Like a West Central Florida summer afternoon lightning bolt, USF athletic director Mark Harlan, fresh off getting a new contract extension in April, is leaving for the same job at the University of Utah.
A Salt Lake City radio host was the first to break the story about Harlan’s connection to the Pac 12 school:
To clarify last tweet, hearing that it is all but done – Mark Harlan will be the next AD at Utah.
— Scott Garrard (@ScottyG1280) June 1, 2018
Then, about an hour later the University confirmed the hire via email blast and it’s website. The school stated that Harlan (shown above with former Bulls coach Willie Taggart) will be introduced in a Monday morning news conference in Salt Lake City:
— University of Utah (@UUtah) June 1, 2018
As we wrote on the day of his contract extension announcement in Tampa, Harlan’s departure, due to his rise in accomplishment and the lack of competitive revenue/funding at USF (and other non-Power Five schools) made his departure almost inevitable.
But, even we at F.F.I. didn’t foresee him agreeing to the extension, and then before you could even spell U-T-E-S, taking a job somewhere else.
Alas, apparently a return to the Pac-12 conference, where Harlan was formerly an assistant AD at UCLA, with a larger bump in pay and huge money at his disposal was too much to pass up on this week.
Harlan’s raise announced in April was to $525,000 annually, but that is well short of most large conference athletic director salaries.
For example, as this August of 2017 online compilation shows, most of the “Power Five” ADs make well over $700,000 a year and the top 15 of this list average over $1 million per year.
Interestingly, with Harlan agreeing to the new contract in late April, it increased his buyout to leave USF to $265,000 if he did so before July 1, 2020.
The bigger concern is whether Harlan exiting signals that football coach Charlie Strong will be right behind him after this season.
Take into account that Charlie Strong was hired at an extreme discount for his first two years of his USF deal, because Texas is paying most of his $5 million salary, and Bulls fans ought to get very concerned, now.
And it doesn’t help matters that we keep hearing that Strong has been privately and at times, publicly, complaining to anyone who will listen, about USF’s lack of indoor practice and football only facilities. And he’s been frequently bringing up their charter travel, lack of attendance at Raymond James Stadium for games, etc., etc.
Further, according to one source close to things at USF, Strong constantly projects like a man biding his time until December, when his Texas money is up, and he, then, can jump back into an SEC, ACC, Big XII, etc. job again, for the same level of pay with all the facilities and budget.
So, the Green and Gold have lost their AD, and now, will Charlie Strong be next?
USF- Unbeaten but Unproven, again
The timeless wisdom of sports tells us that you can only beat the teams you play on the days you play them.
The University of South Florida football team has been scheduled to play four games. It has won all four of them. The Bulls, within that narrow and small frame of reference, have done the most they can do through four weeks of the young season.
W. W. W. W. The sheet looks clean, and the value of that achievement is real: A bowl bid will definitely be part of USF’s December or January. Florida State can’t yet count on a bowl bid. USF can. That’s pretty good.
Yet, as much as “4-0” looks pretty and inspires a certain degree of confidence — there is something to be said for winning close games — let’s not try to pretend that the 2018 Bulls are a known entity.
We are about to begin to learn where USF stands — in the AAC at large, the AAC East Division in particular, and in the state of Florida.
Style points matter in College Football Playoff conversations and in New Year’s Six bowl conversations. In terms of the bottom-line business of winning and losing, they don’t carry much significance.
No need to worry about the style points with this USF team: The Bulls might have won every game they have played, but style points have been thrown out of the apartment… if they were ever allowed in to begin with. Without a fumble recovery just when Georgia Tech was on the verge of reestablishing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, USF might be only 3-1... and Georgia Tech is the only half-decent team USF has played so far this season.
Moreover, Georgia Tech has tumbled to the bottom of the ACC since the loss in Tampa. USF has managed to stay afloat against Illinois and East Carolina, but the failure to land decisive knockout punches earlier in the game against a pair of bad teams does not inspire confidence for the road ahead.
This should not be seen as a particularly controversial thesis, as much as it might create some pushback: South Florida doesn’t yet know what it has.
Yes, Blake Barnett — having transferred from Alabama to Arizona State to USF — is trying to find a comfort zone, as one could very reasonably expect of a two-time transfer. The fact that he has not torched Illinois or ECU, while concerning, is still understandable. If you wanted to make the case that Barnett will become an excellent quarterback as this season evolves, you could marshal a convincing contextual argument.
What is harder to argue against is the reality that USF has far less proven skill-position talent compared to last season. The 2017 Bulls had Quinton Flowers as the trigger man, D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice in the backfield, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the perimeter. Those four players are gone.
Losing merely one of them is significant. Flowers, given his skill at football’s most important position (other than left tackle), left behind an enormous void Barnett is trying to fill. It is impossible to avoid the inconvenient truth: Unless or until Barnett and his 10 teammates win a game of considerable consequence — no, Georgia Tech simply doesn’t rise to that level, given its stumbles and fumbles at the start of 2018 — this team won’t be able to rise to the 2017 standard.
The schedule does look favorable, but one-score wins over the Illini and Pirates over the past two weeks have raised questions instead of answering them.
Duke is 4-0, having won at Northwestern and Baylor... but Northwestern lost at home to Akron and Baylor could very possibly go 2-7 in the Big 12 this year.
