Numbers tell real story of Bulls’ 2014 season

Mike White (left) and Steven Bench were two of the three quarterbacks coach Willie Taggart started this season. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

USF will spend the offseason trying to regroup and figure out what it needs to do to be somewhat competitive in the AAC in 2015.

With three conference wins, the Bulls improved last year’s conference record of 2-6 by just a single game. 

Friday’s 16-0 loss to UCF was a good indicator that the Bulls still have a long road ahead of them on the way back to

Last year, USF went to Brighthouse Stadium in Orlando with a 2-8 overall record, taking on No. 17 UCF and future first round pick Blake Bortles. The Bulls played the game close, nearly stealing the game in a 23-20 loss. 

This season was a very different story. From start to finish, the Knights eliminated any chance of a USF win. Even against this weaker team with a brand new quarterback, a team that went from winning a BCS bowl last year to ending this season 8-4, the Bulls couldn’t muster up any kind of offense.

“We got better from last year,” senior wide receiver Andre Davis said Friday after the game. “Last year with two wins, this year with more than two wins. It’s definitely on a good track.”

However, such optimism may be undeserved. A 4-8 record doesn’t necessarily represent anything better than the 2-10 season the Bulls turned in last year.

USF doubled its win total, yet the team didn’t make major statistical progress from last season. The Bulls played one less ranked opponent this year than last, had a much easier conference schedule and played underperforming teams such as UConn and SMU, whose combined record includes only two wins.

 The Bulls still managed to only beat Division-II Western Carolina and three AAC teams that have a combined record of 4-29 by an average of four points. USF is back at the bottom yet again in 2014.

Despite starting sophomore quarterback Mike White at the beginning of the season, coach Willie Taggart once again began another round of his quarterback carousel when he started junior Steven Bench against Houston in Week 9. Taggart had given both Bench and freshman Quinton Flowers a shot at the starting role by the season’s end. 

The trio failed to produce, with a combined completion average of 49 percent. On top of that, their touchdown total matched their interception total of 11, which is not a recipe for success. The switch was one that affected everyone on both sides of the ball, with no clear leader on the team. Each week the biggest question on anyone’s mind was which quarterback Taggart would start. 

“There are a lot of issues with our football team,” Taggart said after Friday’s loss. “We’re making those steps, but we’re not making those steps to everybody’s expectations.”

Without establishing a consistent quarterback, the Bulls turned to their run game for dire offensive support. Freshman running back Marlon Mack surged out of the gate as the frontrunner, finishing the season with 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns.

Even with this young talent, USF still averaged fewer than 16 points a game. Not to mention, the Bulls ranked 120 out of 128 FBS teams in total offense. To put the Bulls’ performance this season into perspective, all of the FBS teams they beat this season ranked below the Bulls in total offense at 123 (Tulane, 2-9), 126 (Connecticut, 2-9) and dead last (SMU, 0-11). 

What doomed the Bulls this season was their defensive unit’s regression as the season went on and its inability to make up for the offense’s lack of production.  The defense gave up 324 total points on the season, ranking 68th in the country. 

At the start of the season, USF was ranked as one of the best defensive groups in the nation. Four weeks through the season, USF was tied for the most turnovers forced. However, poor tackling and lack of pass coverage led to a downward spiral in the latter part of the year. 

Looking at USF’s play from a statistical standpoint, it’s easy to see no improvement has been made. 

Total offense went from 123rd overall to 120th and defense from 74th to 68th. The win total doubled, but this team still failed to qualify for a bowl game and also couldn’t even manage a .500 record in conference play.

The days when USF went to six straight bowl games and the thought of UCF beating the Bulls was more of a joke than a prediction are long gone. 

When it comes down to it, the Bulls aren’t improving quickly enough and need to find a way to win before they’re shut out of the national spotlight for good.