USF determined to not stumble in another opener
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) One year later, the bitter disappointment of losing their season opener to a Football Championship Subdivision team lingers in the minds of the South Florida Bulls.
Players say it serves as motivation in the weight room and on the practice field every day, a constant reminder that there's no room for complacency.
Not that winning two games in their first year under coach Willie Taggart gives them a reason to take any opponent for granted.
''I think we all learned from last year,'' Taggart said, looking forward to getting a fresh start Saturday night against another FCS team, Western Carolina.
''We're not in a place,'' the coach added, :where we can expect to go out and beat up on anyone.''
The Bulls dropped last year's opener 53-21 to McNeese State, and it wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested. USF scored on n 80-yard run on its first play, then bogged down to set the tone for a year in which it would finish with a Football Bowl Subdivision-low 11 offensive touchdowns.
Western Carolina also went 2-10 in 2013, its eighth consecutive losing season. The Catamounts haven't won a road game since October 2010.
It doesn't matter.
Senior Andre Davis said overconfidence contributed to last year's loss to McNeese State, and the Bulls are determined to not let months of hard work go to waste with another poor start.
''We're definitely starting to emerge,'' Davis said. ''The goal is always to get better from the previous year.''
Things to watch when USF opens its second season under Taggart and Western Carolina begins its third under coach Mark Speier:
WE'VE GOT OUR QB: USB used four different starting quarterbacks in 2013, and injuries were only a small part of that. Opponents scored nearly as many defensive TDs on the Bulls (eight), as a sputtering offense (11) produced in 12 games. Mike White played six games as true freshman, starting the final five and remains No. 1 ahead of Penn State transfer Steven Bench.
CATAMOUNT WOES: Western Carolina has four victories over the past three seasons, three of them against Division II Mars Hill. A 2013 overtime victory over Southern Conference rival Elon stopped a 33-game losing streak against Division I teams, including a 26-game slide in league play.
DAVIS WATCH: Davis begins his final college season with 117 receptions for 1,542 yards and 10 touchdowns. He set a USF single-season record with 735 receiving yards in 2013 and is on pace to set school career marks for receptions, receiving yards, TD receptions and 100-yard games receiving.
O-FOR-FBS: The Catamounts have never beaten a FBS team. They were 0-3 a year ago, losing at Auburn (62-3), Virginia Tech (45-3) and Middle Tennessee (45-24) by a combined score of 152-30. Western faces one other FBS team this season, closing at Alabama on Nov. 22.
TURNAROUND MAN: Taggart was hired by USF in December 2012 after spending three seasons turning around a struggling program at Western Kentucky, which had dropped 20 consecutive games before his arrival. The Hilltoppers went 2-10 in his first season, then went 7-5 in 2011 for the biggest one-year improvement in Sun Belt Conference history. So, he's undaunted by a 2-10 inaugural season in Tampa. ''It gives you confidence that you know the blueprint works,'' the 38-year-old coach said. ''What that does is allow you to be patient.''