When you’re a team coming off a 2-10 record the previous year, you really aren’t burdened with expectations. No one is surprised if you’re bad and anything better than “suck” is worth praise.
To say that the sky is the limit for USF in 2014 would be a bit much. Really, the surface is the limit and that’s not nearly as insulting as you’d think considering the Bulls were looking up from six feet underground last year.
The real question for this year is if the USF can get back to bowl eligibility in year two of the Willie Taggart regime. It’s hoping for the same kind of jump in record that Taggart saw during his tenure at Western Kentucky, when the Hilltoppers went from 2-10 in 2010 to 7-5 in 2011. That kind of jump forward would have to be considered a huge success for the Bulls in 2014.
Perhaps a telling stat for this year: USF returns an offensive line that has 104 career starts. Why is that telling? There were 17 teams in 2013 that had 90 or more career starts among their offensive linemen and 13 of those won seven or more games. USF could very well fall into the same category as the four who didn’t (and USF typically manages to be on the wrong end of these types of things), but a veteran offensive line is a key to success.
It’s hard to predict big things for this 2014 outfit simply based on the Bulls’ glaring lack of experience everywhere but the offensive line. They are littered with talent, but it is more often than not of the underclass variety.
Straightening out the quarterback position from the garbage pile it was in 2013 will go a long, long way towards improving things in South Florida as will a defense that was quite strong a year ago and returns the bulk of its pieces.
Expect a ton of growing pains, and at least two starting quarterbacks, as well as a few bright moments of promise throughout the lineup. Running back and wide receiver might be more talented than they have been in years and that will poke through when the inexperience isn’t bringing them back to Earth. Tight end seems like a feature position on offense and has a very talented tight end to help facilitate things. Taggart has done will in terms of bringing in talent since he’s arrived on the scene.
Look for the Bulls to take a nice step forward this season. They’ll look formidable at times, but will ultimately look like a team on the cusp than a team that’s already arrived. They should grab wins over Western Carolina, North Carolina State, East Carolina, Tulsa and an upset win over the Blake Bortles-less UCF Knights.
A 5-7 record in 2014 would set up for big things in 2015 and beyond. But for now, it’s baby steps and missing a bowl by a close margin would be a step up.