Coach: Willie Taggart (6-18, entering third season; 22-38 overall)
2014 record: 4-8, 3-5 in American Athletic Conference; 7th place in American
Look back: The process of rebuilding the USF football program has been slow, but the Bulls saw some modest growth under Willie Taggart last season despite the health issues of quarterback Mike White. After a difficult tenure at USF, White is transferring to Western Kentucky. The Bulls doubled their wins from the 2013 to 2014 season, recording four total victories last year against West Carolina, Connecticut, Tulsa and SMU.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: QB Mike White, OL Austin Reiter, TE Mike McFarland, DT Todd Chandler, LB Reshard Cliett, K Marvin Kloss
Top returnees: RB Marlon Mack, TE Sean Price, LB Nigel Harris, CB Johnny Ward, S Nate Goodwin
Strengths: Even though USF’s offense ranked near the bottom of college football last season at No 118 out 125 NCAA-recognized teams, running back Marlon Mack was able to make a name for himself. He led the American Athletic Conference with 1,041 yards, nine touchdowns and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. The Bulls will look for continued strong production this season from their run game.
Taggart changed offensive and defensive coordinators, urging his team to pick up the pace and play with greater sense of urgency on both sides of the ball. He told the Orlando Sentinel he was pleased with the way his team embraced the changes during spring workouts.
“Everybody knows what’s going on now,” said Taggart, who points out that 75 percent of the roster has turned over since he took the USF job. “Even at practice, guys know what to do. You don’t see a lot of do-overs.
“More importantly, they want to work and they want to compete and they want to get better.”
Weaknesses: USF didn’t name an official starting quarterback, but coaches and players liked what they’ve seen so far out of Quinton Flowers, who is fighting senior Steven Bench for the job. Both collectively saw action in 11 games last season and Bench has three touchdown passes and 611 yards to his credit.
“He knows when to put air on the ball, he knows when to dart it,” receiver Rodney Adams told the Tampa Bay Times when asked about Flowers.
The quarterback competition could spur improved play under new offensive coordinator Danny Hope, but the Bulls face challenges relying on an offensive line that must replace three starters.
Outlook: Taggart’s third season could prove to be another difficult one as the Bulls enter the summer with questions at quarterback, new coordinators and the challenge of replacing three starting offensive linemen. USF faces a brutal front end of the 2015 schedule, with nonconference road trips to Florida State and Maryland. The Bulls follow it with a conference homestand against Memphis, a team that shared a piece of the 2015 American Athletic Conference title. Taggart is under pressure to deliver a winning season, but he may need more time to hit six wins.
Sept. 5 Florida A&M
Sept. 12 at Florida State
Sept. 19 at Maryland
Oct. 2 Memphis
Oct. 10 Syracuse
Oct. 17 at UConn
Oct. 24 SMU
Oct. 31 at Navy
Nov. 7 at East Carolina
Nov. 14 Temple
Nov. 20 Cincinnati
Nov. 27 at UCF
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com