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Taking a look at the South Florida Bulls

Last Modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 6:07 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Because we care about you, the reader, we went the extra yard to find out more about McNeese State’s season-opening opponent, South Florida.

We present the following question-and-answer session with Greg Auman, who covers the Bulls for the Tampa Bay Times.

College football teams in NFL cities can have trouble drawing (see: Tulane). What type of atmosphere should we expect to see at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday?

A: USF football is definitely competing in a pro market, not only with the Bucs but with the Rays as well. Raymond James Stadium can hold nearly 70,000 fans, but you’ll probably see about half that Saturday — there might be 40,000 announced and an actual crowd in the low 30s. I’d think the novelty of Willie Taggart’s first game as head coach here should help bump the normal I-AA opener-type of crowd.

How much energy has Taggart injected into the fan base before his first game?

A: Taggart has given USF’s fan base a much-needed jolt of energy — definitely lacked that after back-to-back losing seasons and 1-6 marks in the Big East. You probably saw a viral video of Taggart’s “let Coach T drive this bus” catchphrase that has caught on pretty well down here. He’s certainly young at 37, and I think the fan base has picked up on his enthusiasm — he’s very engaging and has acknowledged that his “honeymoon” is over and he has to keep fans with wins and success on the field.

Sophomore Matt Floyd won the Bulls’ quarterback competition. What set him apart and is there any chance someone else will get a chance to play, a la a young Matt Grothe when McNeese visited USF in 2006?

A: Matt Floyd won the starting QB job by limiting his mistakes and showing the ability to beat defenses with his arm, his feet and (perhaps most importantly) his understanding of Taggart’s offense. It’s a complicated scheme with a lot of intricate pre-snap shifting and motion, and I think he’s come a long way since the fall. You could see a backup play if USF can get a comfortable lead — the two battling for the No. 2 job are senior Bobby Eveld, a fairly known commodity from past seasons as backup, and sophomore Steven Bench, a transfer from Penn State.

Taggart liked controlling the tempo on offense at Western Kentucky. Is that the game plan for USF here?

A: Yes, Taggart ranked 10th in the nation in time of possession last season, and I think he’d like to have the same kind of ball-control, physical run game like he had with Antonio Andrews last year. He doesn’t have an obvious 1,000-yard rusher on roster, but I think he’ll use 3-4 running backs in rotation and work hard to establish the run as the foundation for his offense, then mess around with some play-action once defenses are focusing on the run game.

The Bulls defense intercepted two passes last season. What tweaks have been made to improve upon that eye-popping stat?

A: Two interceptions is a crazy low number for an entire season. I think USF’s confidence in increasing that number starts with better pressure at the line of scrimmage — defensive line is probably the Bulls’ best position and should be much improved, led by sophomore end Aaron Lynch, a transfer from Notre Dame. There’s great depth on the line as well, so expect 8-9 guys to rotate in and out for four spots. USF lost both starting corners from last year, but has good experience at safety and will be hungry to show new coaches they can produce turnovers at a much better rate this fall.

Lynch is the most hyped player on the USF defense without having played a down for the Bulls yet. What has folks so excited?

A: Lynch was a freshman all-American at Notre Dame, led them in sacks in 2011, then sat out last season after coming to USF. He’s extremely athletic — long arms, a huge 6-6, 260-pound frame — it sounds like he’ll be in position to have a big game against a McNeese line still coming together as a unit.

USF has never lost a home opener. What would have to happen for McNeese to snap that streak? (And you can’t say “scoring more points.”)

A: For USF to lose a home opener for the first time, I think you’d have to see echoes of last season — major turnover problems on offense, an inability to create takeaways on defense, and lots of offensive penalties as the Bulls try to execute the new offense. McNeese beat Middle Tennessee that way in last year’s opener — three takeaways, no turnovers, 298 rushing yards, just mistake-free upset football. USF’s a 20-point favorite, but I don’t know how lopsided this will be.

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