Game-By-Game Predictions for USF's 2014 Season
Year one was pretty similar to Taggart’s first season with the Hilltoppers back in 2010; little depth, low morale and underdeveloped players trying to learn a new system. This led to a 2-10 record (with both teams) and plenty of growing moments.
In his second year, WKU won seven games, finishing second in the Sun Belt all while taking a significant step forward. With a Top-50 recruiting class and a ton of experience back for another year neck-deep in the playbook, South Florida has the opportunity to make some great strides.
But we mustn’t forget: 2013 was a complete disaster. The Bulls were not competitive against the likes of FCS McNeese State, Florida Atlantic, a vastly overrated Miami (Fla.), and Rutgers (ouch).
They were downright anemic on offense, scoring a 123rd-ranked 13.3 points per game, scoring six or less in four different appearances. With the emergence of former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench finally looking like the guy Taggart thought he was getting – along with some continuity on the offensive line – progress should be made (it certainly can’t get much worse, right?).
Amazingly enough, the defense – particularly the defensive line – was actually quite good at times, ranking somewhere along the lines of middle-class, which is seriously incredible considering just how atrocious the offense was. However, USF loses its anchor in DeDe Lattimore at linebacker, and must fill big gaps on the line and the secondary.
So what exactly do we have here?
Baby steps. South Florida isn’t going to run the table in The American. It’s not going to be as terrible as it was last year, either. Best-case scenario is five wins, and worst-case is one or two. But this is one of those situations where you can’t really put a number on the progress that’s being made – USF’s record probably won’t be an indication of the overall direction of the program.
Slowly but surely, Taggart will make South Florida relevant again. It just won’t be in 2014.
Here’s a game-by-game look at how the Bulls’ upcoming season will turn out:
8/30 – vs. Western Carolina: WIN
Like I stated earlier, South Florida was beaten up by McNeese State in last year’s season opener. Western Carolina had its fair share of issues in 2013, and I’m sure the Bulls will do anything to avoid that feeling again.
9/6 – vs. Maryland: LOSS
Now a member of the Big Ten, there’s an expectancy out of Randy Edsall’s Terrapins. Look for 100th-year senior C.J. Brown to hook up with speedy wideout Stefon Diggs early and often, and for the two to take care of business against a young secondary.
9/13 – vs. N.C. State: LOSS
This is one of those games that could go either way, but I think N.C. State is a few steps ahead of USF in terms of talent and overall depth. Bulls should hang tough, but Dave Doeren’s crew prevails on the road.
9/19 – vs. Connecticut: WIN
Four straight home games to start the season? That’s favorable to anyone, but more so for a team still trying to get comfortable with each other. Bold prediction: Steven Bench has a colossal day and South Florida scores over 30 points for the first time since October 27, 2012.
9/27 – at Wisconsin: LOSS
Splitting the first four games (at the least) will be an extremely important motivational factor, because things will be getting very difficult starting now. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could rack up over 200 yards against a Bulls’ front seven that loses a huge chunk of production and is in the midst of transitioning to a 3-4 scheme.
10/11 – vs. East Carolina: LOSS
Putting one of the nation’s best passing units against a defense that will struggle to generate pressure in the backfield and has to play inexperienced underclassmen in key spots? Mismatch.
10/18 – at Tulsa: WIN
A few days ago, I projected Tulsa to finish last in the AAC with zero conference wins. So that means I have to pick USF to win here, right? Right. Bulls charge through the Golden Hurricane for a close win.
10/24 – at Cincinnati: LOSS
Somehow, one of South Florida’s two wins in 2013 came by Cincinnati. I still don’t understand how this happened, but it did, and the Bearcats haven’t forgotten; I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to get rid of the bitter taste left by that box score.
11/1 – vs. Houston: LOSS
Houston was a team that lived off of opponents’ mistakes and made sure to capitalize, and that stayed true in last season’s matchup with a late forced fumble. While the Cougars will likely have to rely more on their own efficiency, John O’Korn had a lot of success against USF’s secondary and should do so again.
11/15 – at SMU: LOSS
While Southern Methodist has a handful of question marks of its own, June Jones has built it to where it’s at least consistently average. Unfortunately, South Florida isn’t average.
11/22 – at Memphis: LOSS
Who can win the battle in the trenches? Simply put, the outcome will be decided by either South Florida’s offensive line or Memphis’ defensive line. USF has experience up front – which isn’t necessarily a good thing – but the Tigers are very good at blowing up plays in the backfield.
11/28 – vs. Central Florida: LOSS
If it weren’t for a fourth-quarter collapse by South Florida, UCF would have been left out of the Fiesta Bowl and probably would have ended up playing North Carolina in the Belk Bowl (or something similar). But winners find a way to win – the Bulls weren’t winners then, and they won’t be there yet in 2014.
2014 South Florida Projected Record: 3-9 (2-6)
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