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Taggart era starts with 53-21 loss to McNeese State

TAMPA -- It started so well, like the summer's viral-video magic bus ride, with an 80-yard touchdown by Marcus Shaw on USF's first offensive play.

The Willie Taggart "Do Something" era was off and running -- the Bulls defense even had an interception, so hard to come by last season.

Then the wheels came off. Very quickly, you remembered, this is why buses stop at railroad tracks. Suddenly, this was "Redo Something."

McNeese State, a I-AA program that came to town as a three-touchdown underdog, scored the next 40 points. The Cowboys scored a USF-opponent-record 31 points in the second quarter, punctuated by a 76-yard interception return for a score with 12 seconds left in the half. By the time it was over, the Bulls had easily the most embarrassing loss in their 17-season history, a 53-21 humbling at Raymond James Stadium.

"This was my biggest nightmare," said Taggart, who opened his comments with an apology "to Bulls nation" for "a piss-poor effort from our guys." "It was totally unexpected. We played a lot better than that throughout training camp. For me, just watching the game ... we folded. We did not continue to play with great effort."

 

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Video: USF football launches pregame tradition

First-year USF coach Willie Taggart is all about creating a new identity and changing the culture around the Bulls, and that started Saturday afternoon with a new pregame walk through fans to Raymond James Stadium before the team's season opener against McNeese State.

Here's video of the walk, with the Bulls sporting green Under Armour vests over white dress shirts. Stay tuned for our live blog throughout tonight's game ...

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Saturday: Greg Auman chats from USF-McNeese State, 7

Head coach Willie Taggart will make his USF debut on Saturday against McNeese State.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Head coach Willie Taggart will make his USF debut on Saturday against McNeese State.

USF's opener against McNeese State on Saturday is not on television, so join the conversation as Times beat reporter Greg Auman blogs live from Raymond Stadium, starting at 7 p.m. Follow along, and add your comments and/or questions if you like. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Now you see it: Meet USF's offense, designed to confuse

USF football season and the start of the Willie Taggart era is barely a day away -- come Saturday at 7, Bulls fans will get their first look at the Taggart offense. And then a second later, they'll get an entirely different look, getting a sense of the dizzying shifting and motion the Bulls will utilize in a constant effort to keep defenses from knowing what's coming.

Here's the full story, talking not only to the Bulls but defensive coaches who have faced that offense in recent years. It's our advance to Saturday's opener against McNeese State, which will be here before you know it ...

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Reminder: Greg Auman live chat today at 12:30

A reminder that Times beat reporter Greg Auman will be chatting live today, starting at 12:30 p.m. Want to talk about USF's upcoming opener against McNeese State? Matt Floyd being named the starting quarterback? Willie Taggart's first training camp? Whatever's on your mind, we look forward to hearing from you.

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WSJ grid plots USF as 'admirable' but 'weakling'

I'm a sucker for those faux-math grids that plot things visually on two criteria -- Esquire usually does them pretty well, and today's Wall Street Journal has an outstanding graphic (outstanding for conversation, at least) that plots all 125 I-A college football programs -- one axis ranges from "powerhouse" to "weakling" and the other, from "admirable" to "embarrassing."

Where does USF fall? You want to be in the top right of any of these graphics -- or at least in the far lower left corner, where FIU is nearly quarantined from the rest of college football. USF lines up as "admirable" and "weakling" -- you knew the Bulls weren't going to be a powerhouse given their 3-9 record in 2012, so perhaps fans can take some solace in the "admirable" side of things. As it cast as a foil to the Bulls, UCF is on the opposite corner of the grid, tagged as "embarrassing" and "powerhouse." …

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USF women's hoops gets first American schedule

USF's women's basketball team will play its first league game in the American Athletic Conference at home on Dec. 28 against Rutgers, closing the regular season March 3 against the Scarlet Knights.

The American released its schedule Wednesday, and the 18-game round-robin slate features defending national champion Connecticut coming to Tampa on Feb. 16, with national runner-up Louisville coming to town Jan. 12. The long-awaited conference rivalry with UCF opens Jan. 18 in Orlando and comes to Tampa on Feb. 8.

