Commentary | Willie Taggart doing a lot more than just coaching football at University of South Florida

January 3, 2013 

That big bang still ringing in your ears is either the reverberations of Jadeveon Clowney putting a hit on Michigan's poor Vincent Smith or the Big East Conference going the way of the Titanic as it heads toward Davy Jones' locker.

Smith will recover. The Big East may not. It's about to become a ghost, which is why University of South Florida supporters should be glad Willie Taggart has broad shoulders.

Boise State's announcement that it's not bothered by the $5 million or so it will have to pay the Big East for backing out of its commitment to join the league is the latest noose. The Blue-turf Broncos were considered the linchpin to heaven by the Big East and Mountain West Conference.

No worry, Taggart is sticking to his commitment.

The new USF head football coach is an ordained miracle worker.

You can make a case that the state of the entire USF athletic program rests on Coach T, who earned his first stripes running Joe Kinnan's offense at Manatee.

Football puts gas in the engine that steers college athletics. Right now, only three teams from the Big East of a few years ago remain and do not have plans to leave: USF, Cincinnati and Connecticut.

All three would give up a few touchdown passes and a couple of exit-fee million dollar checks to get out.

Everybody wants to go, though the Big East with its new members is better than any other non-AQ conference. Will someone please tell us why we are so enamored by the ACC, which is FSU and Clemson and the rest?

Right now, expansion seems the solution to those glassy-eyed college presidents. Two possible spots for USF are the ACC (if FSU leaves for the Big 12) or the Big 12. And if you do your homework you won't close the door on the Big 10, which got Maryland and has its eyes on Georgia Tech.

USF has some valuable bargaining chips, including the country's 14th-largest media market.

What it doesn't have right now is a winning program, which is why in Taggart USF must trust.

He has a lot tougher job than his two predecessors.

Winning matters now more than ever.

West Virginia was the Big East's BCS bowl representative two years ago and left. Louisville, the league's BCS bowl team this year, will be leaving.

When Jim Leavitt coached USF's first game in 1997, fans just wanted to see a team. He gave them more, including visits to the national top 10 rankings as brief as they were.

Skip Holtz came in riding Leavitt's wave and the program drowned in a sea of misery.

Now, it's Taggart's turn. He needs to make USF football relevant again and give it a few more kudos to toss around when the next wave of conference expansion hits.

It's why we all felt good that Taggart recently spent time with San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh as he wrapped up another NFC West title. To be the best, you have to rub shoulders with the best, and these two are forever linked.

It's a reason Taggart's most recent hire is Hans Straub, who will serve as USF's strength and conditioning coach, the same position he held at Stanford.

You can never underestimate the importance of strength on a football team, especially for a Taggart-coached team that often utilizes a battering ram-type of offense.

When Taggart was hired, Tony Dungy said he might not need what other schools need to be successful.

Stanford, which has the most stringent academic requirements among the BCS schools, is a perfect example, and when you see its offense you see the one Taggart runs.

The Big East is on life support, but give conference commissioner Mike Aresco some credit. When Boise State tried to rob the league of its last bit of respectability -- not to mention dollars -- he balked.

Boise State wanted its own TV deal despite being a part of the Big East.

The Broncos got their deal from the Mountain West Conference, which may someday regret it. Good for them. Good for the Big East. The blue-turf boys don't sell so well east of the Mississippi.

The Bulls?

They just need to win, and things will take care of themselves.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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