South Florida Bulls Must Use 2013 As Audition For New Conference

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The South Florida Bulls are in a big mess. They finished at the bottom of the Big East in 2012, have a brand new coach to adjust to, and in all likelihood, the conference they currently call home will no longer be a football conference come the start of the 2014 NCAA football season. The Bulls need to improve in a hurry, because 2013 is their only chance to audition for a new conference.

South Florida’s 3-9 overall record and 1-6 conference record was bad enough to end the coaching reign of Skip Holtz at USF. It was the low point of what had been a steady slide for the Bulls, who since entering the FBS in 2006, hadn’t finished worse than 8-5 and didn’t win fewer than seven conference games in any given year. Holtz inherited the team in 2010 and matched the previous year’s win total of eight, but 2011 saw the Bulls go 5-7. Follow that up with the aforementioned 3-9 finish and here we are. South Florida, once a steady Big East threat, is now in a bad way.

Enter new head coach Willie Taggart. Taggart grew up in the Tampa Bay area and is coming off two back-to-back 7-5 seasons as head coach of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. South Florida is hoping that Taggart can turn the football program around, and they better hope he does it fast.

It is no big secret that the Big East is in its death throes as a football conference. Sure it is adding four new teams for the 2013 season, but they all come from Conference USA and only one of them managed better than seven wins in 2012. The college basketball schools own the Big East until the new schools officially join in July, and that may be all the time needed to see the Big East fade out of the college football picture. If Southern Florida wants to remain a part of one of the major conferences, it better step up its game quickly.

Taggart’s offense will likely be run by QB Matt Floyd, who started the final three games for USF last season and will be a sophomore in 2013. In those three starts Floyd completed just above 52 percent of his passes for 444 yards, 0 TDs and 5 INTs. He will need some work, but he is young and could learn a lot in just one off-season. Floyd’s competition will be Bobby Eveld, who will be a senior, and incoming freshman Michael White who is a 6’4” 195 pound three-star recruit out of Fort Lauderdale, FL. As far as I can tell, the job should be Floyd’s to lose.

Elsewhere on offense, the Bulls lost their top three rushers to graduation. Their most productive returning RB is Marcus Shaw who carried the ball 51 times for 248 yards in 2012. With no running backs amongst USF’s recruiting class this year, Shaw will probably be seeing a lot of playing time in 2013.

The wide receiver situation is less bleak as the Bulls will be getting their top three pass catchers back next season. That experience will be key for developing chemistry between the receiving corps and their young QB.

The only vaguely bright spot for South Florida in 2012 was its defense, and while it loses some leadership, with the departure of CB Kayvon Webster, LB Sam Barrington and DT Cory Grissom, the D should be pretty solid next year. Incoming ESPN Top 300 recruit Eric Mays is a 6’5” 240 pound DE that should help out up front, and JuCo transfers CB Howard Wilder and LB Rahmon Swain should be able to help the Bulls recover from their losses elsewhere.

Looking at USF’s schedule, they get a break by playing both the Louisville Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bearcats at home, but they also have to go on the road to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Central Florida Knights. You win some, you lose some, but South Florida better hope that they win seven or more in 2013.

South Florida needs to make a statement in 2013, and that statement has to be “Dear Big12 / ACC / SEC, we are worth adding to your conference”. I only included those three conferences because they are the only ones that make some sort of geographical sense, and unlike the dying Big East I still believe in that. The Big East is almost certainly going to fold, and South Florida has one season to prove that they belong in an upper tier conference.

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