Buoyed by a deep class of talented newcomers, USF will try to earn back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in the program's history. The Bulls have a solid nonconference schedule as well, opening Nov. 8 at home against Maryland, with a trip to Oklahoma State on Dec. 14.

Here's a link to the Bulls' complete schedule.

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USF freshmen earning praise, in position to play

TAMPA -- USF has five true freshmen as top backups on its official depth chart, and Bulls coaches continue to sing the praises of young players who have put themselves in position to contribute immediately this fall.

That includes Hillsborough graduate Nigel Harris, who is listed as the top backup to Reshard Cliett at weakside linebacker, proving himself already to be both a quick learner and an athletic linebacker.

"The kid's just a heck of a football player, and he's starting to flash some things," defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said Wednesday, preparing for Saturday's opener against I-AA McNeese State. "You want to get the best 11 players on the field at all time, and we're going to continue to create competitive situations. ... Nigel has flashed. He's done the same thing on special teams. That's not to say he's close to being a starter or anything like that. He's taken advantage of an opportunity."

There are even more freshmen in the defensive secondary, which could have three true freshmen in corners Lamar Robbins and Johnny Ward and safety Nate Godwin (Freedom), all of whom are competing for snaps, along with redshirt freshman corner Jalen Spencer. …

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Thursday: Chat live with Greg Auman, 12:30 p.m.

Greg Auman will be chatting Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Times files

Greg Auman will be chatting Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Want to talk about USF's upcoming opener against McNeese State? Matt Floyd being named the starting quarterback? Willie Taggart's first training camp? Whatever's on your mind, join Times beat reporter Greg Auman for a live chat Thursday, Aug. 29, starting at 12:30 p.m.

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Taggart says Bulls must be 'locked in' for opener

Here are Tuesday's practice notes from Times correspondent Jeff Odom. ...

TAMPA -- USF coach Willie Taggart wants his players to be focused and ready to put up a fight in Saturday's season opener against McNeese State.

"By no means do I think it is going to be an easy game for us," Taggart said Tuesday. "We've got to come locked in and ready to play. ... I look at this like this is the game for us. We haven't won in a long time and we're going to have to take care of them and we're not going to hold anything back."

Taggart pointed to McNeese State's rushing attack, led by HB Marcus Wiltz, who had a team-high 651 yards for the I-AA program last season, as a possible area of concern for his defense. But senior LB DeDe Lattimore said they are prepared.

"I've been watching a lot of film on McNeese. They're a great team and a great program," Lattimore said. "Offensively, they do a lot of running. (We have to) watch out for the Wildcat, a lot of formations, (and) a lot of unbalanced (lines). We've just got to be disciplined."

USF is 11-0 all-time when opening the season at Raymond James Stadium and last played McNeese State in 2006, earning a 41-10 win. …

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USF QB Floyd gains confidence with starting nod

Matt Floyd looks to throw downfield during USF's spring game.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Matt Floyd looks to throw downfield during USF's spring game.

TAMPA -- Earning USF's starting quarterback job from coach Willie Taggart was something Matt Floyd had worked for since the end of last season, but the news he got from his team Saturday night was just as encouraging.

"It gives me a lot of confidence to see Coach Taggart trusts me to take this position, but even more than that though was the fact that I was voted a team captain," Floyd said before Tuesday's practice. "I didn't expect that to happen at all. To have that honor voted by the players and my teammates was really cool. That instilled a lot of confidence in me."

The sophomore from Milton is still seeking his first college touchdown -- he didn't have any in 110 pass attempts last year, stepping in after injuries to B.J. Daniels and Bobby Eveld. What he does have is the trust of his coaches, who in the last four days have talked about how much he's improved since the spring, emerging as a leader.

"Very even-keeled, has a good demeanor, doesn't get rattled easy, fun to be around, easy to coach," was the scouting report Tuesday from USF quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan, himself a college quarterback just four years ago. …

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Taggart says 'honeymoon is over' as USF season starts

Willie Taggart understands that with Saturday's opener against McNeese State, he's at a point where he has to earn the love of Bulls fans, on the field and on the scoreboard.

