College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the South Florida Bulls and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 20
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 3-9 (1-6, Big East)
Returning starters: 10 (four offensive, six defensive)
During the first year of Skip Holtz's tenure at South Florida, in 2010, it appeared as though the Bulls were building toward being an upstart team in the Big East. However, the program took steps backward following that initial 8-5 season and never improved. USF fired Holtz at the end of last year and has brought in Willie Taggart, who turned around a moribund Western Kentucky program in three years. Taggart is looking to change the culture in Tampa and sent a message last week when he suspended three players indefinitely, including the team's second-leading receiver, for unspecified reasons. As with any coaching change, a learning curve is to be expected in terms of players learning terminology and playbooks. The spring will be essential for Taggart to get a head start on that task.
The Least You Should Know About South Florida This Spring
-- What do the Bulls need to do to improve? Score points. South Florida ranked 104th in 2012 in scoring offense, producing only 20.6 points per game. The Bulls were efficient in converting red zone attempts, however, they just didn't get there nearly enough times to make a difference. South Florida scored on 88 percent of its red zone trips, tying for 16th-best in the country last season, but made only 34 trips into the red zone all season, tying for 109th-best. Expect Taggart to focus on the ground game to get the South Florida offense started.
In each of his three seasons at Western Kentucky, Taggart's offenses boasted 1,000-yard rushers. South Florida, historically, hasn't had prolific running backs, with the last 1,000-yard rusher coming in 2005 via Pat Julmiste. Making matters worse, the Bulls lose the top three rushers from last season -- running back Demetris Murray, wide receiver Lindsey Lamar and quarterback B.J. Daniels -- who combined for 1,574 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
The early indication this spring is that Taggart will look to senior Marcus Shaw and redshirt junior Michael Pierre to carry the load. Shaw was the fourth-leading rusher for South Florida in 2012, earning 248 yards on 51 attempts. Based solely on his experience, Shaw seems to have the advantage over Pierre, who is a junior college transfer from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. Regardless of how the running back competition concludes, however, expect both Shaw and Pierre to receive significant carries in the fall.
-- Speaking of Daniels, South Florida needs to find a new quarterback. With Daniels' departure, USF now must find his replacement. There are three favorites to command the starting spot, but one of these -- incoming freshman Michael White -- won't be on campus until the fall. That leaves the battle in the spring down to Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd. Both played sparingly last season, with Floyd getting the majority of the snaps between the two, resulting 466 yards on a 51.8 completion percentage with five interceptions and no touchdowns.
Eveld was expected to sit out the entire season in 2012, but went 3 of 8 for 29 yards in only one game of action. He holds the height advantage, measuring 6-foot-5, when compared with the 6-foot-1 Floyd. The early word is that Eveld might be the favorite to earn the starting spot, but don't expect Taggart to name a starter anytime soon. This competition will undoubtedly come down to the fall, and USF might wait until right before the season opener to announce a starter.
-- After transferring from Notre Dame and sitting out the required year, Aaron Lynch can be the difference maker on the defense. In his one season in South Bend, the defensive end showed promise, earning freshman All-America honors and generating 33 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 5 1/2 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries. However, Lynch never quite assimilated into student life at Notre Dame. Battling home-sickness, he decided to transfer to South Florida and sat out the mandatory year without athletic competition in 2012.
Lynch went through an entire season of practices ensuring he would at least have some familiarity with the Bulls playbook. However, with Taggart's hiring, Lynch will have this third head coach in as many seasons and there will be some new concepts for the 6-foot-6, 244-pound lineman to grasp.
In any case, expect Lynch to be a presence for the Bulls in the spring. He has too much talent to go unnoticed on a team that ranked 65th in the country last season in total defense, ceding an average of 401.8 yards per game. If Lynch can build some momentum in the spring, he could become a playmaker in the fall.
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