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Veteran USF Bulls seek return to glory


The biggest win of his college career may have been his first. Three months after exiting Jefferson High, Bulls WR Andre Davis made the plane trip from Tampa to South Bend, with a connection to surreality.

USF 23, No. 16 Fighting Irish 20. Four Septembers and three position coaches ago, that storm-delayed triumph remains the high-water mark for Davis, at least in terms of team feats. So what if the details have become a bit sketchier, the images a tad grainier. What remains vivid to him is what — ironically enough — can't be condensed into a snapshot.

The campuswide euphoria.

"Everybody was ecstatic," Davis said.

"It was good vibes," recalled fifth-year senior Todd Chandler, who was academically suspended that season but still practiced with the team. "The student body was into it. It got us more fans (45,113) at Raymond James that next game (against Ball State)."

Six ranked foes later, Bulls fans continue waiting for jubilation — the kind that accompanies a signature win — to make a curtain call.

USF needs another defining moment. A homecoming upset of No. 19 East Carolina in a Saturday night setting would qualify.

"Can't draw it up any better," Davis said.

Since toppling the Irish, USF is 0-5 against ranked teams, and 11-29 overall. With coach Willie Taggart and his staff still performing resuscitation on the Bulls, he's right to reiterate that any win should provide "juice" for players and patrons alike.

But who could quantify the benefits another landmark win could yield? An audience, for one.

Since becoming a full-fledged Division I-A program in 2001, USF has defeated eight teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. Its average attendance for the home games following those wins is 46,464.

"And that's what we want to get back to," Chandler said.

It starts with a turn-the-corner moment. For its national profile and postseason hopes, for the sake of student turnout and team psyche, this homecoming is as huge as it gets.

"I think the more we win, the more confidence our guys get," Taggart said. "I think you win a game that others don't expect for you to win, it gives you tremendous confidence. And I think if there's anything our football team needs from a mental standpoint, it's that."

HAT TRICK, PLUS ONE: Less than 48 hours after recording the men's soccer team's first hat trick in seven years Saturday night, senior forward Tyler Blackwood was named American Athletic Conference offensive player of the week. A University of Tampa transfer, Blackwood's trio of goals in a 3-0 win against Temple occurred four nights after his first goal as a Bull in a 3-0 victory against Georgia Southern. Tuesday, Blackwood was named one of six Disney Soccer/NSCAA players of the week. Senior defender Nikola Paunic, whose back line allowed one total shot on goal in the two triumphs, was named the league's defensive player of the week. The Bulls (6-3, 2-0), on a three-game win streak, close out their current homestand at 7:30 tonight against Tulsa.

THIRD CHANCE GOAL: While Blackwood was finding the back of the net with frequency for the men, junior Olivia Chance was scoring her way to the AAC's weekly women's offensive honor. Chance totaled three goals in wins against SMU in Houston. Her two against the Cougars included the winner in the 50th minute. Classmate Jackie Simpson, whose back line surrendered four total shots on goal in the victories, won the league's defensive honor. The former Newsome High star also scored the winner in Sunday's 2-1 triumph against SMU.

ODDS AND ENDS: ESPN finally confirmed Tuesday that former Bulls men's basketball coach Stan Heath has joined the network as an analyst. He'll make his debut at the Miami-Florida game (on ESPNU) in Gainesville on Nov. 17. … Former Bulls CB Mike Jenkins, on injured reserve with the Bucs, serves as grand marshal of USF's on-campus homecoming parade Friday night starting at 7. … For the fifth consecutive week, junior outside hitter Erin Fairs made the AAC's weekly honor roll following her latest monstrous effort (19 kills, 24 digs) in Friday's four-set win against Connecticut.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.