The wait from now until Saturday's waning hours -- when the UConn-Temple game is decided -- likely will be excruciating for most Bulls fans, who need a Huskies triumph for their team to secure a berth in the American Athletic Conference title game.
When the waiting becomes too great to bear, one can always bide his or her time by re-living one of the most gratifying Bulls triumphs of recent memory.
First, our game story from USF's 44-3 romp of UCF, which technically lasted exactly three hours (but was over way before then). In addition, Tampa Bay Times correspondent Jeff Odom offers five things you might have missed from the game (including athletic director Mark Harlan's latest thoughts regarding an on-campus stadium).
And staff photographer Octavio Jones' photo gallery isn't to be missed. Nor is this postgame Periscope wrapping up the night.
ORLANDO — The marketers of UCF football made a final attempt to breathe life into a season on its last gasp Thursday. Knights fans were encouraged to wear all black to Bright House Networks Stadium. The ol' "blackout" ploy.
Like virtually all other Knights football endeavors this season, it black-fired.
Before a national ESPN audience and a half-barren stadium, USF remained on trajectory for a potential rendezvous with the unprecedented. The Bulls' 44-3 romp over winless UCF before an announced "crowd" of 25,967 gave USF a program-record sixth conference win and spawned a bustling Tampa-based Connecticut Huskies fan club....
The prevailing narrative is a no-brainer. Cal vs. Coach O. Chieftain of the Kentucky hoops juggernaut going head-to-head against his former first lieutenant.
It's a story line that has brought the top-ranked Wildcats (5-0) and struggling USF (1-4) together in downtown Miami, and ESPN's cameras are likely to milk it for every droplet possible. An encounter on Black Friday dramatized into a matchup worthy of Big Monday....
It's not exactly a point of contention, though it has resulted in USF being in contention.
The transformational moment of USF's football season remains a subject of deliberation. Opinions vary on exactly what triggered the end of the swoon and commencement of the surge. Perhaps it was a sequence of flipped switches.
Many undoubtedly will point to the 45-24 rout of Syracuse last month, the launchpad of a 6-1 stretch. Coach Willie Taggart himself says the metamorphosis occurred eight days earlier, when he gazed into the aqueous eyes of his players after a 24-17 home loss to Memphis on Oct. 2....
TAMPA — USF heads into Friday afternoon's neutral-site encounter with No. 1 Kentucky lacking an outside threat, solid depth and, according to most, a prayer. But at least one intangible won't be lacking.
The Bulls' season-opening funk came to a sudden, surreal end Tuesday night at the Sun Dome. Junior Chris Perry's dunk of a deflected ball with nine seconds to play, and a Roddy Peters steal at the other end, lifted USF (1-4) to a 63-61 triumph against 2015 NCAA Tournament qualifier Albany (2-3) before an announced crowd of 2,712....
A series of recent sound bites, from commentators and coaches alike, has ignited speculation over who has orchestrated the Bulls' staggering offensive resurgence.
Consider this snippet from CBS Sports Network analyst Corey Chavous during the Bulls' 44-23 rout of Temple: "Danny Hope has to be excited, (USF's) offensive coordinator, with what he's put together and how they're executing."...
A look at UCF, which hosts USF on Thursday at Orlando's Bright House Networks Stadium
Record: 0-11, 0-7 American Athletic Conference
Losses: vs. FIU, 15-14; at Stanford, 31-7; vs. Furman, 16-15; at South Carolina, 31-14; at Tulane, 45-31; vs. Connecticut, 40-13; at Temple, 30-16; vs. Houston, 59-10; at Cincinnati, 52-7; at Tulsa, 45-30; vs. East Carolina, 44-7
Coach: Danny Barrett* (first season, 0-4)
The breakdown: Few teams in recent Division I-A memory have plummeted as rapidly and profoundly as the Knights, who have been decimated by injuries and other forms of attrition since Day One. Collectively, the Knights have had 49 games missed by offensive starters or projected starters due to injury, and 31 by defensive starters (or projected starters). As a result, UCF has employed seven different starting offensive lines, and six different starting combinations in the secondary. Additionally, the Knights' 33 first-time starters this season is tied for the most nationally with (also-winless) Kansas. ... Among the battered Knights is junior QB Justin Holman (hand, ankle), who sustained a high-ankle sprain in last week's 44-7 loss to East Carolina but is expected to play Thursday. Holman, who lost essentially his entire receiving corps from last season, ranks 10th in the American Athletic Conference in passing (168.2 ypg). His top target, redshirt freshman Tre'Quan Smith, has established UCF freshman records for receptions (45) and yards (622). The run game, crippled when all-conference TB William Stanback was dismissed three games into the season, ranks last nationally (80.7 ypg). Leading rusher C.J. Jones has 329 yards -- 7 fewer than Bulls sophomore Marlon Mack has totaled in his last two games. Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Bresnahan -- dismissed from the same job at USF last December -- is almost certain to be job-hunting again this winter. His unit ranks 115th nationally (464.9 ypg) and is 126th in pass-efficiency defense (166.61).
