TAMPA — Nearing the end of a difficult season, in which the University of South Florida Bulls are trying to avoid the worst finish in their 17-year history, the football program finally has something to celebrate and savor.
Junior PK Marvin Kloss was named one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate place-kicker. Kloss, Florida State freshman Robert Aguayo and Texas senior Anthony Fera will go to the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Dec. 12 at Disney.
Kloss, who has converted on 14 of 18 field-goal attempts and has a national-best four from 50 yards and deeper, was pessimistic about his chances for Groza finalist status after missing three of his past four attempts. But after getting the call Monday, he was enthused and ready to finish the season in a flourish.
The Bulls face the University of Central Florida Knights on Friday night in Orlando.
“I am thankful for Marvin Kloss,’’ USF first-year coach Willie Taggart said. “Whenever you have something positive to build on, it’s huge. He has put a smile on my face the whole year. He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. He’s passionate. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help this football team win.’’
Most notably, Kloss has been a strong MVP candidate for the Bulls (2-8, 2-4 American Athletic Conference), who have managed a national-low nine offensive touchdowns. Largely because of Kloss, USF became the first team in 11 seasons, since 2002 Notre Dame, to win consecutive games without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Kloss, who converted on a school-record 13 consecutive field-goal attempts before his recent slump, said he was still “shocked’’ to be named a Groza finalist but “nevertheless, I’m going to take it and run with it.’’
Kloss missed a 43-yarder in the opener against McNeese State. He misfired from 49 and 55 against Memphis, then shanked a 51-yard attempt against SMU. It never had a chance as Kloss slipped on the turf. Not trusting his instincts, he failed to change into a special cleat on his left plant foot, something he will definitely do at UCF.
He might be the underdog candidate, but Kloss definitely has advantages. He has enjoyed a productive season after inheriting the job from USF all-time leading scorer Maikon Bonani, and his long-range consistency is a major selling point.
Now he has a pair of prime-time games – a standalone contest against UCF on Black Friday and a Dec. 7 trip to Rutgers – to make a final impression.
“I’m looking forward to starting a little streak again,’’ said Kloss, who goes by the locker-room nickname of “Money,’’ assigned by Taggart.
USF football has its first national award finalist. The Bulls should be thankful for Marvin Kloss.
Taggart has embraced the USF-UCF rivalry because he knows how such a game can invigorate the season. He was musing about his days at Western Kentucky when the Hilltoppers faced Eastern Kentucky.
“The Battle of the Bluegrass,’’ he said.
He also experienced “The Big Game’’ as a Stanford assistant when the Cardinal played Cal.
“You talk about people hating each other, it was ridiculous,’’ Taggart said. “My 5-year-old learned to hate Cal. He didn’t even want to wear anything blue.’’
Oklahoma State men’s basketball All-American Marcus Smart had 23 points – punctuated by a 65-foot three-quarter-court shot at the halftime buzzer – in Monday’s first half against USF. The only comparable concentrated dominance seen at the Sun Dome was the 1993 tour de force by VCU’s Kenny Harris, who had 30 points in the final 15 minutes of an overtime victory against the Bulls. …Two former USF men’s soccer players – forward Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC) and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (Real Salt Lake) – will meet in the Dec. 7 MLS Cup Finals. …Volleyball’s Erin Fairs and women’s basketball’s Courtney Williams made this week’s AAC honor roll.