Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. The Harbaugh Way
Jim Harbaugh certainly has plenty of skills (aside from perhaps some general social ones) -- quarterbacking, coaching, etc. But perhaps his most impressive talent is either in spotting or developing coaching talent.
When Stanford hired Harbaugh following the 2006 season, he put together a staff of hungry young coaches, knowing that the job was going to require boatloads of energy, recruiting ability, and general tactical prowess. He hired David Shaw as his offensive coordinator; Shaw had served as receivers coach for Harbaugh in 2006 at the University of San Diego after spending nine seasons as a position coach in the NFL. He hired Western Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer as his D.C. Bowling Green linebackers coach D.J. Durkin became his defensive ends coach, and former San Diego State linebackers coach Andy Buh became his linebackers coach. Harbaugh's offensive coordinator at USD, Tim Drevno, became his tight ends coach; and his USD defensive line coach, Lance Anderson, became his defensive tackles coach. And Willie Taggart, assistant head coach for Jim's father Jack at Western Kentucky, became his running backs coach.
This staff had no big names whatsoever. Harbaugh didn't go after old coaches with recognizable names and lengthy résumés; he went after guys with something to prove. And in the seven seasons that followed, they proved plenty.
Shaw is now the Stanford head coach. He took over when Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers, and he has gone 23-4 in two seasons. Shafer is now the Syracuse head coach after a successful stint as Doug Marrone's aggressive defensive coordinator. Durkin is now Florida's defensive coordinator, and Buh is California's. Drevno is Harbaugh's offensive line coach for the 49ers, and Anderson remains at Stanford, serving as Shaw's OLBs coach.
Meanwhile, Taggart, who was just 30 when Harbaugh brought him on in Palo Alto, has in his own way been perhaps the biggest success story of all. After three years at Stanford, Taggart was pulled back to Western Kentucky, his alma mater (where he had once been a star quarterback), to save a program that was in some way regretting the move to FBS. Under David Elson, the Hilltoppers had gone just 2-22 in their first two years as full-time FBS members, and they turned to Taggart to bail them out. He did. WKU went 2-10 and ranked 99th in the F/+ rankings in 2010, Taggart's first year. They improved to 7-5 and 93rd in 2011, then 7-6 and 69th in 2012.
WKU never broke through with an 11-win season or anything, but Taggart needed just three years to install a disciplined, competitive system and turn WKU from a free-falling program into one with one of the higher ceilings in the Sun Belt. And he didn't do so with outlandish tactics or risky recruiting -- he did so with what might as well be known as the Harbaugh method: Build a physical style of play around motivated athletes with chips on their shoulders, find out what they do well, and fit your system around that. Play as aggressively as possible, especially on defense, but play within the bounds of what your talent will allow. Take whatever the opponent gives you, and wear them down until they give you more.
Taggart's WKU teams weren't fancy. Neither were Harbaugh's (or Shaw's) at Stanford. But they were sound and fiery, and they were true FBS-caliber teams. Now, Taggart is South Florida's head coach; he inherits a team that fell apart down the stretch last year and certainly lacks for explosive offensive talent. But USF is further up the food chain in the American Conference than WKU was in the Sun Belt. This could work out pretty well.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 73|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||UT-Chattanooga||34-13||W||22.7 - 9.4||W|
|8-Sep||at Nevada||32-31||W||36.4 - 27.3||W|
|13-Sep||Rutgers||13-23||L||33.9 - 26.9||W|
|22-Sep||at Ball State||27-31||L||33.1 - 29.0||W|
|29-Sep||Florida State||17-30||L||35.1 - 24.8||W|
|6-Oct||at Temple||28-37||L||23.1 - 31.2||L|
|20-Oct||at Louisville||25-27||L||25.4 - 33.7||L|
|27-Oct||Syracuse||36-37||L||37.3 - 34.8||W|
|3-Nov||Connecticut||13-6||W||27.8 - 26.6||W|
|17-Nov||at Miami||9-40||L||19.0 - 36.5||L|
|23-Nov||at Cincinnati||10-27||L||20.8 - 24.4||L|
|1-Dec||Pittsburgh||3-27||L||5.2 - 24.9||L|
|Points Per Game||20.6||106||27.4||57|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.6||79||27.5||60|
2. Always be closing
Be it because of lack of depth, tight tactical choices, pure luck, or some other reason, USF was awful in close games over the last couple of seasons under Skip Holtz. The Bulls went just 3-8 in one-possession games in 2011-12, consistently figuring out how to both stay close and falter near the end.
