Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. Reality vs. recruiting rankings
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, USF's 2014 recruiting class was the best in the AAC by a significant margin -- the Bulls' 190.5 points were further ahead of second-place UCF's 165.8 than UCF was ahead of sixth-place ECU. Their class ranked 39th overall, ahead of recently successful power-conference teams like Texas Tech, TCU, and Louisville. When you are based in such a talent-rich area, you don't have much of an excuse not to pull in some nice prospects, but Willie Taggart's haul was particularly impressive considering USF's uncertain status (from BCS-level to non-power following the AAC's demotion) and the fact that the Bulls went 2-10 in 2013, Taggart's first season.
In 2014, Taggart began to hand the team over to the youngsters. Star quarterback signee Quinton Flowers saw action, and freshman running backs Marlon Mack and D'Ernest Johnson combined for 249 rushes and 29 catches. Defensive backs Devin Abraham, Kendall Sawyer, Deatrick Nichols, and Tajee Fullwood all saw time in the rotation. Between these players and some key redshirt freshmen in the defensive front seven, USF fielded an awfully young team. USF also fielded an awful team.
A 4-8 record seems like improvement over 2-10, yes, but USF's 4-8 record was just about as soft as imaginable last fall. The Bulls survived FCS Western Carolina in the season opener, then beat three awful conference foes -- UConn, Tulsa and SMU combined to go 5-31 -- by a combined 12 points. Their 4-0 record in one-possession games* was the only thing propping up a team that, on paper, regressed from 102nd in the F/+ ratings to 123rd.
* USF is now 6-1 in one-possession games under Taggart ... and 0-17 in the other games.
In February, Taggart reeled in another impressive haul, though the returns were already beginning to diminish. USF (162.7) finished second in 247's AAC recruiting rankings and 67th overall, decimal points behind Cincinnati (163.3) and a little bit ahead of UCF (160.7). Considering the team's recent performance -- 6-18 in Taggart's two years, 14-34 over the last four -- that's still pretty good. But the regression pointed to a stark reality: you don't get forever to rebuild a program. Taggart's recruiting is solid, but reality still dictates how long you get to mold good recruits into good players.
USF was young in 2014, but not stripped-down-to-the-studs young, not young enough to justify a No. 123 ranking. The Bulls must replace seven offensive starters and two of their most important defensive players, and with a coaching staff that is in endless flux (by my count, only two primary assistants -- offensive co-coordinator David Reaves and linebackers coach Raymond Woodie -- remain from the 2013 staff), there is no guarantee that they will improve to any dramatic degree. And USF fans have noticed.
Granted, there is indeed potential. There almost always is with USF. The running game could be strong, and at the very least, the passing game has more receiver options. Most of the front seven returns after defending the run pretty well a year ago, and 2014's ultra-young secondary becomes 2015's seasoned unit. There is potential for improvement within just about every unit on the field, especially considering the youth involved. But potential wasn't worth much last year, and at this point, the burden of proof is on Taggart and his staff to show they can turn former three- and four-star recruits into three- and four-star players. They haven't yet.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 123|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|Points Per Game||17.2||119||27.0||66|
2. It got worse
When you went 2-10 the year before, and you plan on playing quite a few freshmen, your goal is probably to just be better in November than you were in September. Young players can hit a wall and fade, and it's not necessarily the end of the world if they do, but you hope for the former, not the latter.
USF got the latter.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 33% (record: 3-4)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 15% (record: 1-4)
The offense averaged 8.1 yards per play against Western Carolina, 7.1 against Tulsa (122nd in Def. S&P+), and 4.4 against everybody else. The defense, reasonably solid early on (4.7 yards per play against Maryland, 3.7 against UConn), sprang leaks and allowed at least 6.1 yards per play for four consecutive games. The Bulls shored up some defensive issues against Houston (4.6) and SMU (4.9), then caved against Memphis (7.6).
