Willie Taggart loves to talk about pressure. He loves to talk about winning the American Athletic Conference and giving South Florida its first football league championship.
He even loves to have that target on his back. What the Bulls head football coach doesn’t love talking about is the Big 12 Conference or any game beyond the next one.
Taggart, the former Manatee High School quarterback, may have to change his talking points now that USF is one of the schools to make the Big 12’s first cut of potential expansion invitees, according to reports.
In the reports that originated from TMGcollegesports.com, Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut, USF and UCF from the AAC made the first expansion cut. Exactly how many schools made the cut is unclear. The report from TMGcollegesports.com indicated six to eight had done so, but that site later changed its number to nine. Other reports said 10 teams are being considered.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Temple remained in the running, and the Dallas Morning News reported the same for SMU. The Coloradoan reported Colorado State of the Mountain West also made the cut as did BYU.
The Big 12 currently has 10 teams and wants to add either two or four teams — and possibly more down the road. If it adds only two, USF has no chance. Houston, Cincinnati and BYU have been reported to be the top targets. USF’s chances appear tied to UCF’s: The conference apparently likes them as a package deal to establish a Florida presence and preserve a rivalry.
The schools will make presentations in about two weeks to the league.
As much as he will try to avoid the subject, the dialogue for Willie Taggart has changed. If he doesn’t talk about the Big 12, everyone else will.
All of a sudden the season opener Saturday night has changed. Now people will say he has to win big or that USF must win its first three games and go into the Florida State game undefeated where a win could boost the Bulls into the Big 12.
Taggart will not get suckered into answering that question.
He doesn’t need that pressure and Northern Illinois and Syracuse, the teams it plays prior to FSU, are no slouches. Syracuse is still smarting from the 45-24 defeat USF pinned on the Orange in Tampa last year.
After two losing seasons, Taggart took the Bulls to an 8-5 season and bowl bid last year. They are favorites by multiple publications to win the AAC East.
“All I am concerned about is winning the AAC and giving USF its first football conference championship,” Taggart has said on multiple occasions. “We have no control over what happens with another conference. It is a distraction to talk about that.”
Taggart kept on point during his presser this week, reminding his audience how his players are still upset about not playing in the AAC conference championship game last year.
“It was on us. If we had taken care of our business we wouldn’t have that in our system,” Taggart said. “Our guys are highly motivated to get it done. Those have been our goals (winning the AAC) since day one.”
But early last month, USF sent a letter to the Big 12 stating its case for why it would be a valuable addition to the league. The letter, which became public, included the signature of USF president Judy Genshaft.
The letter spoke about USF’s rapid rise to prominence and cites the No. 2 national ranking it reached in 2007 in the BCS standings. All the early success was achieved under Jim Leavitt, who was fired by the school for allegedly hitting player, a charge he has always denied.
It mentions the Bulls’ average attendance of 40,000 since 2005 when the school joined the Big East Conference. Again all that was achieved under Leavitt. The football program went into the tank when Skip Holtz took over. It took Taggart three years to bring it back to respectability and attendance suffered during that time.
But Tampa has shown it will come out to watch a good team and right now that is Taggart’s goal and there isn’t much time.
“I know this place can be special and I know there was a time when Ray Jay was rocking. It was tough when people came here and played,” Taggart said. “I was one of those opponents coming in here to play. It was really loud, and I’d really like to get back like that. I anticipate it’s going to be that way on Saturday.”
There aren’t many college football coaches in the country that have that much riding on their backs. But as Taggart has said he loves the pressure, just don’t talk about any conference but the AAC.
Who: Towson at South Florida
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa