The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 81 South Florida.
Previewing South Florida’s Offense for 2014:
Willie Taggart’s mantra — “Do Something!’’ — seemed like a hollow promise through most of last season. Offensively, USF did very little. The Bulls managed just 11 offensive touchdowns.
Taggart, in his first season after arriving from Western Kentucky, was stunned by that development. In retrospect, he was mostly coaching players he didn’t recruit, athletes who came to USF expecting to play a different style. The first season is over, though, and Taggart has promised vast improvement.
It starts with the quarterback, where Taggart wants to see intelligence, mobility and toughness. Sophomore Mike White, seemingly ticketed for a redshirt year, started the last five games and showed enough flashes to make Taggart believe better days were ahead.
Without a running game, Taggart’s bruising style won’t get off the ground. It’s still not known whether USF possesses a go-to runner, although senior Michael Pierre and sophomore Darius Tice had promising moments. It looks like a position-by-committee.
Taggart believes the offensive line will be better after an offseason in the weight room. Four starters return, paced by three-year starting center Austin Reiter.
Although the Bulls hope to become a run-first offense, Taggart wants to take his shots down the field. Senior receiver Andre Davis is the team’s primary option. The continued development at tight end, with junior Sean Price and senior Mike McFarland, also bears watching.
Previewing South Florida’s Defense for 2014:
By the end of last season, the Bulls’ defense was playing exceptionally well, finishing the year ranked No. 21 in the nation. Learning the system of Chuck Bresnahan, while incorporating a handful of young players, the Bulls matured into a unit that ran to the ball and created turnovers.
It began up front with pressure, but after losing much of their defensive line depth, the Bulls must hope for more youthful contributions. Sophomore Derrick Calloway, the prize of Taggart’s first recruiting class in 2013, is expected to rule the interior while getting help from experienced junior Todd Chandler.
Senior outside linebacker Reshard Cliett, last season’s second-leading tackler, is expected to help fill the leadership chasm created by the loss of middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore, a four-year starter. The Bulls are equally enthused by the emergence of Nigel Harris, who became a freshman starter and showed no sign of nerves.
At one point late last season, the secondary played with four freshmen. That’s bound to pay off with sophomores such as Nate Godwin, Johnny Ward, Hassan Childs and Lamar Robbins playing with unmistakable confidence. But the biggest impact might come from junior college transfer Jamie Byrd, a take-no-prisoners strong safety.
Previewing South Florida’s Specialists for 2014:
Placekicker Marvin Kloss began last season trying to replace Maikon Bonani, the school’s all-time leading scorer. Kloss ended last season as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. Meanwhile, Mattias Ciabatti had a successful first season as the starting punter, averaging 40.2 yards, getting 20 punts inside the 20 and having 14 of 50 yards or greater.
Give Taggart credit for this: Even after a horrendous 53–21 home loss against McNeese State to open the season, even after watching his offense struggle mightily just to move the chains, he remained undaunted. He insists his approach will work. It just needs patience and hard work.
The up-and-coming program that once upset the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson and West Virginia? That’s now ancient history. USF must rebuild from the ground up. The intermediate goal is obvious. If Taggart can coax USF’s first bowl trip since 2010, then the Bulls are definitely on their way back.