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Gameday: Bulls battle South Carolina in Birmingham Bowl

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As the College Bowl season rolls into it’s most important weekend, the USF Bulls get their moment in the spotlight and tangle with the SEC’s South Carolina Gamecocks this afternoon.

It’s been a tumultuous last few weeks for the Bulls program that has seen former coach Willie Taggart bolt for Oregon and ousted Texas head coach Charlie Strong replace him. With that as the primary backdrop, here are three things to watch:

Will the Bulls offense stil have its swagger?

In an historic offensive year, QB Quinton Flowers set the USF single season rushing and total yards from scrimmage records in 2016. And, since the Green and Gold’s final regular season romp over rival UCF, he’s now been named American Conference Offensive Player of the year. Flowers doesn’t have to do this alone, sensational RB Marlon Mack had seven 100 yard games this season and is the perfect compliment to Flowers in the Bulls “Gulf Coast” up tempo spread offense. USF scored at least 30 points in all 12 games this season. However, this is an SEC defense that they will face with a coach, Will Mushcamp, who’s previous teams at Auburn, Floirda (head coach) and befote that, Texas were all fast and aggressive on D.

Fun match-up to see if the Bulls can “track meet” the Gamecocks.

Speaking of Muschamp, how will they play?

Carolina won some games down the stretch, including an upset of Tennessee while the Vols were still alive to potentially win the SEC East, but they also got destroyed in the rivalry game with Clemson, 56-7 to end their season 6-6. The ‘Cocks offense has also been inept most of the year ranking below 115th in scoring and yards per game this season. A true freshman, Jake Bentley will lead them at QB. Another factor is whether Muschamp will have South Carolina “up” for this game emotionally. He is a volatile guy on the sidelines, but let’s be honest: this is clearly a lesser bowl that they are just fortunate to get into because Carolina is in a power conference and there are too many bowl games.

Motivated? Or, going through the motions? We’re about to find out.

Finally, does Strong keep current USF Co-Offensive Coordinator T.J. Weist?

Weist got the call, when Taggart left, to lead the Bulls in preparation and on game day for this Bowl. game And now, has a chance to showcase the aforementioned Bulls talent on offense to the new head coach. Is this truly an audition for Strong’s new staff? Who konws? But, if Flowers/Mack, etc. look great, it’s one more reinforcement to keep Weist who knows the program and players around. He also served previously as interim HC at UConn in 2013 and in a great tid bit of southern irony, is a former player under Ray Perkins and Bill Curry at Alabama, who played college games at Legion Field where today’s game will be played.

It will be cool temps with some possibility of bad weather, which may slow down the USF attack and benefit the “offensively challenged” Gamecocks. Stay tuned.

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USF Bulls

USF introduced new AD Michael Kelly Friday

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a return to a previous stop in his distinguished college athletics career, Michael Kelly was formally introduced as USF’s new Vice President of Athletics Friday.

Kelly, who has been the Chief Operating Officer of the College Football Playoff since 2012, was brought in to replace Mark Harlan, who departed on June 1st to be the new athletic director at Utah.

Kelly, who was previously an assistant AD at the school in 2001-02, takes over a program that has some pluses, not the least of which is a strong football program under coach Charlie Strong. It also has a women’s basketball program that is a perennial NCAA tournament team. The same with USF softball, and the last two years, the baseball team has also been in the NCAA postseason.

Men’s Basketball has largely been a mess for the last 20 plus years of play, including the firing of former coach Orlando Antigua during an NCAA investigation two years ago.

The bigger struggle is that USF is not a “Power Five” conference and suffers from the lack of significant revenue, because of it.

Kelly, who will be paid $625,000 annually plus incentives, did not shy away from USF having to battle that hurdle to compete:

“Obviously we’ve always had very aspirational goals at the University of South Florida. We’ve built a huge athletic department…Frankly, right now, we want to focus on being the very best that we can be. We are in a great league right now (the American Conference). How do we dominate that league? …That’s our goal right now. When we build the tradition, one champion at a time…we’ll be the best positioned school in the country if anything else happens (conference expansion).”

As we wrote previously, Kelly has previous experience as assistant commissioner of the ACC, handling football, broadcasting and communications. That means he understands how those leagues operate and succeed, intimately.

One of the first challenges will be to try to keep Strong from bolting, like Harlan did, for one of those bigger jobs in the short term. Strong is due to make over $5 million this season, but most of that money is still being paid by the University of Texas.

This has lead to widespread speculation that Strong might jump, especially, if USF has a successful year, in December to another school.

