Last year, Willie Taggart was on the coach’s hot seat fighting for his job.
His seat is burning again, but for different reasons.
The Bulls head coach is trying to make the USF football program attractive enough to get a Power Five Conference invitation. It’s like to trying to get into the ball without a glass slipper.
This is not just about winning games. It’s doing it with flare, which is a good thing for South Florida, which features three program record-setters in running back Marlon Mack, quarterback Quinton Flowers and receiver Rodney Adams.
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Taggart guided the Bulls to an 8-5 record and first bowl game since 2010 last season. It generated enthusiasm, which hopefully will fill up more seats at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium because in the end this is all about money.
USF generated $4.2 million in ticket revenue last season, its lowest total since 2007, according to USA Today. Football is the big revenue producer and will be a major factor in whether the school can get back to the money era (2008-13) when revenues exceeded $6 million annually with a high of $6.9 million in 2013.
USF is favored in some circles to win the American Athletic Conference East title, and Taggart says that’s the only conference on his mind. Can’t blame him for that, but those who write his paychecks can’t ignore the money and prestige of being in a Power Five Conference.
The non-power conferences are paupers compared to the Power Five. In 2015, the University of Florida’s total sports revenue was $147.1 million, and FSU’s was $120.8 million. USF was at $48.7 million, and Connecticut, the highest sports revenue earning school outside the Power Five, was at $72.1 million.
What Taggart has done in recruiting by going against the Power Five Conference schools is a testament to his unique people skills. The former Manatee High quarterback was named “Best Interview” by Sporting News magazine, which said “the down-to-earth coach coach never waivers in his positive attitude.”
From 2010 through 2016, USF out-recruited Power Five conference schools more than any team in the so called Group of Five, according to 247Sports. It has beaten at least two Power 5 teams on the recruiting trail each year since the turn of the decade and along with Houston has played a major role in making the AAC the class of college football recruiting outside the Power Five.
There is talk that there is going to be another round of conference expansion similar to the last one where the powerful schools ate their young and left everyone to pick up the scraps at their own peril. This next endeavor could be more cannibalistic with talk the SEC will go after Oklahoma and Texas and while it’s at it try to lure in FSU and Clemson. The Big 10 will also go after Oklahoma and the rest so let the free for all begin.
That could make the Big 12 and ACC lower rung power five schools with Pac 12 somewhere inbetween and add to the belief that what we have is a Power 2 (SEC and Big 10) and three little guys, who are still bigger than that so-called Group of Five.
Uptick for Tebow
Despite universal love for Tim Tebow, there has been a healthy debate over just how good a quarterback the former Florida Gator really was. As the years go by, Tebow’s value seems to increase.
Since he left Florida six years ago, the Gators have employed eight different people at starting quarterback and could add a couple more this year with transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby vying for the job. Del Rio started at Alabama, played spring ball at Oregon State and came to Florida. Appleby is a graduate transfer from Purdue.
Not all of those previous starting quarterbacks were failures. Some were the victims of Will Muschamp’s inability to evaluate offensive talent. John Brantley, a pro-style quarterback who followed Tebow, fell victim to Urban Meyer’s stubborness to stay with his spread offense.
In four seasons, Muschamp went through four starting quarterbacks and three offensive coodinators with nothing to show for it. His best quarterback might have been Jacoby Brissett, who transferred after losing the job to Jeff Driskel, who transferred to Louisiana Tech after losing his job, who was ruined by Muschamp before he was fired.