TAMPA -- Willie Taggart was finishing up that so-called miracle season at Western Kentucky when Justin Fuente took over at Memphis four years ago.
Their careers have taken different paths since then, with Fuente turning downtrodden Memphis into a winner and Taggart struggling to make USF relevant again.
Taggart has a chance to make that happen Friday night when the Bulls play host to Memphis in their American Athletic Conference opener at Raymond James Stadium.
Taggart and Fuente are both 39-years-old and the sixth-
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and seventh-youngest head coaches respectively in the FBS. They know each other and have followed each other's careers.
The third year is supposed to be a charm for new head college coaches. Memphis was 10-3 last season in Fuente's third year after coming off a 3-9 season. Taggart is in his third year at USF after 2-10 and 4-8 seasons.
But adding to that win total might be easier said than done for Taggart. The former Manatee High quarterback is facing a Memphis (4-0, 1-0 AAC) team ranked third nationally in scoring (53.8 ppg) and eighth in total offense (570.2 yards per game).
Memphis has won 11 straight games, third longest streak in the country behind Ohio State (17) and TCU (12). The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in six straight games and have won six straight road games.
The game will be televised on ESPN2 and Manatee High coaches were saying this week that ESPN contacted the school to see if it had any photos of Taggart and Joe Kinnan, the USF assistant who coached Taggart at Manatee.
"It is a great opportunity for us," Taggart said. "All of our goals that we set for the season are still on the table, to win our conference and win our division. This is one of those first steps. We've got them at home, Friday night in primetime, and it doesn't get better than that."
The biggest challenge for USF will be trying to keep the Tigers offense in check and keep pace with them if they start putting up points. Memphis defeated Cincinnati 53-46 in its last game. The Bulls (1-2) were off last week after a 35-17 road loss to Maryland.
The Tigers operate behind 6-foot-7 quarterback Paxton Lynch, who has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception and is ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency.
"He's really got a good handle on the offense right now and it's going to be a challenge for our guys," Taggart said. "We've got to limit the big plays. They live on big explosive plays and we can't give that up. We have to make them try field goals in the red zone."
USF will be banking on quarterback Quinton Flowers to keep pace with Memphis if the Tigers get on a roll. He has shown spark running ball, but his passing has been inconsistent though he has been the victim of dropped passes.
"We have to give our defense a chance to get some rest," Flowers said. "We have to keep scoring on offense any chance we get. We just have to score every drive. Every drive we have to fight. Every play we have to fight."
Taggart said he likes the growth he has seen in Flowers, a sophomore who started one game last year. He praised Flowers' continued improvement in the passing game, which had been a struggle.
"He is a weapon defenses have to account for. Every single play, he allows you to do more offensively because he has a clear understanding of what we are doing," Taggart said. "Every week I see him getting better. He is playing on instinct now and that is a big thing for him. He is throwing the ball better and knows where guys are supposed to be."
A couple of positives from the loss to Maryland were that USF intercepted three passes and Flowers rushed for 85 yards.
USF has registered seven sacks and leads the AAC with 25 tackles for loss.