TAMPA — When asked on Sunday if this year was a “bowl game or bust” mentality at South Florida, coach Willie Taggart said, “We’re not looking at it that way.”
Does USF want to reach a bowl game for the first time in four years? Of course.
But Taggart said his Bulls are not getting ahead of themselves. He said his team is focused on “winning each day,” and “winning the details at each practice.”
“If we keep that focus, then good things will happen,” Taggart said. “We have to stay the course.”
One thing appears certain to Taggart: South Florida will be a much-improved version from the one that went 2-10 in 2013, the first under his watch.
He listed several reasons for the optimism, including the belief that his players are now, “true believers.”
“It’s tough to learn from a coach who didn’t recruit you,” Taggart said. “The players have now had a year to learn our system. They are buying in.”
Other reasons included a bigger and stronger team (following a vigorous weight-training and weight-gaining program), more competition at every position (following solid recruiting) and a healthy maturation between coaches and players.
“I thought last year the coaches had to convince the players (about Taggart’s system),” Taggart said. “But this year it’s the players who have to convince the coaches (about the players’ abilities).”
Perhaps at the top of the “convincing” list for positions is quarterback, which appears up for grabs between sophomore Mike White (listed No. 1 on the depth chart) and Steven Bench (listed No. 2).
“It’s a job for somebody to take,” Taggart said. “We give a depth chart but that’s given as a reference point. It’s still an open job for somebody to take.”
Taggart said a decision on the starting quarterback will be determined within the next few weeks.
As for the overall physicality of the 2014 Bulls, expect more, with more beef and muscle. Many of the Bulls look much more formidable, including senior center Austin Reiter, who walked out for Sunday’s news conference much bigger (up to 296 pounds from last year’s 273).
“We all worked hard through the whole offseason,” Reiter said. “It has definitely made a big difference.”
The poster child for the Bulls’ rise in muscle is Todd Chandler, a 6-foot, 321-pound defensive tackle who recently squatted 700 pounds, a feat that has received more than 70,000 video views on the Internet.
Chandler said on Sunday that his increased bulk and muscle is simply inspired by the team’s overall goal.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Chandler said. “This is (the seniors’) last go-around. We want to get it done. I think we’re ready.”
Bowl game or bust?
Taggart did add this after the question: “I would say, ‘A bowl game is a must.’ ”