TAMPA — His voice, a perpetually scratchy bellow, betrays conviction. USF coach Charlie Strong has been asked if he believes he has the 16th-best team in America. Hesitation doesn't precede his response. Resolution fuels it.
"I really do," Strong said. "I think that we have a really good football team, and I will match us up against anyone. … And the good thing about it is, we haven't even played a complete game."...
TAMPA — He was a sucker for baseball and benevolence. Mike Radomski tracked every gesture, regardless of how noble or benign, as meticulously as pitch counts in his volumes of score books.
Co-workers who lent a hand on a project got a handwritten thank-you note. So did his dry cleaners and the guy who changed his oil. When Mike's wife, Christina, went to an Evansville, Ind., print shop to pick up some score books he had ordered for his new job at USF, the folks at the counter gushed over him....
A month and a half into the season, the American Athletic Conference West Division is wide open, with five one-loss teams. Meantime, Interstate 4 rivals USF (No. 16) and UCF (No. 20) appear on a collision course to decide the East in the Nov. 24 regular season finale.
Here’s how the AAC stacks up this week, as voted upon by our league-wide panel of beat reporters.
1. USF (6-0, 3-0 AAC): In a performance that had Coach Charlie Strong fuming afterward, the No. 16 Bulls committed 14 penalties and languished inside the red zone in a 33-3 romp of Cincinnati. The Bulls had to settle for field goals on their first three red-zone trips, the last of which featured a first-and-goal at the 4. Defensively, the Bulls held Cincy to 95 rushing yards and remain third nationally against the run (77.8 yards per game), but face their stiffest challenge to date Saturday night at Tulane. -- Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times
2. UCF (5-0, 3-0): McKenzie Milton passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another as UCF amassed more than 600 yards for the second time in the past three games in a 63-21 romp of East Carolina. The 63 points were a season-high for the team and the most points scored since 2001. UCF is now 5-0 for the first time since 1988. -- Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel
3. Memphis (5-1, 2-1): Saturday's 30-27 victory against Navy set a new standard for the Tigers, who have defeated two top-25 opponents in a season for the first time. Austin Hall picked off two passes and recovered a fumble to spark an inspired defensive effort, while Riley Ferguson threw a pair of TDs to Anthony Miller. No time to bask though; Memphis travels to Houston on Thursday. –- John Varlas, The Commercial Appeal
4. Navy (5-1, 3-1): QB Zach Abey was personally responsible for five turnovers that proved decisive in a 30-27 loss to Memphis, knocking Navy from the ranks of the unbeaten and out of the top 25 after a one-week stay. The Midshipmen face an equally stiff challenge this weekend when they host No. 20 UCF. -– Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group
5. Houston (4-2, 2-1): Houston blew a chance to sit alone atop the West Division with a surprising 45-17 loss to Tulsa. The schedule gets tougher the rest of the way, beginning Thursday against No. 25 Memphis and followed by a trip to No. 16 USF. With Navy on the final weekend, Houston has gone from a team expected to challenge in the division to questions about whether it can reach the necessary six wins for a fifth straight bowl appearance. –- Joseph Duarte, Houston
6. SMU (4-2, 1-1): SMU spent its bye watching Houston and Navy lose, giving the Mustangs a new sense of hope to win the West. SMU goes to Cincinnati this week hoping to show improvement in a couple of key areas. First, the team needs to do a better job of tackling than it did against Houston and UConn. Second, QB Ben Hicks needs to show he can go through his options instead of going all-or-nothing on every throw, especially in the red zone. –- Adam Grosbard, Dallas Morning News
7. Tulsa (2-5, 1-2): In an unexpected turn of events, the Hurricane bounced back from the 62-28 debacle at Tulane and took it to Houston on Saturday, exploding in the second half for a 45-17 victory. Tulsa's struggling defense allowed one score after halftime and forced two key turnovers to set up short TDs. With a two-quarterback system rounding into form, the Hurricane could develop momentum late in the season, starting with a Saturday visit to UConn. –- Kelly Hines,
