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Know the foe: Houston

Though only a sophomore, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver (10) may be the American Athletic Conference's top NFL Draft prospect.

AP photo

Though only a sophomore, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver (10) may be the American Athletic Conference's top NFL Draft prospect.

A look at Houston, which plays No. 17 USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickame: Cougars
Record: 4-3 (2-2 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: at Arizona, 19-16; vs. Rice, 38-3; at Temple, 20-13; vs. SMU, 35-22
Losses: vs. Texas Tech, 27-24; at Tulsa, 45-17; vs. Memphis, 42-38
Coach: Major Applewhite (first season, 4-4; was interim coach in Cougars' loss to San Diego State in 2016 Las Vegas Bowl)*

Offensive breakdown: While the Cougars clearly miss departed QB Greg Ward Jr. (the AAC West version of Quinton Flowers), they remain well-stocked offensively and average more than 440 yards. Problem is, they've mostly languished after halftime. The Cougars have been outscored 126-65 in the second half this season, totaling 14 fourth-quarter points in consecutive losses to Tulsa and Memphis. In the loss to Memphis, senior QB Kyle Postma fumbled twice and threw an interception in the final period, though Applewhite said lack of pass protection played a role. Postma lost a preseason QB battle to Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen, but has started the last four games. While he's no Ward, he's also no slouch, throwing for 1,120 yards (five TDs, six INTs) and running for 200. His two primary targets, seniors Linell Bonner (45 catches, 465 yards) and Steven Dunbar (48 catches, 514 yards), rank fifth and sixth in the AAC, respectively, in receiving yards per game. Up front, Houston has used the same five starting linemen all season. On the ground, leading rusher Duke Catalon (112 carries, 496 yards, seven TDs) may be summoned to carry more of the load with second-leading rusher Dillon Burden (60 carries, 333 yards, four TDs) out a few weeks with torn right-elbow ligaments. "Where we've got to get better at running back is protecting the quarterback," Applewhite said. Protecting the ball would help too; Houston has committed 16 turnovers, most in the AAC.

Defensive breakdown: USF will devise its game plan to contain sophomore All-America DT Ed Oliver, arguably the league's best player and unquestionably its best NFL Draft prospect. A five-star recruit who chose to remain in his hometown for college, Oliver has 42 tackles (seven for loss), 1.5 sacks, six QB hurries, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick this season. "I can't say that we've played one like this, or coached against one like this in college, at this age," East
Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery said. A strong correlation probably exists between Oliver's harrassment and the fact Houston ranks 31st nationally in pass-efficiency defense (114.19). Then again, the Cougars also possess a veteran secondary. Senior nickel-back Khalil Lewis has seven tackles for loss, while S Garrett Davis has four interceptions. ILB Matthew Adams, the second-leading tackler, could miss a second consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain, the Houston
Chronicle reported Monday.

Odds and ends: The Cougars' loss to Memphis ended their streak of six consecutive wins against nationally ranked opponents. ... Senior John Leday ranks second in the conference with 26.3 yards per kick return. ... Houston has forced 140 turnovers since the 2013 season, most in Division I-A. ... The Cougars have no Floridians on their roster.

Audible: "When you're playing a really good opponent and it goes into the 13th, 14th and 15th rounds, you have to be making great decisions all the way through those rounds. Those early rounds don't count, it's how you finish the fight." -- Applewhite, whose team has allowed 42 fourth-quarter points over its last two games

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Flowers' passer rating not unblemished, just his record

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers totaled 265 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in Saturday's 34-28 win at Tulane.

AP photo

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers totaled 265 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in Saturday's 34-28 win at Tulane.

Don't count Charlie Strong among those in a mild tizzy over QB Quinton Flowers' pass efficiency, which has dipped modestly -- but not significantly -- in the last 12 months.

This time last season, Flowers had a 150.6 efficiency rating, with 15 touchdown passes, five interceptions and a completion percentage of 58.5 percent (117-of-200). This year, he has a 131.3 rating with 12 TDs, three interceptions, and a 51.4-percent completion rate (89-of-173).

Considering how the Bulls attempt more downfield shots in offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system, the disparity stands to reason. Flowers took several shots in Saturday's 34-28 win at Tulane, finishing 10-of-24 for 127 yards, with scoring passes of 38 and 28 yards to Darnell Salomon and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, respectively.

"No, it really isn't (a concern), because we're running the football too," Strong said Monday on the American Athletic Conference's weekly coaches teleconference.

"Quinton really don't care because when we need to make a throw and get a throw, we can get it. ... Some of those throws, they're deep balls and it's a 50-50 ball. Some of them we're getting and some we're not."

And for those suggesting Flowers' isn't being allowed to improvise with his legs as much as he did under Willie Taggart, you may have a legitimate beef in some red-zone instances (see Cincinnati). But overall, the statistics don't bear that out.

