TAMPA, Fla. (AP) South Florida's Willie Taggart rejects the notion that facing Florida State is his team's biggest challenge of the season.
The fourth-year coach understands what upsetting the 13th-ranked Seminoles could mean for the national perception of his program, however he insists the Bulls are approaching the Saturday matchup as they do every game on their schedule.
''When things were tough and it was hard to win around here, you had to find ways to motivate your guys to go out and try to win a game,'' against tradition-rich opponents such as Florida State, said Taggart, who has resurrected a program that fell on hard times after climbing as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007.
''With our team now, I don't think we have to do those things. Our guys understand what it takes to win ball games.''
Nevertheless, beating the Seminoles (2-1) on national television could go a long way toward catapulting the high-scoring Bulls (3-0) toward a spot in the Top 25 for the first time under Taggart.
Florida State is coming off a 63-20 loss to Louisville, which cost it the No. 2 ranking and perhaps any realistic shot the three-time national champions have of winding up in this season's college football playoff.
South Florida, meanwhile, is off to its best start since 2011 and has won 10 of 12 games since last year's 1-3 start that included a 34-14 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee.
''Only lost, what, two games since we played them? They're very good,'' Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. '' Physical up front. Inside guys. Big, strong. ... We recruited a lot of their guys. Dynamic. Playmakers. ... They're a good team.''
Taggart expects FSU to rebound from the most lopsided loss in school history with a solid performance.
''Everybody had them rated No. 2 for a reason,'' the South Florida coach said, adding the Bulls are aren't looking to take a page out of Louisville's playbook to upend the Seminoles, who have not lost consecutive games since 2011, when they dropped three straight to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest.
''I think that's exactly how you get yourself beat, trying to do like someone else. We're not going to try to be like Louisville. We're going to try to be better at what we do,'' Taggart said. ''We still feel like we haven't played our best ball. It'll be a great time to do it.''
Some things to know about the Seminoles and Bulls, who are meeting the fourth time. FSU leads the series 2-1.
CLOSING IN: South Florida RB Marlon Mack is 137 yards shy of becoming the Bulls' career rushing leader. He led the American Athletic Conference in rushing the past two seasons and is averaging 9.6 yards per carry after gaining 115 yards on nine attempts and scoring two touchdowns in last week's 45-20 win at Syracuse.
TIME TO COOK: Seminoles RB Dalvin Cook ran for a career-best 266 yards and had three TDs in last year's game. In the first three games this season he has only 226 yards, two touchdowns and only one carry over 20 yards. Coach Jimbo Fisher says there is nothing wrong with Cook, but the junior can put those doubts partially to rest with a big game against the Bulls.
REVVED UP: South Florida's so-called ''Gulf Coast Offense'' has been virtually unstoppable since hitting its stride late last season. The Bulls have averaged 532.1 yards and 48.1 points over their last seven games. They're averaging 49.7 points through three games this year, with QB Quinton Flowers and WR Rodney Adams joining Mack as playmakers Florida State must be concerned with.
CAN FRANCOIS REBOUND? Florida State QB Deondre Francois looked like a freshman last week with his decision making. He has done a nice job not locking into one receiver but has already been hit 17 times the first three games. Some of that is due to the offensive line but others can be attributed to holding on to the ball too long. Francois must be quicker in his second and third reads or just get rid of the ball.
INJURY BUG: The Seminoles will be without LB Josh Sweat for a couple weeks after the sophomore had knee surgery. Freshman Brian Burns, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss two weeks ago against Charleston Southern, will move into the starting lineup. The defense is already struggling with safety Derwin James (knee) out, will Sweat's absence also affect them as they have struggled against the run?