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USF year in review

TAMPA - For the first time, softball and men's golf captured the Big East Conference tournament. Women's basketball reached the NCAA tournament, won a first-round game and nearly reached the Sweet 16.

Those were clear highlights in the University of South Florida's 2012-13 athletic season. Plenty of things went right.

But for USF, most attention was directed to the things that went wrong.

The Bulls were picked for second in the Big East's preseason poll, but slumped to a 3-9 finish, after a 2-0 start, for the worst season in the school's 16-year football history. Third-year coach Skip Holtz, whose team was outscored 94-22 in its last three games and scored just one touchdown in the final 15 quarters, was fired Dec. 2 and replaced one week later by Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart.
Mens Basketball

One season after a run to the men's NCAA tournament's third round, the Bulls were 12-19 and unceremoniously dumped in the Big East tournament's first round. It was a massive comedown for Stan Heath, following his Big East coach of the year honor in 2011-12, and bad timing in a season when the renovated on-campus Sun Dome had basketball ready for a spike in interest.

Lelo Prado's Bulls (36-22) seemed poised to contend for the program's first NCAA regional bid since 2002. Instead, USF lost its advantage in the Big East regular-season race, then collapsed at the conference tournament. The Bulls finished on a 4-6 skid after leading the league much of the season.

Conference Realignment

Off the field, it was a tension-filled year as the Big East unraveled with continuous defections. The Bulls are now part of a rebranded league — the American Athletic Conference — as college sports seemingly enters a more stable period after two years of massive realignment.
Senior Salute

B.J. Daniels (football) - Four-year starter at QB who accounted for 10,501 career yards of total offense. Seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers.

Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (men's basketball) - Local product from King High School and key component of two postseason teams.

Lindsey Richardson (softball) - She was 12-4 with a team-leading 1.09 ERA, including 208 strikeouts in 1402/3 innings, and a key figure for one of the nation's top pitching staffs.

Andrea/Andrell Smith (women's basketball) - The identical twins were driving forces behind USF's second-ever NCAA tournament bid (and first victory). Andrea Smith was a third-round selection of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.

Kayvon Webster (football) - One of the most productive and steady defensive players in USF history. The cornerback was a third-round pick of the Denver Broncos.

"It's easy for people to get caught up in the wins and losses - and who doesn't want to win? - but there's a bigger picture here and Skip is the man for this job." - Athletic director Doug Woolard, prior to the season, on football coach Skip Holtz.

"I thought he was a good football coach when we hired him and I think he's going to continue to be a good football coach. For whatever reason, it just didn't work out here." - Woolard, after firing Holtz following a 3-9 season, on Dec. 2.

"What we have to do now is put everybody on the bus, put them in the right seats and let coach T drive this bus." - Football coach Willie Taggart, upon his hiring.
"As of now, we're really happy with the Big East. We've got Madison Square Garden for the next eight to 10 years. We've got Boise coming in. So it's going to be good." - USF president Judy Genshaft, shortly before the seven basketball-first schools broke off, taking with them the Big East name and the Madison Square Garden basketball tournament, and Boise State announced it was staying in the Mountain West Conference.

"Going to the NCAA tournament, there's nothing like that. Once you've done that, anything else doesn't measure up." - - Men's basketball player Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, after the Bulls went 12-19, following a run to the NCAA tournament's third round in 2012.
Magic Moments

One of the most dramatic victories in USF football history was punctuated by B.J. Daniels' 56-yard pass to Andre Davis with 38 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls a 32-31 win at Nevada.

USF women's basketball hit five of six free throws in the final 23 seconds, overtaking Texas Tech 71-70 (at Lubbock, Texas) to win the first NCAA tournament game in program history. The Bulls fell against California (an eventual Final Four team) 82-78 in overtime during the second round.

Men's basketball, trailing Georgetown by 11 points early in the second half, fought back for a 61-58 home win against the Hoyas, who tied for the Big East Conference regular-season title.
Baseball registered a monumental 8-2, 19-inning victory at Notre Dame. The five-hour marathon was the longest game in program history. Alex Mendez forced extra innings with a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning double against Notre Dame closer Dan Slania. The USF bullpen had 12 innings of scoreless relief.

Softball clinched its first Big East Tournament title by defeating Notre Dame 1-0 in a 10-inning title game. It was a high point for Ken Eriksen, who earlier in the season captured his 732nd victory, making him the school's all-time winning coach (in any sport).
Great Efforts

Football player Andre Davis set school single-game records for receptions (12) and receiving yards (191) in a 32-31 win at Nevada.

Softball player Kourtney Salvarola smashed a program-record three home runs - including a ninth-inning walk-off shot - in a 4-3 victory against Rutgers.

Women's basketball player Andrea Smith had 35 points - on 11 of 16 shooting - in a 73-62 road upset of No. 12-ranked Louisville (which reached the national championship game). Smith converted five of her six 3-point attempts and was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.;

Three track and field athletes - Matthew O'Neal, men's triple jump; Kevin Bell, men's long jump; Courtney Anderson, women's high jump - qualified for next week's NCAA Outdoor Championships at Eugene, Ore.

Men's golf finished in a fifth-place tie at the NCAA Regionals (the top five teams qualify for nationals). But the Bulls lost in a one-hole playoff against Oklahoma. So very close.

On Black Friday, football wins a back-and-forth thriller at UCF to assure the program's first bowl-game appearance since the 2010 season.

Softball pitcher Sara Nevins and shortstop Kourtney Salvarola depart USF with three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a handful of school records, cementing their status as two of the most accomplished athletes in Bulls history.
Football DE Aaron Lynch, a transfer from Notre Dame, contends for the nation's lead in sacks (and All-America status).

The American Athletic Conference (rebranded Big East) has a surprisingly feisty first year, especially in men's basketball (where defending national champion Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and Temple immediately present five solid NCAA-ready teams in the 10-program league).

Men's golf continues its ascent, reaching the NCAA Championships. Chase Koepka adds to his already sterling reputation.
Public Service Announcement

To answer the question that continually stumps sports experts, here is the 2013-14 lineup for the American Athletic Conference:
Central Florida
South Florida
Note: In 2014-15, Louisville jumps to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten. The American, meanwhile, adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. Navy joins the football lineup in 2015.
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