NEWPORT, R.I. — The pivotal third season of the Willie Taggart era will unfold much like the first two, according to a poll of American Athletic Conference media.
The Bulls, coming off 2-10 and 4-8 seasons, were picked to finish fifth in the AAC East — ahead of only UConn — in the preseason poll released at the dawn of the league's media day Tuesday.
"We don't like it, we've got to change it," Taggart said. "We really don't get too caught up in preseason polls. All that is off last year's team, and this is a different football team."
Cincinnati, which returns 3,000-yard passer Gunner Kiel and his top seven receivers (including Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore), was picked to defeat Memphis in the inaugural AAC title game Dec. 5.
The Bearcats got 29 first-place votes in the East Division projections, with UCF receiving the other. Memphis, coming off a breakthrough season (10-3) that included a share of the conference crown, was picked to win the West (13 first-place votes) by a narrower margin over Houston (10) and AAC newcomer Navy (seven).
STILL A PRACTICE PLAYER: Forty-eight hours before the Bulls' first practice, Taggart said he's "not really" optimistic of transfer QB Asiantii Woulard being granted an NCAA waiver that would allow him to play immediately.
Woulard, a onetime four-star dual-threat prospect from Winter Park High, has sought the waiver after not appearing in a game in two seasons at UCLA. He already has enrolled at USF and, according to players and coaches, has assimilated seamlessly with his new team.
He can practice right away. "It seems like he's been here for a long time now," Taggart said.
"The first day he came around, he shook everyone's hand, he introduced himself," TE Sean Price added. "He definitely has that leadership mentality. The plays and throws I've seen him make during seven-on-seven, he's definitely an athlete."
A SHORT DERBY?: Taggart said he hopes his latest QB derby, for now an apparent two-way duel between sophomore Quinton Flowers and senior Steven Bench, will be determined sooner rather than later.
In a round-table session Tuesday with Eastern Division coaches, Taggart said the winner will be the one who plays at a consistently high level, minimizes turnovers and doesn't exude any sense of panic.
"If they're going to be a great quarterback, they've got to separate themselves and show that daily," Taggart said, "and not just show me but show their teammates that they're the guy they can lean on."
ODDS AND ENDS: Junior OT Glen Bethel, a juco transfer, is completing a class and won't be available at the start of preseason camp, but Taggart said he expects him to be eligible for the first game. … Senior Jamie Byrd, the projected starting "husky" in defensive coordinator Tom Allen's 4-2-5 scheme, recently cut off the dreadlocks he had grown for a decade. "It was just time," said the Pasco High alumnus, now sporting a manicured beard. "Had 'em for 10 years, really just wanted to try something new." … Among the handful of players singled out by AAC commissioner Mike Aresco during his state-of-the-league speech was Bulls senior P Mattias Ciabatti. A Hillsborough High alumnus, Ciabatti is on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, presented annually to college football's top community servant.