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USF Bulls

American Athletic Conference needs USF-UCF rivalry to flourish

Christopher Fischer



Photo by Icon Sportswire

We have the full understanding that “War on I-4” will always belong to the Arena Football rivalry Tampa Bay Storm vs. (Now Defunct) Orlando Predators first. The name, a new trophy and a new rivalry has re-emerged with USF and UCF. And it’s one that the AAC needs to have succeed for the play on the field and the attention it will bring.

USF currently has “the hardware” after a blowout win in Orlando last year and Coach Willie Taggart was showing it off early in the week:

“It’s one of those game you can take the records out, it doesn’t matter,” said Taggart.

There will be more at stake than a piece of hardware hoisted by the victor. Recruiting, a potential trip to the conference championship game, a 10-win season, and bowl games will all be on the line.

“This is a natural rivalry, I think it’s good for both programs,” said UCF head coach Scott Frost. “I think there is a little extra motivation when your playing someone just down the road from you.”

It didn’t always used to be this way.

When the Bulls and Golden Knights were in different leagues earlier this century, USF had zero desire for this game. From former head coach Jim Leavitt to still current President Judy Genshafft, they felt no need to play UCF and legitimize them. This infuriated those associated with UCF, but you could understand and appreciate USF’s point. This is especially when Leavitt and the Bulls beat them four straight times head to head and then, would say “we have nothing to gain continuing to beat them/play them.” So, the series expired.

Obviously, Leavitt is long since gone as coach, and the Bulls and Knights are now in the same division in the same conference. So, the point is moot about playing/not playing.

Here’s the reality: It’s in both schools interest to develop a rival/game to point to every year, and it’s obviously in the American Conference’s favor, too. With programs spread literally from Connecticut to Dallas to Greenville, NC, to Tulsa and back to Central Florida, they NEED two teams this close to each other to be good and want to “get after it” in a rivalry game.

American Commissioner Mike Aresco has said he believes the AAC makes it a “Power 6” when it comes to major conferences. Let’s be honest, that’s just salesman talk and IF the AAC was taken so seriously, then how is it USF could win their tenth game and still be unranked? That wouldn’t indicate they beat quality opponents comprising your conference, Mr. Aresco.

That brings us to Saturday at noon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. USF has had a spectacular offensive season and is a win from earning their best regular season ever at 10-2. UCF is back from a horrific 0-12 season and an upset of the Bulls makes them 7-5. That’s coaching, right there.

There are plenty of story-lines at play, but maybe, one of the biggest won’t actually be on the field, it will be in the stands.

USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan has noted that attendance has risen compared to last season. But will there be enough combination of black, green and gold so that the red Raymond James Stadium seats don’t appear on national televisions.

Only 16,585 showed up for USF HOMECOMING. One would think the seventh highest scoring offense in the country would intrigue Bulls fans to show up for a game. Maybe the allure of the rivalry will constitute a better turnout, because we all know a noon kickoff time doesn’t help the situation.

It’ll be Senior Day, and a chance for the USF senior class to go back-to-back over the Knights. Imagine when the Bulls’ senior class arrived on campus as freshman, USF stunk. That’s right I said it: Skip Holtz made them horrendous. Now they have a chance to climb in to the rankings, and with some help from ECU over Temple, play for in a conference championship game.

This game isn’t a battle of national heavyweights like Michigan and Ohio State will be Saturday, nor is it a showdown of sunshine state juggernaut’s like Florida and Florida State Saturday night. This rivalry is more like two little brothers pounding it out, and who doesn’t love a good sibling scrap?

The AAC is smiling, as they should be, at this match-up in the latest edition of the new “War on I-4.”

A game that everybody needs.

A native Floridian who graduated from Clearwater High School and the University of Florida, Chris Fischer has spent nearly 15 years in Sports Televison, including the last five as Sports Reporter and Anchor with the CBS affiliate in Tampa Bay-WTSP. He is a multi time AP Sports and Local Emmy award winner and will be seen this season as a sideline reporter on CBS-TV’s network coverage of the NFL.Chris brings enthusiasm and passion (particularly when it comes to his Gators) to College and NFL coverage to F.F.I.

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USF Bulls

New Bulls coach Scott eagerly embracing new challenge

Florida Football Insiders



Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a runner-up finish in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss to LSU, former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, and new USF head coach, Jeff Scott is now going full throttle in his first few days back in Tampa with his new program.

Scott posted on social media Friday morning that one of his top priorities is to reconnect with all of the jigh school coaches in and around the Tampa area:

This is not unfamiliar for the first-time head coach, as this was part of his role was procuring players for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers out of West Central Florida.

Scott also gave access to the Tampa Bay Times and beat writer Joey Knight on his inaugural meeting with his new team Thursday at the USF facility.