Make no mistake, it was at least partially because of luck. As you can see near the bottom of the post, USF suffered nearly three points per game of bad turnovers luck in a season that saw it lose three games by four or fewer points. The Bulls were legitimately decent early in the season but just couldn't make enough plays to overcome bad bounces. And as the season wore on, a combination of injuries and simple collapse turned this competitive team into a dud.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): USF 32.2, Opponent 23.4 (plus-8.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 31.5, USF 28.4 (minus-3.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 28.6, USF 15.0 (minus-13.6)
USF began the 2011 season 4-0 and finished 1-7 (with five losses by six or fewer points), and after a 2-0 start in 2012, the Bulls went just 1-9 to finish. Bad luck or no, that tends to get you fired. Despite two top-40 performances in three seasons (USF was 40th and 8-5 in 2010, 35th and an unlucky 5-7 in 2011), Holtz was let go.
The good news is that USF is a lot closer to decent than the record suggests. Holtz brought in some interesting pieces by way of both recruiting and transfer; suffice it to say, Taggart's first USF team is infinitely more talented than his first WKU team, even if there are some clear weaknesses in both backfields.
|Q1 Rk||81||1st Down Rk||75|
|Q2 Rk||90||2nd Down Rk||77|
|Q3 Rk||61||3rd Down Rk||62|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Matt Floyd||6'1, 202||So.||*** (5.5)||57||110||466||51.8%||0||5||8||6.8%||3.7|
|Bobby Eveld||6'5, 217||Sr.||*** (5.5)||3||8||29||37.5%||0||0||0||0.0%||3.6|
|6'2, 208||So.||*** (5.5)||2||8||12||25.0%||0||0||1||11.1%||1.1|
|Tommy Eveld||6'5, 189||RSFr.||NR|
3. Did we underrate B.J. Daniels?
It didn't take long to figure out what B.J. Daniels did well and what he did really poorly. Daniels started for most of four seasons at USF, rushing for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in his career and passing for nearly 8,500 with over 50 touchdowns. But he also threw nearly 40 interceptions and completed under 60 percent of his passes for his career. Put enough interesting pieces around him, and he can thrive, but USF just didn't have enough in 2012.
Here's the question, though: Did we underrate Daniels? When Daniels got hurt and missed the final three games of his career, the USF offense went from average to horrific. With Matt Floyd at quarterback, USF's per-pass averages dropped in half, and the Bulls averaged just 5.0 yards per play against a pretty bad Miami defense, 4.0 against Cincinnati, and a ridiculous 2.4 against Pitt. And in the NFL preseason, Daniels has drawn even with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien in the battle to back up Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. It was easy to draw a picture of Daniels as a good runner and a woefully inefficient passer. But was that on him? Or was he the only thing keeping the USF offense together?
Regardless, Daniels is gone now. It appears that either Floyd, senior Bobby Eveld, or Penn State transfer Steven Bench will start this year; the three combined to post genuinely awful stats in 2012, but all they'll be asked to do in Taggart's and offensive coordinator Walt Wells' system is avoid mistakes. And probably throw a lot to the tight end. USF doesn't need a star, but it needs more than what these three produced last year.
|Marcus Shaw||RB||5'9, 178||Sr.||*** (5.6)||51||236||4.6||2.4||0||-0.6|
|Matt Floyd||QB||6'1, 202||So.||*** (5.5)||10||20||2.0||4.9||0||-2.6|
|Derrick Hopkins||WR||5'5, 158||Sr.||** (5.4)||5||4||0.8||2.0||0||-2.1|
|Willie Davis||RB||5'9, 213||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Michael Pierre||RB||5'10, 202||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
4. If you're looking for a fantasy tight end…
The WKU offense, run by Wells last year, leaned heavily on a workhorse running back (Antonio Andrews) and Stanford-esque passes to the tight end and fullback. WKU tight ends were targeted more than 100 times in 2012, and starter Jack Doyle produced a 73 percent catch rate with a decent 7.8 yards per target. We don't know if USF has a workhorse back (the leading returning rusher, Marcus Shaw, carried 51 times last year and didn't get very far with them), but we do know that tight end Sean Price has a pedigree (former four-star recruit) and held his own last year, all things considered. He caught 21 passes last season, and it would be a shock if he didn't double that in 2013.
