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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 hots 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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USF hoops coach Brian Gregory: 'We're an old team'

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory, seen addressing a Bulls booster gathering last summer, spoke Wednesday at the Tampa Sports Club.

Photo provided by USF

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory, seen addressing a Bulls booster gathering last summer, spoke Wednesday at the Tampa Sports Club.

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.

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Popular USF athletic department staffer killed in car accident

USF assistant director of communications Mike Radomski was killed in a car accident early Thursday morning on I-75.

USF photo

USF assistant director of communications Mike Radomski was killed in a car accident early Thursday morning on I-75.

A spirited homecoming week just became really somber for USF's athletic department.

Assistant director of communications Mike Radomski, who primarily served as the media liaison for men's basketball but also worked with several other Bulls sports, died shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday in a car accident on Interstate 75 near his Wildwood home. He was 29.

Alcohol was not a factor, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Mr. Radomski had been working late Wednesday evening at USF preparing materials for the upcoming basketball season.

Mr. Radomski commuted from Wildwood each day so his wife, whom he married two summers ago, could live closer to her own workplace. Christina Radomski is an assistant athletic trainer at the University of Florida.

"Mike served our student-athletes and coaches with distinction and with pride and his loss is devastating for all of us, no more so than for his wife, Christina, and his family and friends," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement released Thursday by USF.

"Mike’s infectious smile and kind heart will never be forgotten by the South Florida family. We will do all that we can to support Christina and their family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.” 

A New Jersey native and Quinnipiac University alumnus, Mr. Radomski arrived at USF in 2015. He initially worked closely with the baseball team before shifting to men's basketball last season, and also served as media contact for volleyball and track/cross country.

"I am truly at a loss for words. I am heartbroken," Bulls men's basketball coach Brian Gregory said in a released statement.

"Mike had become a member of our basketball family and endeared himself to our student-athletes, coaches and staff, with his honesty, humility, kindness and professionalism. We all lost a friend today and we will do our part to uphold his memory by living lives of virtue and optimism. Our hearts go out to Christina and their family." …

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USF speedster Chauncy Smart transferring

Bulls freshman speedster Chauncy Smart, who appeared destined for a redshirt season, has been granted his release and plans to focus on track at a Power Five program.

Milesplit.com first reported Smart's departure Wednesday afternoon, and he's no longer listed on USF's official roster. In a text message Wednesday evening, he said he's considering Miami, Iowa, Tennessee, Oregon and North Carolina.

"Just want to focus on track and just beenn going throughout with family and stuff," Smart said in a text message Wednesday evening. "I want to focus on track at a bigger school with better coaches."

He said his decision had nothing to do with his football experience at USF or the Bulls coaches.

"Not at all," he said.

Smart, who quit football midway through his senior season at Auburndale to focus on track, won the 100-meter dash last spring at the Class 3A meet at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. His time (10.56 seconds) was the fastest of any runner in any classification.

He originally signed a track scholarship with FSU last fall but was granted a release, and signed with the Bulls in mid-February.

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In one statistical sense, Bulls on same level as 'Bama

USF coach Charlie Strong (center), reprimanding linebacker Danny Thomas early in preseason camp, said that rigorous August now is paying off.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong (center), reprimanding linebacker Danny Thomas early in preseason camp, said that rigorous August now is paying off.

Wasn't terribly long ago -- oh, 12 months or so -- when Bulls fans were questioning their team's physicality.

Now, they're quantifying it.

USF and Alabama are the only two Division I teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in both rushing offense and run defense. The No. 18 Bulls enter Saturday's homecoming game against Cincinnati fifth in rushing (309.2 ypg) and second in run defense (74.4 ypg).

Top-ranked 'Bama is seventh (301.7) and first (73.3), respectively, in those categories.

"I was laughing at 'em because I said, "You guys came out of camp talking about, 'Coach, this was physical. We ain't never hit this much,'" Coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday. "I said, 'But you look at it right now, why we're running the football. ... What happens in practice is gonna happen in a game.'"

Suddenly, the Bulls are reflecting on that camp, which had the earliest starting date (July 24) of any USF preseason, more proudly than painfully.

"It was very helpful," DT Kevin Bronson said. "Camp is gonna be a little hell, but you've got to get through it in order to play the season."

FULLWOOD IMPROVING: Veteran S Tajee Fullwood, who missed the East Carolina game with an ankle injury, practiced for the second consecutive day Wednesday and has looked okay, defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said.

How much he plays Saturday against Cincinnati remains unclear. "You know how some of those injuries are, we want to make sure we're not bringing him back too early where he re-injures it and now he's out for a longer period of time," Jean-Mary said. "We want to make sure he's healthy before he hits the field."

