2014 CFN Preview - South Florida Bulls
South Florida WR Andre Davis
Preview 2014 - It's been a disastrous run, but USF has too many positives to be bad. (Getty Images)
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It’s official. Jim Leavitt is sorely missed in Tampa.
Head coach: Willie Taggart
Second year: 2-10
Off. 19, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
1. WR Andre Davis, Sr.
2. PK Marvin Kloss, Sr.
3. TE Mike McFarland, Sr.
4. C Austin Reiter, Sr.
5. LB Reshard Cliett, Sr.
6. DT Elkino Watson, Sr.
7. S Nate Godwin, Soph.
8. DT Todd Chandler, Sr.
9. LB Nigel Harris, Soph.
10. CB Johnny Ward, Soph.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Western Carolina
Sep. 6 Maryland
Sep. 13 NC State
Sep. 19 Connecticut
Sep. 27 at Wisconsin
Oct. 4 OPEN DATE
Oct. 11 East Carolina
Oct. 18 at Tulsa
Oct. 24 at Cincinnati
Nov. 1 Houston
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 at SMU
Nov. 22 at Memphis
Nov. 28 UCF
Leavitt was the father of South Florida football, guiding the program from infancy in 1997 to national relevance a decade later. He won 95 games at the school and he took it to five straight bowl games. But Leavitt was fired in January of 2010 following allegations he’d struck a player the previous fall. The Bulls haven’t been the same since.
USF has seen a decline in wins in each of the last three seasons, two with Skip Holtz in charge and the latest under the command of Willie Taggart. Rising stars not long ago, the Bulls are 10-26 overall and 4-8 in conference games since 2011. Now that the school has lost all of the traction it had when Leavitt was on campus, it’s up to Taggart to engineer a rebound.
Taggart talked in his first preseason about being the driver of the Bulls’ bus. In 2013, that vehicle veered off the road and into a ditch. South Florida opened the year with a 53-21 home loss to FCS McNeese State, the first of many low-points in the worst season in school history. The Bulls went 2-10, averaged 13.8 points per game and didn’t win after Oct. 12. It was the kind of train wreck that’ll make 2014 particularly important for the coach, his staff and the entire program.
Although a lack of sure-fire talent, especially on offense, will still dog the Bulls for the foreseeable future, fresh faces on the staff and in the locker room provide a glimmer of hope that better days are ahead at Raymond James Stadium.
Despite South Florida’s recent struggles on the field, Taggart roped in the American’s top recruiting class in February, adding depth and elite talent to both sides of the ball. And there’s cautious optimism that new coordinator Paul Wulff can finally get the offense pointed in the right direction.
The energetic Taggart can coach and motivate. And he’s going to win in Tampa, much the way he did at Western Kentucky. Patience, though, needs to be exercised for a team that has lost its way in recent years. Now that South Florida is improving the talent pool, it’ll be up to the staff to get those young kids ready to compete in the fall. By late August, there’s a good chance that the first depth chart of 2014 features more underclassmen than upperclassmen.
What to watch for on offense: A bigger and more physical O-line. The Bulls must improve everywhere on offense, but it’s going to help if the front wall can move a pile and hold its blocks. South Florida not only returns five starting linemen, but the unit has grown from an average of 290 pounds to 310 pounds under the direction of strength coach Hans Straub, who was fired May 13 for a derogatory tweet about a former Bull player. For Taggart’s run-oriented system to turn things around, the O-line has to do a better job for whichever back winds up replacing Marcus Shaw.
What to watch for on defense: Scurrying for pass rushers. The Bulls posted just 22 sacks a year ago to rank 80th nationally. And now the program is in the market for defensive ends after Aaron Lynch left school early and Tevin Mims and Ryne Giddins graduated. Holdovers Eric Lee, Daniel Perry and Mike Love combined for zero tackles in 2013, which means JUCO transfers Eric Mayes and Demetrius Hill will get every opportunity to win a job this offseason. Yeah, South Florida is promising in the secondary, but the defensive backfield needs more help up front.
The team will be far better if… the offense becomes markedly more potent, especially on third downs. South Florida converted just 28% of third-down tries in 2013 to rank last in the American and 122nd nationally. The Bulls need to take a quantum leap with the ball, extending drives in order to give more breaks to the defense. If USF continues to labor in its offensive execution, the end result won’t be any different than a season ago.
The Schedule: Is this when things start to change around for the Bulls? Starting out against Western Carolina is a true scrimmage, and it needs to be with no real breaks the rest of the way. Maryland and NC State have to come to Tampa in early September – it needs to be hot to take full advantage of the home field – and the American schedule kicks off against UConn on a Friday night. And then it gets rough with a trip to Wisconsin and a home oasis against a good East Carolina team. Three of the four games in the middle of the season are on the road, and there’s a rough stretch of five of the last seven away from Raymond James before closing out against UCF six games after going to Memphis.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Andre Davis. Davis isn’t just a playmaker—he’s the only playmaker on the Bulls, which averaged 4.3 yards per play in 2013. He’s the one guy in green and gold who gives opposing defensive coordinators a reason to revisit the gameplan. Davis has the size and the speed to spread the field, opening up his teammates on short and underneath routes. Whether it’s Mike White or Steven Bench, USF must get tighter play from its quarterbacks. Davis is explosive enough to elevate the play of those around him.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Reshard Cliett. If only the Bulls had a few more defenders like Cliett, the prototype of what the staff likes at the second level. The senior is experienced, tough at the point of attack and able to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. Cliett is the kind of versatile athlete that the staff is able to drop back into coverage or unleash on the blitz. He’s coming off his best season at USF, with an eye on the all-conference team in 2014.
Key players to a successful season: The running backs. Taggart wants to run the ball with authority, much the way he did with Antonio Andrews at Western Kentucky. The Bulls have to replace underrated leading rusher Marcus Shaw, who played well in his final year. The staff has an assortment of candidates, including senior Michael Pierre, junior Willie Davis, sophomore Darius Tice and redshirt freshman Stafon McCray. If one of the four can evolve into an effective feature back, it’s going to make life a ton easier for the skittish quarterbacks.
The season will be a success if ... the Bulls are playing competitive football in the second half of the season. Forget the record this season since it’s unlikely that South Florida is ready to contend for the postseason. Instead, it’ll be worth monitoring the progress of the young team in late October and November. If the Bulls are improving, particularly on offense, as 2014 unfolds, they can carry that momentum into 2015, with a shot to compete for a bonus game and possibly more.
Key game: Nov. 28 vs. UCF. There’s a very good chance that this visit from the rival Knights will be the last impression South Florida makes in 2014. It’d like to leave a positive one against the defending league—and Fiesta Bowl—champs from Orlando. No one around Tampa is going to cop to it, but the Bulls are building for 2015, when the latest recruits are a year older. An upset of UCF would be a terrific way to close out 2014 and get a jump start on 2015.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Offensive touchdowns: South Florida 11 – Opponents 35
- Third-down%: South Florida 28% – Opponents 39%
- Red-zone trips: South Florida 19 - Opponents 45
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What You Need To Know & Top Players