If the efficiency passes to Price and running backs take hold, it wouldn't be surprising if receivers Andre Davis and Derrick Hopkins were able to hold their own. Hopkins was strong last year in only about two and a half targets per game, but that's probably not enough of a sample to rely on. After Davis and Hopkins, it gets barren quickly. Taggart won't need many wideouts to craft his offense, but he needs at least a couple.
|Andre Davis||WR||6'1, 202||Jr.||*** (5.6)||85||46||534||54.1%||6.3||22.0%||54.1%||6.1||68.8|
|Derrick Hopkins||WR||5'5, 158||Sr.||** (5.4)||31||19||278||61.3%||9.0||8.0%||54.8%||8.8||35.8|
|Sean Price||TE||6'3, 249||So.||**** (5.8)||31||21||209||67.7%||6.7||8.0%||48.4%||6.7||26.9|
|Deonte Welch||WR||6'0, 206||Jr.||*** (5.5)||28||18||183||64.3%||6.5||7.3%||60.7%||6.5||23.6|
|Marcus Shaw||RB||5'9, 178||Sr.||*** (5.6)||9||8||34||88.9%||3.8||2.3%||22.2%||6.1||4.4|
|Chris Dunkley||WR||6'0, 180||Jr.||**** (5.9)||7||4||93||57.1%||13.3||1.8%||28.6%||13.2||12.0|
|Mike McFarland||TE||6'5, 244||Jr.||*** (5.7)||7||4||32||57.1%||4.6||1.8%||42.9%||6.3||4.1|
|Alex Mut||WR||6'3, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Guito Ervilus||TE||6'4, 221||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Mark Popek||LT||30 career starts; 2012 1st All-Big East|
|Danous Estenor||RG||24 career starts|
|Quinterrius Eatmon||RT||6'6, 311||Jr.||*** (5.6)||23 career starts|
|Austin Reiter||C||6'3, 273||Jr.||** (5.2)||12 career starts|
|Darrell Williams||LT||6'5, 287||Jr.||*** (5.6)||5 career starts|
|Thor Jozwiak||RG||6'4, 300||So.||*** (5.6)||5 career starts|
|Damien Edwards||LT||4 career starts|
|Brynjar Gudmundsson||LG||6'4, 305||So.||** (5.4)||1 career start|
|Lawrence Martin||RT||6'3, 316||Sr.||** (5.4)||1 career start|
|Max Lang||LT||6'5, 274||So.||*** (5.6)||1 career start|
|Steven Jacques||LG||6'3, 306||Sr.||*** (5.6)|
|Mak Djulegovic||RG||6'5, 289||So.||NR|
|Kameron Davis||OL||6'5, 258||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Kofi Amichia||OL||6'4, 265||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jeremi Hall||OL||6'5, 340||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
5. This line might be awesome, Part I
Other than Daniels himself, the line may have been the strength of the USF offense in 2012. That might say more about the poor quality of most of the USF offense, but the Bulls did manage top-50 rankings in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates. That's a decent accomplishment when so much of the offense is struggling, but it's a downright incredible accomplishment when you consider how much shuffling was taking place. Because of some combination of injury and ineffectiveness, USF started EIGHT different line combinations and 10 different linemen at one point or another; that's a simply ridiculous lack of continuity that puts those top-50 rankings in perspective.
