***** NCAA Football Preview - South Florida Bulls *****
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: For each of the last few seasons it seems that South
Florida has been considered a team poised for big things only to crumble when
the rubber hit the road. Last season with exciting quarterback B.J. Daniels in
his final year all signs pointed up.
The Bulls began the campaign 2-0, highlighted by a thrilling 32-31 win on the
road over Nevada. With that win it looked as if the Bulls' issues with
finishing games might have come to an end.
That would not be the case though as after the solid start the Bulls won just
one more game the rest of the season, while suffering a six-game losing
streak. Several of those losses were tight, with defeats of four points or
fewer to Ball State (31-27), at Louisville (27-25) and to Syracuse (37-36).
However coming close can only take you so far and with the Bulls finishing the
season at just 3-9 and a paltry 1-6 in Big East action, once promising head
coach Skip Holtz was fired and the Bulls are now forced to move in a different
OFFENSE: In the wake of the Holtz era comes the regime of Willie Taggart.
After serving in a number of roles as an assistant for Western Kentucky and
Stanford from 1999-2009, Taggart got his first head-coaching gig in 2010 with
the Hilltoppers. At his alma mater Taggart built quite a solid program with
back-to-back 7-5 seasons in 2011 and 2012, while getting the team to its first
bowl game ever last year.
Taggart isn't inheriting a ton of experience on the offensive side of the
ball. Daniels smashed a number of school records and would likely have
excelled under Taggart's tutelage. Unfortunately the former Bull is just that,
leaving the starting quarterback position up for grabs.
The candidates to replace Daniels are senior Bobby Eveld, sophomore Matt Floyd
and Taggart recruit Mike White. Floyd was the more productive performer as
Daniels' backup last season. Floyd threw for 466 yards and completed 51.8
percent of his pass attempts. However, he was intercepted five times and did
not throw for a touchdown. Eveld threw just eight passes. White completed 68.8
percent of his pass attempts and threw 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions
in his senior season of high school.
Though the quarterback situation is still muddled, whoever wins out will have
a solid go-to receiver to throw to in Andre Davis. The 6-foot-1 junior caught
46 passes for 534 yards and six touchdowns last season, all of which were team
highs. In fact no other receiver had more than three touchdown receptions. The
rest of the unit doesn't have the production of Davis, put players like
D'Vario Montgomery have a ton of potential.
Austin Reiter and Quinterrius Eatmon are a pair of juniors that will lead the
offensive line as the only returning starters. Both could make strides forward
this season and if they do, it could open things up for the inexperienced
backfield which is led by Marcus Shaw, who rushed for 248 yards last season.
DEFENSE: Taggart and his new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan are
inheriting a team that needs a complete makeover on the defensive end.
Bresnahan will have his work cut out for him as the Bulls are coming off a
season in which they ranked second to last in the Big East in scoring (274.
ppg), rushing (149.9 ypg), passing (251.9 ypg) and total (401.8 ypg) defense.
The Bulls were also horrific in creating turnovers with just a pair of
interceptions all season and a turnover margin of -19, which was among the
worst in the FBS.
The defense does have six returning starters so Bresnahan's job will be
primarily turning experience into production. Up front Luke Sager and Ryne
Giddins are a pair of seniors that can be disruptive. Giddins regressed in
2012 and will be trying to get back to his 2011 form when he had 11.0 tackles
for loss and 5.5 sacks. Helping to fortify the defensive line will be Notre
Dame-transfer Aaron Lynch, a former Freshman All-American.
The linebackers will be led by DeDe Lattimore, who is the de facto leader of
the defense with 36 starts under his belt. Lattimore led the team in tackles
for loss (7.5) and sacks (3.5) last season and is also the team's top
returning tackler (76). Reshard Cliett had 40 stops last season and also has
Both cornerback spots are open in the secondary where the Bulls desperately
need better play. Ja'Quez Jenkins and Mark Joyce are both seniors that return
as starters at safety but neither showed a ton of promise a year ago. The
secondary could see a lot of moving parts all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marvin Kloss will enter his junior season with the unenviable
task of replacing USF's all-time leading scorer, Maikon Bonari. Kross took
care of kickoffs the last two seasons. Mattias Ciabatti will be the full-time
punter. He had just one punt a year ago which went for 43 yards.
It is unclear how much Taggart will use Shaw in the return game with the
senior the top option as starting running back. Shaw returned a team-high 10
kickoffs for a 24.5 yard average last season. Davis had just a 3.3 yards per
return average on punts and will likely be shielded from those duties. Derrick
Hopkins is the most likely replacement.
OUTLOOK: The Bulls were horrific in conference play in the last two seasons of
the Skip Holtz era (2-14). To be fair, they were not much better in non-league
action which led to Holtz's untimely departure. Enter Taggart, who is tasked
with reinvigorating a once promising program.
"Our program is a sleeping giant. But we can't rely on anybody else to say
that for us. It's on us to go out and do it. We've got to stop making
excuses or blaming anyone else," Taggart said.
Taggart's first time on the sideline for the Bulls will be against a non-FBS
squad in McNeese State. The schedule takes an abrupt turn in difficulty the
following weeks when the Bulls travel to face Michigan State and then close
out September against Miami-Florida. The league schedule begins with
alternating home and away contests against Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville
and then Houston. From there the Bulls play a pair of home contests before
ending the season on the road against UCF and Rutgers.
This is the first year in a while that expectations surrounding South Florida
aren't particularly high.
However Taggart has certainly kept them up in the locker room.
"You look at our schedule, and I think every game we have on our schedule is
winnable," Taggart said. "Our intention is to win a championship. That's
what we want to do. And we intend to do that."
Though Taggart's confidence is understandable for a first year coach looking
to infuse enthusiasm into a stale program, if he can get this team to claw its
way to postseason eligibility it would come as a bit of surprise. Taggart has
the coaching chops to do it but he will need a ton of big improvements
throughout the roster for the Bulls to be a real threat in the American
08/21 12:05:58 ET