From Tampa, The Voodoo Five Group. The American original. For half a decade, the sharpest minds, the hardest talk on USF sports. We tackle four issues of the 2014 USF Football team.
On a scale of zero to 10, zero being rehiring Skip Holtz, 5 being the 2005 season (the median year of USF Football) and 10 being the destruction of Alabama in Arlington in January, how will the 2014 USF Football season go?
ISSUE ONE!! Mike White wins the job as expected, but is he THE GUY to lead the Bulls to success this year? Does he go WIRE-TO-WRIE as the starting quarterback? PAT BUCHANAN!!
Gary Stephen: I think White is the man, though Bench will see reps. But this time last year I believed in Matt Floyd, so who knows?
chuckycrater: I think he can make it through the season as long as he's healthy. I doubt anyone but White or Bench will play though. This shouldn't be the complete grab bag we saw last year. Whether he'll be good enough - well, I lost all qualifications to answer that question when I touted Matt Floyd before last season started.
Matt Manuri: We are going to be improved offense under second year quarterback Mike White, that's for certain. But is White ‘the man with the plan'? White marched the Bulls all over the UCF defense in front of a roaring crowd and only made one mistake that cost the Bulls the game. In addition to Andre ‘Freakshow' Davis trolling the opposition, White will have Toledo transfer Rodney Adams and he is a beast. White goes wire-to-wire in 2014 and the only time you see Bench is in play-action packages to use his legs.
Ryan Smith: Put a gun to my head on this and I say yes, but does anyone really know at this point? It could be Steven Bench. Or Quinton Flowers. Or The Ghost of Bobby Eveld. I think we'll definitely see both White and Bench play this year, but White keeping the starting job on lock would be invaluable for this offense. All we can do at this point is pray.
Elliot Moore: Yes, Mike White is better equipped and better experienced than the other quarterbacks the Bulls have. He can throw well enough but I would like to see him read defenses better than last year, so that he throws fewer interceptions. A bulked-up offensive line should give him a few more split seconds in the pocket, so I think he will make good decisions. From what we saw in the Houston and UCF games, I'd say White can do well under pressure, but really there was little for him to lose last season so he hasn't really felt pressure yet.
Andrew Pina: I highly doubt Mike White goes wire to wire. I figure there will be a few packages for Steven Bench, and there will be at least one game where White is really bad in the first half and Bench gets a shot. Praying for no injuries either way, but there could be a nick here or there.
Collin Sherwin: Barring injury, I think White keeps the job the entire season. But there will be yet another open competition next spring and fall, and Quinton Flowers (who I don't think sees the field this season barring a nuclear meltdown like the one that got White on the field last year) gets a real long look at being the #1 guy next season.
ISSUE TWO!! There will be a running back by committee it seems this season, but will any of the three-headed monster emerge as the FAAAAACTORBAAAACK USF needs to compete in a run-heavy system? FREDDY THE BEETLE BARNES!!
Gary: I think we'll see RB-by-committee. Marcus Shaw emerged last season, but he was a senior. It's a lot to ask of a true freshman to take the bulk of the carries.
chucky: Do we really want one? Giving someone 300 carries in this offense is a good way to get them injured. I will say I have a lot of hope for Marlon Mack or D'Ernest Johnson, if he's going to play. Anyone that Taggart recruited probably fits the system better than someone he didn't.
Matt: Marlon Mack is a absolute animal and 2nd string frosh. D'Ernest Johnson is a stud. Tice will kill it with an improved offensive line, but the running back by committee will give both Mack and Johnson a chance to separate themselves from the pack. The Mack-Johnson duo will be the foundation for the Bulls future success.
Ryan: I doubt any running back becomes "the guy" this season, but I don't think we should hold that against them. Our top four backs are a true sophomore, two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman. That's simultaneously terrifying and exciting, but a bit more of the latter. There's nothing wrong with splitting up the reps to figure out who's your RB1 of the future.
Elliot: I love Marlon Mack and D'Ernest Johnson, but it's hard to put my confidence in true freshmen. Sta'fon McCray is a redshirt freshman who was on the original depth chart and who I still like. With so much inexperience in the backfield, I doubt any of of the backs have a monumental season. But my gut tells me that Marlon Mack is the only factorback waiting to emerge this year.
Andrew: There's nothing wrong with a running back by committee. We have a lot of guys, some of them young (MARLON MACK), who are good but not game proven. A year of committee for a guy like Mack will help him out for 2015. For me, every decision for this team should be based on how good it will be for 2015.
Collin: Marlon Mack is your starter by the end of 2014 even if everyone stays healthy. And if we're on the precipice of a bowl game or conference championship at the end, he's getting most/all of the reps against C. Florida.
ISSUE THREE!! How good is THIS DEFENSE? The Bulls were Top 25 defensively last year, and have moved to more of a 3-4 look to take advantage of a glut of (what might be) talented running backs. They lost a lot of defensive line impact players however, and are starting a former wide receiver, who is a SENIOR, at cornerback. ELLLLANAAAAORRRRR CLIFT!!
Gary: Defense won't be as good as last year's, but will be okay, unless this 3-4 thing becomes a not-knowing-the-scheme issue as the offense was last year.
chucky: The secondary is going to be a problem because in addition to Houston and SMU, we traded out Louisville and Rutgers for Tulsa and ECU, who play wide open offense. That's half our conference schedule right there. This is a pretty bad league to have untested defensive backs now. I don't know how much 3-4 we're even going to see because of how our opponents play. It may be a complete red herring.
Matt: Defense is a tough call. We lost six key players from the line, two of which are now on NFL rosters. We have made the move to a 3-4 from our typical 4-3 defense to use our speed at LB. Rush defense is certainly a question mark and will tested by Wisconsin's elite tailback tandem of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. The secondary is extremely talented and Dunkley will help solidify the youthful unit. Moreover, Jamie Byrd is going to bring the hit-stick at safety and will have Nate Godwin in the shadows. I don't know if we will be top-25, but I don't see any gaping holes.
