Last season, USF paid McNeese State $400,000 to play against them in coach Willie Taggart’s opening game with the Bulls.
The lone highlight was the Bulls’ first offensive play of the game, an 80-yard touchdown run by Marcus Shaw.
From then on, the Bulls were outscored 53-14 in a humiliating loss, which set the tone for the entire season.
Now, the Bulls are driven to set the season off on the right foot.
“I’ll say right now, we’re treating this team differently than last year,” senior defensive lineman Todd Chandler said.
Sophomore safety Nate Godwin said the team is treating Western Carolina like it’s Alabama.
When Taggart is asked questions at football practices about how this team is different from last year’s catastrophe, he jokingly feigns amnesia.
“Last season? I don’t even remember last season,” he would say.
Taggart’s mission isn’t to have the Bulls forget about McNeese State, but to focus on the task at hand: Western Carolina.
“I would just say we’re playing with a mindset coach Taggart instilled in us this summer,” Chandler said. “Take no team lightly. This is our biggest game on the schedule because it’s the next one.”
While USF is paying the Catamounts to come to Raymond James Stadium just as it paid the Cowboys, this year’s supposed Week 1 fodder is an even weaker foe.
The Catamounts have won four games over the past three seasons. Earlier this week, the school’s athletic director handed out four suspensions to add on to the one already issued by the NCAA.
Of the five players suspended, one is the Catamounts’ leading receiver from this past season and another is a sophomore defensive back that started every game last season.
Western Carolina comes into Saturday’s game with a decimated roster while the Bulls will only be missing defensive back Jalen Spencer, who is recovering from last season’s shoulder injury.
Starting the season off with a win wouldn’t only be helpful for the confidence of USF, but it would help the Bulls on their plan to win fans back.
“I always tell the younger guys how it was my freshman year coming in, having the student section packed and having the lower section packed, cheering us on,” Chandler said. “We want to make it very uncomfortable for teams to come in and play football with us.”