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Woodie: Towson RB looks like 'a D-I major prospect'

Bulls defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie said Wednesday that Towson senior RB Darius Victor -- a two-time 1,000-yard rusher -- reminds him of one of his former team's resident wrecking balls.

"Several years ago, when we were at Western Kentucky, we had a guy by the name of Bobby Rainey," said Woodie, who watched the ex-Buccaneer and current New York Giant churn his way to WKU's career rushing record (4,523 yards). "His body type (was) 5-foot-8, 215 or 220 (pounds), but this kid (Victor) is actually 230 and he's a load."

Victor led Maryland with 2,017 rushing yards as a senior at Hyattsville's Northwestern High. He has run for at least 1,200 yards each of the last two seasons at Towson, which employs a two-back, power-based scheme.

"He can block, he can run, he looks like definitely a D-1 major prospect when you watch him on film," Woodie said.

LONG-AWAITED DEBUT: Receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said he expects redshirt sophomore WR Stanley Clerveaux to make his collegiate debut Saturday after missing the last two seasons with injuries.

Clerveaux, a three-star recruit out of North Miami High, took a redshirt in 2014 after undergoing shoulder surgery, and tore his ACL in the '15 preseason. He currently isn't listed on the two-deep depth chart but has participated in all of preseason camp.

"He's stayed healthy," Weist said. …

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Report: USF makes Big 12 expansion cut, ECU out

USF players salute the student section following a blowout win over Florida A&M in September.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

USF players salute the student section following a blowout win over Florida A&M in September.

The Bulls reportedly are among six to eight schools still in consideration for two Big 12 expansion spots, according to a report from a former Boston Globe reporter.

Mark Blaudschun reported on the subscription-based tmgcollegesports.com that USF made the cut with UCF, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis. A couple of other American Athletic Conference schools and BYU also remain in the mix, Blaudschun wrote, but he indicated "there is less certainty either Florida school is regarded as a prime contender."

USF has consistently declined to comment on its pursuit of Big 12 membership, but the school sent a package of promotional material to the Power Five conference earlier this month.

The report cited no sources, but East Carolina indicated Wednesday it has been informed by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby it's no longer an expansion candidate.

“While I am disappointed by the decision, I remain undaunted in my commitment to ECU athletics and the excellence displayed by our wonderful student-athletes, coaches and staff," East Carolina president Dr. Cecil Stanton said in the statement. …

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Bulls studying high school tape of Towson QB

Even with their season opener looming, Bulls coaches have spent recent days continuing to dissect tape of high school talent.

Thing is, the prep quarterback they've been studying lately is someone they hope to sack, not sign.

No college tape exists of new Towson QB Morgan Mahalak, an Oregon transfer who never took a snap for the Ducks, so the Bulls have resorted to watching footage of Mahalak during his dual-threat days at Marin Catholic High in Kentfield, Calif. …

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USF season ticket sales up by more than 3,000

USF coach Willie Taggart said he believes Bulls fans "will pack" Raymond James Stadium for Saturday night's season opener.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Willie Taggart said he believes Bulls fans "will pack" Raymond James Stadium for Saturday night's season opener.

For the better part of four years, USF coach Willie Taggart has been reminded that Bulls fans will return to Raymond James Stadium once the team starts winning.

Based on season-ticket sales, that hypothesis is proving true.

The school reported Tuesday 15,842 season tickets have been sold for the 2016 season, in which USF is expected to contend for the American Athletic Conference title. The total is an increase of 3,028 from last season, and represents a 33-percent increase in general-public season ticket sales from '15.

The numbers don't include student tickets distributed. USF students receive tickets as part of their annual fees.

"I tell all of you now, I cannot wait until Saturday night to see what RayJay's gonna look like," Taggart, whose team hosts Towson in Saturday's season opener, said during his weekly press conference Tuesday.

"I can't wait, I'm excited. Ready to see our fan base come out and really show up and show out and show their appreciation for what our guys are doing."

The school also reported an increase in "flex plan" ticket sales of more than 1,600 from last season. That plan allows the purchase of tickets to three of this season's seven home games.

USF's announced average attendance (tickets distributed) was 26,578 last season, but its actual average (turnstile count) was 17,801 according to the Tampa Sports Authority.

But with the program on the uptick -- its 8-5 record in '15 was its first winning season in a half-decade -- and a home date with FSU on Sept. 24, those numbers are almost certain to catapult.

"Everybody talks about Florida State. No, Towson," Taggart said Tuesday. "We're gonna pack RayJay (for) Towson. Mark my words, I believe in the Bulls fans. They're gonna be there."

