TAMPA — What once seemed like a distant afterthought for USF is now at the top of its list going into Saturday's American Athletic Conference showdown with No. 18 Louisville — winning the conference championship.
Despite starting 0-4, the Bulls are tied with UCF and Houston for first place (2-0) in the American after consecutive wins over Cincinnati and UConn.
Coach Willie Taggart said Thursday that he is confident his team will take another step toward a title this weekend, though USF has never started 3-0 in conference play.
"That was something we set out from the beginning of the year," Taggart said of the team's championship aspirations.
"Just because things weren't going as well as we wanted to didn't mean we were going to deter from that, because those goals are still in front of us."
USF visits Houston on Oct. 31 and visits UCF on Nov. 29.
Taggart said the start of the season was frustrating, but he considers it a learning experience for players and coaches.
"I think our guys grew through it all," he said.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Taggart said QB Steven Bench (knee), RB Marcus Shaw (hamstring), DT Tevin Mims (leg) and DT Elkino Watson (knee) will be game-time decisions.
UF: Second thoughts
GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Will Muschamp said freshman RB Kelvin Taylor should have had more carries down the stretch of Saturday's 36-17 loss at Missouri.
Taylor's 20-yard touchdown run — his first as a Gator — trimmed the Tigers' lead to 23-17 with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Taylor, who finished with 74 yards on 12 carries, touched the ball only once more.
"We probably did that too early in the game … getting away from that," Muschamp said. "It became a two-score game in the fourth quarter, and we felt like we needed to pick up the tempo of the game a little bit as far as creating some plays.''
Taylor's role should increase.
"He continues to improve in all facets of the game," Muschamp said. "We've been very pleased with where he is right now."
Meanwhile, Muschamp gave offensive coordinator Brent Pease a vote of confidence in the wake of UF's lowest yardage output in 14 seasons. "This is the same staff that came a game away from playing for national championship (last season)," Muschamp said. "So obviously we're not where we want to be right now, and nobody knows that more than our staff. We need to go back and re-evaluate what we're doing and continue to improve our football over the next five weeks."
UM: Praise for RB
CORAL GABLES — Dallas Crawford, little more than an afterthought as a second-string running back coming into this season, will continue his newfound place in the spotlight Saturday against Wake Forest.
Crawford has run for two touchdowns in each of the past four games.
"Everybody here has a lot of respect for Dallas," coach Al Golden said. "He just quietly goes about his craft and develops skills. He's got himself into great shape. He's lost weight. He's quicker. He's certainly smarter in his football knowledge."
Crawford has also been a special-teams stalwart. Running back is considered his best position, but he fills many roles.
"Coach Golden always stresses a player having value," Crawford said. "I just try to make myself as valuable as possible."