Including one from 2011, USF finished the season with 11 players having accumulated at least one career start on the line. Seven of those players return, including two-year starting tackle Quinterrius Eatmon. Reasonably good injury luck could very well bump these line stats into the top-30 or top-40 (it's already a top-five unit on the all-names list); at least, they will if there are quarterbacks and running backs on the roster good enough to take advantage.
|Q1 Rk||41||1st Down Rk||39|
|Q2 Rk||35||2nd Down Rk||63|
|Q3 Rk||64||3rd Down Rk||49|
6. Chuck Bresnahan has a cool résumé
South Florida's new defensive coordinator began his coaching career in 1983 as a Navy graduate assistant. He was receivers coach at Navy, then tight ends coach at Georgia Tech, then linebackers coach at Georgia Tech. In 1992, he became Maine's defensive coordinator, and in 1994, he moved on to the NFL ranks, where he spent four seasons as a linebackers coach for the Browns and Colts. Then he became the Raiders' defensive backs coach and, for four years, defensive coordinator. He spent three years as the Bengals' defensive coordinator, was dumped after 2007, took a year off, then joined the UFL's Florida Tuskers. He was the linebackers coach there for one year, then spent a year as the Tuskers' defensive coordinator, then went back to the Raiders for a year as D.C. In 2012, he became the D.C. for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions, at least until the season shut down in October. (Head coach of the Mountain Lions last year? Dennis Green. The random Stanford ties are fun.)
So after both playing and coaching for an independent, Bresnahan has coached for teams that are now in the ACC, Colonial, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, and UFL. And now he's in the American Athletic Conference. I have nothing to add here about the quality of his tactics or anything like that; I just wanted to celebrate that this guy's not only been around the block, he's been around many blocks.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tevin Mims||DE||6'3, 246||Sr.||*** (5.5)||11||26.5||3.8%||3.5||2||0||0||1||0|
(2011 Notre Dame)
|DE||6'6, 244||So.||**** (6.0)||12||26.0||3.6%||7||5.5||0||2||1||0|
|Ryne Giddins||DE||6'3, 253||Sr.||**** (6.0)||12||20.5||3.0%||4||3.5||0||1||0||0|
|Luke Sager||DT||6'3, 275||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||19.5||2.8%||3||0||0||2||0||0|
|Elkino Watson||DT||6'2, 286||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||17.5||2.5%||7||2||1||0||0||0|
|Todd Chandler||DT||6'0, 317||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||16.0||2.3%||5||2||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Lee||DE||6'3, 230||So.||*** (5.5)||11||12.5||1.8%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Julius Forte||DE||6'2, 253||Sr.||*** (5.6)||11||11.5||1.7%||1.5||0.5||0||2||0||1|
|James Hamilton||DT||6'2, 308||So.||*** (5.7)||11||10.0||1.4%||1||0||0||0||0||1|
|Anthony Hill (2011)||DE||6'4, 281||Sr.||** (5.4)||10||6.0||0.9%||2||1||0||2||1||0|
|Clavion Nelson||DL||6'3, 289||So.||*** (5.6)||5||3.0||0.4%||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|Derrick Calloway||DT||6'2, 328||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Deadrin Senat||DT||6'1, 318||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
7. This line might be awesome, Part II
Last year's USF defense had a sturdy front seven and a bend-don't-break secondary that bent pretty far. The secondary was indeed either too passive or not good enough to be aggressive, but the front seven, particularly the line, made sure USF was never too far out of games. It's hard to go 3-9 while never allowing more than 40 points and only twice losing by 17 points -- usually, if you're 3-9, you've gotten blown out a few times -- but if not for the defense, things could have been a lot worse.
The line does have to replace a pretty active tackle in Cory Grissom, but it returns the eight leading tacklers after Grissom and adds a blue-chip sophomore in Notre Dame transfer (and local boy) Aaron Lynch. Lynch's addition, alongside ends Ryne Giddins (another former blue-chipper) and Tevin Mims and tackles Luke Sager, Elkino Watson (former four-star recruit), and Todd Chandler (ditto), gives USF ridiculous depth in the trenches. And if two enormous freshmen (Derrick Calloway and Deadrin Senat), then the upside gets even higher.
