NOV. 29 at Central Florida Time: TBA TV: ABC/ESPN or ESPN2 Radio: 98.7 FM
DEC. 7 at Rutgers Time: TBA TV: TBA Radio: 98.7 FM
The tight ends
Willie Taggart's offense will feature the tight ends — early and often. At USF, it has been an under-utilized spot. But under Taggart at Western Kentucky, TE Jack Doyle was the Hilltoppers' leading receiver with 53 and 52 catches the past two seasons. That's very good news for USF sophomore Sean Price and junior Mike McFarland, the top two players at the now-vital position. “I thank God every morning for sending me a coach like Coach Taggart,'' Price said. Expect USF's single-season receiving records by a tight end — 34 catches for 390 yards by Trevor Hypolite, established in the inaugural 1997 season — to be in serious danger.
The redshirt sophomore defensive end, a transfer from Notre Dame, already has been mentioned as a high first-round draft choice — before playing his first down at USF. Lynch, a Cape Coral Island Coast product who had 5.5 sacks as a freshman All-American for the Fighting Irish in 2011, wanted to return to his home state of Florida. “Aaron is just like our football team; he's got to do something,” Taggart said. “He's hungry. He hasn't played ball for a long time. It's right around the corner for him now.” Said USF defensive line coach Eric Mathies: “Aaron has bought into the fact that he hasn't done anything. He has to earn it.” At the same time, Mathies said, “He's money. The kid's awesome.''
Yes, USF's defense might actually force some this year. That's the plan, anyway. First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has preached the importance of turnovers and repeatedly practiced with ball-hawking defensive drills. “We're going to get turnovers,” Bresnahan said flatly. Last season, the Bulls registered a program-low nine takeaways, including just two interceptions, both in the fourth quarter against Connecticut, one by DT Elkino Watson on a tipped pass. With USF's turnover ratio at a program-low minus-19, it's little wonder the Bulls struggled mightily. “That kind of thing (two interceptions) isn't going to happen again,” USF sophomore CB Kenneth Durden said. Indeed, if the Bulls just get into double-digits with interceptions — a modest goal — it will make a huge difference.
USF vs. UCF
The first-year American Athletic Conference, where preseason No. 9-ranked Louisville is heavily favored to earn the league's BCS bowl bid, will bring a new set of challenges for the Bulls. One of the biggest occurs in Orlando on Nov. 29 (Black Friday) when the Bulls visit the University of Central Florida Knights. For years, USF avoided scheduling UCF, believing there was something to lose and not much to gain. There were four meetings in 2005-08, all won by USF. Now, the Bulls and Knights are conference equals. Make no mistake, this will evolve into a top-flight rivalry. In the American's preseason poll, UCF was picked fourth and USF fifth.
So much of Taggart's era is about change — new systems, new coaches and new players. Indeed, several freshmen could immediately contribute, and recruiting remains an important factor. But let's not forget about the nine remaining players from Jim Leavitt's tenure, the guys who mostly participated in practice while redshirting during the 2009 season. Many are key performers, including DE Julius Forte, DE Ryne Giddins, DL Anthony Hill, WR Derrick Hopkins, OL Stephen Jacques, SS JaQuez Jenkins, MLB DeDe Lattimore, DT Luke Sager and DT Demi Thompson. They have seen a lot and done a lot. Their presence should be respected.