Prediction: USF bowl worthy

Willie Taggart looks to guide USF to a bowl game in his second season as head coach.
NCAA Football: Memphis at South Florida

Head coach Willie Taggart and the USF Bulls have nowhere to go but up after a 2-10 season, his first at the school. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports).

(C+P) — So many question marks remain unanswered as the South Florida Bulls kick off the 2014 season. Yet there remains an excitement in the air around the program. Call it a nervous excitement if you will because the Bulls, it would appear, have nowhere to go but up after hitting rock bottom last season.

It was a 2-10 slide in the first year under head coach Willie Taggart and followed three descending campaigns with former head coach Skip Holtz (8-5, 5-7, 3-9). It is also unfamiliar ground for a program with a .624 winning percentage (103-62) all-time since its 1997 inception. That includes a 4-2 bowl record, which hasn’t been adjusted in the last three seasons.

Bulls fans will get a good look at the team, at least early on, and perhaps many of those questions especially on offense will begin to evolve into answers. Four consecutive home games kick off the schedule (Western Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina State, and Connecticut, Sept. 19, in the AAC opener) should give USF faithful a taste of what to expect from this year’s squad. Two wins are mandatory, three to four are possible including the conference opener.

Bulls team captain Andre Davis enters the 2014 season on the verge of breaking every major receiving record in program history. (Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports).
Bulls team captain Andre Davis enters the 2014 season on the verge of breaking every major receiving record in program history. (Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports).

They’d best make hay while they can because three of the next four games are tough ones on the road beginning with a Sept. 27 visit to Camp Randall and the Wisconsin Badgers. An Oct. 11 Homecoming Game with AAC newcomer East Carolina follows before the Bulls hit the road again on successive weeks at Tulsa and Cincinnati.

This looks like the make-or-break part of the schedule. The Wisconsin matchup doesn’t count for anything as far as the conference is concerned but would be a pivotal victory if the Bulls could pull it off.

There’s always added demand for a Homecoming victory but this year it’s not just for social reasons. Bottom line, a win or two over this four-game stretch could conjure up visions of postseason bowling among the fan base. Stumble here and a second consecutive dismal season could be staring Rocky square in the face.

But the final third of the regular season schedule won’t be a cake walk, either. A home encounter with Houston followed by key travels to SMU and Memphis will pretty much decide whether the Bulls extend or simply play out the season, which closes with a Nov. 28 showdown at Raymond James against Central Florida.

Prediction: The Bulls go 6-6 overall, 5-3 in AAC play, and earn their first bowl berth since 2010.

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