2012 Record: 3-9 (1-6 in Big East)
Head Coach: Willie Taggart (First year at USF, 16-20 overall)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl: defeated Clemson 31-26
Stadium: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. (capacity: 65,857)
Notable alumni: Jason Pierre-Paul, George Selvie
Big Games: 9/7 at Michigan State, 9/28 vs. Miami, 10/26 vs. Louisville
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 73rd out of 124 teams
Pro: 12th Nationally in FGs per possession (yes it was hard to find a positive)
Con: only 2 interceptions and 9 total takeaways in 2012 (tied for last in Nation); allowed opponents to complete 68.4% of their passes (123rd in Nation)
Returning Starters – 4 offense, 6 defense, 0 special teams
Key players on offense include QB Steven Bench; WR Andre Davis; RB Marcus Shaw; and OLs Quinterrius Eatmon, Austin Reiter and Darrell Williams
Defense: DLs Ryne Giddons, Aaron Lynch, Tevin Mims and Luke Sager; LBs Reshard Cliet and DeDe Lattimore; and SS JaQuez Jenkins and Mark Joyce.
Key losses: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetris Murray, CB Kayvon Webster, LB Sam Barrington and K Maikon Bonani
CFBZ: Last December USF hired Bradenton native Willie Taggart away from his alma mater (Western Kentucky) to serve as the Bulls new head coach. What’s been the reaction on campus to Taggart’s arrival and what notable changes has he made so far?
Steve Berrey: Taggart’s arrival has energized the USF campus and the Tampa Bay area to a level similar to USF’s move to Division I status. Season ticket sales appear to be on the way up and the local high school coaches are enamored with Taggart’s ‘Tampa Bay First’ attitude — focusing his recruiting on keeping some key talents inside the Tampa Bay marketplace (as evidenced by the flip of Derrick Calloway from Louisville to USF). He’s seen as a ‘players coach’ by the players that have met him.
CFBZ: With many other Big East schools, USF endured the rollercoaster ride of conference realignment and will be a part of the American Athletic Conference’s foundation. How does the configuration of the AAC and the addition of nearby UCF suit the Bulls now and in the future?
Steve Berrey: Obviously, there are more changes coming to the landscape that is college football — but USF has established itself in a short period of time as a very valuable asset. The Bulls have enjoyed success against their “I-4” rivals UCF and moving into the AAC will only heighten the rivalry. The main concern is the stability of the AAC. With the defection of Rutgers, Louisville and the Catholic schools, will the AAC be able to have a competitive balance and bring a fan base to Tampa?
CFBZ: In addition to its regular recruiting class, USF has added some transfer players to bolster its 2013 roster. Who are these additions?
Steve Berrey: The biggest transfer is Penn State QB Steven Bench, who hails from just north of the border in Bainbridge, Ga. Bench will immediately compete for a QB job that is wide open — [along with] senior Tommy Eveld, sophomores Bobby Eveld, Matt Floyd, redshirt freshman Trent Miller and incoming freshman Mike White. Add to that list Anthony Munoz (punter/QB from Louisiana-Monroe) and the QB meetings get a little crowded.
There has been a lot of speculation about others transferring in but to date no new additions.
CFBZ: USF began the last two seasons with great anticipation of success but delivered only disappointment going 5-7 and 3-9 overall with only one conference win each year. Former head coach Skip Holtz was sent packing. What is a realistic expectation for the 2013 Bulls under Taggart?
Steve Berrey: Bulls fans feel the team failed to perform to its own abilities and talents the last two seasons. As good of a job as Jim Leavitt did building the program up, Holtz literally eroded and destroyed it in a span of three seasons. Being competitive in the AAC is step one — and Taggart doesn’t like to start slow. If the QB battle is resolved quickly and the running game gets going the way many feel it can, USF will be competitive in the AAC — but I realistically see a 7-5 season on the horizon as a possible high-water mark.
Underachievement has defined USF for the last two seasons. Though long on talent, the Bulls have been short on performance. Despite the recent poor performances, optimism reigns with the hiring of Willie Taggart. He has recruited well and attracted transfer talent as well, most notably former PSU QB Steve Bench who will be eligible to compete for the starting role in Tampa this fall. Notre Dame DE transfer Aaron Lynch had to sit out the 2012 season but will be in the lineup this year. They play only four AAC games at home, but conference favorite Louisville is among the visitors.
The defense is in better shape than the offense. Lynch, Luke Sager, DeDe Lattimore and JaQuez Jenkins provide experience and balance. With a number of other returning players the Bulls should be solid on that side of the ball.
If Bench wins the starting QB position, in competition with Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd, it could be an important piece in Taggart’s new offense. Another player who could emerge as a key element of the passing attack is WR D’Vario Montgomery. Don't overlook the loss of Maikon Nonani, the program's all-time leading scorer. He was nearly automatic.
Fans are eager to see the Bulls return to post season play. This could be the year … but just barely. Prediction: 6-6.
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