8. Tulane (3-3, 1-1): Coming off a 62-28 win against Tulsa, Tulane crashed back to earth with a disappointing 23-10 loss at FIU in a flat performance. The Green Wave were outplayed from start to finish, forcing only one punt and getting outgained, 438-219. QB Jonathan Banks went 5-of-16 for 36 yards and was sacked three times. The Wave won’t be flat this Saturday, but will need to play better across the board to hang with USF, the highest-ranked opponent to visit in the four-
year history of Yulman Stadium. -– Guerry Smith, The New Orleans Advocate
9. Cincinnati (2-5, 0-3): The season continues to unravel for the Bearcats, who totaled only 273 yards in a 33-3 loss at USF. The loss was UC's fourth straight, and the Bearcats also have dropped their last seven AAC games dating to last season. This year, the five UC defeats all are by double digits. The Bearcats next play host to SMU on Saturday. -- Tom Groeschen, Cincinnati Enquirer
10. Temple (3-4, 1-3): The Owls lost for the first time this year as a favorite in a 28-24 home defeat to visiting Connecticut. QB Logan Marchi threw for a career-high 356 yards, but he also threw a key pick-six interception. To become bowl-eligible, Temple must go 3-2 down the stretch, with the toughest games against Navy and UCF at home. The Owls visit Army on Saturday, the team that beat Temple to open the 2016 season. -- Marc Narducci, Philadelphia Inquirer
11. Connecticut (2-4, 1-3): The Huskies found ways to get their defense off the field in the fourth quarter (with Temple going 0-for-6 on third- and fourth-down conversions) and changed the feel of their season, at least temporarily, with a 28-24 victory in Philadelphia. UConn still has one of the worst defenses in the nation but that unit did take an important step forward. The Huskies forced two turnovers that led to TDs. Up next: vs. Tulsa Saturday in East Hartford. –- Mike Anthony, The Hartford Courant
12. East Carolina (1-6, 1-3): ECU's expected rough trip to Orlando went according to plan Saturday, as UCF became the third team this season to post more than 60 points on the Pirates in a 63-21 rout. ECU continued trending toward playing its youth, including graduate-transfer QB Thomas Sirk being pulled in the second half for backup Gardner Minshew when the game was no longer competitive. The Pirates will host a fellow 1-6 team this Saturday when BYU comes to Greenville for the first time to face a team giving up an average of 600 yards through seven games. –- Nathan Summers, The Daily Reflector
The 10-year anniversary of USF's ascension to No. 2 in the BCS rankings is upon us. So is a delicious hypothetical.
Who would win between those 2007 Bulls and the (so far) undefeated 2017 team?
The comparisons have become inevitable, not to mention intriguing. Does the defensive brain trust of coordinator Wally Burnham and Coach Jim Leavitt find a way to neutralize Quinton Flowers and Co.? For that matter, can current coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Brian Jean-Mary contain Matt Grothe? Do Mike Ford's legs make the difference? Does Emilio Nadelman's foot?
We asked several folks familiar with both teams (reporters, former players, etc.) for their thoughts on how the matchup would turn out. Here's what they had to say.
But first, some particulars
Record: 9-4 (lost to Oregon, 56-21, in Sun Bowl)
Best win: 21-13 at home vs. No. 5 West Virginia
Worst moment: 30-27 loss at Rutgers
Key offensive stat: Dual-threat QB Matt Grothe totaled 3,542 yards
Key defensive stat: School-record 23 interceptions (six by Trae Williams)
Record: 6-0 (currently ranked No. 16)
Best win: 43-7 at home vs. Temple
Worst moment: Struggled in 31-17 win vs. Division I-AA Stony Brook
Key offensive stat: Seventh nationally in scoring (42.8 ppg)
Key defensive stat: Nation-best 15 interceptions...
Twice already this season, college football's convoluted targeting rule has resulted in senior DT Deadrin Senat's ejection.
But not his dejection, he insists. Speaking for the first time since his disqualifications, in the first half of the San Jose State and Illinois contests, Senat said the incidents changed "nothing that I do."...