This year, he has gained 613 yards and scored seven TDs on 115 carries. Through seven games in 2016, he had 655 yards and seven TDs on 94 carries. …

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Peach pursuit: How the Group of Five's best fared in Week 8

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton passed for 233 yards in the Knights' 31-21 victory Saturday at Navy.

Baltimore Sun photo

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton passed for 233 yards in the Knights' 31-21 victory Saturday at Navy.

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. The Group of Five conference champion ranked highest by the College Football Playoff committee earns the New Year's Six nod. 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 (5-2)
This week: defeated Wyoming 24-14
Next week: at Utah State
Don't discount the Broncos' New Year's Six odds, which have improved considerably after consecutive wins against San Diego State and Wyoming. Granted, some dominoes still have to tumble for Boise to get back into this thing, including USF and UCF both losing at least once. But if the Broncos can win out in a deep Mountain West, would the College Football Playoff committee rank them higher than a one-loss Bulls or Knights team? It's a pretty far-fetched hypothetical,
mainly because we don't see both UCF and USF losing a game.
Outlook: Ripening

Toledo (6-1)
This week: defeated Akron 48-21
Next week: at Ball State (Thursday)
Poor Toledo. Because the MAC appears so feeble this season, the Rockets could win out and still not make a dent in the CFP rankings (Last week they didn't receive a single vote in the AP poll). Had they upset Miami in south Florida in September, maybe the Rockets would be a serious player in this discussion. But no quality wins remain on their schedule. Not their fault.
Outlook: Bruised

Houston (4-3)
This week: lost to Memphis 42-38
Next week: at USF
Forget the Peach, the Cougars will be fortunate to make the Cure Bowl at this point. They might still be a force in the American Athletic Conference's West Division if their defense knew how to finish, but they've allowed 80 second-half points over their last two contests. This is a team at a crossroads as it prepares for USF.
Outlook: The pits

Marshall (6-1)
This week: defeated Middle Tennessee 38-10
Next week: vs. FIU
The Thundering Herd, behind junior QB (and Wharton High alumnus) Chase Litton, have won five in a row since their 37-20 loss to N.C. State. Again, chaos would have to occur in a couple of other conferences for Marshall to enter the New Year's Six conversation, but as long as it keeps winning we're keeping the Herd on this list.
Outlook: Bruised

Memphis (6-1)
This week: defeated Houston 42-38
Next week: vs. Tulane
Since being embarrassed by UCF, the Tigers have won three in a row, including triumphs against Navy and Houston in a six-day span. Tulane, Tulsa, SMU and East Carolina remain on Memphis' schedule, putting it squarely in the West Division driver's seat. If the Tigers can win out, then topple UCF or USF in the league title game, they could -- could -- find themselves as the highest-ranked Group of Five champ.
Outlook: Ripening

Navy (5-2)
This week: lost to UCF 31-21
Next week: Bye
The  Midshipmen have totaled eight turnovers -- a season's worth in a typical Midshipmen year -- in their losses to Memphis and UCF, nearly bumbling themselves right out of the West Division race. Technically, Navy still has a New Year's Six shot (Notre Dame, Houston and Army remain on the slate). Realistically, the Midshipmen are looking at the Military Bowl. 
Outlook: The pits

San Diego State (6-2)
This week: lost to Fresno State 27-3
Next week: at Hawaii
Only eight days ago, the Aztecs appeared destined to emerge as the top-ranked Group of Five team in the initial CFP rankings. Today, they're a longshot to even win the West Division of the Mountain West Conference. Consecutive losses to Boise State and Fresno State have, for all practical intents, dashed SDSU's New Year's Six aspirations. In Saturday's embarrassing home loss to Fresno, the Aztecs crossed midfield only three times on their final nine possessions.
Outlook: The pits

UCF (6-0)
This week: defeated Navy 31-21
Next week: vs. Austin Peay
By dispatching of Navy, the Knights cleared their last serious hurdle before their Black Friday showdown with USF. Like the Bulls, the Knights learned Saturday they can prevail in a tight game. But it appears their next potentially tight one won't arrive until that ballyhooed regular season finale. UCF's upcoming four foes: Division I-AA Austin Peay, SMU, UConn and Temple.
Outlook: Peachy

USF (7-0)
This week: defeated Tulane 34-28
Next week: vs. Houston
Despite their woeful fourth quarter Saturday night in New Orleans, the Bulls' New Year's Six outlook appears brighter today. San Diego State (56 points in last week's AP poll) no longer is a threat to leapfrog the Bulls in the CFP rankings, nor is Navy. The Peach is USF's for the plucking if it keeps winning.
Outlook: Peachy
  

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No nostalgia on menu as Shaun King returns to Tulane

Former Tulane quarterback Shaun King, now running backs coach at USF, led the Green Wave to a 12-0 season in 1998.

Times file photo

Former Tulane quarterback Shaun King, now running backs coach at USF, led the Green Wave to a 12-0 season in 1998.

He remembers his startling orientation to indigenous bayou cuisine. Shaun King, then Tulane's quarterback, was at the Houma, La., home of teammate JaJuan Dawson, staring at platters of possum and raccoon.