Meantime, slot WR Deangelo Antoine -- out the last two games with an ankle injury -- practiced again and was seen running sprints at the end.

"He's been good, real good," offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. "It's good to see him back out there and moving around."

ODDS AND ENDS: QB Quinton Flowers is among 20 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Award. The initial watch list featured 47 players. ... The American Athletic Conference enters this weekend with more unbeaten teams (UCF, USF, Navy) than any other league. ... In case you forgot, Strong and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell were the defensive coordinators at Florida and Ohio State, respectively, in the 2006 BCS national title game (won by UF). ... The Bulls' first-team offense has scored on 14 of its last 17 possessions dating to the 43-7 Temple blowout.

AUDIBLE: "Man, I'm ready for it to be done with. But we said we weren't gonna shave it, so it's kinda locked in right now." -- MLB Auggie Sanchez who, along with a handful of teammates, have promised not to shave until the season ends or the Bulls lose. (Here's the latest look at Sanchez's beard)

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USF, UCF remain atop AAC power rankings

Houston tailback Duke Catalon ran for a career-best 177 yards in the Cougars' 35-22 victory against SMU on Saturday.

AP photo

Houston tailback Duke Catalon ran for a career-best 177 yards in the Cougars' 35-22 victory against SMU on Saturday.

The latest American Athletic Conference power rankings, as determined by a league-wide panel of beat reporters.

1. USF (5-0, 2-0 AAC): Thanks to Iowa State's 38-31 upset of Oklahoma, the No. 18 Bulls own the distinction of the longest current stretch without a loss (dating to Oct. 21, 2016) of any Division I team. They enter Saturday's homecoming game against Cincinnati on a 10-game win streak, second-longest in the nation behind Clemson (11). USF is coming off a bye week during which its two top rushers — seniors D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice — wore protective boots for minor
ailments. Both practiced and appeared pain-free Tuesday. — Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times

2. UCF (4-0, 2-0): QB McKenzie Milton put together a career night with 374 yards and five touchdowns as the Knights scored on all eight of their possessions to jump out to a 51-23 lead over Cincinnati in the third quarter's waning seconds. A one-hour, seven-minute weather delay followed, and the game was called by the AAC. UCF improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1988, when the program was in Division II. — Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel

3. Navy (5-0, 3-0): The Midshipmen captured the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy race, but it wasn't easy. QB Zach Abey directed a 75-yard TD drive in the final two minutes as Navy edged Air Force, 48-45. The Midshipmen squandered a 21-point lead and trailed by four with 1:52 remaining. Abey converted a huge fourth down with a 25-yard pass to Brandon Colon, then tossed a 16-yard TD to Tyler Carmona with 15 seconds remaining. Navy is 5-0 for the first time since 2004. — Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group

4. Houston (4-1, 2-0): Duke Catalon rushed for a career-high 177 yards and two TDs in a 35-22 win over SMU. Houston's defense held SMU 26 points below its season average, and was especially tough in the red zone. S Terrell Williams had a pair of interceptions as SMU was shut out in the fourth quarter for the first time this season. Some good news: All-America DT Ed Oliver played only a week after suffering a sprained left MCL. The Cougars will look to keep pace in the West Division when they visit Tulsa on Saturday.  — Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

5. Memphis (4-1, 1-1): Mike Norvell said he had no doubt that Riley Ferguson would bounce back after a loss to UCF, and did he ever. The senior threw for 431 yards and seven TDs, tying a conference single-game record in the Tigers' 70-31 rout of Connecticut. Anthony Miller (15 catches, 224 yards) also tied a record with four receiving TDs. Records will be much harder to come by Saturday as Navy —- fresh into the top 25 this week —- visits the Liberty Bowl. — John Varlas,
The Commercial Appeal

6. SMU (4-2, 1-1): The Mustangs missed a chance to make a statement about their AAC standing against Houston. The Cougars ran the ball down SMU's throat (265 rushing yards) in a 35-22 SMU loss. The Mustangs now head into the bye week trying to solve their issues with tackling and trying to fine-tune their red zone offense, which left a lot of points on the board against Houston. The bye comes at a good time for SMU to get healthy, with starting OT Jacob Todora (leg) and S Rodney Clemons (ankle) dealing with injuries. — Adam Grosbard, Dallas Morning News

7. Tulane (3-2, 1-1): Ending years and years of frustration in emphatic fashion, Tulane scored touchdowns on all seven first-half possessions in a 62-28 shellacking of Tulsa that was even more lopsided than the score indicated. Willie Fritz has turned around the program in his second year, finding a dynamic quarterback in junior college transfer Jonathan Banks, cranking up the running game (488 yards on the ground Saturday, third-most in school history) and getting solid play from a veteran defense recruited by predecessor Curtis Johnson. The Green Wave, which won for only the second time in the last 13 meetings with reeling Tulsa, is a double-digit road favorite for the first time in 14 years for its non-conference game Saturday at FIU. — Guerry Smith, The New Orleans Advocate

