TAMPA, Florida — Willie Taggart says he isn't concerned about running out of time to "get it right" at South Florida.
The gregarious coach is 6-18 entering the third year of his effort to rescue a struggling program, and the one-time Jim Harbaugh assistant is confident he's laid a foundation that will help the Bulls take a step forward in the expanded American Athletic Conference this season.
USF hasn't finished with a winning record since 2010, but Taggart insists he doesn't feel pressure win a certain number of games to prove his plan is working.
"One thing you will never see Coach T worried about is his job," said Taggart, the one-time Stanford assistant who led a dramatic at Western Kentucky before landing the South Florida in December 2012.
"I believe in what we're doing ... we're going to get it right," the 38-year-old coach added. "We're going to get it right this year."
The Bulls made six straight bowl appearances, rising as high as a No. 2 national rankings in 2007, before falling on hard times under Taggart's predecessor, Skip Holtz.
USF went 2-10 and 4-18 the past two seasons, and Taggart has brought in new coordinators on both offense and defense to try to get the Bulls on track.
The coach also hopes the Bulls are on the verge of reaping the benefits of having the top-rated recruiting class in the AAC each of the past two years.
"You hear everybody talk about how bad South Florida is. Hey, we stopped the downward spiral when I took over the job," Taggart said. "By no means are we happy with four wins last year. But it was progress. It was moving in the right direction."
Some things to watch as the Bulls try to end a string of four consecutive losing seasons:
NEW 'O & 'D: Former Purdue coach Danny Hope was hired to help the Bulls make the transition to an up tempo, no-huddle offense that Taggart is counting on to make the Bulls more difficult to keep out of the end zone. Tom Allen takes over defensive coordinator after spending the past three seasons as linebackers coach/special teams coordinator at Mississippi. Players are excited about a 4-2-5 defensive scheme designed to take advantage of improved team speed and quickness.
QB DERBY: Junior quarterback Mike White transferred after starting 10 games a year ago, leaving senior Steven Bench and sophomore Quinton Flowers competing to be his successor. Taggart's not saying which way he's leaning. Bench began his career at Penn State and has started three of the 13 games he's played over the last two seasons, when injuries and inconsistent production forced constant change. Flowers appeared in five games, starting one, as a freshman.
DEPENDABLE MACK: AAC rookie of the year Marlon Mack rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman last season. Taggart expects the running game to be even better if the offense meets a stated goal of snapping the ball with at least 15 seconds remaining on the play clock. That theoretically will give the Bulls more opportunities to extend drives and wear down opposing defenses.
VOW TO BE BETTER: The Bulls say there's nobody but themselves to blame for their poor record lately. They also know the lack of success is why most preseason prognosticators predict they'll pick them finish near the bottom of the conference standings again. They say they'll use that as motivation. "Being an underdog is a great thing because all you can do is go up," safety Jamie Byrd said.
BOWL OR BUST? USF made six consecutive bowl appearances from 2005 to 2010, has had 25 players selected in the NFL draft over the past 18 years, and has ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation during it's relatively brief football history. Taggart knows more is expected of the program than its 14-34 record over the past four seasons. "That's what makes this job special. People have high expectations. That's the beauty of it," the coach said. "If they didn't have high expectations, why be here? It's our job to live up to those the expectations."