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July 6, 2014

Better know your foe: USF

The Wisconsin Badgers will take on the USF Bulls on Sept. 27 at Camp Randall Stadium, so it's time to learn a little bit more about them- along with a coach the Badgers could have hired to replace Bret Bielema.

It wasn't an easy first season in Tampa for Willie Taggart, who took over a program in serious need of a rebuild shortly after he reportedly interviewed for Wisconsin's head coaching job. South Florida limped to a 2-10 finish, but was still able to Taggart reel in the AAC's top-rated recruiting class.

Will Taggart turn things around at USF as quickly as he did as Western Kentucky? Only time will tell, but we'll be able to see the early returns in games against FBS teams like Maryland, N.C. State and Connecticut.

Recruiting Footprint

Well, what did you expect? The Bulls are located in one of the most talent-rich parts of the country, and they know it. When the state of Florida churns out Division I players year in and year out there's really no reason for USF to look beyond their backyard.

Of the teams we've looked at so far the Bulls have the highest recruiting success rate in Florida, which is probably to be expected. From 2011 to 2014 they received commitment from 12.9 percent of the Florida prospects they offered (525 total over that four-year span).

And while that might not seem like a lot, it still allowed them to sign 23 Florida natives last year, including two four-star prospects. The long story short is that there's a lot of talent to go around in Florida.

There really isn't a whole lot else to look at as far as USF's recruiting footprint goes. Georgia is a distant second as far as total offers go, and there's another sizeable gap between Georgia and the other states I highlighted. USF has dipped into Kansas largely to go after some JUCO prospects, and even a school from Florida would be crazy not to have some connections in California.

Alabama just missed the threshold on the map, but USF has had more success there recently than they've had in New Jersey. We'll see if Willie Taggart redirects some of his staff's efforts towards the rest of the south in the future.

Team Schemes

Remember when Willie Taggart's name was being kicked around as a potential replacement for Bret Bielema? He ended up taking the open job at South Florida before the Badgers ended up hiring Gary Andersen, and things on the football field in Tampa pretty much went downhill from there.

The Bulls finished 2-10 in Taggart's first season with the team, with wins coming over Cincinnati and on the road against Connecticut. But those brief bright spots were overshadowed by losing streaks that bookended the season. The Bulls started out 0-4 with a 53-21 loss at home to FCS McNeese State in their first game, and they finished the season with six straight losses by an average of 15 points per game.

USF's defense held its own at times, but the offense kept the Bulls from competing in most games. USF finished the season ranked No. 118 in Football Outsider's S&P+ metric, in large part because the Bulls' offense was terrible across the board. They struggled on standard downs and passing downs, as well as when they ran the ball and when they chose to pass.

You can chalk a lot of that up to USF adjusting to Taggart's ground-and-pound offense, on top of returning just five starters from the previous season. The bright side is that Taggart was able to play a lot of underclassmen: the Bulls return 10 offensive starters this year, including most of their offensive line and quarterback Mike White.

White wasn't great as a freshman, but it would be hard for him and the rest of USF's offense to not take at least a small step forward in their second year together. White completed 53.1 percent of his passes and had a 3-to-9 touchdown to interception ratio in six games' worth of action. It will be interesting to see if getting early playing time sped up his development, assuming he keeps his starting job this fall.

The problem for USF is that while their offense is almost bound to get better because it would be hard to get much worse, their defense is likely in for some regression. The Bulls return five starters for last year's unit and are going to start using a 3-4 front more often to offset last year's losses.

USF defended the pass better than the run last year, but they're also expected to bring back just one starter from last year's secondary, now that starting cornerback Kenneth Durden has decided to transfer to Youngstown State five months after his arrest for felony marijuana possession.

USF could get a boost from the talented defensive players Taggart was able to recruit in his first year on campus, but in the end this looks more like a team that will start to show real signs of progress in 2015 or 2016.

John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.

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