A look at Tulane, which hosts No. 16 USF on Saturday at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans
Nickame: Green Wave
Record: 3-3 (1-1 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: vs. Grambling State, 43-14; vs. Army, 21-17; vs. Tulsa, 62-28
Losses: at Navy, 23-21; at Oklahoma, 56-14; at FIU, 23-10
Coach: Willie Fritz (second season at Tulane, 7-11; 21st season overall, 161-80)
Offensive breakdown: Not all triple-option offenses are created equal or, for that matter, aesthetically similar. The Green Wave version differs considerably from the veer triple-option mastered by Navy. "From the standpoint that you've got three options, we're the same," Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But the way we block is totally different." Indeed, the Green Wave employ mostly zone blocking (instead of Navy's man-to-man cut blocks). They also operate out of the shotgun behind 6-foot-3, 220-pound QB Jonathan Banks, spreading the field with a bit more of a passing dimension. Tulane has attempted 91 passes this season, Navy 49. The Wave offense never appeared more dominant than it did two weeks ago, when it amassed 653 yards (488 rushing) in a 62-28 embarrassment of Tulsa. The primary ground threat is senior Dontrell Hilliard, the American Athletic Conference's No. 3 rusher (90 carries, 607 yards, eight TDs). The roster features nine receivers who are 6-foot-1 or taller, but 6-footer Terren Encalade (15 catches, 218 yards) is the only one with at least 10 receptions. Banks has run for 267 yards, but struggles with his efficiency as a thrower (37-of-71, 502 yards, four TDs, one INT). Efficiency inside opposing territory is another matter. According to footballstudyhall.com, Tulane averages 5.22 points per trip inside an opponents' 40, a total that ranks 15th nationally.
Defensive breakdown: The Green Wave operate mainly out of a 3-3-5 that resembles a 4-2-5, with a linebacker aligned as a rush end in a two-point stance. Tulane allows 400.5 yards per game (80th nationally), and its "havoc rate" (percentage of plays in which it records a tackle for loss, forced fumble, or pass breakup/INT) is 14.3 percent, which ranks 96th in the country. Fifth-year senior CB Parry Nickerson, however, has three picks.
Odds and ends: Tulane and USF never have played each other. ... The Green Wave roster features 11 Floridians, but none from the bay area. ... USF running backs coach Shaun King, who led the 1998 Green Wave team to a 12-0 season (and threw for nearly 3,500 yards), is a member of the Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame.
Audible: "They spread you out, they can throw the ball, and then they can spread you out and run the option game with it. They do a really good job getting the ball on the perimeter. They have those big receivers that are gonna be a big matchup problem for us. And then on defense, they just give you so many different looks. They do a really good job of just containing the quarterback and keeping everything inside and in front of them." -- USF coach Charlie Strong...
Two days after drawing a season-high crowd for his team's homecoming game, Bulls coach Charlie Strong said he was pleased with the increased turnout.
But like his team itself, he said there's still room for improvement.
"You love the crowd, and the thing about it, that's the way it should be," Strong said Monday on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference. "You'd like to see even more, but we're getting there."
The actual attendance of 38,121 (per the Tampa Sports Authority) for the Bulls' 33-3 romp of Cincinnati was USF's largest for a home game against a non-Power Five foe in six years. Boosting the turnout was USF's unblemished record, the evening kickoff and a huge marketing push by the university.
Whether that momentum continues remains to be seen. The AAC announced Monday the Bulls' Oct. 28 home game against Houston will kick off at 3:45 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
"It's gonna be game by game, but we had a great turnout; appreciate all the people that did come out and watch us play," Strong said. "We still have some room to grow there and we can always increase that attendance."
STILL STEAMING: Strong, who expressed frustration with his team's performance -- particularly on offense -- immediately after Saturday's game, said film review of the contest "very much" reinforced his feelings.
The Bulls were penalized 14 times and had to settle for field goals on four trips inside the red zone. QB Quinton Flowers, meantime, was solid (16-of-29, 184 yards) but not spectacular, misfiring more than once.
"With any game, it's just all about your focus and it's all about you being prepared to play, and you've got to get off to a big start, which we didn't," Strong said. "But it's all about us playing together. Play with some emotion and some passion."
