Enough talk, USF football’s turnaround must start against Syracuse

Coach Willie Taggart and the Bulls insist there is no heightened sense of urgency going into Saturday’s Homecoming game against Syracuse. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

As the weeks — and losses — have started piling up, the same rhetoric has flowed from coach Willie Taggart during every Tuesday morning media session:

We’ve had great practices.

We’re going to turn the corner soon.

Our mistakes will be corrected.

The time for talk is done. It’s time — as Taggart likes to put it — to “show up and show out.”

“We’re going to win — I believe that,” Taggart said earlier this week. “I believe in our coaches, I believe in our players and I believe they’re going to get it done.”

It needs to happen Saturday.

The Bulls insist there is no heightened sense of urgency going into their Homecoming date with Syracuse at Raymond James Stadium. But in reality, they should be at DEFCON 1, as their postseason aspirations get bleaker by the weekend.

“It’s urgent to get a win every week,” Taggart insisted. “It was urgent in Week 1 against FAMU and every game. Just because we’re 1-3, that doesn’t make it more urgent than what it was before. 

“All of them are urgent.”

Shielding how much the outcome of this game means is easy. Hiding the setback it would be for USF to walk off the field defeated is not.

A loss to the Orange would mean USF has to win five of its final seven games to reach bowl eligibility. In two seasons under Taggart, USF has won back-to-back games only once — Cincinnati and Connecticut in 2013. USF hasn’t reached five conference victories in 12 years.

With meetings against unbeaten Navy and Temple along with road trips to always-difficult East Carolina and UCF ahead — and knowing their recent history — it doesn’t seem likely the Bulls can endure a slate that challenging.

Also looming over the program is the fact that Taggart’s future might be teetering on the outcome of this final stretch, too.

The general consensus going into this season was that Taggart, 7-21 overall at USF, needed to reach a bowl game in order to save his job. A 1-4 record, however, might be enough to force athletic director Mark Harlan to pull the plug before then.

But everything sets the Bulls up well going into Saturday. 

They’re favored against a Division I-A opponent for the first time in a year. Their defense is coming off a stellar performance in which it held Memphis to 24 points — well below its average of 47. They should have their best crowd of the season.

“We know where we’re at,” Taggart said. “We know we put ourselves here, and we know no one else is going to get us out of this, and no one else is going to feel sorry for us. 

“It’s on us.”

Positive vibes are great, but coaches and programs are judged on victories and defeats, not sound bites.

“It’s just staying together and just keep fighting, because we’re close, we’re getting better each and every game,” junior running back Darius Tice said. “So, if we just stay together and listen to whatever Coach Taggart calls and whatever our coaches do, we should be OK.”

How about trying this on for size: just win.

Syracuse (3-1) at USF (1-3)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Raymond James Stadium

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network, 820-AM