And, Scott began by prioritizing his team in the meeting room having the seniors sit in the front with the juniors behind and then, the underclassmen behind them.

It will be a challenge over the next season or two for Scott to revitalize a program that essentially went “off the cliff in the middle of the 2018 season.” That’s when the Bulls under Charlie Strong lost their remaining six games, including their bowl game and then, were blown out twice early in the 2019 season to drop to 1-3.

USF regained their footing in the middle of the year wining against lesser American Athletic Conference competition in a couple of games, but promptly lost out, including their final 4 games to finish 4-8. That resulted in Strong’s firing.

The 39 year old Scott had Clemson through and through, as he played for the Tigers in the early 2000s for three years and returned to become an assistant coach for the Tigers in 2008. Since then, he has been a receiver’s coach, recruiting coordinator, and then, co-offensive coordinator for the last three years.

The Tigers, behind All-American QB Trevor Lawrence,  rolled through a second straight unbeaten season and then, a 62-17 blowout win over Virginia in the ACC Title Game. In a bid to repeat as National Champs, the Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on December 28th in one of the College Football playoff semi-finals.

Alas, the “fairy tale” did end well, as LSU behind Heisman winning QB Joe Burrow, defeated them 42-25 Monday night in New Orleans.

There’s some more that USF fans can be excited about and Scott’s successes with wide receivers. He has helped develop some great NFL prospects like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. His  current Clemson group likely has at least two more NFL wideouts, too.

After years of the inconsistent offense, it appears that the Bulls leaders felt a change in philosphy was needed.

And Scott, the son of former FSU and Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott, appears to be the guy to change it all.

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USF Bulls

Coordinator musical chairs all related to Willie Taggart

Florida Football Insiders



Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Now that head coaching hires have been made at the prominent jobs in the state and around college football, the musical chairs of assistants and specifically coordinators is also fascinating. And in the case of FSU, USF and FAU they are all interrelated to former USF and FSU-now FAU, boss, Willie Taggart.

In Boca Raton, the new FAU coach has announced his first coordinator hire and it’s none other than his former defensive consultant at Florida State, his former defensive coordinator at Oregon and the former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt:

Taggart had brought Leavitt on board, as the season began to unfold in Tallahassee, initially, to consult, but eventually as a defensive coach on the field.

The tandem came together in Eugene, Oregon three years ago, when Taggart left USF and was hired by the Ducks. He then brought Leavitt with him from being the defensive coordinator at Colorado.

However, Leavitt did not follow Taggart to Florida State in 2018, as had been reported that he would. He stayed behind for one more season, in Eugene.

Meanwhile, Taggart had a disastrous 5-7 first season with FSU after having hired former Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett to run his defense. Meanwhile, Leavitt was fired after the 2018 season by Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and then, was available to come join Taggart this year.

However it was to no avail , as Taggart was fired himself, on November 3rd after just nine games into his second season.

Continuing, Taggart had hired Kendal Briles to run his offense in 2019 from Houston, but Briles had previously been at, wait for it… Florida Atlantic as the OC. And now, there’s word of where Briles is headed, and, that’s to the University of Arkansas, as their new offensive coordinator.

The Hogs made a surprising coaching hire of former Georgia offensive line coach, Stan Pittman, who has never been a head coach at the college level before. Desperate to improve in the SEC West, Briles up tempo offense did help the Florida State in terms of increases of  yardage per game and points per game output this past season.

Meanwhile, back at USF, new coach Jeff Scott had already announced on Sunday that former FAU defensive coordinator and head coach for their bowl game, Glenn Spencer, is his new defensive coordinator in Tampa.

Spencer has extensive experience, especially as a defensive assistant and coordinator for over a decade at Oklahoma State.

Staying with the “musical chairs” connected to his current and former jobs:

On Monday evening Scott also announced that Charlie Weis Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame coach and Patriots offensive coordinator, would be joining his staff with the Bulls.

Weis had most recently been the offensive coordinator for… guessed it again, the last two years at Florida Atlantic taking over for Briles with Lane Kiffin. But, Kiffin did not take Weis with him, when he left FAU for Ole Miss two weeks ago. And, Taggart did not retain Weis.

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At 27 years of age Weis is still the youngest coordinator in FBS football.

So, to recap: Taggart and Leavitt are back together for the third time in four seasons in the third different location.

Spencer and Weis, who were the coordinators at Florida Atlantic for Kiffin, weren’t kept by Taggart, but are now are now both at USF, where Taggart and Leavitt used to be head coaches.

And Briles, who coached for Taggart and for part of the year with Leavitt in Tallahassee is now on his way to the SEC with the Hogs.

It’s never dull with a coaching carousel.

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