West Virginia is 3-0, but the Mountaineers didn’t get to play North Carolina State, and their Week 1 victim, Tennessee, was undressed by Florida this past weekend.
USF is like a number of other unbeaten teams in the FBS, teams that have taken care of business to the extent that they can, but have nevertheless played opponents which have not become formidable in their own right. The record might be perfect, but the quality of the resume simply can’t be elevated.
No, it is not USF’s fault… but the limitations of a month’s achievements remain conspicuous.
It is up to the Bulls to turn a thin resume into something more substantial, but right now, there’s no convincing evidence which screams and shouts that the Bulls are as good as their record. Charlie Strong, having endured a series of hard knocks at Texas, is all too aware of how quickly this industry — and Saturday results — can change in a negative way.
South Florida — even with its high-end talent in 2017 — struggled in a number of games against inferior opposition. The Bulls played well in the game that really mattered against UCF, but the Knights, playing the season of their lives, answered them in crunch time.
This year, South Florida cannot rely on its ability to pull close games out of the fire. The Bulls have to be markedly better in the coming weeks to reach the 10-win mark this season. If they continue to play very close to the margins, they will most likely get burned. The wisdom of history tells us so.
There are no preseason games in college football, but if Illinois and East Carolina were warm-up acts — test drives before the journey into the thick of the AAC season — perhaps South Florida is ready to leave a more definitive imprint upon this season.
The Bulls better hope so. The level at which they have played through four weeks might have been good enough to go 4-0, but it is most assuredly NOT good enough to get them where they want to be in early December.
USF QB Blake Barnett leads 4th quarter rally past Illinois
The USF Bulls travel to “the Windy City” and save their best for last in a thrilling rally to defeat Big Ten opponent Illinois 25-19 Saturday.
Transfer quarterback Blake Barnett led an 18-point fourth-quarter rally throwing for 411 yards and the game-winning touchdown, as the Bulls improved to 3-0.
Trailing 19 to 7 entering the final frame, Barnett (above) threw a touchdown to Darnell Salomon from 14 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to trim the lead to 19-14. Later at the midway point of the 4th, Barnett guided another 71-yard drive into the red zone, but when it stalled, Coby Weiss kicked 26 yard field goal to bring USF within two.
After the Bulls defense got to stop, and starting from his 15-yard line, Barnett got them rolling again. He hit completions of 17 and then, 25 yards to get the Bulls to the Illinois 40.
Then, after an incompletion and a couple of false start penalties, USF was facing 3rd and 20 at Midfield. That’s when Barnett lofted a pass down the left sideline to a wide-open Salomon for 50 yards and the eventual game-winning score.
Illinois secondary had blown the coverage leaving Solomon by himself. The Bulls got the two-point conversion and a six-point lead at 25-19.
Illinois had one last chance left, and freshman quarterback M.J, Rivers led them into USF territory, including converting a fourth down in the final :30. However, they could get no closer with Rivers throwing incomplete out of the back of the end zone on the final play of the game.
The win gives USF a second straight 3-o start under coach Charlie Strong and completes back-to-back wins over the Illini, including last year’s victory in Tampa in September.
The loss is especially stinging for Illinois and embattled Coach Lovie Smith, who used to coach the Buccaneers and the Bears. Smith, who did not win a Big Ten game a year ago, is under fire and has now lost 14 of his last 18 games dating back to the end of the 2016 season.
The Bulls also got a 136 yard rushing performance from Jordan Cronkrite that included a first-quarter three yard touchdown run.
USF returner Terrence Horne showed “speed kills”
There is no substitute for speed in big time college football, and we know that for most of the prominent teams in the state, they have it everywhere.
And for USF on Saturday, a guy that they knew about but most did not, burst upon the American Conference and national scene. Terrence Horne (above), a true freshman and former track star at Miramar High School, set a USF and American Conference record for return yardage. This after he blazed down the sidelines with 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns in the Bulls 49-38 upset of Georgia Tech.
That earned Horne the American’s Special Teams Player of the Week honors for weekend #2 of the season.
Horne very nearly broke his first kickoff return for a touchdown Saturday before being tripped up, but then put together two spectacular runs to the end zone in a wild first quarter in Tampa.
When it was all said and done, Horne had 264 yards worth of kickoff returns. At only 5’7, he doesn’t “stand tall” in stature, however, his play was large for the Bulls. Horne followed a 98 yard TD return, with an equally impressive 97 yard kickoff return- cutting from the middle down the Bulls sideline and uut racing everyone easily, again to the goal line
If you know Horne’s background, then it becomes more clear. He won the 4A State 100m dash championship earlier this year with a time of 10.4, and was being recruited by several prominent programs. Those included UCF, Cincinnati, Colorado and Florida Atlantic before signing with the Bulls in February
Interestingly, Horne had never had a kickoff return for a touchdown at Miramar High.
Saturday he told the media afterwards,
“It just shows what I can bring for the team. I’m always remaining humble. If you remain humble, God does great things for you. And, today was one of those days.”
The Bulls and head coach Charlie Strong, who’s staff found Horne in South Florida and coached him up to be in the second game of the season making big plays, hope there are more of those days, too.
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