Flowers, whose body language betrayed frustration at times Saturday, said after the game he was upset with himself.
"At the end of the day, I have to make the throws that I missed," he said. "When the coach puts the ball in my hands, a guy that can change the game, you've got to get the first down, you've got to keep the chains moving. And I felt like I didn't do that today."
NADELMAN HONORED: Senior PK Emilio "Cash" Nadelman, who kicked four field goals and three PATs in a flawless performance Saturday, was named AAC Co-Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.
Nadelman hit field goals of 39, 28, 21 and 24 yards, and now has converted 13 in a row, tying Marvin "Money" Kloss' school record. He's averaging 11.8 points per game, which ranks third in Division I-A.
Senior MLB Auggie Sanchez, who had six tackles and scored on a 65-yard interception return, made the AAC weekly honor roll. Sanchez has a pick-six in each of his last two contests.
ODDS AND ENDS: Saturday's game at Tulane will be USF's first contest ever against the Green Wave. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., and will be televised on ESPN2. ... At the season's midpoint, USF ranks first in the nation in interceptions (15) and turnover margin (plus-2.17). CB Mazzi Wilkins is tied for the national lead in passes defended (1.8 per game). Tulane, meantime, ranks ninth in turnover margin (plus-1.17). ... USF is averaging 91 penalty yards a game, most in the AAC. Tulane averages half that (45.0). ... Strong was asked on the teleconference if it's too early to look ahead to UCF (Yep, someone asked that)....
USF's women's basketball team, which may possess the most daunting schedule -- and bench -- in program history, has been picked to finish second behind Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
The poll, which can be seen here, was released Monday morning during the league's basketball media day in Philadelphia. The Bulls received one first-place vote, almost certainly coming from UConn coach Geno Auriemma....
The USF men's basketball team, which features a new coach (Brian Gregory) and nine new scholarship players, has been picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
The poll, which can be seen here, was released Monday morning at the start of the league's media day in Philadelphia. No Bulls player made the preseason All-AAC first or second teams.
Cincinnati, which returns four of five starters from last season's 30-win team, was picked to win the league.
USF returns only four scholarship players from last season's 8-23 squad, and one of those -- fourth-year junior Troy Holston Jr. -- is out indefinitely following knee surgery. The newcomers include three graduate transfers and three freshmen.
"We do have some game experience, we just don't have it together," Gregory told reporters recently outside the Muma Center.
"And that's a key factor with any successful team, that connectiveness that guys not only play with but share in terms of, 'This is how we do it, and this is what we need to get done, and we've got each others' backs,' and different things like that."...
On a night when the proverbial planets seemed aligned for a huge USF football turnout, the fans aligned themselves as well.
At the turnstiles, parking entrances, restrooms and concession areas. For Bulls fans thirsting for a raucous Raymond James Stadium atmosphere, long lines never seemed so comforting.
Actual attendance for Saturday's homecoming game against Cincinnati -- per the Tampa Sports Authority -- was 38,121. It was USF's largest home crowd for a game against a non-Power Five foe since 39,883 showed up to watch the Bulls annihilate Florida A&M, 70-17, on Sept. 17, 2011.
Coach Charlie Strong didn't speak on the turnout during his postgame address (he was far too perturbed about his team's performance), but likely will in coming days. Athletic director Mark Harlan tweeted his delight, as did other school administrators.
Here's how the crowd looked several minutes after kickoff....
Each week henceforth, we'll take a look at how USF fared in comparison to the other serious Group of Five contenders for the New Year's Six bowl berth. Presuming that berth will be in the Peach Bowl (though it could be the Fiesta), we've devised a gauge of sorts measuring each team's Peach Bowl chances at this moment in time.
Peachy: In the driver's seat for a Peach Bowl berth
Ripening: A team to watch. Peach Bowl outlook getting stronger
Bruised: Peach Bowl chances took a recent hit
The Pits: Not a serious contender at this time
Boise State (4-2)
This week: defeated San Diego State 31-14
Next week: vs. Wyoming
The Broncos retained a flicker of New Year's Six hope with Saturday's upset in San Diego, but remain a Peach longshot. Their season-opening win against Troy lost a lot of sparkle when the Trojans fell 19-8 Wednesday to South Alabama, and their one-point loss to Washington State (embarrassed 37-3 at Cal) doesn't seem as respectable either. The deck's stacked against Boise, but college football's a crazy realm.