Marlon Mack torched Memphis for 102 yards on 16 carries, but the run game otherwise didn't come around. And while star receiver Andre Davis caught 18 passes for 355 yards and five scores against ECU, Tulsa, and Cincinnati after returning from injury, he caught just 17 passes for 195 yards in the final four games. There just weren't enough viable options for touching the ball, and oscillating between three quarterbacks helped nothing.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||33.6%||126||Succ. Rt. +||78.4||126|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.6||41||Def. FP+||102.0||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||107||Redzone S&P+||71.8||127|
|Q1 Rk||123||1st Down Rk||116|
|Q2 Rk||119||2nd Down Rk||88|
|Q3 Rk||118||3rd Down Rk||124|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Steven Bench||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8325||49||100||611||3||2||49.0%||7||6.5%||5.3|
|Quinton Flowers||6'0, 217||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8890||8||20||111||0||2||40.0%||0||0.0%||5.6|
|Brett Kean||6'1, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8187|
3. Find a quarterback
Under first-year offensive coordinator Paul Wulff, USF attempted a quarterback-friendly recipe last year. The Bulls threw more frequently than average on standard downs, when defenses are likely geared toward stopping the run, and ran more frequently on passing downs. This formula can work if you have the right weapons, and while it might not save you from passing downs, it can help with standard downs efficiency.
USF was 128th in Standard Downs Success Rate+. Out of 128 teams. Instead of passing to take pressure off of the run game, it was like the Bulls were doing nothing but throwing play-action bombs on first down. Marlon Mack averaged 6.2 yards per carry on first downs, but USF quarterbacks were 54-for-118 for 757 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. If you're going to go the play-action route, then you need to lean much more heavily on the run than USF did.
That, or I guess you find yourself a new coordinator(s) and a quarterback who can properly execute the offense. Wulff is out, and former Purdue head coach Danny Hope is in, listed as co-coordinator with David Reaves.
Mike White was the closest thing to a quality passer in the stable -- his first-down passer rating was 130.9 compared to Steven Bench's 86.9 and Quinton Flowers' 21.0 -- but he announced he was transferring to Western Kentucky this spring. Flowers' insertion into the game resulted in more of a run-heavy approach, however, and that identity might pay off in 2015. Flowers' pass efficiency must desperately improve for even a run-first attack to work, but if he beats out Bench this fall (and my guess is he will), he will at least bring an identity to the table.
|Marlon Mack||RB||6'0, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8365||203||1041||9||5.1||7.3||32.0%||5||2|
|D'Ernest Johnson||RB||5'10, 207||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8727||46||150||0||3.3||2.9||23.9%||0||0|
|Darius Tice||RB||5'10, 206||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256||40||104||0||2.6||1.9||25.0%||1||0|
|Quinton Flowers||QB||6'0, 217||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8890||13||73||0||5.6||4.5||46.2%||0||0|
|Steven Bench||QB||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8325||9||32||1||3.6||2.7||44.4%||1||0|
|Kennard Swanson||FB||6'0, 253||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8513||9||28||0||3.1||1.5||33.3%||2||2|
|Rodney Adams||WR||6'1, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8992||5||52||1||10.4||6.6||80.0%||1||0|
|Sta'fon McCray||RB||5'11, 215||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8464|
|Trevon Sands||RB||5'11, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Rodney Adams||WR-Z||6'1, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8992||44||23||323||52.3%||12.8%||50.0%||7.3||33||7.2||36.1|
|Marlon Mack||RB||6'0, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8365||35||21||160||60.0%||10.2%||57.1%||4.6||-97||4.6||17.9|
|Sean Price||TE||6'3, 250||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9382||34||14||207||41.2%||9.9%||47.1%||6.1||20||6.3||23.1|
|Kennard Swanson||FB||6'0, 253||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8513||22||13||206||59.1%||6.4%||86.4%||9.4||46||10.0||23.0|
|WR-Z||6'1, 194||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8438||14||7||97||50.0%||4.2%||22.2%||6.9||0||5.0||13.4|
|D'Ernest Johnson||RB||5'10, 207||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8727||10||8||107||80.0%||2.9%||50.0%||10.7||14||10.0||12.0|
|Darius Tice||RB||5'10, 206||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256||9||8||68||88.9%||2.6%||55.6%||7.6||-24||7.4||7.6|
|Ryeshene Bronson||WR-X||6'3, 187||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8753||6||3||85||50.0%||1.7%||50.0%||14.2||47||16.1||9.5|
|Alex Mut||WR||6'3, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7700|
|WR||6'0, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8181|
|Tyre McCants||WR||5'11, 211||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8606|
|Stanley Clerveaux||WR-X||6'3, 196||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8270|
|Elkanah Dillon||TE||6'5, 239||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256|
|Chase Whitehead||SLOT||5'9, 170||RSFr.||NR||0.7000|
|Jarvis Baxter||WR||5'11, 165||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8274|
|Chris Barr||WR||5'10, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389|
4. Wheel! Of! Receivers!
In theory, if you have enough interesting options -- and you can define "interesting" however you want here: recent production, speed, size, recruiting ranking -- the odds are pretty good that a couple of them will emerge as viable threats.
