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USF football is preseason pick to win AAC East Division

Coach Willie Taggart likes this season’s prognostication for the Bulls a lot more than last year, when they were picked fifth.
Coach Willie Taggart likes this season’s prognostication for the Bulls a lot more than last year, when they were picked fifth.
Published Aug. 3, 2016

NEWPORT, R.I. — A year after being picked by American Athletic Conference media to finish fifth in the East, USF is the preseason choice to win the division in the same poll.

The Bulls, who return nearly every significant offensive skill player from last season's 8-5 team, received 15 first-place votes in East Division balloting to finish well ahead of Temple (nine) and Cincinnati (six).

Houston received all 30 first-place votes in West Division balloting.

"My thoughts on that is, it's better than last year," coach Willie Taggart said.

"We understand that's good for our fan base, good for our media, we understand we've got to do it on the football field. Houston and Temple are still the teams to beat; they were the teams that were in the conference championship last year."

The poll was released Tuesday morning, prior to the start of the league's media day at the Hyatt Regency Newport. Houston was the overwhelming pick to repeat as league champion, receiving 27 of a possible 30 votes. USF got two votes to win it all, while Temple received the other.

"I think it's just kind of a number right now," MLB Auggie Sanchez said. "I think last year we were picked fifth (in the East) and we proved everyone wrong. This year we want to prove everyone right, but right now you really can't look too much into it. We're just kind of taking it for what it is."

PLAYOFFS?! In the wake of the 2015 season, which ended with two American Athletic Conference teams in the top 25 and Houston defeating Florida State in the Peach Bowl, commissioner Mike Aresco said there's "no question" an AAC team has a shot at making the four-team College Football Playoff.

He even cited USF as one of those teams capable of cracking the playoff, which culminates with the CFP national championship Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium — the Bulls' home field.

"If USF beats Florida State (at home on Sept. 24) and has a great season, I think they should be considered as a playoff team," Aresco said. "I don't think there's any question that we're now in that conversation."

Houston, another potential playoff team cited by Aresco, opens its season Sept. 3 against Oklahoma at NRG Stadium, though Cougars coach Tom Herman said the significance of that game has been overstated the entire offseason.

To this point, Herman insisted, he hasn't watched a snap of video on the Sooners.

"It's a game, and it's a non-conference game," he said. "We'll prepare the first two, 2 1/2 weeks of training camp like we always do, which is, we're not gonna talk about the opponent. … That game is not gonna make or break our season."

A SNAP AWAY: Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Newsome High alumnus Will Worth enters preseason camp second to fellow senior Tago Smith on the quarterback depth chart. The Midshipmen must replace nearly their entire offense — including Division I-A career touchdowns leader Keenan Reynolds — from last season's 11-2 team.

"We don't obviously want Tago … to get hurt, but we have great confidence in Will, too," Niumatalolo said.

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"We see our quarterbacks as 1A and 1B. (Worth) has had a great career as far as he's worked really hard, he knows our system. Coach (Ivin) Jasper, our offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, is totally comfortable with him if he has to play — and so am I."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said former Bulls DT Derrick Calloway, who withdrew for academic reasons in the summer of 2015 but appeared on track to return, won't be with the team in 2016. … Bulls QB Quinton Flowers said he'll enter Thursday's first preseason practice at 209 pounds, with the goal of opening the season 5 pounds lighter. … Memphis CB Chris Morley on new Tigers coach Mike Norvell: "He came in now, and it feels like I knew him all four years."

AUDIBLE: "If you look at the history of UCF, 10 or 15 years ago it looked nothing like it does now. It's almost like the expansion of one of our partners, Disney. They decided to put a park in Orlando, there was nothing there but orange groves. And 10 years later it's the No. 1 tourist destination in America." — UCF first-year coach Scott Frost, perhaps making a thinly-veiled Big 12 pitch for his program

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.


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