TAMPA — He was thrust into the lineup in his first collegiate game at the 11th hour, which might partially explain why he was making history by the 12th.
Literally, USF's Marlon Mack didn't have time to think about it. No time to ponder or panic, to stress or psyche himself out. When it was clear tailback Darius Tice's tweaked knee wouldn't allow him to effectively make cuts on the Raymond James Stadium turf Saturday night, Mack and fellow freshman D'Ernest Johnson got their marching orders: suit up, warm up and step up....
TAMPA — Led by their coach, USF's players emerged from their tunnel after a 69-minute weather delay Saturday and made a beeline for the north end zone, where they slapped fives and ingested the adulation of those shoehorned into the Bulls' student section.
More than an hour — an excruciating one — would elapse before the Bulls returned to that end zone. A freshman led them there....
TAMPA — Lightning held up a season that couldn't arrive fast enough for USF.
The program that couldn't catch a break in 2013 got a tough one from meteorology right out of the gate Saturday night. Roughly 35 minutes before the Bulls' slated kickoff against Western Carolina, teams were sent scurrying to their respective locker rooms as a thin, ominous cell of storms churned in from the east....
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."...
In what could go down as a landmark day in sports multimedia (or at the very least, another stormy summer day in west central Florida), we are unveiling our weekly "Three and Out" segment devoted to USF football.
Each game week, we'll home in on three potential areas of interest in the Bulls' upcoming contest with a crisp, one-minute breakdown. The first installment can be found here....
Attention, Bulls fans: You may stand down.
There will be no more "Anchor Down."
That two-word mantra sewn on the backs of Vanderbilt's jerseys in the Commodores' season opener Thursday is going away. Just like USF's thwarted attempts to replace last names with "The Team" on Bulls jerseys, Vandy has been informed it's not permitted by NCAA uniform guidelines....
TAMPA — The heart won't skip a beat tonight; surgery has seen to that. Ten months after lying in recovery at Tampa General, wondering if all the post-operative vomiting would ever cease, Thor Jozwiak is on zero medication.
This time, it's the heartstrings that'll go haywire.
At dusk tonight, when he's standing in the southwest tunnel of Raymond James Stadium waiting to line up for his first collegiate game since Dec. 1, 2012, Thorton Joseph Jozwiak's tear ducts likely will be pumping as efficiently as his ticker. Whose wouldn't be? How many gain re-entry to a dream, on the heels of a nightmare, no less?...
USF vs. Western Carolina, 7, 1010-AM, 98.7-FM
A year after losing to a Division I-AA foe (McNeese State) in its season opener, USF faces a similarly moribund program. The I-AA Catamounts, who never have defeated a I-A team, have dropped their past 21 road games and will be missing five suspended starters. Bulls QB Mike White seeks his first victory in his sixth career start. Senior WR Andre Davis should extend his school-record streak of 30 consecutive games with at least one catch. For the first time in five seasons as a coach, Willie Taggart will be an overseer, allowing coordinators Chuck Bresnahan (defense) and Paul Wulff (offense) to call the plays....
TAMPA — The University of South Florida has taken measures both creative and benevolent to embrace — a Bull-hug, if you will — one of the most vital segments of its football fan base.
In August alone, USF players, coaches and athletic administrators have courted the student body with pizza, pep rallies, T-shirts and team bonding events. The players even spent a recent day helping students haul their belongings back into their respective dorm rooms....
For the second consecutive season, the USF men's basketball team will open conference play on New Year's Eve.
Six days later, the defending national champs will help the Bulls formally ring in 2015.
The American Athletic Conference released its full 2014-15 slate Thursday afternoon, formally completing USF's schedule....
Cryptically, Bulls players and coaches suggest their offense, under new coordinator Paul Wulff, will shift into a higher gear than normal Saturday. How much higher remains the mystery.
Tempo was a point of emphasis in spring drills, when the Bulls regularly snapped the ball with double digits remaining on the play clock. And while live scrimmages in August have been closed to the public, the Bulls indicate fans will recognize changes in pace when they kick off 2014 Saturday against Western Carolina.
"I think they'll definitely notice some certain changes there, without having to go into any detail," C Austin Reiter said.
Added Wulff: "I think (fans) are gonna see some things different as we move forward. ... As long as we execute what we've been practicing and how we've been doing it, I'm pretty sure they're going to see some things and some differences than what we've done in the past."
BLACKWOOD ABSENT: Three days into USF's fall semester, freshman DE Rohan Blackwood remains off the roster as he attempts to resolve some academic issues. The former Nature Coast High standout initially was expected to join the program when classes began. Now, his timetable is unclear.
Team spokesman Brian Siegrist said Wednesday evening the Bulls are hopeful he'll be able to join them in the spring. Blackwood, a rangy two-way force at Nature Coast, logged 186 tackles and 25 sacks in three seasons for the Sharks and was a two-time All-North Suncoast pick by the Tampa Bay Times.
SPREAD IT ON: Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said he fully expects Western Carolina, which returns 10 offensive starters from a 2-10 team, to spread the field and play "sideline to sideline" behind dual-threat junior QB Troy Mitchell (2,179 total yards in 2013).
"The good thing is, that's our conference...and that's what we're gonna face, and it gives us a good, good introduction to it," said Bresnahan, putting more linebackers on the field (in a 3-4) this season to better defend the litany of spread schemes USF will see.
"But they've got athletes now. This is a talented team and the quarterback presents you with issues because he's a runner and a thrower, and you've got to be able to defend both."
BYRD WATCHING: In an era when the terms "free" and "strong" are growing obsolete in the safety vernacular, Bresnahan said guys such as juco transfer Jamie Byrd -- a headhunter athletic enough to cover -- have become priceless.
The former Pasco High star, who played last season at Iowa Western Community College, is expected to start Saturday. After two seasons at TCU, Byrd earned second-team NJCAA All-America honors last season, then enrolled at USF in January.
"Jamie's made an impact and that's one of the reasons why we went after him," Bresnahan said.
"He's a local product that's been known locally here as a hitter, a guy that brings a level of physicality to the field that we like, and yet he's athletic enough to cover and do some of the things that you really want safeties to be able to do nowadays. You really don't have an in-the-box safety and out-of-the box safety anymore because of the spread offense."...
Armed with the deepest team of her tenure, third-year USF volleyball coach Courtney Draper will learn soon if it's also her most resilient.
The Bulls, picked fifth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, embark on a daunting non-conference stretch when they open their season with two matches Friday at the Mortar Board Premier at Purdue.
The Bulls face Purdue, eighth in the AVCA preseason poll, at 10 a.m.; then play LSU, which received votes in the poll, at 5. They finish the event with a Saturday afternoon match against No. 14 San Diego.
The tournament is the first of three USF will play on the road in the season's first 23 days. The Bulls also will play three matches at Auburn the weekend of Sept. 12-13, and three more at Pittsburgh the following weekend....
After an offseason of initiatives, booster events and pep rallies designed to lure his fan base back to Raymond James Stadium, Willie Taggart has extended a final invitation to Saturday's season opener -- to one prospective visitor.
On Tuesday, the Bulls coach referred to him as "Mr. Adversity."
"I think if there's one area you worry about, for me, it's just how are guys going to respond to adversity?" said Taggart, whose team failed to respond in last year's season opener, a 53-21 drubbing against Division I-AA McNeese State.
"I think they'll go out and play well, I think they'll make plays, I think they'll do those things. But the one thing we haven't capitalized on, really, is adversity. You don't get that until the season starts and it's gonna happen. It's how you're gonna respond to it. I think that's something that got us last year."
Fifth-year senior DT Todd Chandler said the Bulls were looking past McNeese to a Week 2 game at Michigan State in the 2013 season-opening debacle, when the Cowboys scored 40 unanswered points. USF managed only eight offensive touchdowns in the ensuing 11 games.
"Adversity definitely became...one of our relatives last season," TE Sean Price said. "But like with anything, we've built a callous to it, as Coach (Paul) Wulff (offensive coordinator) would say. We definitely know how to handle it now and if it does come we'll be ready for it."
MCFARLAND ON THE MEND? Senior TE Mike McFarland, slowed by a left knee injury in the latter half of preseason camp, suited up for Tuesday's practice and showed more mobility than he has in the last couple of weeks. Taggart said Monday he expects McFarland, a preseason all-conference pick by Sporting News and Athlon, to play against Western Carolina.
