Commentary | Manatee County players to keep Taggart's legacy alive at Western Kentucky

adell@bradenton.comJuly 6, 2014 

Western Kentucky Troy Football

Western Kentucky wide receiver Willie McNeal (10) is stopped by Troy defensive back Bryan Willis (26) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Troy, Ala., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)


Willie Taggart is nearly two seasons removed from Western Kentucky, but there are a lot of reasons for local football fans to follow the Hilltoppers.

Players from four Manatee County high schools are expected to play prominent roles at WKU this season as it moves from the Sun Belt to Conference USA under new head coach Jeff Brohm.

Taggart left a lot in the cupboard when he departed WKU for USF prior to the 2013 season. The former Manatee High quarterback has shown a knack for finding running backs with high production.

Topping Taggart's list of valuable gifts to WKU is Manatee High graduate Leon Allen, slated to move into the starting role at running back. He replaces Antonio Andrews, who led the country in all purpose yardage the past two seasons.

Andrews followed Bobby Rainey, WKU's career rushing leader who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 6-foot, 235-pound Allen drew rave reviews this spring regarding his work ethic and strength, the latter of which makes him a more powerful runner than Rainey or Andrews, Brohm said.

Joining Allen on offense is Braden River's Willie McNeal, the Hilltoppers' leading returning receiver with 46 catches for 599 yards and five TDs last season.

Palmetto's Daqual Randal is slated to start at middle linebacker, replacing first-team All-Sun Belt player Andrew Jackson, and Southeast grad Terran Williams could start at linebacker.

Change of fate?

College football has shown luck is fickle. Here today, gone tomorrow, it doesn't believe in long-lasting relationships.

That's good news for USF and Florida.

Teams that win close games one year usually lose them the next. Teams that are high in plus-turnover ratio one year usually drop the next.

Phil Steele, who has had the most accurate college football prognostication magazine in the country for 16 years, has tracked these trends for more than a decade.

Steele describes a close win as a game decided by a touchdown or less. He found in the past 12 years, 81 percent of teams that had four or five net close wins one season had a weaker record the next, and eight of nine teams that had six or seven net close wins had weaker records the following season. The reverse is similar for teams suffering close losses.

UCF won the inaugural American Athletic Conference last year and finished off its season with an Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor.

The Knights won seven games decided by seven points or fewer, including three by three points and five by five points or fewer. They had a three-point loss to South Carolina for a net six close wins.

Blake Bortles was responsible for those close victories and, with the quarterback now in the NFL, UCF will be hard-pressed to match last year's 12-1 record. The Bulls, who lost 23-20 to UCF, get the Knights at Raymond James Stadium this season.

Luck means also means different things to different people.

Florida supporters would like to think it has returned because Gators head coach Will Muschamp is sitting on the hottest coaching seat in America. It means Gator fans can't lose in 2014.

If Florida captures the SEC, it's celebration time. If things turn out otherwise, Muschamp will likely be fired, and you can expect a big party at The Swamp.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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