TAMPA -- Willie Taggart is hoping for a little déjà vu.
His USF football team is a 34-point underdog for Saturday's game at Big Ten power Wisconsin. It's the largest underdog status for the Bulls in 18 years of football.
But Taggart has overcome bigger odds. He was an assistant coach at Stanford when the Cardinal was a 41-point underdog against USC and pulled off the biggest upset in college football history.
"I let them know that it is possible, that I am a living witness," Taggart said.
Never miss a local story.
The former Manatee quarterback is telling his players to stay positive and reminding them they have nothing to lose. This is the last non-conference game of the season, and USF (2-2) should be able to play loose.
This will be the Bulls' first road game of the season and first trip to Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, which seats more than 80,000. The game, scheduled for a noon kickoff, will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
"I tell them, 'This is what you all came to play college football for is to play in an environment like this, to play on national TV and get noticed,'" Taggart said. "'Make sure you go out and play and get noticed for the right things.'"
Taggart also can tell his team that the Bulls have a bit of history of their own.
The last time USF played a road opener against a ranked team, the Bulls defeated Notre Dame in 2011. They also have beaten Auburn and Florida State on the road.
But still it's quite challenging, not even considering the 68-17 pasting the Badgers put on Bowling Green last week when they rushed for 644 yards.
Wisconsin leads the country in rushing, averaging 359.7 yards per game, and has a bulwark running back in Melvin Gordon, who ranks seventh in rushing (143.7 yds per game) and leads the country with eight rushes for 20-plus yards. The Heisman Watch running back has a career average of 8.3 yards per carry.
The 19th-ranked Badgers (2-1) have won 31 straight at home against non-conference opponents in a streak that began in 2003. In the past 10 years, Wisconsin is 63-7 at home against all competition.
"I haven't seen a flaw in him (Gordon) yet. He is a phenomenal athlete, and you can see why he is getting Heisman looks. He is strong, has great vision, great feet and is very patient. Everything you want in a back, he has," Taggart said.
Each starting offensive lineman for Wisconsin is at least 6-foot-3, and the average weight of the starters up front is 321 pounds. The line spearheads a no-frills offense that pounds away at opponents in the trenches.
If Wisconsin has a flaw, it could be in its passing game. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy has thrown four interceptions in three games, most of them coming when he tried to go long. The 6-3, 225-pound junior is the Badgers' second-leading rusher, but ranks 83rd in pass efficiency with a 121.4 rating.
That could play into the hands of the Bulls' young and athletic defense, which is tied for sixth nationally with 11 takeaways, including seven fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
"We are hoping to take advantage of that (the deep passes)," USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. "We believe in ball-hawking in the pass game and in the run game, and we've got to get back to form on that. It's got to be a multiple-turnover game. The first and foremost thing is you have to eliminate the explosive plays."
The Bulls (2-2) are coming off an AAC-opening victory over Connecticut. They like to run the ball themselves, particularly behind true freshman Marlon Mack, who ranks ninth in the country with 502 rushing yards. After two sub-100-yard games he got back on track last week with 103 yards on a career high 31 carries and a touchdown.
But as Taggart has said repeatedly, it's all about attitude. In his second year as the Bulls head coach, he is happy about how that has evolved.
"The guys are starting to play for each other and not worry about anything else," Taggart said. "That's something we talk about all the time. If we don't control our attitude and our mindset, then we'll let circumstances and our distractions control us, and that's not what we want."