TAMPA — In two months, new USF football coach Willie Taggart has worked hard to put together a solid first recruiting class, and as the Bulls get official signatures today, three top-tier Miami-area recruits could take the class to another level of success.
The Bulls are among the final options for Miami Southridge DB Lamar Robbins, Miami Booker T. Washington OL Denver Kirkland and Oakland Park Northeast WR Stacy Coley. Robbins committed to USF last week, but he's getting a strong push from Louisville, which has also had great success recruiting the Miami area.
All three are ranked in the top 50 in the state by the top recruiting sites. Getting any of them would be a success for Taggart and his staff, and getting more than one would turn many heads and likely give the Bulls the highest-rated recruiting class in the Big East's lineup.
Some of the Bulls' biggest recruiting wins in recent years have come in Miami, including CB Kayvon Webster in '09 and DT Elkino Watson in '11. The only assistant that Taggart kept from Skip Holtz's staff was former Bulls lineman Larry Scott, who has led USF's recruiting efforts in Miami, going back to Jim Leavitt's tenure.
USF's toughest competition on Coley and Kirkland looks to be Miami and FSU, and a head-to-head win on signing day against either would be a major victory. The Bulls are waiting to hear on two more local prospects — Jesuit TE Travis Johnson and Lakewood WR Marquez Valdes.
SECOND HALF: USF men's basketball opens the second half of the Big East season tonight against No. 24 Marquette, this after a disappointing 1-8 record in the opening nine conference games. The biggest improvement coach Stan Heath is hoping to see during these final nine games?
"I'd like to see us be tougher," Heath said. "I think that's one of the biggest reasons we let down at the start of the second half (of games). We come out with a casual, cool attitude. We have to change that attitude. We have to have more of a feisty attitude, especially in the second half."
USF (10-11) has shown it can play with top-tier Big East teams but hasn't closed out victories, a frustrating trait after the Bulls were consistently successful in close games during last year's run to the NCAA Tournament.
"What's disappointing to me is I've got veteran guys … who were in those same battles last year and won those games at a high rate," Heath said. "They've been there, done that. I don't think they've passed the baton to some of those younger guys about what it really takes to get the job done for 40 minutes."
THIS AND THAT: If USF's women's basketball (RPI 62) wants to continue hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls (15-6, 4-4) need to win their next three games, with the lowest-RPI opponents of the eight games remaining in the regular season. Four of their final five games should be against other Big East bubble teams, the other being Connecticut in the Sun Dome. … Baseball coach Lelo Prado is optimistic after an early scrimmage Sunday. The Bulls will be counting on a few freshman pitchers: Jefferson's Jimmy Herget could have a key bullpen role, while 6-foot-5 RHP Justin Patrick of Rhode Island has a shot at the No. 3 starting job. USF opens on Feb. 16 with Big Ten-Big East Challenge games in Clearwater against Louisville and Purdue. … USF softball, seeking a return to the College World Series, opens Friday in Clearwater, facing Marshall at 2:30. With four games in the opening weekend, expect to see a glimpse of the Bulls' pitching depth, with four solid arms for Ken Eriksen to utilize.