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Assessing the latest USF depth chart

Robinson High alumnus Bruce Hector (left) is listed as a starting defensive tackle on USF's latest depth chart.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Robinson High alumnus Bruce Hector (left) is listed as a starting defensive tackle on USF's latest depth chart.

Five days before they emerge from the southwest tunnel of Raymond James Stadium, the Bulls already have pulled off some nifty misdirection.

Courtesy of their game-week depth chart.

Presumed starting RT Billy Atterbury now a backup left tackle? Onetime projected starting striker Nate Godwin possibly a third-teamer? Four-star freshman WR Darnell Salomon nowhere to be found on the two-deep roster? D'Ernest Johnson -- not Tajee Fullwood -- the starting punt returner?

Presumably, Coach Willie Taggart will fill us in on the reasoning behind some of these personnel decisions at his normal weekly press conference Tuesday. Until then, we'll do our best to make head or tail of them here.

* The unexpected move of Atterbury, who exited spring practice as the starting right tackle and seemed to have the job locked up as recently as a couple of weeks ago, might be a promotion in the long run. Arguably no position up front is more critical than left tackle, and starter Kofi Amichia is a senior. If Atterbury develops and gets a few quality game reps in 2016, he shapes up as the starting left tackle the next three seasons.

* Godwin said Saturday the hamstring that previously had nagged him is fine now, but clearly it hindered him in the spring and -- presumably -- part of the summer. As a result, sophomore Khalid McGee maximized his opportunity, plain and simple. That said, the striker depth chart clearly lists McGee "OR" Sickles High alumnus Nate Ferguson "OR" Godwin, in that order. Translation: The starter hasn't formally been determined yet.

* Fifth-year senior Alex Mut, who might rank among the team leaders in resilience, currently is listed as Marquez Valdes-Scantling's backup at the X-receiver spot. Either Mut leapfrogged some pretty talented dudes with his preseason effort, or coaches are rewarding him for persevering through injuries and general anonymity the past four years. Regardless, Mut's next collegiate reception will be his first. We just can't see him holding off the likes of Salomon and rangy redshirt sophomore Stanley Clerveaux all season.

* We can see Tajee Fullwood being edged by Devin Abraham for the starting free safety job, and there's no doubt both will play -- a lot. But Fullwood not returning punts initially? The Tampa Bay Tech alumnus ranked 26th nationally last season with 10.4 yards per return. Is it outrageous to suggest he simply might have been beaten out for the job? Of course not. Last we checked, new first-teamer D'Ernest Johnson has the ability to make a play or two.

* Anyone notice three of last year's Division I transfers -- FS Austin Hudson, MLB Cecil Cherry and QB Asiantii Woulard -- aren't on the two-deep roster? That's a testament to USF's vastly improved depth, plain and simple. (but of those three, we predict Cherry will get on the field first).

* The depth chart doesn't specify nose or three-technique, but Bruce Hector and Deadrin Senat are the starting defensive tackles, and Kevin Bronson is Hector's backup. We're presuming Senat's the nose, making Hector and Bronson arguably the best three-technique tandem in the American Athletic Conference.

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Latest USF depth chart rife with locals

Former East Lake High star Devin Abraham is among eight players from a local high school expected to start Saturday for USF.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former East Lake High star Devin Abraham is among eight players from a local high school expected to start Saturday for USF.

If the latest USF football depth chart holds true, eight players from bay area high schools -- five on defense -- will start Saturday night's season opener against Towson.

The Bulls released their updated chart Monday afternoon. Of the starting 22, only four are seniors, with only 10 seniors among the top 44 on the two-deep chart. Moreover, only one of the major specialists -- veteran LS Alex Salvato -- is in his final season.

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Opening week Depth Chart for your Bulls. Breakdown: https://t.co/Gq7Og5E5pH pic.twitter.com/NHzlq3AD0l

 

In all, the two-deep roster (offense and defense) features 14 players from a local high school. Two positions, the "Bull" defensive end and free safety, have a bay area player listed on the first and second teams.

By comparison, only four locals started the Bulls' 2012 season finale -- Skip Holtz's final game as coach.