This week: defeated Central Michigan 30-10
Next week: vs. Akron
The Rockets had one crack at a landscape-altering win, and blew it with a 52-30 loss to Miami. Had they won that one, they'd probably be entrenched in this discussion. As it stands, their schedule's MAC-exclusive from here on, and we just don't see any way they can make up ground.
This week: lost to Tulsa 45-17
Next week: vs. Memphis (Thursday)
Put a fork in the Cougars, who committed three turnovers and let lowly Tulsa run for nearly 300 yards in Saturday's 45-17 road loss. Conceivably, they could win out (games remain against Memphis, USF and Navy) in the regular season and prevail in the American Athletic Conference title game. Conceivably, Donald Trump also could go to work as an NBC political analyst.
Outlook: The pits
This week: defeated Old Dominion 35-3
Next week: at Middle Tennessee (Friday)
We're tossing the Thundering Herd into this discussion because they appear to be the class of Conference USA, and their only loss -- 37-20 to N.C. State -- doesn't look so unsightly anymore. We don't see a one-loss CUSA champion leapfrogging a one-loss winner of the Mountain West or AAC, but zanier things have happened.
This week: defeated Navy 30-27
Next week: at Houston (Thursday)
The Tigers' upset of Navy resuscitated their Peach hopes. They can entrench themselves in the AAC West driver's seat with a win Thursday at Houston, and their remaining slate (Tulane, Tulsa, SMU, East Carolina) is very navigable. If Memphis wins out, and prevails in a rematch against UCF -- or a match against USF -- in the AAC title game, their resume could be strong enough to propel them into the Peach. It will be stronger if Navy somehow runs the table from here.
This week: lost to Memphis 30-27
Next week: vs. UCF
The Midshipmen's loss to Memphis was a major blow, but not a mortal one. If Memphis loses Thursday at Houston and Navy upsets UCF at home, the Midshipmen are right back in this thing, with a stern late-season slate (at Notre Dame, at Houston, vs. Army) looming. Stiff challenge for sure, but that's precisely what service academy student-athletes are trained for.
San Diego State (6-1)
This week: lost to Boise State 31-14
Next week: vs. Fresno State
Boise elicited whoops of elation across the I-4 corridor in Sunday's wee hours with their surprising romp of the Aztecs in San Diego. The bad news for San Diego State: It has no more potential quality wins on its schedule. The good news: It still has two (Stanford, Arizona State) in its back pocket. If the Aztecs win out from here and the AAC champ finishes with two losses (weirder things have happened), the College Football Playoff committee will look hard at SDSU.
This week: defeated East Carolina 63-21
Next week: at Navy
Navy's the only legitimate obstacle standing between UCF and its potentially historic Black Friday showdown with USF. If the Knights (who statistically possess the nation's most potent offense) win out, they're Peach-bound, plain and simple.
This week: defeated Cincinnati 33-3
Next week: at Tulane
Boise State's upset of San Diego State afforded the Bulls a little breathing room. Or did it? Let's suppose the Bulls stumble once before their showdown at UCF, but defeat the Knights and win the AAC title. Which one-loss team -- SDSU or USF -- would the CFP committee rank higher? Remember, the New Year's Six berth goes to the Group of Five champ ranked highest by the CFP committee. Of course, USF can simplify things and leave nothing to chance by winning out.
TAMPA — Some uncharacteristically long lines at the Raymond James Stadium turnstiles had many USF fans trickling in well after kickoff of Saturday night's homecoming game.
Which worked out in the end. The Bulls' offense didn't really show up until a few minutes before halftime.
In a season when they have overmatched everyone on their anemic slate, the No. 18 Bulls (6-0, 3-0 AAC) didn't let a dreary start prevent a drubbing. Behind another dominant defensive effort, four Emilio Nadelman field goals, and a few nifty offensive moments interspersed, USF coasted to a 33-3 romp of Cincinnati....