In other words, the line should do quite a few favors for a linebacking corps that does have to replace two starters but returns key backups and does get DeDe Lattimore back for a 17th year in St. Petersburg. Lattimore picked off a pass in the end zone during USF's win over Notre Dame at the start of the 2011 season (who didn't?); considering the plot twists that have taken place for both teams since then, it feels like that game happened in about 2007.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|DeDe Lattimore||MLB||6'1, 237||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||60.5||8.8%||7.5||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Reshard Cliett||WLB||6'2, 220||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||32.5||4.7%||2||1||0||3||0||1|
|Tashon Whitehurst||WLB||6'3, 198||So.||*** (5.6)||10||12.0||1.7%||1||1||0||0||0||1|
|Zack Bullock||SLB||6'3, 213||So.||*** (5.5)||9||6.0||0.9%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ruben Garcia||LB||6'0, 236||Jr.||NR||11||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Hans Louis||SLB||6'0, 215||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Corian Hamilton||MLB||6'0, 232||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Rahmon Swain||LB||6'0, 208||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mark Joyce||FS||5'10, 195||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||61.0||8.8%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|JaQuez Jenkins||SS||6'2, 190||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||44.5||6.4%||4||0||0||1||1||1|
|Fidel Montgomery||FS||6'0, 185||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||16.5||2.4%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Joshua Brown||CB||6'0, 185||Sr.||** (5.4)||8||10.5||1.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenneth Durden||CB||6'0, 173||So.||*** (5.5)||7||8.0||1.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Trevon Griffin||SS||6'0, 202||Jr.||NR||9||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Salinas||CB||5'11, 170||Sr.||NR|
|Chris Bivins, Jr.||DB||5'11, 175||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Torrel Saffold||CB||5'11, 163||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Jalen Spencer||DB||6'0, 178||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Lamar Robbins||DB||6'2, 181||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
8. You're on the spot, Ron Cooper
Like his defensive coordinator, defensive backs coach Ron Cooper has been around. (Taggart didn't exactly go all-in on young, hungry guys like Harbaugh did.) He went 9-13 in two years as Eastern Michigan's head coach (really not bad for EMU), then moved on to Louisville and was dumped after going 1-10 in his third year. He spent four seasons as Alabama A&M's head coach, winning a SWAC division title in his third year, but he has spent most of the last decade as a defensive backs coach at South Carolina, LSU, and in the NFL for the Buccaneers.
He's got potentially the hardest job on the staff this year (well, other than quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan): Make something of a secondary that was relatively feckless last year and is inexperienced this year. The six returning DBs who played last year combined to defense just three passes, and while safety JaQuez Jenkins had a nice presence near the line of scrimmage, this unit needs to produce more than it has recently. Some fun youngsters might help with that.
|Mattias Ciabatti||6'0, 184||So.||1||43.0||1||0||0||0.0%|
|Marvin Kloss||6'0, 198||Jr.||55||63.7||37||67.3%|
|Marcus Shaw||KR||5'9, 178||Sr.||10||24.5||0|
|Andre Davis||PR||6'1, 202||Jr.||11||3.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||92|
|Field Goal Pct||34|
|Kick Returns Avg||121|
|Punt Returns Avg||87|
9. Marvin Kloss has a cannon
USF's special teams unit was all over the map in 2012 -- awful in the return game, decent in the punting game, and outstanding on kickoffs. Marvin Kloss booted two-thirds of his kickoffs for touchbacks last season, and he's a candidate to replace Maikon Bonani as place-kicker. I guess we'll see if he can actually control that cannon this year. (Now, can he return kicks as well?)
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at Michigan State||18|
|29-Nov||at Central Florida||55|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||47|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||49|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-20 / -13.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (4, 6)|
10. It all comes down to the backfields
When you look at the schedule above, realize this: USF is one of only four AAC teams to rank in the F/+ top 40 in two of the last three years (40th in 2010, 35th in 2011). The Bulls aren't that far removed from a strong level of play despite the awful collapse at the end of 2012.
If Taggart is able to engineer a return to even just the No. 40 ranking, look about how many games could be winnable: If Louisville is less than elite (we'll get to them tomorrow), every home game is incredibly winnable, and a top 40 team could be expected to win at UConn, Houston, and perhaps UCF as well. Michigan State might be out of reach (then again…), and I think Rutgers will be better than its projection, but it's not that much of a reach to say that a top 40 team could go about 9-3 or 10-2 with this schedule.
For USF was built up as a team ready to ascend to conference titles and heights never achieved by the Bulls (aside from a few weeks in the middle of 2007). I never quite understood the hype, but with expectations ratcheted down a bit this year, I like what I'm seeing from this squad. Taggart knows what to do with a team that has strong lines and questions marks in the backfield. (Well, "question marks" could be kind when it comes to the offensive backfield.) He should be able to make something of this team. Get on the bus.