According to that theory, then, the USF receiving corps could be just fine in 2015. First, while the Bulls must replace their top three targets from last year (including Davis, who was explosive, if inefficient), the bar isn't incredibly high considering the trio combined to average 6.9 yards per target with a 50 percent catch rate last year. The top two returning wideouts (Rodney Adams and little-used Ryeshene Bronson) and the top returning tight end (Sean Price) combined to average 7.3 yards per target with a 48 percent catch rate, so there's certainly hope in that regard.
But to those three, you also add Kentucky transfer A.J. Legree, WKU transfer Austin Aikens (a Taggart signee from when Taggart was still at WKU), three three-star redshirt freshmen (wideouts Tyre McCants and Stanley Clerveaux and tight end Elkanah Dixon), another redshirt freshman who had a standout spring (Chris Whitehead), and two speedy three-star freshmen (Jarvis Baxter and Chris Barr).
That's 11 potential targets battling for three to four primary spots. Even with a less efficient quarterback in Flowers, the odds are good that USF receivers can match last year's meager numbers.
If the passing game can hold steady despite losing White and his top three targets, the running game should improve, if only because of the running backs. The line was a shuffled mess that wasted a high level of experience, but Marlon Mack showed genuine promise last year. He was inefficient, and he fumbled too much, but to some degree that was a product of his inexperience. If he improves with experience and finds/creates more room to run, his open-field explosiveness will pay off handsomely. And if year-to-year progress results in higher efficiency for four-star sophomore D'Ernest Johnson (who did not show much explosiveness), too, then there's a solid backup in place. Quinton Flowers averaged 5.6 yards per (non-sack) carry and could provide enough of a distraction for the run to take off. But the pass still has to be good enough for it to matter.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Brynjar Gudmundsson||RG||6'4, 305||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7600||25|
|Thor Jozwiak||LG||6'4, 321||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8300||14|
|Dominique Threatt||RG||6'1, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594||7|
|Kofi Amichia||LT||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8619||1|
|Cameron Ruff||C||6'3, 313||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8382||1|
|Jeremi Hall||LG||6'5, 345||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8496||0|
|Mak Djulbegovic||RT||6'5, 293||Sr.||NR||NR||0|
|Clavion Nelson||RT||6'3, 302||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7800|
|Benjamin Knox||LT||6'6, 287||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8668|
|Michael Smith||OL||6'3, 319||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8178|
|Michael Galati||C||6'3, 286||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8046|
|Glen Bethel||OL||6'6, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8690|
|Marcus Norman||OL||6'6, 290||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8392|
|Billy Atterbury||OL||6'4, 286||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8335|
5. Continuity is good
USF started a different combination on the line for each of the first four games and each of the last four games. That's ... not optimal. And it certainly spent some of the continuity that should have come from returning four starters from the year before. But it also ensured that while the Bulls would lose three starters this offseason, they would still return five players with starting experience (48 career starts) this fall.
It was a chicken-vs.-egg thing for the USF running game last year: the line was bad, and the running backs were freshmen, and it was hard to figure out how to divvy out the credit (or in this case, lack thereof). Regardless, USF's line stats were awful across the board, including the two stats most directly tied to the line (power success rate, stuff rate). They couldn't get a push when they needed, and they couldn't keep run defenders out of the backfield. That they protected the passer from blitzes pretty well was a good sign even if passing downs passes weren't particularly aggressive.
Still, no matter how bad the line was, continuity could help immensely. If the interior of the line -- senior guards Brynjar Gudmundsson and Thor Jozwiak* and sophomore center Cameron Ruff -- can improve with experience and stay on the field, then the running backs might improve enough to take full advantage.