"That was my introduction to that real, born-and-raised Louisiana menu," King recalled with a laugh. "I didn't try it. ... I was very respectful when I said no thanks, but I watched him eat it and it looked like it was really good, but I stuck with the chicken."

One of the greatest players in Green Wave history, King -- now USF's running backs coach -- returns to New Orleans this weekend. In lieu of nocturnal creatures, nostalgia will arrive at him in heaping portions. …

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USF journal: Bulls address red-zone efficiency

Senior Darius Tice (6) had one of USF's two offensive touchdowns Saturday against Cincinnati.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Senior Darius Tice (6) had one of USF's two offensive touchdowns Saturday against Cincinnati.

For those who didn't keep track at home, USF ran 28 plays (including field-goal tries) inside the Cincinnati 20 during its 33-3 rout Saturday. The result: only two touchdowns and more than a little grumbling from the Raymond James Stadium audience.

“Just an execution deal,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. "There were just some opportunities we had that we just missed."

The area's armchair quarterbacks will say the greatest missed opportunity was not allowing Quinton Flowers more chances at the goal line. Only five of those 28 players were a Flowers run.

On Wednesday, Gilbert was asked if a run-pass option exists for Flowers when the Bulls get tight near the goal line.

“We have several options to go to, but part of us and who we are, what we are, is about physicality and being able to run the ball downhill," Gilbert said. "Punch it (into the end zone) that way.”

UNIQUE ATTACK: In one of his most demanding weeks as Bulls defensive coordinator, Brian Jean-Mary is preparing his unit to defend the dive, pitch and quarterback in Tulane's triple option. …

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Bulls, Knights, Tigers atop AAC power rankings

USF tight end Kano Dillon  and the undefeated Bulls remain atop the American Athletic Conference power rankings as voted upon by league reporters.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF tight end Kano Dillon and the undefeated Bulls remain atop the American Athletic Conference power rankings as voted upon by league reporters.

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
Chronicle


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,
Tulsa World


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








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Duel of the decades: Who wins between '07 and '17 Bulls?

Former USF quarterback Matt Grothe totaled 3,542 yards in 2007, when the Bulls reached No. 2 in the BCS standings

Times file photo

Former USF quarterback Matt Grothe totaled 3,542 yards in 2007, when the Bulls reached No. 2 in the BCS standings

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

2007 Bulls
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)

2017 Bulls
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 …

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Deadrin Senat: Targeting ejections made me better

USF defensive tackle DeadrinSenat, taking down a Memphis player during last season's Bulls victory, was ejected twice for targeting earlier this season.

Memphis Commercial Appeal

USF defensive tackle DeadrinSenat, taking down a Memphis player during last season's Bulls victory, was ejected twice for targeting earlier this season.

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." …

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Know the foe: Tulane

Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks (center) is brought down during the Green Wave's 23-10 loss Saturday at FIU.

Joel Auerbach | Getty Images

Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks (center) is brought down during the Green Wave's 23-10 loss Saturday at FIU.

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

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Charlie Strong: Bulls' crowd was good, can get better

USF coach Charlie Strong (left) said his team must play with more emotion and passion than it displayed in Saturday's 33-3 triumph against Cincinnati.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong (left) said his team must play with more emotion and passion than it displayed in Saturday's 33-3 triumph against Cincinnati.

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).

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USF women picked second in AAC preseason coaches poll

USF junior Kitija Laksa averaged 19.2 points -- third in the American Athletic Conference -- last season.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

USF junior Kitija Laksa averaged 19.2 points -- third in the American Athletic Conference -- last season.

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. …

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USF men picked last in AAC preseason coaches poll

USF small forward Tulio Da Silva is one of only four  scholarship players back from last season's team.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF small forward Tulio Da Silva is one of only four scholarship players back from last season's team.

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." …

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USF homecoming game draws more than 38,000

USF's homecoming game Saturday against Cincinnati was its most well-attended contest of the season.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF's homecoming game Saturday against Cincinnati was its most well-attended contest of the season.

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.

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Peach pursuit: How the Group of Five's best fared in Week 7

USF defensive end Greg Reaves celebrates a sack in the Bulls' 33-3 romp Saturday of Cincinnati.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF defensive end Greg Reaves celebrates a sack in the Bulls' 33-3 romp Saturday of Cincinnati.

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.
Outlook: Bruised

Toledo (5-1)
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.
Outlook: Bruised

Houston (4-2)
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

Marshall (5-1)
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.
Outlook: Bruised

Memphis (5-1)
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.
Outlook: Ripening

Navy (5-1)
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.
Outlook: Bruised

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. 
Outlook: Bruised

UCF (5-0)
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. 
Outlook: Peachy

USF (6-0)
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.
Outlook: Peachy

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Will Bulls finally see an attendance boost Saturday night?

USF fans cheer on the Bulls during last season's 52-45 home triumph against Navy.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF fans cheer on the Bulls during last season's 52-45 home triumph against Navy.

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. …

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