8. Temple (3-3, 1-2): The Owls had their best showing of the season in Saturday’s 34-10 win at East Carolina. After throwing an early interception, QB Logan Marchi settled down and finished 19-of-31 for 321 yards and two TDs. Led by DE Jacob Martin, Temple held ECU to 34 rushing yards on 22 carries. This is the second straight year Temple is 3-3 at the midway point of the regular season. Top RB Ryquell Armstead is far less than 100 percent and was limited to only four carries Saturday, but redshirt junior David Hood rushed for 106 yards and a TD on 20 carries. Temple hosts UConn on Saturday at noon.​ — Marc Narducci, Philadelphia Inquirer

9. Cincinnati (2-4, 0-2): The Bearcats lost 51-23 at home to UCF, a game shortened by lightning and heavy rain. Four seconds remained in the third quarter when the AAC terminated the game, after a 67-minute delay. Still, the 51 points were the most UC has allowed at home since a 52-34 loss to Tulane in 1998. UC next visits unbeaten USF this Saturday. — Tom Groeschen, Cincinnati Inquirer

10. Tulsa (1-5, 0-2): After dropping winnable games in the previous three weeks, the Hurricane was dealt an embarrassing 62-28 blowout loss at Tulane on Saturday. The only positive was the play of QB Luke Skipper, who entered to replace struggling passer Chad President when Tulsa trailed 21-0, and finished with 256 passing yards. Looking to end a four-game slide Saturday, the Hurricane hosts Houston, which has won the last three meetings. — Kelly Hines, Tulsa World …

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Bulls emerge from bye week nearly at full strength

Despite an assortment of trash talk from opponents, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) still is totaling more than 265 total yards a game.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Despite an assortment of trash talk from opponents, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) still is totaling more than 265 total yards a game.

The brief USF practice window afforded to the media Tuesday morning revealed nary a crutch, cast, boot or brace.

Okay, maybe a few guys had supportive braces. Bottom line, the bye week benefited the Bulls, who appear as healthy as one could reasonably expect six weeks into a season.

"We had everybody there today and we practiced well," Coach Charlie Strong said.

Running backs Darius Tice and D'Ernest Johnson, both of whom wore protective boots last week, were seen running post-practice sprints Tuesday. S Tajee Fullwood, who missed the East Carolina game with an unspecified ailment, also practiced.

And slot WR Deangelo Antoine, absent the last two games with what is believed to be a foot injury, will be available Saturday against Cincinnati, Strong said.

HEAD GAMES: A couple of offensive players confirmed Tuesday that the philosophy of some opponents toward QB Quinton Flowers has shifted a bit.

If you can't tackle him, taunt him.

"People try to get in his head, and it's gonna come with the territory," C Cameron Ruff said, basically confirming the belief that opponents are talking more smack toward USF's dual-threat extraordinaire this year. "It's like, 'He's a great player, so let's see if we can break him down mentally.'"

So far, the efforts to rile up Flowers have been about as efficient as the efforts to wrap him up. Granted, he's averaging only 265.8 yards a game, nearly 47 shy of his average this time last year. But he's engineering a more run-heavy offense and a more balanced backfield.

Still, he's seventh in the American Athletic Conference in rushing (79.0 ypg) and total offense (265.8), and eighth in passing yards per game (186.8). And for all the trash talking spewed his way, he has been flagged only once for unsportsmanlike conduct, after chirping at a Temple player whom he said mouthed off at him.

Oh, and his 18th-ranked team is 5-0.

"Our offensive coaches are saying we've got a big target on our back right now," TE Mitchell Wilcox said. "Especially with Quinton, and it doesn't really faze him. And that's kind of the mindset we need to have, just play our game, do what we need to do."

STRONG BACKS SENAT: After some positive reinforcement from his head coach, DT Deadrin Senat has rebounded effectively from the miserable start to his senior year.

Ejected in the first half of two of the Bulls' first three games for targeting, Senat remained in the starting lineup and has totaled 10 tackles the past two games. USF ranks second nationally in run defense (74.4 ypg) and 24th in sacks (2.8 per game), with defensive linemen accounting for 10.5 of the team's 14 sacks.

"It was hard on him in the beginning 'cause he came to me and said, 'Coach, you've got to teach me some tackling drills,'" Strong said.

"I said, 'You've got to look at it like this Senat: The second (targeting call), the quarterback (Illinois' Chayce Crouch) is 6-foot-2. ... You hit him in the chest, and when you hit him, it looked like (his head) just came down on top of him.'