Odds and ends: UCF ranks third in Division I-A for fewest seniors; only nine are set to be recognized before Thursday's season finale. ... Twelve of the 17 Knights who signed with the program in February have played, compared with seven of USF's 21 signees. ... Lakewood High alumnus Shaquill Griffin leads UCF with two interceptions. ... LT Aaron Evans, an Armwood alumnus, is the only offensive lineman who has started every game at his position.
Taggart's take: "I'm sure they're going through a lot, but they have some talent on their football team...and that talent's got to grow. We've been there before, but that's what you see on there, you see guys that are just trying to make it work. They're going through a tough situation right now."
TAMPA — Collectively, USF's staff has coached or played in some of the nation's top rivalries including Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-FSU, Mississippi State-Ole Miss and Stanford-Cal.
After those experiences, Bulls coaches have had no problem reaching a consensus this week: They will get winless UCF's most inspired effort of the year.
"You've got to be really mature as a team to not fall for what you see on film," said defensive coordinator Tom Allen, preparing his unit for a decimated Knights offense that ranks last in Division I-A (274.4 yards per game)....
The team with one of the most global rosters in women's basketball went mostly domestic during the early signing period.
USF announced its four November signees Monday, three of whom hail from the U.S. The foreign signee: 5-foot-9 G Enna Pehadzic, who led Denmark's under-18 national team in scoring (17.6 ppg) during this past summer's European Championship.
The current Bulls roster features seven foreign-born players.
"Enna will bring depth to our backcourt," Coach Jose Fernandez said in a USF news release. "She can play the point guard and the shooting guard position. I’m excited about her being with our program."
The other signees: 6-3 F Jazzmaine Bond (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 6-1 F Tamara Henshaw (Flagler Palm Coast) and 6-2 F Shae Leverett (Rincon, Ga.).
Bond averaged 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks as a junior for Blackman High, which won Tennessee's Class 3A state title. Henshaw averaged a double-double (11.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg) for FPC, which reached the Class 8A state tournament last winter.
Leverett, a 1,000-point career scorer from South Effingham High, averaged 16.9 points and 13.8 boards while earning 5A second-team all-state honors in Georgia.
"With this class, we addressed the areas we needed," Fernandez said. "We needed to bolster our front line, and with the signing of Jazzmaine, Tamara and Shea, we added some key components to our line."
In other USF news, the Bulls (2-1) moved up a spot -- from 19th to 18th -- in the latest Associated Press poll following Thursday's three-point loss at No. 5 Baylor....
Collectively, USF's staff has coached or played in some of the nation's most prominent rivalries including Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-FSU, Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Stanford-Cal.
As a result of those experiences, the Bulls coaches have had no problem reaching a consensus this week: They will get winless UCF's most inspired effort of the year.
"You've got to be really mature as a team to not fall for what you see on film," said defensive coordinator Tom Allen, preparing his unit for a decimated Knights offense that ranks last in Division I-A (274.4 ypg). "That's not what you're gonna see. These rivalry games bring out a whole different element. ... You can't discount that."
On Monday, Allen recalled the 2013 Egg Bowl, a 17-10 Mississippi State overtime triumph in Starkville. Then Ole Miss' special teams coordinator/linebackers coach, Allen watched injured Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott (shoulder) come off the bench to rally the hosts, who entered the game 5-6.
"Even though they weren't winless, they were still having a season that was less than they had hoped," Allen said. "But beating Ole Miss was all they needed to do to have a successful season."
Interim Knights coach Danny Barrett, promoted after George O'Leary retired following UCF's 0-7 start, said his team will be motivated by all the rivalry's familiar elements: proximity of the schools, intensity of the matchup and the Knights' two-game win streak in the series.
"It's our final home game, it's the last game for a handful of seniors that we have," Barrett said. "So our guys are gonna go out and play hard for sure and try to finish off this year with at least one positive in the midst of a tough year."
NICHOLS HONORED: As expected, Bulls sophomore CB Deatrick Nichols was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of Week on Monday following his career game (two interceptions, one returned for a TD, eight tackles) in Friday's 65-27 rout of Cincinnati.
"Other than giving up that long ball (on a Bearcats TD), he had a phenomenal game," Allen said. "The thing he does, he studies film better than anybody that I've had on the back end. Therefore, he anticipates and can jump routes. The pick-six he got was because of film study."
EMPTYING THE BENCH: A fringe benefit to Friday's rout of Cincinnati was offensive line coach Danny Hope rotating liberally up front for one of the few times this season.