 

 

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Know the Foe: Towson

Towson senior Darius Victory (7) is seeking his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

Photo by Doug Kapustin

Towson senior Darius Victory (7) is seeking his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

A look at FCS foe Towson, which faces USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Tigers
2015 record: 7-4 (5-3 Colonial Athletic Association)
Coach: Rob Ambrose (eighth season at Towson, 43-41; ninth season overall, 46-48)
The breakdown: While the Bulls have film of Towson, they've seen nary a clip of the Tigers' power-based offense with Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak taking the snaps. A four-star recruit from California's Marin Catholic, Mahalak totaled more than 3,300 yards as a senior and was chosen for the Under Armour All-American Game. His arrival could alter the whole dynamic of the Tigers' scheme, which in the past has featured resident wrecking ball Darius Victor (5-foot-8, 217 pounds), seeking his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Victor and Mahalak will operate behind a line featuring no fewer than four returning starters. On the other side, the Tigers -- expected to operate a 3-4 alignment -- return four of their top six tacklers from last season's team, which ranked 20th in the FCS in both total defense (318.5 ypg) and run defense (125.9 ypg). Among them is fifth-year senior OLB Jordan Mynatt, who led Towson with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2015.

Odds and ends: Towson also opened the '15 season against an American Athletic Conference team, falling 28-20 at East Carolina. In that game, Victor ran for 137 yards and the Tigers controlled the clock for 33:36. ... Only three seasons ago, Towson reached the FCS title game, losing to -- who else -- North Dakota State. ... DL Max Tejada, a Jacksonville Bolles alumnus, is the only one Tigers player from Florida. ... During a recent camp competition, 283-pound DE Zain Harps Upshur flipped a tire 14 times in 30 seconds.

Willie Taggart's take: "They're a blue-collar football team. They run the power. ... They line up with two backs and get downhill, have a real good running back. They find a lot of different ways to run the power play. Earlier in my career, we found a lot of different ways to run it as well, and they do a good job with it."

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Jesuit's Cameron Ruff to start at center for Bulls

Bulls fourth-year junior Cameron Ruff, a Jesuit High alumnus, will start at center in Saturday night's season opener against Towson.

Coach Willie Taggart made the announcement during Monday's American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference. The starting left guard exiting spring drills, Ruff switched back to center -- where he played sparingly in 2014 -- before preseason camp and competed with redshirt freshman Michael Galati.

Saturday's contest will be Ruff's second career start. Look for USF's starting offensive front to feature TE Kano Dillon, RT Billy Atterbury, RG Dominique Threatt, Ruff at center, LG Jeremi Hall and LT Kofi Amichia.

Taggart said the only other lingering position battle, at punter, remains undecided. Walk-on Brent Gordon, who punted in last year's Miami Beach Bowl after all-conference starter Mattias Ciabatti was suspended, is competing against FSU transfer Jonathan Hernandez.

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Men's hoops: USF freshman Andres Feliz not with team

The critical third year of the Orlando Antigua era at USF likely will ensue without the Bulls' top two freshman signees.

A day after news broke that four-star PF Troy Baxter Jr. will not be joining the team, the Tampa Bay Times learned PG Andres Feliz -- a member of the Dominican Republic national team -- currently isn't with the program.

Feliz, who played his last two prep seasons at Orlando's West Oaks Academy, was not with the Bulls for Saturday's Fan Fest -- which featured every USF sports team except volleyball (currently on the road) -- at the Sun Dome.

School officials had no comment on his absence Saturday. It's unclear if Feliz's absence is related to recent reports the men's basketball program is the subject of an academic-related NCAA probe.

The absence of Baxter and Feliz leaves Brewster (N.H.) Academy Prep F Malik Fitts and PG Michael Bibby -- son of former NBA journeyman Mike Bibby -- as the only 2016 freshman signees still with the team. Both attended Fan Fest.

Teeming with international experience, Feliz, 19, averaged 18.9 points and 3.7 assists for the Dominican Republic at the FIBA World Championships two summers ago. In April, he was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland as starting point guard for the World Team. …

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Former Bull Mike White wins WKU starting job

Former USF quarterback Mike White has been named the starter at Western Kentucky.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Former USF quarterback Mike White has been named the starter at Western Kentucky.

Former Bulls QB Mike White, who transferred to Western Kentucky last year after two seasons at USF, has been named the Hilltoppers starter, the school confirmed Friday.

White, who informed Bulls coach Willie Taggart he was leaving USF the day after the 2015 spring game, edged senior Tyler Ferguson and sophomore Drew Eckels for the job. WKU opens its season Thursday at home against Rice.

"Mike has done a nice job preparing himself for this moment and operates our offense well," WKU Coach Jeff Brohm said. …

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Heralded freshman Troy Baxter won't join USF

Nationally touted PF Troy Baxter Jr., one of USF's most heralded signees in recent memory, has not enrolled in school and isn't expected to join the program, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.