* Our time is running out with the most well-named guard duo in the country. Sorry to have to be the one to break this to you.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.1%||110||Succ. Rt. +||86.7||116|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.5||83||Off. FP+||97.0||99|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||102||Redzone S&P+||88.3||110|
|Q1 Rk||124||1st Down Rk||74|
|Q2 Rk||68||2nd Down Rk||84|
|Q3 Rk||78||3rd Down Rk||53|
6. Attack the run, give up on the pass
USF's defense was reasonably solid against the run last year. The success rates weren't amazing, but the Bulls limited opponents' big-play capabilities (only seven rushes of 30-plus yards, only one of 50-plus) and created a lovely push in short-yardage situations. They basically forced opponents to the air to sustain any offense.
The problem was that, when opponents went to the air, only the air provided resistance. USF had the second-worst Passing Success Rate+ in the country despite a decent pass rush. Four of the top nine in the secondary were freshmen, and three were sophomores, and the unit was simply not ready to make plays.
Will that change this fall? It better! Because defensive coordinator Tom Allen is shifting to a 4-2-5 attack, which means more DBs on the field. With a thinner defensive line and far more experience in the secondary, maybe that makes sense. But it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to see how this gambit could backfire terribly.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Derrick Calloway||DT||6'2, 285||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8746||12||24.5||3.6%||5.0||3.0||0||2||1||0|
|Eric Lee||DE||6'3, 248||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8589||12||23.5||3.4%||6.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Demetrius Hill||DT||6'3, 270||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535||11||19.5||2.9%||5.0||2.0||0||1||0||1|
|Deadrin Senat||NT||6'1, 300||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8712||12||13.0||1.9%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Black||BULL||6'2, 228||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8233||5||6.0||0.9%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|James Hamilton||DT||6'2, 301||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8752||10||4.0||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Zack Bullock||BULL||6'3, 221||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7800||8||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Love||DE||6'4, 245||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8282|
|Vincent Jackson||DE||6'2, 246||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8572|
|Eric Mayes||DE||6'4, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8217|
|Marlon Gonzalez||DT||6'4, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510|
|Kirk Livingstone||DE||6'4, 235||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8249|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nigel Harris||WILL||6'0, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594||11||63.0||9.2%||9.5||2.0||0||0||5||1|
|Auggie Sanchez||MIKE||6'2, 241||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793||12||49.5||7.2%||2.0||0.0||1||2||0||1|
|Tashon Whitehurst||WILL||6'3, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8181||12||41.0||6.0%||5.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|LeGrande Harley||MIKE||6'1, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8447||10||18.5||2.7%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|C.J. Garye||SAM||6'3, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7700||10||5.5||0.8%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jimmy Bayes||LB||6'3, 225||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8743|
|Nick Holman||LB||6'2, 231||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8296|
|Danny Thomas||LB||6'1, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8543|
|Nico Sawtelle||LB||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8094|
7. Run defense should still be alright
When you move from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5, you're sacrificing size for speed. In theory, that could hurt your run defense at the expense of helping the pass, but a) that's a trade you're probably willing to make when your pass defense was this awful, and b) I'm still not incredibly worried about the run defense.
Elkino Watson and Todd Chandler are gone, but the Bulls still return plenty of intriguing bigs (Derrick Calloway, Deadrin Senat and James Hamilton are all 285-plus and former star recruits), and despite a lack of size, end Eric Lee and linebacker Nigel Harris combined to make 13.5 non-sack tackles for loss last year. Harris forced five fumbles to boot. I think the components of a decent run defense are still in place, especially if sophomores like Senat and linebacker Auggie Sanchez, or redshirt freshmen like linebacker Jimmy Bayes and end Vincent Jackson are capable of making breakthroughs. Hell, even the folks at Voodoo Five are pretty excited about this defensive front.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jamie Byrd||HUSKY||5'11, 184||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539||12||83.0||12.1%||2.5||0||2||3||1||0|
|Nate Godwin||SS||5'10, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8435||12||62.5||9.1%||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Johnny Ward||CB||6'0, 178||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7961||10||31.5||4.6%||1||0||2||3||0||0|
|Devin Abraham||FS||5'9, 187||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8220||12||28.5||4.2%||3||0||0||1||1||0|
|Lamar Robbins||CB||6'2, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8754||12||19.0||2.8%||3||0||1||2||0||0|
|Kendall Sawyer||CB||6'1, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8782||9||9.5||1.4%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Torrel Saffold (2013)||CS||5'11, 177||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7900||11||9.0||1.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Deatrick Nichols||CB||5'10, 186||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8507||12||7.5||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tajee Fullwood||FS||6'2, 209||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457||8||6.0||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Hassan Childs||SS||6'0, 188||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241||12||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jalen Spencer||HUSKY||6'0, 183||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8162|
|Mazzi Wilkins||CB||6'0, 162||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8401|
|Khalid McGee||DB||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625|
|Ronnie Hoggins||DB||5'10, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8512|
|Malik Dixon||S||6'3, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8355|
|Nate Ferguson||CB||5'9, 170||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148|
