TAMPA -- Willie Taggart is in his second year as head coach of the USF football team, but he is entering his third season.
That kind of math might sound confounding, but it makes perfect sense to Taggart.
"New week, new season. Everything that happened before is pretty much irrelevant right now," Taggart said. "We still can get the things we set out to get at the beginning of the year. With a clean slate, we are just locking into those gamer beginning with Tulsa."
The Taggart Pythagorean theorem rests on the belief that the worst is over and there is clear sailing ahead.
It might be a little hard to accept for a team that was 2-10 last year and sits at 2-4 at midseason heading into Saturday's AAC game at Tulsa.
But Taggart, an optimist in the mold of Rays manager Joe Maddon, sees a silver lining, though he admits his young team is still learning how to play a complete game.
None of USF's next five opponents has a winning record, starting with 1-5 Tulsa, and three are below .500, including winless SMU.
While that might generate optimism, it also presents danger. If USF can't come out of this stretch with at least two victories, it could set the program back in the minds of fans and players.
Four of the next five games are on the road, which doesn't help. The schedule is not built in USF's favor because most of the games the Bulls would be favored to win are on the road and the games they figured to lose are at home.
USF doesn't have a glittering road record. The Bulls were 1-3 on the road in AAC play last year and 9-19 on the road in their Big East days. Next week, they are at Cincinnati, where they are 1-4.
Sophomore Mike White has shown huge growth at quarterback, and true freshman Marlon Mack leads the AAC in rushing (99.5 yards per game).
But the best thing for USF in its 28-17 loss to then-No. 19 East Carolina last week was the return of receiver Andre Davis, who missed the previous four games with a bruised sternum. He added life to the offense, catching a team-high six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown in becoming USF's career reception yardage leader.
The biggest problem is being able to finish against good teams. The Bulls were tied 3-3 at ranked Wisconsin before losing 27-10 and led East Carolina 17-7 at halftime. USF has been outscored 69-17 in the second half of its four losses and failed to score twice.
USF's problems in the second half could be that it was playing against a better team that woke up at halftime. But that doesn't explain penalties and sloppiness in the Bulls' offensive execution. Taggart blames that on what he calls mental fatigue.
"When I say mental fatigue, I mean when things go bad don't start looking for other things to go bad," Taggart said. "When we are up in games, let's go finish the ballgame rather than hope we hang in to win it. We've got to learn to play 60 minutes, not just 30 minutes. Our program hasn't had a lot of success over the last few years when things go wrong. You have to not get down on yourself."
In many ways, the Tulsa game begins the most crucial stretch for Taggart since he took over the program.
Tulsa has lost five straight, but this is far from a sure victory for USF. Both teams are young, and the Golden Hurricane look to have a more balanced offense and a possible edge at quarterback.
Tulsa signal-caller Dane Evans is third in the AAC, averaging 271.2 passing yards per game.
Kevin Lucas ranks fifth nationally in receptions (8.8 per game) and 14th in receiving yards and leads the conference with seven TD receptions.
Tulsa ranks 59th nationally in total offense and 31st in passing. USF is 118th in total offense and 112th in passing offense, but the return of Davis is a big boost. White is seventh nationally and leads the AAC with 15.3 yards per completion.
"Tulsa is a vastly improved football team. They're a physical football team and played a really good ballgame last week (road loss to Temple)," Taggart said.
USF and Tulsa are both young and struggling teams that need a win badly. But the Golden Hurricane strung four winning seasons together before going 3-9 last year and was 11-3 in 2012, making it to the Conference USA title game.