Ryan: I mean, you have to squint at the numbers really, really hard for USF's defense last year to be a top 25 unit. But to be fair, they basically did their job and improved as the season went on. I tend to think they'll tread water this season. They've got a couple veterans in the right places and some good young talent. It won't be pretty all the time, but nothing about this team will be.
Elliot: I am happy with the starters on defense, but things are paper thin. I have little, if any, faith in the backups. Chandler, Byrd and Dunkley need to be healthy. Freshmen in the secondary is a scary prospect because they get fooled by every juke that wide receivers make and they are prone to commit pass interference. I have a sneaking feeling that the more complicated defensive scheme will lead to more busted coverage and miscommunication than before. Bresnahan may be outsmarting the players he has. But until we see the 3-4 on the field, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Andrew: Sorry, but the defense was not top 25 last season. By F/+, which adjusts for competition and pace, it was 56th. Which wasn't bad, middle of the pack. But this year we lost half out starters. I'm figuring the defense will be poor to begin with but then get better as the year goes on.
Collin: Andrew is right about the Top 25 being a bit a misnomer, but they were still somewhat serviceable last year. And I think we get just about the same level of defense this year as we did last despite the changes. This team will be better, but for the most part that'll be because the offense will improve.
ISSUE FOUR!! In your opinion, what's more important if it comes to this: playing younger players that will give them experience in future seasons where the Bulls could be more competitive... or efforting to go 6-6 and get back to a bowl game against BYU and their middle-aged players? JACK GERMOND!!
Gary: The younger players who need to gain experience ARE the ones who will get us to a bowl game now.
chucky: I don't think USF is winning 6 games unless they play some of the kids and they turn out to be good. That's how little I think of whoever is left over from the Holtz era, Andre Davis excluded. Glad I could answer this either/or question with a completely different option.
Matt: The decision to bench veterans to allow the players of the future to gain valuable experience will be determined by our on-field success. In late September when time runs off the clock in Madison, Coach Taggart will not be facing a difficult decision because a quick glance at the win-loss column should do the trick. If we're are winning the veterans will stay, but the staff plans to insert young players regardless of the results. Let's just hope we come out 3-2 after the first five games.
Ryan: Younger players, younger players, younger players, younger players, younger players. Related: younger players. Taggart can't abandon the youth movement he started just because we might fall backwards into a bowl in a mediocre conference. I'm honestly much more interested in how the team plays this season rather than how many wins they can pick up. As we've said before, it's about process rather than the result right now.
Elliot: Playing for this season is important because a turnaround restores credibility to the program and keeps the recruits coming in. It also keeps a "Fire Willie" movement from growing. The young guys will get plenty of playing time this year whether USF is on a long- or short-term strategy, because they will have to depend on them no matter what. The AAC is one of the few conferences that could get turned upside-down in the standings and USF should be trying to do that this year.
Andrew: Every decision has to be based on what's best for 2015. I thought the same for last season, and while burning White's redshirt wasn't optimal, having him play games will help for this season. I want the young guys to play, because the more PT they get this year, the better 2015 will be.
Collin: Play the kids! I think Willie has plenty of job security, so commit to the younger players and having them get better. It also doesn't hurt recruiting to show you're willing to invest in young players and give them a chance right away.
Gary: Forget the won-lost record. The UCF game will dictate whether this season is a success. A second loss to them, at home, will not sit well. Which might be an unfair standard to hold Willie Taggart to in year two, but there it is.
chucky: 4-8 or 5-7, with a season-ending win over UCF that we celebrate like the end of Return of The Jedi.
Matt: Just wait, it'll be a different team this year. I see the Bulls finishing 7-5 when the dust settles, beating NC State and finishing the year with three consecutive victories over SMU, Memphis and UCiF. I know all this seems optimistic, but hey, why not? Go Bulls!
Ryan: I've run this schedule over dozens of times in my head, and I just can't sell myself on this team going bowling. Hear me out, though: that's not necessarily a bad thing. The AAC is going to be fairly rotten this season-- there's a decent chance the conference doesn't produce a single top 30 team-- but it's an absolute logjam in the middle, and I don't think any team looks terrible on paper. The Bulls will likely be massively improved this season, but massive improvement will probably land them no better than smack in the middle of that logjam.
Elliot: I will be surprised to see a win over Maryland or NC State, but it could happen. To get to six wins, we will have to get an upset somewhere and not drop any games to weaker opponents. I had Tulsa as a win, but it looks like they are better than I thought. Likely wins: W. Carolina, UConn, Memphis and UCF. Likely losses: NC State, Wisconsin, Cincinnati and SMU. 6-6 is not out of the question, but I think 5-7 is what we'll see.
Andrew: The offense is better. Mike White has a TD/INT close to 1:1. The running game gets better and so does the blocking. Andre Davis has his best season.
The defense is worse. We get minimal pass rush and teams have all day to throw, which stretches out secondary. We are decent against the run on defense though.
Wins: Western Carolina, Connecticut, Memphis
Losses: Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Houston, SMU
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ : ECU, NC State, Maryland, Tulsa, UCF
We probably don't go to a bowl but 4-8 is a big improvement.
Collin: We're sitting in Miami in December with our feet in the pool at The Clevelander at Marlins Park while our laptops are open doing a GameThread. 6-6 will have never felt so good. But BYU, their middle-aged players, and their stud quarterback Taysom Hill beats us pretty badly. That means a sub-.500 season, but it's progress. And in 2015 USF is contending for the AAC Title.
We gotta get out!! BYE BYE!!