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Can USF upset enough opponents to save Willie Taggart’s job?

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In a football labeled by coach Willie Taggart as “bowl or bust,” can USF keep from busting?

Taggart’s third season is the one where the stakes are supposed to rise, but can the Bulls finally return to post-season play? It won’t be easy. USF hasn’t reached a bowl in four years, and Taggart is only 6-18 with the school since replacing Skip Holtz. No one is certain who the quarterback will be if Asiantti Woulard is not granted immediate elibility by the NCAA.

Of course, reaching a bowl game isn’t the same stamp of success that it used to be. There are so many bowls that 22 teams last year lost at least five games and made a bowl. One of them, Fresno State, lost seven games on its way to a bowl…and it lost that.

Still, for USF, it would be a starting point. The Bulls were only 4-8 last year in the American Athletic Conference.

Predictions are not kind. In the AAC media poll announced this week, USF finished fifth in the East, ahead of only UConn.

The Massey Football rankings, which helped to determine the old BCS formula, has USF as the 108th-ranked football team in the country. It doesn’t have the most formidable schedule in the country, but it has it ranked as an underdog in nine of its games. In other words, the Bulls are going to have to surprise some people along its way.

It will be favored to beat unranked Florida A&M, 117th-ranked SMU and 120th-ranked UConn.

A glance at the afternoons when USF will be the underdogs:

Sept. 12, at FSU (8): The Seminoles didn’t have a great off-season, and even if running back Dalvin Cook hears good news in his Sept. 5 hearing, he isn’t likely to be in the best of shape to play against the Bulls. Still, FSU recruits from the top shelf, and there is a reason the Seminoles scheduled USF. Chance of an Upset: Long longshot.

Sept 18, at Maryland (63): The Terps won seven games in their first year in the Big 10 last year, but they have to replace their quarterback and their defensive coordinator. Maryland is from a big conference, but it isn’t one of the better teams there. It will look to get rich against USF. Chances of an upset: Possible.

Oct. 2, Memphis (44): There are seven starters back on offense, including quarterback Paxton Lynch. The Memphis program has passed that of the Bulls. If USF is going to return to prominence, winning this one would be a good start. Marlon Mack needs a big day. Chance of Upset: Longshot.

Oct. 10, Syracuse (88): A winnable game despite the rankings. The Orangemen won only three games last year, and they don’t have a lot coming back. The game is in Tampa, which could give the Bulls the impetus to get one. Chance of an upset: Excellent.

Oct. 31: at Navy (66): It’s their first year in the AAC, but the Midshipmen will be going for their seventh bowl game in eight seasons. It’s going to be hard for the Bulls to slow down quarterback Kennan Reynolds. Chance of an upset: Average.

Nov. 7: at East Carolina (58): Yeah, it sounds like USF should be favored over East Carolina, but the Pirates have been to eight bowl games in the last nine years. East Carolina was 11th in the nation against the run last year. Chance of an upset: Average.

Nov. 14: Temple (77): Temple seems on the rise. The Owls tripled their win total last year (from two to six), and they have 17 starters returning. One is quarterback P.J. Walker. Again, a game that the Bulls need to win to show they’re better. Chance of an upset: Longshot.

Nov. 20, Cincinnati (49): The Bearcats are the favorites to win the AAC in Tommy Tuberville’s third season. A lot of the reason why is quarterback Gunner Keil, who threw for 31 touchdowns a year ago. One hope: The Bears were second in the conference on stopping opponents on third down. Chance of an upset: Longshot.

Nov. 27, at UCF (53): Hard to believe that USF used to own their series with the Knights. UCF is riding high after the last two seasons, including a nine-win season last year. Quarterback Justin Holman leads the way. Chance of an upset: Longshot.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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