USF’s Taggart shrugs off bowl projections, keeps focus on SMU

GOOD TO GO?: Tailback Marlon Mack (strained hamstring) did not practice Sunday, but coach Willie Taggart said Monday he should be ready for Saturday’s game. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

If USF can continue its winning ways for the next six games, it will certainly find something more than another invitation to an offseason golf outing in its stocking come December. 

It might be punching its ticket to the postseason, instead.

In’s latest bowl projections, longtime college football analyst Mark Schlabach has the Bulls (3-3, 1-1) bound for Tropicana Field on Dec. 26 against Middle Tennessee State of Conference USA in the St. Petersburg Bowl. 

For USF, which has not made a bowl game appearance since defeating Clemson in the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl, it’s the first time the team has been included in any kind of postseason conversation since early last season. The Bulls upset Syracuse on Oct. 10 and followed up with a victory Saturday at Connecticut to give them their first two-game winning streak in as many years.

Though grateful for the national attention, coach Willie Taggart isn’t getting caught up in the hype. With difficult games still on the docket against No. 22 Temple, Navy and Cincinnati, among others, it’s easy to understand why.

“We’re just focusing on the next game,” Taggart said during the weekly AAC coaches teleconference Monday. “We constantly talk about going 1-0 in the next game, and if we can continue to do that, then all the other things will take care of themselves.”

If USF can win three more games to reach bowl eligibility, the Bulls will most likely find themselves within the friendly confines of the Sunshine State. The AAC has a spot in four postseason games around Florida, including the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park and the AutoNation Cure Bowl at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl Stadium.

The Bulls played in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl — then called the magicJack Bowl — in 2009, defeating Memphis 41-14.

But Taggart knows his team cannot afford to look ahead.

“We have our goals and we set those at the beginning and they’re not going to change,” Taggart said. “We feel like we have our own destiny in our own hands and it’s on us to take care of business, and the only way to do that is to take it one game at a time.

“We’ll leave all the bowl talk to everybody else and make sure we’re focusing on USF and what we have to do.”