Roughly 30 hours before kickoff, USF remains an overwhelming favorite -- currently 24 points -- against Cincinnati in its homecoming game Saturday night.
Yet in one regard, this would-be romp may establish a season-high for suspense, and it likely will peak prior to the coin toss.
Just how many fans will show up?
USF hasn't drawn an actual crowd of 35,000-plus for a game against a non-Power Five foe since 39,883 came to see the Bulls obliterate FAMU, 70-17, on Sept. 17, 2011. Now, the planets appear aligned for a similar turnout.
The Bulls are undefeated. It's homecoming. Kickoff's at night. The weather has cooled off mildly. And the school has made a diligent -- almost desperate -- attempt to promote this game.
A number of ticket discounts are being offered to various groups, including first responders and military personnel. The first 400 cars with four or more USF students park for free.
The school even rented a plane to fly over campus with a banner hyping the game.
If the current quality of the on-field product -- combined with the marketing push -- doesn't boost attendance, one wonders if anything (outside of a Power Five schedule) will....
New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory addressed the Tampa Sports Club in its downtown high-rise headquarters Wednesday evening. Here are some highlights from his talk:
* On the pitches he makes to Bulls recruits: "I say this to our recruits all the time -- we have pro football, pro hockey and pro baseball. We are the only basketball in town. ... This is a great sports town. It is a town that does support its athletic teams and gets out there. If we produce the right product and do the things the right way, we will have a tremendous home-court advantage." (Considering football, hockey and spring baseball overlap with USF's hoops season, the product the Bulls produce likely will have to be pretty darn spectacular.)
* On legendary former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcoate hiring him as a 23-year-old graduate assistant: "I was working in a screen-printing place making T-shirts, earning five bucks an hour. ... I made $4,000 a year (at MSU). He told me every day I was overpaid."
* When Gregory was asked who would provide an outside shooting threat (especially now that Troy Holston Jr. is out indefinitely following knee surgery), the first guy he mentioned was 6-foot-6 Penn State transfer Payton Banks, who shot 36.1 percent from 3-point range (73-of-202) for the Nittany Lions last season. Fellow graduate transfer Stephan Jiggetts, an All-Northeast Conference pick at Fairleigh Dickinson last season, is the starting point guard. Gregory also said he has been impressed by 6-10 veteran Isaiah Manderson, inconspicuous during his first 1 1/2 seasons in the program.
* Gregory said 11 players showed up at his first team meeting last March. When he called another one two weeks later, there were four. "I looked around, we had more coaches than players," he said. In fairness, Gregory said every player who transferred out (except one) informed him face-to-face.
* Despite having nine new scholarship players this year, the Bulls are hardly green. Three are graduate transfers, and all three incoming freshmen attended a year of prep school. Additionally, holdovers Isaiah Manderson, Tulio Da Silva and Holston are 23, 21 and 22, respectively. "We're an old team," Gregory said.
* Among his best quips of the night was this one regarding the Sun Dome: "Great facility for basketball. It's gonna be even better when people are in it."
* Gregory said his staff had to be very strategic with the nine scholarships they had to give. Had they signed nine freshmen, their scholarship space in 2018 and '19 could've been greatly limited. Instead, they set out to sign three freshmen, three graduate transfers, three players they deemed "the best available," and two transfers who would have to sit out a year. "We had 10 official visits on campus in the spring. Nine of those guys signed with us," he said. "The only guy that didn't sign with us couldn't because we didn't have a scholarship for him."
* Gregory's not a fan of the one-and-done rule. He instead favors the baseball model, where players who sign with a four-year college must remain in school until they complete their junior season or turn 21....
TAMPA — In the sobering wake of Hurricane Irma, as first responders mobilized and power trucks converged on the Southeast in merciful convoys, the American Athletic Conference brandished its own level of compassion.
It wasn't as noble as a paramedic working overtime, or as courageous as a lineman delicately mending a transformer 50 feet above the ground. The AAC's efforts were more altruistic....