- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Willie Taggart has heard enough about how South Florida was once ranked No. 2 in the country.

The way the second-year coach sees it: If he’s going to succeed in turning the school’s struggling football team around, the Bulls will have to achieve something they couldn’t while establishing themselves as one of the fastest growing programs in the country - win a conference championship.

“I think that’s very important in order for us to get where we want to go,” Taggart said, looking ahead to Friday night’s American Athletic Conference opener against another rebuilding team, Connecticut.

“You hear a lot about No. 2, No. 2, No. 2. That’s not fair to our guys right now to compare them to No. 2. We’re not that team right now,” the coach added. “We’re trying to build that foundation and get it back to that.”

USF (1-2) launched its program from scratch less than 20 years ago and soared as high as second in the Top 25 and Bowl Championship Series standings midway through the 2007 season.

The Bulls, who left Conference USA for the Big East in 2005, have been in decline ever since.

Despite being off to another slow start that includes losses to Maryland and North Carolina State, Taggart is optimistic about his young team’s prospects in a “very competitive” AAC that has a different look following the departure of Louisville to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers to the Big Ten.

“Any one of these teams can win any given game,” the USF coach said.

The Bulls started 2-0 in league play a year ago, including a 13-10 victory over UConn, before closing their first season under Taggart on a six-game conference losing streak.

“Our football team is still fragile. … We need to continue to find as much success as we can and be as positive as we can, keep going in that direction,” Taggart said.

It’s a direction UConn also wants to go under first-year coach Bob Diaco. The Huskies (1-2) have sandwiched lopsided losses to BYU and Boise State around a narrow victory over Stony Brook.

While this season largely is about changing the culture of UConn’s program, the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator and assistant head coach said it is essential players also recognize the importance of conference games in establishing an identity.

“This whole year is building. We can’t do anything to compromise our development. We can’t do anything to compromise our ability to get better,” Diaco said.

“We need to get batter as a team every week. We need to get better as a team at the end of the season,” Diaco added. “That has to happen. That will happen.”


Things to watch as the Huskies and Bulls try to set a tone for the rest of the season:

NAILBITERS: The past seven meetings between the teams have been decided by seven or fewer points. USF didn’t have an offensive TD in last year’s victory, scoring on a fumble return and two field goals.

FIXING MISTAKES: UConn had three turnovers and yielded eight sacks during last week’s 38-21 loss to Boise State. USF was limited to 159 yards total offense in a 49-17 loss to N.C. State, a team that had struggled to beat Georgia Southern and Old Dominion the previous two weeks.

STREAKING: UConn receiver Geremy Davis has a reception in 29 consecutive games.

THE OTHER DAVIS: USF’s Andre Davis is on pace become the Bulls’ career leader in several receiving categories, however he’s been sidelined since the first half of the season opener against Western Carolina with a bruised sternum.

SEEKING IMPROVEMENT: Taggart is looking for improved play from sophomore quarterback Mike White, whose 75-yard TD pass to Ryeshene Bronson pulled the Bulls into a brief 7-7 tie last week. N.C. State scored the next 42 points and wound up outgaining USF 589 yards to 159.

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