Rob Bridenstine

Rob’s Ramblings: Is anyone going to notice the USF Bulls?

The curse of a ‘Group of 5’ school is the lack of attention that your program will get as they’re looked over for recognition, until a Power Five school poaches your up-and-coming coach. USF head coach Willie Taggart would tell you that USF doesn’t expect to be given anything and that the team will earn its spot. I agree with coach Taggart, but I think it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice.

Well I’m glad to be back and writing another edition of ‘Rob’s Ramblings’ after taking last week off. Since the last edition, the Bulls have gone 9-2 —matching a program high win total— the team looks to break that record with a win over UCF going 10-2, and Quinton Flowers is starting to finally garner some national attention. However, there have been some issues that have really been grinding my gears over the past two weeks.

The case for the Bulls

In week 10 of the season, the Bulls were finally getting an opportunity to rest, heal and recuperate. They had just won their biggest game of the season against a 22nd ranked Navy team and were receiving AP votes again —after having had none the previous week due to their loss against Temple— sitting above teams like Arkansas, Wyoming and Tulsa. USF’s win over the Midshipmen knocked Navy out the top 25 and were receiving no votes, but during the Bulls’ bye week, Navy managed to squeak by an unimpressive Notre Dame team with a 28-27 win.

The win over the Fighting Irish helped Navy receive some votes and the bye week hurt USF’s standing. From that point, both USF and Navy have won two games; on the road in back-to-back road games at Memphis and SMU for USF, while Navy hosted Tulsa and traveled to ECU. Over the course of those two weeks, Navy has leapt over the Bulls in all three of the major polls (College Playoffs, AP and Coaches).

Now I’m not implying that Navy is not a good team or denying the talent that the team has, especially considering their success with the triple option. What I am implying is that the Bulls deserve to be receiving more votes.

To put this into some perspective, 13 of the ranked AP Top 25 teams for this week (week 13) are also in the top 25 for points per game average; only five of those teams average more points per game than USF. The average point difference between the top team (Louisville) and USF is less than the value of a field goal.

USF has had its chances to break into top ranks this season, but has squandered those opportunities. That doesn’t change the fact that USF has one of the most dominant offenses in college football this year and that a four loss LSU team is ranked 25th in the AP Top 25.

That’s right, a team that doesn’t have a prayer of playing in their conference championship and averages just over half of the points that USF does, but has double the amount of losses, is ranked while USF hasn’t managed to receive more than 31 votes in a single week. That means that in both the College Playoff rankings and the AP Top 25, there are teams that are ranked that you could make an argument for USF over them — Navy at 25 in the College Football Playoff Rankings and LSU at 25 in the AP Top 25.

The case for Flowers

I’ve advocated for Quinton Flowers on here before so I’m going to keep this relatively short; this guy needs to be getting more national attention. I’m going to go as far as to say that he should be considered a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. There is an argument to be made that Flowers is the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation; yes, even better than Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.

Last week, the Walter Camp Foundation announced their Player of the Year semifinalists and both Flowers and Jackson made that list. Jackson is without a doubt this year’s front runner for the prestigious award and rightfully so. Flowers, Jackson and Navy’s Will Worth are the only quarterbacks to run for over 1,000 yards coming into this week, with each of them averaging over 100 rushing yards per game.

Jackson has had one more 100-yard rushing game than Flowers, but Flowers has had at least one 200 yard rushing game whereas Jackson has not. Jackson does have more rushing yards than Flowers, but only by 94 and Flowers is actually able to pick-up more yards with his legs per attempt.

Flowers is tied for fourth in the nation in average yards per rushing attempt with 8.1 and is only one of two players in the nation that averages at least eight yards per play while also totaling over 1,000 rushing yards. Compare that to Jackson’s average of 6.5 yards and it doesn’t seem like much of difference, until you consider the fact that Jackson has run the ball 52 more times than Flowers. Something else to keep in mind though, Jackson has scored 6 more times on the ground than Flowers’ 13 rushing touchdowns.

We’ve covered the fact that these two guys are the top rushing quarterbacks in the nation, but their ability to throw the ball also stands out. If you were to just look at the numbers, you would see that Jackson stands over Flower in almost every category, but let’s go a little deeper.

Jackson has thrown for 3,109 yards this season, 710 more yards than Flowers’ 2,399, while also throwing 28 touchdown passes. That is six more than Flower’s 22 touchdown passes on the year, but both quarterbacks have only thrown six interceptions on the year.

While Jackson may have thrown 710 more yards and 6 more touchdowns than Flowers, he also threw the ball 84 more times than the USF quarterback. In fact, Flower’s completion percentage is over four points higher than Jackson’s. Not only that, but consider the fact that Flowers has thrown the ball 273 times; on average Flowers is throwing a touchdown pass around every 12 attempts, almost identical to Jackson’s average. If we’re going to look at that stat, then we also need to consider the fact that Jackson is averaging 14 passes more than Flowers without throwing an interception.

There are plenty of similarities between these two quarterbacks, and in reality, Jackson will receive more attention due to his team’s status in a Power Five conference and the toughness of his schedule, but that doesn’t change the fact that Flowers is making things happen. He may not be getting as much recognition as Bulls fans would like, but his status as a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Trophy will help pad his resume come Heisman selection time.    

The case for Taggart

It is a little harder to quantify a coach’s ability and value in a way other than wins and losses, and during a time where national championship winning coaches are being fired within the first couple weeks of the season, it’s even harder. There is no doubt that Willie Taggart is having a standout year as the head coach of the Bulls, but he probably won’t be receiving any hardware this year. After losing out to Houston’s Tom Herman and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo last year for the AAC Coach of the Year award, Taggart finds himself in a similar situation as last year.

Instead of turning the program around, like he had last year, Taggart is now trying to set USF up as a winning program for the long haul. He is standing on the verge of the program’s first ever 10 win season and the guy that is standing in his way is the person that will most likely receive the Coach of the Year honor, UCF’s Scott Frost. Frost has turned the Golden Knights around from a winless program to a bowl bound team in just one year.

While Taggart will most likely get over looked for any hardware, the fruits of his labor have shown themselves on the field over the past two seasons. He created an offensive scheme that highlights his players’ best attributes, making USF one of the most dominant offenses in the nation. You know what the most impressive thing that Taggart has been able to pull off? He can still actively recruit in Florida, one of the most poached states.

It’s no secret that the state of Florida is one of the top recruited states in the nation, but according to a study by Rukkus detailing the makeup of FBS rosters and over 13,738 players, 11.22 percent of college players come from Florida; that is the second highest percentage behind Texas. The same study showed that the average distance that college players travel to attend school is 446 miles. However, USF players travel significantly less than players attending any other university, averaging only 128 miles to attend school (Miami is over 200 miles away). This is a true testament to Taggart’s ability to compete with bigger schools in the recruiting process.

An appearance and a win in the AAC championship game would do a lot to help Taggart pick up a coach of the year trophy; but even if that doesn’t happen, don’t think that Taggart’s success is going unnoticed. While Tom Herman may be the darling of Power Five programs like LSU and possibly Texas or Texas A&M (depending on what happens to Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin), Taggart’s successful attempts at turning around two football programs in a short time and his ability to recruit in Florida will make him a target for major programs looking for their next coach.

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