"But he didn't let it bother him, and that's what I told him, 'Just play your game, don't worry about that.'"

ODDS AND ENDS: USF, which has faced Cincinnati 14 times in its history, will seek its first three-game win streak in the series on Saturday. ... Roy Philpott (play-by-play) and Tom Ramsey (analyst) will serve as ESPNU's broadcast team for Saturday's game. ... USF is 11-9 in its homecoming games, winning the last two. ... Cincinnati's game-week depth chart features eight senior starters on offense including the entire starting offensive line. Additionally, QB Hayden Moore is a junior. "You look at it, they have some really good skill, they have some really good linemen," Strong said. "But they just haven't been able to put it together." ... In his latest bowl projections, former ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy predicts USF to face FAU in the Boca Raton Bowl.

AUDIBLE: "This is my politician. He will be running for political office one of these days." -- Strong, referring to Ruff

AUDIBLE, PART II: "A lot of people keep saying that, you never know." -- Ruff, when asked if he has considered a political career (Ruff is president of USF's student-athlete advisory committee)

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Know the foe: Cincinnati

Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore scores in the first half of the Bearcats' 51-23 loss to UCF, which was stopped with a few seconds to play in the third period due to inclement weather.

Michael Reaves | Getty Images

Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore scores in the first half of the Bearcats' 51-23 loss to UCF, which was stopped with a few seconds to play in the third period due to inclement weather.

A look at Cincinnati, which faces No. 18 USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickame: Bearcats
Record: 2-4 (0-2 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: vs. Austin Peay, 26-14; at Miami (Ohio), 21-17
Losses: at Michigan, 36-14; at Navy, 42-32; vs. Marshall, 38-21; vs. UCF, 51-23
Coach: Luke Fickell (first season at Cincinnati, 2-4; second season overall, 8-11)

The breakdown: USF's early-season struggle to break briskly out of the gate has nothing on the Bearcats' slow starts. During its current three-game skid, Cincinnati has spotted a 13-0 first-quarter lead to UCF, a 24-0 first-half advantage to Marshall and a 13-0 first-period lead to Navy. ... Though his efficiency rating (108.8) could improve, veteran QB Hayden Moore is having a decent year (1,097 passing yards, nine TDs, four INTs) and distributing the ball well, but is getting no run support. The Bearcats rank 117th nationally in rushing (102.2 ypg), though their early deficits force them to pass to play catch-up. Not helping matters is the fact their best back, 205-pound senior Mike Boone, has been slowed by a nagging ankle injury. ... Defensively, Cincy was embarrassed vertically by UCF, with QB McKenzie Milton tossing three touchdown passes of 41 or more yards. That dissection occurred even after Fickell slid a cornerback, Grant Coleman, to safety to enhance the Bearcats' speed in the back end. ... Cincy has exactly two interceptions this season and is averaging one sack a game, which ranks 113th in the country. Little wonder the Bearcats rank 86th in Division I in turnover margin (minus-0.33).

Odds and ends: The Bearcats' roster features 12 Floridians including cornerbacks Christian Angulo (East Bay) and Rashaad Stewart (CCC). No longer around is Bulls TB D'Ernest Johnson's brother, Tshumbi, a former Bearcats receiver who transferred to Valdosta (Ga.) State. ... Moore has attempted every pass for Cincinnati this season. ... The Bearcats have allowed opponents to score on only 73.7 percent of their trips inside the red zone (14-of-19), which ranks third in the AAC.

Audible: "We keep getting ourselves way behind and having to fight out of a hole. It's draining on our program, on our kids. It wasn't from a lack of effort or things like that, but we're definitely seeing some of the after-effects of being in the hole all the time and having to fight back, just from the energy that we can provide." -- Fickell

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Thanks ISU: Bulls have gone longer without a loss than any D-I team

USF coach Charlie Strong's team has gone nearly a year without a loss.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong's team has gone nearly a year without a loss.

Props to the folks at @CFBLiveNews for pointing out a USF feat of longevity we didn't realize.

The Bulls have gone longer without a loss than any Division I team in the country.

They were handed that distinction by Iowa State, which ended Oklahoma's nation-best win streak at 14 games with a 38-31 upset Saturday in Norman. It was the Sooners' first defeat since a three-touchdown defeat to Ohio State on Sept. 17, 2016.

The No. 18 Bulls (5-0), on a program-best 10-game win streak, haven't lost since their 46-30 defeat at Temple on Oct. 21 2016.

And just for clarification, reigning national champ Clemson has won more consecutive games (11) than USF, but the Tigers' last defeat came in a 43-42 home loss to Pitt on Nov. 12, 2016. …

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