"The nice thing is, he's progressing and he's getting a lot closer," Wulff said. "But again, I think that's still down the road for us to know for sure (about his weekend status)."
GET ON THE (REAL) BUS: Starting this season, hopping on Coach Taggart's bus could be a literal endeavor.
On Tuesday, USF announced two student transportation initiatives for home games, including free round-trip bus service from campus to Raymond James Stadium. Buses will arrive in 15-minute increments at two campus sites, the Marshall Student Center bus entrance and Juniper-Poplar Hall.
Additionally, students who become members of the Student Bulls Club (SBC) -- a $10 annual membership -- can purchase reserved parking spaces in the Student Tailgate Zone for $5 per game. For information, go to GoUSFBulls.com.
HUMBLED, THEN PROMOTED: In the wake of a humbling offseason and slow start to preseason camp, freshman OLB Vincent Jackson has performed his way to a No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Taggart said Jackson, a former Jesuit High star, came on late in August once he began digesting the Bulls' scheme.
Regurgitation preceded digestion, however. "He thought (summer conditioning) was gonna be like high school when he first got in here and (strength) Coach 'O' (Irele Oderinde) put it on him in the weight room and made him throw up," Chandler recalled.
"But one thing I can say about Vince, he never quit, he never gave up. He came to practice battle-ready every day."
Jackson is among five freshmen on the Bulls' two-deep depth chart, but Taggart is putting no limit on how many rookies might play in 2014.
"We're not thinking about redshirting anyone right now," he said. "Guys are still working and still competing. It's just Game 1. ... A lot of those guys just got here, but you've seen the growth that they've made in three weeks. You can only imagine where they're gonna be in another three weeks."
ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said sophomore Darius Tice -- the only tailback in camp with a collegiate carry -- will start Saturday, but the position could evolve into a committee approach. ... Saturday's game marks the radio debut of new Bulls sideline reporter (and former linebacker) Kawika Mitchell. ... The Bulls don't play a team they lost to in 2013 until Nov. 1 (Houston).
AUDIBLE: "We're coming out like this is Florida State and we're playing for a national championship." -- Chandler on I-AA Western Carolina...
A look at Western Carolina, which faces the Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium
Location: Cullowhee, N.C.
2013 record: 2-10
Coach: Mark Speir (third season, 3-20)
The breakdown: Five Catamounts, at least two of them prominent starters, have been suspended for this game for various reasons. The most significant loss is junior WR Karnorris Benson, last year's top receiver (51 catches, 834 yards, 12 TDs). ... Despite an abysmal recent history, WCU, with only seven seniors on its roster, was picked fifth in the Southern Conference media and coaches preseason polls. ... Catamounts 6-foot QB Troy Mitchell, making his 15th career start, set a school record for a quarterback with eight rushing TDs in 2013. ... WCU appears pretty seasoned up front with the exception of 310-pound freshman LT Andrew Miles. ... Defensively, the Catamounts start four sophomores and no freshmen. Junior ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined for 33 starts. "They're really solid on the edges," Bulls offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said.
Odds and ends: The Catamounts have lost their last 21 road games dating to October 2010. ... WCU never has defeated a Division I team. Its official game-week release indicates a win at USF would "arguably be the biggest victory" in program history. ... Only two Catamounts are from Florida.
Taggart's take: "They can run the football and they've got some skill guys out at receiver. Not necessarily the tallest guys but quick, fast, they're competitive. You really watch when those guys play up a different level, they really play hard. They have some guys that will hit you on defense, they have a running back and quarterback that are very talented, and they do a lot of misdirections. They do some inside zone, but they'll run some option out of things they do and some unbalanced (stuff); some really good schemes. We've got to be disciplined as a defense in what we're doing and wrap up and contain the quarterback."...
TALLAHASSEE — The question, more interrogation than inquiry, was hurled at Jimbo Fisher from an upper row of FSU's theater-style meeting room during the Seminoles' recent media day.
The paraphrased version: Mario Edwards Jr. had only 31/2 sacks last year, and people have been kind of waiting for him to stockpile all those sack numbers and, well …
Fisher stopped the reporter right there. The same ears FSU's coach had lent the questioner suddenly were pinned back, in defense of his top defender....