South Florida is 1-3 in 2015 and 7-21 in two-plus seasons under coach Willie Taggart.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — South Florida’s Willie Taggart rejects the notion that beating Syracuse would give the struggling Bulls the type of victory needed to prove they’re headed in the right direction under the third-year coach.
Sure, the Orange (3-1) are off to a promising start and are members of a Power Five conference, however Taggart said that’s not the only reason winning Saturday would be significant.
"I think one win right now can change a lot for our football team," Taggart said.
"It would be great to beat a Power Five football team, and Syracuse is a good football team," the coach added. "They’re not the team that they were before. They’re not 3-1 for (no) reason, they’re playing some good football. It’s a good challenge for our guys to go beat a good, winning football team. It gives you a lot of confidence."
It would also support Taggart’s belief that he’s on the verge of turning around a program that’s fallen on hard times since the Bulls rose as high as No. 2 in the nation in 2007.
USF (1-3) has lost three straight to Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, falling to 7-21 in two-plus seasons under the one-time Jim Harbaugh assistant. Taggart’s players say they feel a sense of urgency to win because it’s the next opportunity to stop the slide, not because they think their coach’s job is in jeopardy.
"We’re playing for each other," running back Darius Tice said, adding Taggart doesn’t make the players "feel that type of way."
"He comes out with energy and he pushes us to come out with energy each day," Tice added. "He’s a great coach, a great guy. He has our back, he’s always there for us, so we just go out and play for each other. We feel like that will take care of the rest."
Syracuse is coming off a bye following a 10-point loss to LSU and is playing on the road for the first time this season. The Orange has already matched its victory total for last season, and are not strangers to USF.
The teams played eight consecutive years from 2005 to 2012 before Syracuse moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. USF won the first five meetings, but the Orange has won two of the last three — with both victories coming in Tampa.
"’We’re going to be playing on the road for the first time and I think we’ll adjust pretty well," receiver Steve Ishmael said.
Some things to know about the Orange and Bulls:
WELCOME BACK: Freshman quarterback Eric Dungey is ready to play again after sitting against LSU two weeks ago because of a head injury. Dungey stepped in for injured senior Terrel Hunt and has been a revelation. He has a 204.03 pass efficiency rating and has completed 21 of 36 passes for 428 yards and five TDs with zero interceptions and no lost fumbles. He also has rushed for 106 yards and one score on 24 carries. Also returning to the lineup is elusive H-back Ervin Philips, who has recovered from a knee injury. Philips caught two scoring passes from Dungey before he was hurt.
RUNNIN’ BULLS: USF switched to an up tempo offense featuring spread principles, but are still a run-first team. Marlon Mack, last year’s American Athletic Conference rushing leader as a freshman, teams with Tice to give the Bulls a nice one-two punch on the ground. Quarterback Quinton Flowers has run for six TDs and run for two.
BALL SECURITY: The Orange and Bulls are among seven FBS teams that have not lost a fumble this season.
BOWL BOUND? Last year Syracuse started 2-0 and finished 3-9, failing to qualify for the postseason after having won three bowl games in the previous four seasons. The meat of the Orange’s schedule lies ahead with road games against Virginia, Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina State and Pittsburgh, Clemson and Boston College at home. A solid performance in a 34-24 loss two weeks ago to then-No. 8 LSU has injected a new dose of confidence in the Orange, who need three more victories for a chance at the postseason.
HOMECOMING STRUGGLES: USF is 9-9 all-time in homecoming games. They’ve lost the past five.