USF in review: Top 5 stories of '15
We couldn't legitimately call ourselves good conformists here at the Bulls blog if we didn't provide at least one year-ending list. Here then, in the literal last hours of 2015, is our ranking of the year's top five USF sports stories.
1. He did something
Willie Taggart's autumn served as a blueprint for the ebb, flow and utter kookiness of a college football season. With his team mired in another swoon (1-3) and talk of his job security increasing in volume, the Bulls' third-year coach orchestrated the biggest mid-season turnaround in the program's 19-year history. USF won seven of its last eight regular season games, finished undefeated in the American Athletic Conference's East Division, and earned its first bowl berth in a half-decade. When the final specks of dust from this surreal season dissipated, Taggart had a raise and contract extension. "This is just the beginning," Taggart said.
2. March Madness
Only the biggest turnaround in Bulls football history could upstage the best season in school basketball history (yes, we're talking men's or women's). Consider all the milestones achieved by the Bulls women in 2014-15: (A) first Associated Press ranking, (B) highest NCAA Tournament seed (sixth), (C) first conference title game appearance, (D) first time selected as NCAA Tournament host. By season's end, the Bulls (27-8) had tied the program season record for victories and had come within a brief second-half meltdown of reaching the Sweet 16. Jose Fernandez's current club has the goods to equal (or eclipse) last season's feats, though its failure to defeat a ranked team at this point has been surprising.
3. Distractions in triplicate
To be sure, the breakthrough season of the Taggart era wasn't without its blemishes. Ugly off-field incidents -- one of them carrying tragic repercussions -- immediately followed each of USF's first three home victories. Hours after the Bulls' season-opening romp of FAMU at Raymond James Stadium, former Bulls DT Elkino Watson was stabbed to death outside an Ybor City nightclub. Watson's death not only devastated many players and coaches, but spawned an ugly aftershock when Taggart announced he was banning his players from Ybor City, only to be overruled by his boss. Five weeks later, after a 45-24 homecoming win against Syracuse, two Bulls backups -- OL Benjamin Knox and CB Lamar Robbins -- were arrested on charges of firing a gun on campus. Two weeks after that, following a 38-14 win against SMU, freshman WR Deangelo Antoine was arrested on felony charges of possessing a controlled substance.
4. Wallflowers no more
Behind first-year coach Mark Kingston, USF's baseball team (34-26-1) snapped a 12-year postseason drought by earning its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002. The Bulls didn't dance long -- dropping two of three in the Gainesville Regional -- but appear well-equipped for a serious run at a second consecutive NCAA berth. Kingston has some high-caliber arms to replace (i.e. ace Jimmy Herget, closer Tommy Peterson), but four of the top five hitters return and Kingston's first two recruiting classes have been nationally heralded.
5. Condition stable
For Bulls football constituents, no news is very good news in the waning days of 2015. Allen's widely reported flirtation with Auburn has come and gone, and co-offensive coordinator Danny Hope's name hasn't (yet) surfaced on the perpetually spinning coaching carousel. If both remain on staff entering the 2016 preseason (and it remains a substantial 'if' at this point), USF will enter a year with the same coordinators for the first time since 2011.
Five Biggest Wins of '15
1. USF 44, Temple 23 (football)
Bulls' first victory against a ranked team in four years made them bowl-eligible
2. USF 73, LSU 64 (women's basketball)
Bulls roll in NCAA Tournament opener before a raucous Sun Dome crowd of 5,560.
3. USF 2, Cal State Fullerton 1 (baseball)
On frigid night in Clearwater, Bulls make resounding statement in Kingston's debut
4. USF wins New Haven Regional (men's golf)
The only team to finish under par, the No. 3-seeded Bulls lead wire to wire to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth.
5. USF 4, Virginia Tech 0 (men's tennis)
The Bulls earn the program's first Round of 16 berth by dispatching of the Hokies in short order in the NCAA tourney.