GREG AUMAN | Times

Willie Taggart understands that with Saturday's opener against McNeese State, he's at a point where he has to earn the love of Bulls fans, on the field and on the scoreboard.

TAMPA -- USF coach Willie Taggart has been warmly embraced by Bulls fans in his nearly nine months on the job, but he understands that with Saturday's opener against McNeese State, he's at a point where he has to earn their love, on the field and on the scoreboard.

"The honeymoon is over ... Everything's been peaches and cream, everybody's been smiling and laughing," Taggart said Tuesday. "I haven't heard many negative things about me, but it's coming. That's part of it. That's what you love about it. We have to go do something."

Taggart has preached to his players about the importance of how they handle adversity, hoping to change a bad trend of late games slipping away from the Bulls last season. He's not sure when the first challenges will come, but he's looking forward to them in some ways. …

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USF season preview: Shaw's potential, notes and more

Here's the modern newspaper writer's conundrum: How do I convince my local readers that today's a great day to go out and buy a paper to see our USF football season preview ... then offer up links to see it online for free?

Anyway, there's lots of USF football in today's paper -- it's cool to still have those days where you hurry out to the driveway to see how it all looks as a finished product. Our main preview story focuses on running back Marcus Shaw, who was used to having 300-yard games in high school, but has rushed for 400 yards in three years at USF. That could change this fall, and we write about his maturity and his frustrations last season. (And I like the second Willie Allen photo in the story even better, from the acrobatic Shaw to the sidelines in background, full of redshirting Bulls.) …

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Depth chart: Bench, Eveld are co-backups at QB

USF has released it first official depth chart under coach Willie Taggart, with few surprises in the starting lineup but a handful among the Bulls' top backups. Here's how it goes:

QB: Matt Floyd, Steven Bench/Bobby Eveld

RB: Marcus Shaw, Mike Pierre

FB: Ryan Eppes, Auggie Sanchez

WR (X): Andre Davis, Jordan Duval

WR (Z): Deonte Welch, Chris Dunkley

TE (Y): Sean Price, Mike McFarland

LT: Darrell Williams, Jake Kaufman

LG: Brynjar Gudmundsson, Steven Jacques

C: Austin Reiter, Kofi Amichia

RG: Lawrence Martin, Max Lang

RT: Quinterrius Eatmon, Mak Djulbegovic

DE: Aaron Lynch, Ryne Giddins

DT: Luke Sager, James Hamilton

DT: Elkino Watson, Anthony Hill

DE: Tevin Mims, Eric Lee

SLB: Zack Bullock, C.J. Garye

MLB: DeDe Lattimore, Hans Louis

WLB: Reshard Cliett, Nigel Harris

CB: Kenneth Durden, Jalen Spencer

S: Mark Joyce, Nate Godwin

S: JaQuez Jenkins, Torrel Saffold

CB: Brandon Salinas, Lamar Robbins

P: Mattias Ciabatti, Aaron Munoz

PK: Marvin Kloss, Emilio Nadelman

H: Mattias Ciabatti, Aaron Munoz

LS: David Burdetsky, Alex Salvato

KO: Marvin Kloss

KR: Kenneth Durden & Derrick Hopkins

PR: Derrick Hopkins, Andre Davis …

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Taggart on QB job: 'We're going to get behind Matt'

TAMPA -- USF coach Willie Taggart said Monday that his decision to name sophomore Matt Floyd as his starting quarterback wasn't an easy on, but he doesn't want him looking over his shoulder every week.

"Matt understands we're not going to go in game by game, him worrying about his position being taken," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference. "We're going to get behind Matt and support him. He also knows we need production from that position. He has to do something, too, like the rest of our guys. We expect him to do something."

Taggart named Floyd as starter on Saturday night, choosing him over senior Bobby Eveld and Penn State transfer Steven Bench in a close competition. Taggart said the battle for the QB job was a close one, and he likes the depth he has at the position.

"It was very close, probably one of the hardest decisions I've made when it comes to picking position guys in my head coaching experience," Taggart said. "I've never had three guys competing for a job. Really four guys (with freshman Mike White), but it came down to those three, Matt, Bobby and Steven Bench. It was tough. It was close." …

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