sept. 5 Florida A&M
Sept. 19 at Maryland
Sept. 26 at FSU
Oct. 10 Syracuse
Sept. 3 Towson
Sept. 10 Northern Illinois
Sept. 17 at Syracuse
Sept. 24 FSU
Sept. 2 Stony Brook
Sept. 9 Illinois
Sept. 16 Wisconsin
Sept. 23 at Northern Illinois...
USF at No. 19 Wisconsin, noon, ESPNU, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
The matchup in Madison is the Bulls' fourth-longest road trip ever (1,323 miles one way). If Camp Randall Stadium is filled even close to capacity (80,321), the attendance will be larger than the combined attendance for USF's first four home games (about 69,000). USF (2-2), which must force multiple turnovers for a chance at an upset, will try to exploit first-year Badgers QB Tanner McEvoy (four TD passes, four interceptions). For all their rushing prowess, the Badgers (2-1) average two fumbles a game. Wisconsin outscored its three opponents by a combined 83-9 in the second and third quarters. The Badgers even outscored LSU 14-6 in that span....
The first in Jamie Byrd's history of vicious collisions occurred at age 4 or 5, when the spunky tyke from Dade City went head-on with the bumper of a parked car while playing outside.
His dad waited for the wails and tears. They never came.
"When I saw that, I knew he was going to be tough," Jamie Byrd Sr. said. "But you know what, big hitting comes natural to him."
Know this about USF first-year free safety Jamie Latwain Byrd Jr.: He is definitely his dad's son. When father passed the torch, flankers passed the Tylenol. The elder Byrd's molar-rattling shots as a safety on Pasco High's 1992 state title team still make the rounds in parts of Dade City....
Based on the last two days of sound bites, USF's defensive players are packing confidence with their pullovers and light sweaters for this weekend's trip to No. 19 Wisconsin.
A day after MLB Auggie Sanchez said he looks forward to making the Camp Randall Stadium crowd "silent," senior DT Todd Chandler repeatedly said Wednesday he expects the matchup with the Badgers to be "a good day" for the defense.
And about those oddsmakers who list the Bulls as 34-point underdogs? "We live for stuff like that," he said. "Everybody's talking about what everybody else is gonna do to us, but it's what USF's got going on, what we're gonna do to them, so we love it."
Addressing the Badgers' behemoth o-line specifically, Chandler elicited respect, but suggested Wisconsin -- which averages 321 pounds across its front -- won't easily stifle his unit.
"They move pretty well, they stay fairly low for the most part," he said. "They're technique-sound, they're fundamentally sound, so it's gonna be a good challenge for us. It's gonna be a good challenge for them as well because we've seen some tendencies that we can work on and we can enforce.
"It's gonna be a good day."
INJURY UPDATE: For third consecutive practice, and the second in pads, senior WR Andre Davis (bruised sternum) suited up Wednesday and appears poised to return from a three-game absence Saturday. Technically, Davis remains day to day, but Coach Willie Taggart could update his status during Thursday's regular noon media teleconference.
REJUVENATED, AND RESTED: Defensively, the Bulls are coming off not only their most complete effort of the year, but their most efficient. Connecticut ran only 36 plays Friday in USF's 17-14 triumph, which defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said should carry over positively this weekend.
"You're still growing, it's still a work in progress," said Bresnahan, whose unit allowed only 145 total yards to the Huskies. "But when you play (36) snaps, you come into this game a little bit fresher, you come into this game with a little more swagger because you played well.
"But we've got so much to improve on in the details of our work...and we're just gonna stay conscious on what we can do to play our best game."
Bresnahan, who made a conscious effort to simplify things following the Bulls' dreadful effort in their 49-17 loss to N.C. State, said keeping things basic will be even more critical this weekend. LB Nigel Harris estimated his unit ran only "three main coverages" against UConn and minimized its inside blitzing.
"It's that old rule of thumb, if they beat you because they're just better than you, that's one thing," Bresnahan said. "But if they beat you because you didn't know what you were doing and you were standing around trying to figure things out, we've been (down) that road already once, and we're not doing that."
ODDS AND ENDS: QB Mike White continues wearing a small black brace on his fractured left forearm. ... Bresnahan said it's not a matter of stopping Badgers TB Melvin Gordon (8.26-yard career average per carry) but controlling him. "Gap integrity and the run fits, playing with a swarming approach where you get hats around the ball...playing with a fanatical effort, that's all so important to not letting him get yards after contact," he said. ... Bulls TB Marlon Mack's 31 carries (for 103 yards) against UConn were eight more than the previous high for a ball carrier in the Taggart era.
AUDIBLE: "We could play in a parking lot if we need to. That sounds cliche and coach-talk and all of that, but it's the truth." -- Bresnahan, who said he won't even discuss the magnitude of the Camp Randall crowd (capacity 80,321) with his players...
TAMPA — Odds are, the head Bull will be halfway through his first Red Bull when that 6:30 a.m. wakeup call arrives Saturday in Madison, Wis. Like many in his profession, Willie Taggart sleeps little the night before a game.
"I can't stop watching film," said USF's second-year coach, whose team faces No. 19 Wisconsin in its initial road trip of 2014. "I'm always watching and looking for something."...
Barring a Midwest malaria outbreak or a beer/bratwurst giveaway in Waukesha, Saturday's audience at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium will be the largest by far of the Willie Taggart era.
If Camp Randall reaches capacity (80,321), it would be the sixth-largest crowd ever for a Bulls game. The largest: 99,325 for the 2005 season opener at Penn State. USF hasn't played before 80,000 or more fans since defeating Notre Dame (80,795) on Sept. 3, 2011.
"I think you talk about it early in the week, let 'em know what to expect. And then just keep focusing on football, and what we have to do...because none of that really matters when you're out there," said Taggart, an assistant on the Western Kentucky team that lost 24-6 at Camp Randall on Sept. 29, 2001.
"You don't think about it much. I think the time it does matter is when they get loud and you can't hear. That's about it, but other than that, you don't really pay much attention to the fans until you make a play."
For some of the Bulls rookies, the crowd could represent a culture shock. Only eight days ago, USF played before the second-smallest home audience (11,599) in its history. The Bulls' 2001 contest against Liberty drew only 10,288.
Largest crowds in USF history
(all road games)
Opp. Date Att. Result
Penn State 9/03/05 99,235 L, 13-23
Florida 9/12/10 90,612 L, 14-38
FSU 9/26/09 83,524 W, 17-7
Auburn 9/08/07 82,617 W, 26-23 (OT)
Notre Dame 09/03/11 80,795 W, 23-20...