TAMPA — The University of South Florida football team might have discovered its quarterback of the future (and present) in true freshman Mike White. Now what?
White, the fourth player to start at quarterback in eight games, was 26 of 41 for 311 yards and two touchdowns in USF’s 35-23 defeat at Houston. He became the first Bulls quarterback with a 300-yard passing game in his first start. The 26 completions were the most for USF since 2011. His performance and presence seemed to energize the entire receiving corps, if not the fan base.
USF had similar success with freshman quarterbacks. Marquel Blackwell, Matt Grothe and B.J. Daniels were first-year standouts who became four-year starters.
It’s too early to suggest such a career for White. Even if that’s the case, USF coach Willie Taggart must still upgrade the talent and depth at quarterback, where five scholarship players could be the norm.
“If you don’t have a quarterback, you can’t win,’’ Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “To beat teams that might be better than you, you’ve got to have an experienced quarterback. He’s the key to your engine. You can pretend to be a good football team without a quarterback, but if you don’t have one, all your problems really show up across your football team.
“It’s real important you have a quarterback with experience and have one behind him and maybe another one behind him that you can count on.’’
Steven Bench, a transfer from Penn State, and Matt Floyd, who hasn’t played since the opening game after being named starter and captain, are due to return in 2014. Meanwhile, high-school quarterbacks Deiondre Porter (Jefferson) and Quinton Flowers (Miami Jackson), classified as “athletes’’ by many recruiting evaluators, have given verbal commitments to USF.
If White becomes the long-term answer, could quarterback recruits shy away from USF? Don’t look for Taggart’s approach to change.
“First and foremost, you’re looking for a competitor,’’ said Taggart, whose Bulls (2-6, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) are off this weekend before hosting Memphis on Nov. 16. “So, if a guy is shying away from competition, then it’s probably not the guy you really want. The ones who end up being the really good ones, they want to compete with the best of them.
“That’s a quick turnoff if a guy doesn’t want to compete. We tell them, ‘You want playing time? Go get it. Take it. It’s not on me. It’s on you. Make it hard for us to keep you off the field.’
“In recruiting, you’re looking for guys who can come take somebody’s job. You’re always going to have freshmen to come and take jobs. That’s what we do and that’s how it’s going to be here.’’
Denise Schilte-Brown’s Bulls (10-4-5) face a Friday road game at the University of Central Florida (16-2-2) in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
The Bulls, who won 4-1 at Connecticut in the AAC quarterfinals, were defeated 2-1 by UCF in Orlando on Sept. 27. USF is 1-8 all-time, with eight straight losses, against UCF.
The USF-UCF winner faces the Rutgers-Memphis winner in Sunday’s championship game in Orlando at noon on ESPNU. It carries an automatic bid into the 64-team NCAA tournament.
George Kiefer’s men’s soccer team (6-3-8) opens AAC tournament play on Saturday at Temple. Brentton Muhammad was named AAC Goalkeeper of the Week, while Nikola Paunic, a junior defenseman, earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a 0-0 double-overtime game at No. 11 Louisville, then a 1-0 home victory against Detroit Mercy. …The women were sixth and the men eighth at the AAC Cross Country Championships in Madison, Conn. For the women, junior Kelli Williams was the top USF finisher at 19th place. For the men, sophomore Michael Babinec was 39th. …Ken Eriksen’s softball team opens Feb. 6-8 with the USF-Wilson DeMarini Tournament, which features two Women’s College World Series opponents (Florida, Michigan). …Jose Fernandez’s women’s basketball team, which opens Friday night at home against No. 8-ranked Maryland, received 37 votes and was 30th nationally in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll.