TAMPA, Fla. -- Willie Taggart has a clear vision of what he wants to see South Florida become again.
"Winning and going bowling and doing all those things," the third-year coach said Saturday night after the surging Bulls upset Temple 44-23 to keep the Owls from clinching the American Athletic Conference East Division title.
USF's biggest win under Taggart was also its first over a ranked opponent since winning at Notre Dame, in 2011. In addition, the Bulls, who have fallen on hard times since climbing as high as No. 2 in the nation eight years ago, became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010.
"Our goal from beginning, since I got here, is to win multiple championships in a first-class manner. We're not there yet, but we're climbing," Taggart said. "They say climbing is easier than hanging on, and our guys are climbing in the right direction."
Marlon Mack rushed for 230 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Bulls (6-4, 4-2), who've won five of six following a 1-3 start.
"This is what we want. This is what we thought it could be here," Taggart said. "And again, it's only the beginning."
Mack had scoring runs of 57 and 48 yards and caught a 20-yard scoring pass from Quinton Flowers for USF (6-4, 4-2), which scored on five straight possessions while building a 31-10 halftime lead.
Flowers threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 90 yards and one TD. Rodney Adams had seven catches for 147 yards, including a 68-yard TD reception, and the Bulls finished with 556 yards total offense against the AAC's No. 1 defense.
"It was just one of those nights where nothing really went well," Temple coach Matt Rhule said.
Temple (8-2, 5-1; No. 22 CFP, No. 21 AP) trimmed its deficit to 11 points in the third quarter but couldn't get any closer. The Owls still lead the East by one game over USF with home games remaining against No. 21 Memphis and Connecticut.
"We have a lot to fix," Rhule said. "They know where they stand. They've earned the right to control their own destiny. They won eight games. That's a credit, but we have to get back to playing better football."
Thomas entered the game as the American's leading rusher but was limited to 65 yards on 16 carries, 42 yards under his season average. Walker was 20 of 48 passing with one interception.
Mack had his sixth 100-yard game of the season and went over 1,000 yards for the second time. He led the conference in rushing as a freshman and boosted his 2015 total to 1,065 yards.
Temple has been ranked in the Top 25 the past four weeks, the longest stretch in school history. USF has won five of six following a 1-3 start, and three of the Bulls' four losses have come against programs currently ranked in the Top 25.
In two of those setbacks, the Bulls played Memphis and No. 20 Navy closer than expected, bolstering the young team's belief that it is capable of competing with anyone in the conference.
Flowers was 8-of-9 for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half. He rushed for 49 yards before the break, while Adams had four receptions for 113 yards and Mack averaged nearly 15 yards per attempts as the Bulls amassed 296 yards during the first two quarters.
Thomas went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season on a 35-yard burst in the first quarter. The junior's 1-yard TD run gave the Owls a 7-0 lead that lasted all of 20 seconds.
Adams' touchdown catch made it 7-7, and Deatrick Nichols' interception and 18-yard return to the Temple 8 on the first play of the second quarter set up Flowers' 5-yard TD run to put USF ahead less than a minute after they had trailed.
In addition to Mack's 57-yard TD run, Temple's conference-leading defense also gave up a 42-yard run up the middle of the field to Flowers. Two plays later, the dual-threat quarterback rolled out of the pocket before throwing to Mack for the 20-yard touchdown that put the Bulls up 28-10.
Mack's 48-yard TD run with 2:38 remaining came on the sophomore's last carry of the night.
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