Thursday, December 14, 2017
Colleges

Taggart hopes recruiting fuels USF rise

TAMPA

Technically, the NCAA calendar calls this week a quiet period, as if there were such a thing in college football. The traditional season may finally have wound down, but recruiting fervor is just getting wound up.

National signing day — college football's Christmas — is four weeks from today, which raises the rhetorical question: What do you get the coach who needs everything?

For starters, some brawny offensive linemen, a downhill back or two, playmakers out wide and another quarterback. USF's Willie Taggart needs them all. Question is, will he get them?

Based on his commitments (reportedly 22 so far), most of his wishes could be fulfilled. Rivals.com and 247Sports rank USF's class in the mid 40s; Scout.com ranks it 50th.

"Doing real well, I think," said Larry Blustein, a Miami-based reporter who has covered Florida recruiting for more than four decades.

"I've seen a lot of the kids that they've (recruited). The thing that (Taggart) has been able to do is really center that recruiting — even though they got some Miami kids — around the Tampa Bay area, and that's huge. That's huge."

Which isn't to say no work remains. Depending on how Taggart and his staff close, the Bulls' current rankings could rise or fall significantly.

"Some very good athletes, but they still have two or three possibly huge areas to fill," said veteran recruiting analyst Josh Newberg of 247Sports. "And without those being filled, it can't be considered a success."

If all the Bulls' current commitments sign, Taggart will have a stockpile of linebackers, tight ends and defensive backs, and his pick of offensive playmakers to complement top returning WR Andre Davis.

The latest to commit is Niceville athlete Tyre McCants (6 feet, 200 pounds), who played several positions (1,889 total yards, 18 TDs) while leading his team to the Class 7A state final.

Others a little lower on the radar include 6-3 North Miami WR Stanley Clerveaux, whom Blustein considers the classic sleeper. "When he gets mad and he wants the ball, can't stop him," Blustein said.

Missing from the group is the burly downhill back essential to Taggart's power run game. And of the trio of committed offensive linemen, none are projected initially as tackles.

As for quarterback, Miami Jackson dual-threat standout Quinton Flowers is considered a jewel of the class, but he doesn't seem to fit the play-action, pocket-passing mold more suited to Taggart's offense.

Do the Bulls plan to employ Flowers elsewhere? Will Taggart tweak his offensive philosophy to fit Flowers' skill set? Will a second quarterback be signed? Blustein saw Flowers recently and said the 6-footer has added enough bulk to be an every-down back or even a linebacker.

"I know they have Quinton Flowers but they have to get two (quarterbacks)," Newberg said.

"From talking to coordinators and coaches over the years, the ideal situation is to have four scholarship quarterbacks over a given time. If you look at USF over the years, I think that's what has given them problems — they haven't had enough."

Alas, some shopping days remain. The final spree could be critical to USF's long-term future.

"I think they will (close successfully)," Blustein said. "A lot of these (premier) programs will start closing up pretty quick, then they have to go to the next option. If it's FAU, USF or FIU, so be it."

BASEBALL TEAM PICKED FIFTH: USF's baseball team, which will try to fill holes in its batting order and rotation with the most versatile signing class of the Lelo Prado era, has been picked fifth in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches' poll.

Two homegrown Bulls — RHP Jimmy Herget (Jefferson) and 2B Nik Alfonso (Tampa Catholic) — made the preseason all-conference team. Herget was a Baseball America freshman All-American last season; Alfonso hit .331 and led the team in on-base percentage (.420).

Prado loses five of his top seven hitters from last season's 36-22 team but returns two everyday starting pitchers, including Herget. The eight players he signed in November "can play anywhere," he said.

"In this conference the preseason poll means nothing," Prado said. "Any team in this league can win it. … If we do what we did the last two years we will get to a regional because of the strength of this conference."

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