8. Wait ... there will be even more defensive backs on the field?
Put on your rose-colored glasses, and you can see how this unit becomes relatively competent this year. Jamie Byrd is a pretty good attacker (2.5 tackles for loss, five passes defensed) who is going to be placed in more of an attacking position this year. Corner Johnny Ward might not miss time this year. Sophomores Devin Abraham, Kendall Sawyer, Deatrick Nichols and Tajee Fullwood could all take nice second-year leaps. Senior safety Torrel Saffold returns to the fold (sorry) after missing 2014. Four three-star defensive backs will be ready to fight for a spot on the two-deep. The competition here should be solid, and you can pretty easily decide that this year's five defensive backs could be quite a bit more effective than last year's four (and not only because 5 > 4).
And then I remind you that USF ranked 115th in Passing S&P+ despite a decent pass rush. The secondary will need to improve a lot, and while it's possible, it's not something you bet on.
|Mattias Ciabatti||6'0, 189||Sr.||65||44.4||3||16||22||58.5%|
|Emilio Nadelman||5'6, 173||So.||3||65.3||1||0||33.3%|
|D'Ernest Johnson||KR||5'10, 207||So.||8||19.6||0|
|Hassan Childs||PR||6'0, 188||Jr.||9||6.9||0|
|Special Teams F/+||106|
|Field Goal Efficiency||74|
|Punt Return Efficiency||73|
|Kick Return Efficiency||106|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||53|
9. Talk about awful coverage units...
When your secondary and receiving corps stink, there's a pretty good chance that your coverage units stink, too, as depth in those two units tend to be what make up teams' coverage units.
This is more anecdote than testable theory, but USF's coverage in 2014 certainly lends to the anecdote. Marvin Kloss booted more than half of his kickoffs for touchbacks, punter Mattias Ciabatti averaged an All-American caliber 44.4 yards per punt, and USF still ranked 85th and 91st, respectively, in kickoff and punt efficiency. That's inexcusable.
That both the receiving corps and secondary seem to have better depth and athleticism is a very good thing for the special teams unit. Now let's see if one of the new guys can also return a kick or a punt. Oh yeah, and let's see if there's a replacement for Kloss, who was good on kickoffs and very good on field goals.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Florida State||15|
|7-Nov||at East Carolina||61|
|27-Nov||at Central Florida||60|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-10.9% (78)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||50 / 52|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||0 / -4.7|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+1.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (4, 8)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||3.8 (0.2)|
10. Not the best schedule for a surge
Top-60 recruiting and a bottom-10 product. That was a pretty awful combination for Willie Taggart in his second year in charge, and it has landed Taggart pretty high on preseason hot-seat lists. That he has struggled is a bit of a surprise -- he was part of Jim Harbaugh's incredible original assistant coaching staff, and he quickly converted his alma mater WKU from laughingstock to viable program -- but there's no doubting that he has struggled. Skip Holtz was booted after going 3-9 and ranking 71st in the F/+ rankings in 2012, and while he left a relatively thin cupboard, we all expected Taggart to do more with this program than he has.
It would take quite a few ifs to turn this team around in 2015, but all of the ifs seem semi-realistic on their own. Quinton Flowers could become a solid dual-threat quarterback who connects on just enough of his passes to free up space for Marlon Mack. The offensive line could improve by simply keeping the same unit on the field from week to week. The run defense could be as good or better than it was last year, and the secondary could improve with typical year-to-year improvement for the young players and a change in scheme. That could all happen, and it could at least threaten to drag USF back out of the triple-digits in the rankings.
The problem, then, is the schedule. It does feature visits from Florida A&M and SMU and a winnable road trip to UConn. But those are the only three opponents that ranked worse than 80th last year, and only one other (Syracuse) ranked worse than 67th. Even if USF improves to about 100th or so, there really aren't many likely wins on the schedule.