Hope, who has used the same starting line all year and has substituted minimally the last couple of months, used 10 offensive linemen against Cincinnati.
"It was good to get the (starters) out of there," Hope said after Monday morning's practice. "I think they were a little fresher and healthier to start this week off. There's been a lot of football in 2 1/2 weeks, so being able to play our (backups) is big in a lot of ways."
Among those not used Friday was Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons, essentially cementing his redshirt status this season.
ODDS AND ENDS: In ESPN's latest bowl projections, Brett McMurphy projects a USF-Western Kentucky matchup in the Miami Beach Bowl, while Mark Schlabach predicts Bulls-Old Dominion in the St. Petersburg Bowl. ... Hope, who has been part of more rivalry games than any other staffer, said Colorado State-Wyoming (the "Border War") is the most underrated one he has experienced. "Unbelievable, and I've been in a bunch of (rivalries)," said Hope, a Wyoming assistant in 1996. "That one really caught me off-guard." ... Allen said he never has been associated with a first half like Friday's, when the Bulls built a 51-3 lead. "I don't even remember beating a bad team like that," he said.
AUDIBLE: "They changed up some things offensively than what they did before. ... But the key is that Chuck was there. He knows the personnel, what type of players they are, what type of people that they are, and that's really the only advantage you would get." -- Barrett on whether Knights (and former USF) defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan can provide any type of edge for UCF...
One of the less conspicuous story lines emanating from this week's USF-UCF contest may or may not evolve into one of the more significant.
If the Knights possess any noticeable edge, it might be first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's insight into the Bulls personnel. Bresnahan spent the previous two years in the same job on Willie Taggart's staff before being dismissed last December....
Gonna cut you off at the pass, Bulls fans. No, you won't find USF on my ballot this week.
Sure, I considered the Bulls, albeit briefly. While they're undeniably the hottest team in the American Athletic Conference today, they're still not among the nation's top 25 when considering their collective body of work.
For all its recent dominance, USF still has four losses, and you'll find no four-loss team -- Power Five or otherwise -- on my ballot. The loss to Maryland is impossible to ignore, and the defeat against Memphis is gradually getting more unsightly as the Tigers keep regressing.
Even so, I can lend the Bulls some latitude over the Memphis loss, but not Maryland. Had the Bulls beaten the Terps, they'd probably be on my ballot today....
TAMPA — In a season where the supply of silver linings is rapidly diminishing, USF had one consolation Saturday.
It outscored its football team, by a point. Outscoring the opposition remains a far trickier endeavor.
Victimized by Boston University's catch-and-shoot motion offense that produced 10 3-pointers, the Bulls (0-4) fell to the Terriers 78-66 before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,903. USF must defeat Albany on Tuesday to avoid matching the program's worst start, established by Bobby Paschal's 1987-88 club....
Call it one of those quirks of fate, a timely chance to share a significant Friday night plight with a key college figure.
The same day the Tampa Bay Times published this Tom Jones column decrying the infringement of televised college football on a night (Friday) normally reserved for high schools, we had a chance to ask American Athletic Conference commissioner (and former network TV executive) Mike Aresco about it.
His response: A generation ago, he might have believed Fridays should remain the sole domain of the high schools, but now he believes colleges and preps can co-exist -- to a degree.
"Only a handful of games are played at the college level (on Fridays) and people that are loyal to their local teams will go to their local high school games...and that's the key," Aresco said prior to USF's contest -- on Friday night, no less -- against Cincinnati.
"They've got their own fan bases, obviously. It does affect a few teams in a few markets on Friday night, but very few (college) teams do it more than once or twice."
For non-Power Five conferences (such as the AAC) trying to establish an identity, nationally televised Friday contests have evolved into a gold mine of sorts. The AAC has had 15 games attract at least a million viewers this season compared to 11 all of last season, according to Aresco. Presumably, a handful of those have been Friday contests.
"Thursdays have been taken over by the NFL and the only time a college program can get the kind of national attention, even more so than Saturdays (is on a Friday)," Aresco said.
"First of all, there aren't that many of them being played (on a Friday). So, for the most part, you want people to watch the games and all, but I think people who are devoted to high school football will go to the games and it's never been easy. But it's like anything else, I think there's a place for both now on Fridays."...
TAMPA — For all the uncovered receivers downfield, all the unanswered touchdowns, all the unmatched intensity, USF's 65-27 romp Friday night of Cincinnati likely won't go down as the Bulls' biggest laugher of the year.
Willie Taggart and Co. have an even bigger one, straight from a hotel ballroom in Newport, R.I.
The 2015 season hadn't dawned, yet reporters had forecast a fade to darkness for the Taggart era. At the American Athletic Conference's media day Aug. 4, the Bulls were picked to place fifth in the East division by a panel of media members, reflecting a similarly bleak outlook by assorted college preseason magazines already on newsstands....