Classes resumed at USF on Monday. Scout.com's Evan Daniels reported via Twitter on Friday afternoon that Baxter has been released from his letter of intent.

A four-star recruit, Baxter's absence essentially coincides with reports in July indicating the Bulls men's basketball program was being investigated by the NCAA for possible academic fraud. Assistant Oliver Antigua resigned the same day the reports surfaced.

Whether the probe is related to Baxter's absence is unclear.

Ranked 90th in the ESPN 100 as a senior last season at Oldsmar Christian, Baxter averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the Eagles; and watched his stock catapult with a breakthrough summer with his travel squad -- Team Breakdown -- last year.

During the Final Four weekend in April, he won the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk Contest, astounding no less an authority than celebrity judge Shaquille O'Neal. Sleek and sinewy at 6-foot-9, he was expected to lend an immediate impact as a stretch-four player for the Bulls. …

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Taggart: Chris Oladokun can play if needed

USF freshman quarterback Chris Oladokun (left) is hugged by his dad Henry after signing with the Bulls in February.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

USF freshman quarterback Chris Oladokun (left) is hugged by his dad Henry after signing with the Bulls in February.

Coach Willie Taggart indicated Thursday the right foot fracture suffered earlier this week by No. 3 QB Asiantii Woulard isn't season-threatening.

But if it is, he has no problem using freshman Chris Oladokun -- a Sickles High alumnus -- in a pinch.

Woulard, the UCLA transfer beaten out by redshirt freshman Brett Kean for the backup job in preseason camp, wore a protective boot on his right foot during Thursday morning's practice. Afterward, Taggart said Woulard will "be back soon."

"But I like Chris," Taggart added.

Oladokun, who passed for more than 4,000 yards in three prep seasons (including two at Alonso), has mostly drawn kudos from Taggart this preseason. As recently as Saturday night's closed scrimmage, he tucked and dashed up the middle for a 60-yard TD. …

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USF's Asiantii Woulard fractures foot

USF quarterback Asiantii Woulard said Wednesday on Twitter he recently suffered a foot fracture.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF quarterback Asiantii Woulard said Wednesday on Twitter he recently suffered a foot fracture.

Bulls QB Asiantii Woulard, edged out by redshirt freshman QB Brett Kean for the No. 2 job, is out indefinitely with a foot injury, the school confirmed Wednesday.

USF football spokesman Brian Siegrist said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times the team is hopeful the injury is not long term.

Woulard, a UCLA transfer who sat out last season, exited spring drills third on the depth chart and watched Kean retain the backup spot during preseason camp. He posted on his personal Twitter account Wednesday afternoon that he has a fracture.

"Fractured foot... Smh I gotta be being (sic) tested," Woulard tweeted. "Something is always going on."

PLAYING ON EDGE: USF sophomore CB Ronnie Hoggins is used to being the guy that flies under the radar.

At 5-foot-8, the Coconut Creek native has been told he's undersized for the position. He has heard the doubts about his ability to play at the top level.

But he mostly quelled that talk with a breakout freshman campaign in 2015. Hoggins appeared in all 13 games (10 starts), totaling 26 tackles with two interceptions and a team-high six pass deflections.

"It's about always having a chip on your shoulder — never losing that edge that I grew up with," Hoggins said Wednesday. "That's the chip that I feel like I have and I feel like every person on this defense has."

Bulls cornerbacks coach Alonzo Hampton said he noticed a a difference in the way Hoggins carried himself from the beginning.

"From the very first day here came in here ... he made a play every day -- literally," Hampton said. "We just kept saying, 'Man, this kid, he keeps making plays.'

"All the things he doesn't have as far as height and all that, he makes up with his hands, his smarts and he's just a very instinctive young fella."

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Brett Kean named Bulls' backup QB

USF redshirt freshman Brett Kean (7) will enter the season as the No. 2 quarterback behind Quinton Flowers (9), Coach Willie Taggart confirmed.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF redshirt freshman Brett Kean (7) will enter the season as the No. 2 quarterback behind Quinton Flowers (9), Coach Willie Taggart confirmed.

Bulls coach Willie Taggart confirmed Tuesday morning what spring practices and recent scrimmages seemed to suggest: redshirt freshman Brett Kean is his backup quarterback.

Kean, who guided Ohio's St. Edward High to a state title in 2014, exited spring practice at No. 2 on the depth chart and remained there as recently as Saturday night's closed scrimmage. According to the Bulls' official Twitter feed, he directed at least two touchdown drives in that 120-play situational rehearsal.

UCLA transfer Asiantii Woulard presumably is the No. 3 QB at this point.

