COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
American Athletic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Walt Wells | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan
Willie Taggart, considered one of the nation’s up-and-coming young head coaches after leading Western Kentucky to its first bowl game, has a winning formula that he expects to revive South Florida’s underachieving program. Offensively, it revolves around a smart, tough quarterback and a physical running game. The big question: Does either component exist on the Bulls’ roster?
The void left behind by B.J. Daniels, a four-year starter who accumulated 10,501 career yards of total offense, will be filled by senior Bobby Eveld, Penn State transfer Steven Bench or sophomore Matt Floyd. Freshman Mike White, the only quarterback in Taggart’s first recruiting class, could figure in immediately.
In the backfield, only senior Marcus Shaw has appreciable experience, but his career numbers (83 carries for 391 yards) aren’t exactly eye-opening. Shaw, haunted by injuries, does have a quick burst and open-field skills. The Bulls could look to junior college transfer Michael Pierre or freshmen Sta’fon McCray and Darius Tice.
There is far more depth at wide receiver, where junior Andre Davis leads the way. Last season, Davis set South Florida single-game records with 12 receptions and 191 yards in a victory at Nevada. But the biggest upside belongs to 6'5" sophomore D’Vario Montgomery.
South Florida has a veteran offensive line, paced by center Austin Reiter and tackle Quinterrius Eatmon, who already has 23 starts. Considering the backfield’s work-in-progress outlook, the line’s leadership will be vital.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, mostly known for his NFL work, seemingly has a difficult task in picking up the pieces from last season’s wreckage. Three times last season, the Bulls failed to protect a lead by surrendering 75-yard game-losing touchdown drives in the final minutes. They gave up 228 yards in one quarter (to Nevada) and 34 points in one half (in a 37–36 loss against Syracuse). A lack of takeaways led to a minus-19 turnover ratio.
Bresnahan, though, says he’s encouraged by his inherited talent. The pass rush has great potential. Sophomore Aaron Lynch, a Notre Dame transfer and Freshman All-American in 2011 for the Fighting Irish, was virtually unblockable during spring practice. On the other side, senior Ryne Giddins is seeking a return to form after being limited by a shoulder injury last season. Seniors Julius Forte and Tevin Mims should figure into the edge-rush rotation as well.
The linebackers look solid, paced by senior DeDe Lattimore (36 career starts), who shifted from the outside to the middle last season. South Florida’s secondary remains the potential problem spot. Most jobs are wide open.
The Bulls must replace Maikon Bonani, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Junior placekicker Marvin Kloss, one of the nation’s top prep kicking prospects in 2010 who handled kickoffs the past two seasons, is favored to win the job. Sophomore Mattias Ciabatti, a former double-duty kicker, has a leg up for punter duties.
“Do something.’’ It’s the mantra of Taggart — and it’s appropriate for a South Florida program that hasn’t done nearly enough in recent seasons. The Bulls, picked for second place in last season’s Big East poll, were 3–9 and 1–6 in the league. Skip Holtz was fired after losing 14 of his last 16 conference games.
The Bulls, in the retooled American Athletic Conference, just need to do something, as Taggart might say. The recruiting and energy level already have picked up considerably. A winning record and a bowl-game appearance — not seen at South Florida since 2010 — are achievable steps in the right direction.