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USF and Charlie Strong did nothing to silence critics Saturday

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was supposed to be a day where USF coach Charlie Strong demonstrated, off a bye week, that his team could rebound and would take advantage of a fresh start to the season, as conference play began.

Unfortunately for Strong and the Bulls, just like their season-opening wipeout loss at home to Wisconsin, his team was blown away, again, this time 48-21 by the SMU Mustangs.

SMU absolutely routed the Bulls defense with five first-half touchdowns, including three TD passes by Strong’s former quarterback at Texas, Shane Buechele, as the Ponies built a 34 – 0 lead.

When Buechele, who sat last year as a transfer and SMU got the ball for the first time in the third quarter, they marched a quick 50 yards for another score. It was 41 – zip and SMU had emptied out Raymond James Stadium.

Yes, they had to play the last quarter and a half and the Bulls (now 1-3) inserted veteran backup Blake Barnett, because freshman starter Jordan McCloud had an injured wrist. And, Barnett got the team in the end zone during “garbage time” with three touchdowns.

But, make no mistake, USF was awful most of Saturday.

And now, the larger questions that will keep coming are: has Strong essentially given up coaching and motivating his team? And if not, how are they this bad all of a sudden?

Remember that they won 10 games and a bowl game in Strong’s first season. That was with former coach Willie Taggart’s players.

The struggles now, date back to a 7 – 0 start a year ago, where USF then lost the last five games in the regular season and next, their bowl game.

That was eyebrow-raising enough, but when the Bulls opened with the Big Ten powerhouse Badgers and were destroyed 49 – 0 to start the year, whispers became loud voices that Strong wasn’t cut out to turn things around.

It is no secret that Strong has complained for two years about everything from how USF travels, to not having an indoor practice facility, to not having an on-campus football stadium and having to play at the 65,000 seat Raymond James Stadium. That’s where at least half of the seats are empty for most of their games.

It’s also no secret that this is the first year where USF is completely on the hook to pay Strong and that he had to take a pay cut from the $4 million plus per year that Texas was still paying him the first two years of his USF deal.

The Bulls followed up the awful debut with Wisconsin by losing to a bad Georgia Tech Team in Atlanta in game two. Then, the freshman McLeod gave some spark and optimism with how he played two weeks ago against FCS, Savannah State.

However, off the off week, the Bulls had no answers on offense in the first half of this game with SMU, while being held scoreless.

Yes, the Ponies are a great story, as they improved to 5 – 0 for the first time since Eric Dickerson and the “Pony Express” backfield of 1983.

But, the larger story is how big of a problem does USF now have with a coach that either isn’t interested, or in some combination, doesn’t know how to, get their season turned around in his third year?

Strong walked slowly to midfield to shake SMU coach Sonny Dykes’ hand when it was over, with a blank look on his face. He didn’t even make eye contact with Dykes, as Dykes said something to Strong.

That moment summed Saturday up.

And, 41-0 in the third quarter Saturday said a lot, too.

USF Bulls

New Bulls coach Scott eagerly embracing new challenge

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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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Coordinator musical chairs all related to Willie Taggart

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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…..you 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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