"Brett has had an outstanding camp; really, really stepped it up," said Taggart, whose team practiced in shells Tuesday morning, when feel-like temperatures eclipsed 100 degrees. "I think...not necessarily surprised all of us, but really impressed all of us."

As for those making the snaps, the depth chart remains undecided. Taggart said fourth-year junior Cameron Ruff -- a Jesuit High alumnus -- and redshirt freshman Michael Galati still are competing.

"They're getting after it. Guys aren't giving in to either one," Taggart said. …

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Breaking camp: 5 observations from USF preseason

Brett Kean was the No. 2 guy following his breakthrough spring, and doesn't appear to have relinquished that spot.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Brett Kean was the No. 2 guy following his breakthrough spring, and doesn't appear to have relinquished that spot.

The Bulls' 15-day preseason camp, arguably the most physically demanding of the Willie Taggart era, concluded Saturday night with an extensive closed scrimmage. Because only three practices were open to the public, we can't deliver a nuanced assessment of every position, but we have gleaned enough to offer what we deem some key observations. Here they are, based on post-practice interviews, the sliver of daily practice time to which we were privy, and the basic vibes we sensed.

1. Khalid McGee's the man at striker.
The backup to Jamie Byrd last season, McGee initially seemed destined to stay at No. 2 when senior Nate Godwin was moved from safety to this de facto nickel-back spot. But Godwin's nagging hamstring ailment has lingered, and McGee has maximized his opportunity -- earning a coveted gray shirt in the process. Following Thursday night's practice, Willie Taggart all but proclaimed McGee the starter.

2. Brett Kean's the backup QB
A little disclaimer here: After Saturday's situational scrimmage, Taggart was asked if Kean had solidified the backup role, but said he preferred to review the film first. That said, Kean was the No. 2 guy following his breakthrough spring, and doesn't appear to have relinquished that spot. USF athletic department staff writer Tom Zebold, who observed all of Saturday's scrimmage, said Kean got the majority of snaps behind Flowers on Saturday. If/when the Bulls build a comfortable lead on Towson in two weeks, we'd be shocked if Kean isn't the second QB to play.

3. Camp casualties minimal
The Bulls might have set a preseason record for fewest walking boots required. Aside from WR A.J. Legree's torn ACL and Godwin's hammy, USF appears to have made it through camp unscathed.

4. Two bay area Bulls on defensive front
Next to McGee, no defensive youngster has drawn more unsolicited praise this preseason than redshirt freshman DE Kirk Livingstone, who appears a lock to start. We project him lining up with DT Kevin Bronson, NT Bruce Hector (Robinson High) and 'Bull' DE Vincent Jackson (Jesuit).  
 
5. From heralded to humbled?
Perhaps the most glowing testament to the Bulls' depth -- and Taggart's recruiting -- is the fact only one of last year's four heralded Division I transfers is expected to start against Towson. We see WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (N.C. State) on the field at the opening snap, but not FS Austin Hudson (Wisconsin), MLB Cecil Cherry (Texas) or QB Asiantii Woulard (UCLA). While Taggart recently indicated Hudson has had a solid camp, he's mired in a numbers game with Tajee Fullwood and Devin Abraham. And while Cherry's physicality has drawn raves, he hasn't unseated team captain Auggie Sanchez. Woulard, meantime, seems the No. 3 QB at this point.

Projected starting lineup
Offense
TE Kano Dillon, So.
LT Kofi Amichia, Sr.
LG Jeremi Hall, R-Jr.
C  Cameron Ruff, R-Jr.
RG Dominique Threatt, Sr.
RT Billy Atterbury, R-Fr.
QB Quinton Flowers, Jr.
RB Marlon Mack, Jr.
X Marquez Valdes-Scantling, R-Jr.
Z Ryeshene Bronson, Jr.
Slot Rodney Adams, Sr.

Defense
DE Kirk Livingstone, R-Fr.
DT Kevin Bronson, So.
NT Bruce Hector, R-So.
DE Vincent Jackson, R-So.
WLB Nigel Harris, Sr.
MLB Auggie Sanchez, R-Jr.
CB Deatrick Nichols, Jr.
CB Ronnie Hoggins, So.
Striker Khalid McGee, So.
SS Jaymon Thomas, So.
FS Tajee Fullwood, Jr.

Special Teams
P Brent Gordon, So.
PK Emilio Nadelman, R-Jr.
LS Alex Salvato, Sr.
H Alex Mut, Sr.
KR Rodney Adams, Sr.
   D'Ernest Johnson, Jr.
PF Tajee Fullwood, Jr.

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