But, that’s in the future, in the present, Kelly’s task is to stabilize the entire department in Tampa, and through fundraising, specifically, do the best job he can in increasing revenue outside of what the American has in television, etc.

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USF scores big AD hire with Michael Kelly of College Football Playoff

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The USF Bulls and their search firm vowed that they would not take long to replace departed athletic director Mark Harlan.

And on Tuesday, less than a month after Harlan left for the University of Utah, USF announced that they hired College Football playoff senior executive Michael Kelly, to return to Tampa to run the athletic department that he used to be part of.

The school announced the move here:

Kelly who’s been the COO of the College Football Playoff since it’s inception in 2012, was previously in Tampa as USF’s, associate athletic director for external affairs for two years (2001-02).

Previously to working for the CFP, Kelly had spent six years with the Atlantic Coast Conference, as a senior associate commissioner overseeing football, broadcasting and communications.

USF included these comments from him in the release:

“I am truly honored to return to the University of South Florida and Tampa Bay. This is a dream opportunity for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful to President Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees,” Kelly said. “It’s a very exciting time with the university and the entire region on such strong upward trajectories. I can’t wait to get started with our student-athletes, coaches, staff, Bulls fans, donors and alumni everywhere.”

Kelly also, has an extensive background and history with Tampa Bay and big events, as he was the executive director of the 1999 Men’s Final Four organizing committee for the event that was held at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg.

His excellent work with that led him to be the president of the Super Bowl host Committee in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl 35 (2001) and later have that same role in Jacksonville for Super Bowl 39 and in Miami for Super Bowl 41.

The Bulls currently reside in the American Athletic Conference, which is a compilation of leftover teams from the old Big East and some added teams from Conference USA. However, that League has nowhere near the revenue as the “Power 5” conferences, and it will be a challenge for Kelly, just like it is for the other schools, to raise money and try to level the playing field.

USF has to consider this a “home run hire” to replace Harlan, as Kelly brings tremendous credibility from college football’s most important post-season brand. And, because of Kelly’s relationship at the network TV level from his days with the CFP and also with the ACC, it will benefit the American Athletic Conference to have him now in the fold as well.

The Bulls will introduce Kelly at a news conference later this week.

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Former Bucs Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks won’t be new USF AD

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

USF search for a new athletic director continues, another prominent name that had been speculating about has decided that he won’t be in it. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks released a statement on Friday to officially rule himself out for replacing former AD Mark Harlan. Harlan left three weeks ago Friday to take the same position with the University of Utah.

Brook’s statement came Friday through the high school that he co-founded in Tampa with former 49ers owner Eddie Debartolo.

“As flattered as I am to be publicly mentioned for the Director of Athletics position at the
University of South Florida, I do not believe the timing is right for me to pursue any new
opportunities. Commitments with Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School, Derrick
Brooks Charities and, most importantly, my family, would not enable me to fully devote
the time that would be required to successfully engage in this role at USF.

Brooks continued,

“I see nothing but a great future for USF Athletics and I know that the advisory
committee and President Genshaft will have excellent candidates to choose from in
selecting the new leader.

Because of Brooks’s previous experience on the Florida State University board of directors and having been the president and general manager of the now-defunct Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football team, many think Brooks would have been an ideal choice for the Bulls.

However, his work not only with his charitable foundation and the Brooks-Debartolo Collegiate High School has been very successful for over a decade in the Tampa area.

We wrote previously that Brooks should be one of the names that USF president Dr. Judy Genshaft, Dr. Bob Sutton from the University, who is heading up to search, and the search firm, Eastman & Beaudine should take a strong look at.

One source told F.F.I. that it was a very tough obstacle for a lot of USF alumni and donors that Brooks was so heavily associated with Florida State. However, he is a tremendous figure over the last 23 years in the Tampa Bay area.

Brooks, who’s now 45, was a former All-American linebacker national champion with the Seminoles from the early 1990s. He later became a first-round pick with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 and helped lead them to a Super Bowl championship in 2002

Earlier, Tampa Sports executive Rob Higgins, who heads up the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, had also announced that he was going to assist the search but was not a candidate for the job. His organization has been responsible for Super Bowls, the College Football Playoff Championship Game, the recent NHL All-Star Game and other prominent sports events coming to the Tampa Bay Area.

USF is in need of an impressive hire to help not only with fundraising but another last-ditch opportunity to get them into a bigger conference than the current American Athletic Conference, where they currently reside.

The Bulls make a fraction of what the other “Power Five” conferences make in terms of revenue, including from television rights. It’s one of the big reasons Harlan took the Utah job in the pac-12 where their revenue is more than five times that of the Bulls.

USF will likely interview at least two-three out of market candidates during the search.

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