TALLAHASSEE — Before making one of the most agonizing decisions of his 41-year-old existence, Willie Taggart turned to his most valued consiglieres.
Close friend (and former boss) Jim Harbaugh got a call. So did Derrick Brooks and Deion Sanders, two of his teen idols. He even dialed up former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, who worked closely with Taggart as a USF athletics administrator during his final two seasons in Tampa....
TAMPA — Wacky thing, that college coaching profession. Where else do career trajectories so frequently turn on a dime? In what other line of work can one game — or one play or one athlete — alter fate so drastically?
Think about it. Were it not for Lindsay Scott (see Florida-Georgia game, 1980), maybe Vince Dooley never becomes a University of Georgia icon. Were it not for a Hail Mary in Miami, Doug Flutie probably doesn't evolve into a 5-foot-10 folk hero. ...
1. Saturday's game evolved into a pooch-kick primer, for good reason. Memphis' Tony Pollard, named AAC Special Teams Player of the Year, has four kick returns for touchdowns this season. UCF's Mike Hughes has two, including a 95-yarder against USF that will haunt Bulls fans into the next millennium. On Saturday, they combined for three returns, none of which went longer than 32 yards.
2. For a conference in dogged pursuit of a beefier TV deal in the next couple of years, the last two weekends have represented a bonanza of sorts. In the wake of the USF-UCF game, which delivered a total live TV audience of 4.7 million viewers (according to ESPN), Saturday's AAC title game drew an announced crowd of 41,433, largest in this contest's three-year history. Didn't hurt that both contests were offensive thrillers shown to a national ABC audience....
ORLANDO — A significant concern of American Athletic Conference brass was whether the short-term futures of both coaches — especially UCF's — would overshadow the action of Saturday's league title game.
That worry disappeared along with both defenses on a warm, wild afternoon at Spectrum Stadium. In the second ebb-and-flow extravaganza staged in this venue in nine days, secondaries, school records and story lines were upended with equal fury....
ORLANDO — Less than 72 hours after his team's most emotionally charged win of the year, in a sold-out setting high on voltage, UCF coach Scott Frost assembled his players for a meter reading.
"My first question to 'em (Monday) morning was, 'You got enough juice for one more?' " Frost said. "And there was an enthusiastic response."
Response aside, one must wonder just how much figurative battery power that 49-42 victory against USF drained from the Knights and whether they can generate enough for one more winner-take-all showdown. ...
ORLANDO — In lieu of a traditional preseason camp, he opted for a preseason cavern: dark, expansive and occasionally frightening.
UCF senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin acknowledges being skittish in those initial nights of solitude inside the Wayne Densch Sports Center, home to Knights football. The final August before his final season, the St. Petersburg native chose to live there; to eat, sleep, study, shower and, occasionally, freak out in the facility....
1. Props to Charlie Strong — and the Bulls veterans — for underplaying USF's final offensive play, which ended with TE Mitchell Wilcox fumbling while fighting for extra yardage after a catch. "His heart is truly broken," Strong said. "And it's so hard because he takes it so hard, and it wasn't his fault." A Tarpon Springs High alumnus, Wilcox finished with three receptions for a season-best 51 yards including a 21-yard scoring catch late in the first half....
ORLANDO — The de facto American Athletic Conference East Division title game commenced on a damp, cool afternoon beneath gray skies. Meteorologically, it was a bleak Friday.
For USF, it ultimately faded to black, but not before USF quarterback Quinton Flowers delivered the masterpiece in his bulging volume of breathtaking dual-threat exhibitions.
On a national TV stage, in the biggest game in his school's 21-season history, Flowers set USF single-game passing yardage (503) and total-yardage records (605) before a late special-teams breakdown and turnover doomed the Bulls. ...
TAMPA — While saying nothing to purposely fan the flames of the USF-UCF rivalry during his weekly news conference Tuesday, Bulls coach Charlie Strong provided fuel for the Knights' best player.
He used the H-word when discussing Knights senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who plays without a left hand.
"He's gonna cause a lot of problems for us, which he's caused a lot of problems for everyone," Strong said. "And he has a handicap, and he does not allow that to stop him from doing what he needs to do, which is really special about him."...
ORLANDO — The marvel of Space Mountain dissipated decades ago. Doctor Doom's Fearfall at Universal, while a nifty defiance of gravity, has its ups and downs. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Please.
To many locals, Orlando's most dizzying experience — spanning two autumns and featuring far more climbs than dips — can be found on the city's northeastern fringe. Let Lake Buena Vista have all the coasters. Accelerating from zero to 60 has nothing on the sensation of propelling from 0-12 to 10-0....
1. Senior RB D'Ernest Johnson, woefully underutilized as a pass receiver this season, had two receptions for 38 yards in the game. The team's second-leading receiver in 2016 (28 catches, 293 yards), Johnson had only seven receptions in the first nine games. That component of the offense could come in handy next week at UCF.
2. Seniors accounted for all 279 of the Bulls' rushing yards against Tulsa. As effectively as Willie Taggart and Charlie Strong have recruited in recent years, USF has some rebuilding to do in 2018....
TAMPA — The senior night festivities and Tulsa formality didn't go according to script for USF on a crisp Thursday evening.
Hardly romp-and-circumstance stuff. To the contrary, the effort was barely sufficient against a two-win foe.
USF's 27-20 win against Tulsa was secured only after Golden Hurricane quarterback Chad President threw an incompletion on fourth and 9 from the Bulls 30 with 27 seconds to play....
TAMPA -- The sibling argument had escalated by the time Lisa Martinez returned home from the movies with her daughter.
Mike Love, the witty but wayward kid who recently had moved into the Martinez family's Safety Harbor house, was gone by the time Lisa got there. Left in his wake was Dalton, the youngest of Lisa's three biological boys and Mike's best friend since middle school.
"I had made a joke to a girl or something, and he thought I was like, calling him out," Dalton recalled. "So he was mad that I was talking about him."...
ORLANDO — Less than four days after USF unveiled plans for a $40 million football-exclusive facility, UCF officials and donors were brandishing gold-painted shovels Saturday morning in a ceremonial groundbreaking for a football operations headquarters.
Yet for all the fanciful renderings and futuristic visions spawned by the I-4 rivals lately, only one arms race matters for the moment....
TAMPA —A couple of hours after dawn broke on the Brian Gregory era, mild bedlam broke out.
Graduate transfer Stephan Jiggetts' jump shot just inside the free-throw line with 12 seconds to play lifted USF to a 60-59 victory Friday against Florida Atlantic, bringing a moment of delirium to a program previously in dysfunction.
The victory, before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 4,192, capped a USF doubleheader sweep. The No. 23 Bulls women topped LSU 61-55....