Bulls amped up for opener against Tigers

Coach Willie Taggart aims to win an AAC championship following his first winning season as head coach of USF in 2015. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

With game week finally having arrived, excitement is in the air at the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex. 

As hyped up as the USF football team is for arguably one of its most important seasons, the bitter taste of the Bulls’ loss to Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl has remained fresh on their minds. 

“I think they still have a chip on their shoulder, they’re ticked off about the loss last year,” coach Willie Taggart said. “That bothered them throughout the whole offseason. They were ticked off about not playing in the conference championship game. We all know that those things are on us. If we would have taken care of our business, we wouldn’t have had those issues. 

“So, our guys are highly motivated to go out there and leave no doubt this year and get it done. We embrace the expectations and it’s funny because everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh, how do you handle this team with these expectations?’ But this is how we’ve been since day one, this is all we’ve always talked about, but we haven’t reached it yet and haven’t accomplished those things, but those have been our goals since day one and it’s pretty cool that everyone else is starting to believe in that.”

With another opportunity to reach that goal four years in the making, the Bulls are letting their excitement show in practice. 

“I can sense that with a lot of our guys who haven’t played in a while, you sense it in practice where they’re running around in practice, ‘Hey relax a little bit, buddy. Save some of it for Saturday,’ Taggart said. “But you want them to be sharp and patient and play within the scheme.”

Under Taggart the Bulls have lost only one season opener, when USF lost 53-21 to FCS McNeese State in his first season as head coach. 

In 2015, Towson went 7-4, losing 28-20 to East Carolina in its only game against an FBS opponent that season. 

The Tigers return 5-foot-8, 217-pound senior running back Darius Victor, who rushed for 1,021 yards over 11 games in 2015, but graduated starting quarterback Connor Frazier. 

At the helm for Towson entering 2016 is Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound redshirt-sophomore 

Despite not playing in his two years at Oregon, Mahalak was named a First Team All-State quarterback by the San Fransisco Chronicle after a 38-touchdown senior season. 

“We went back and kinda watched his high school film,” junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “He was a four-star recruit, he went to Oregon for a reason. He’s a good player, athletic. We know of him because of his high school film, we haven’t seen him in college.” 

Even though the Bulls’ defense might not know what to expect of Mahalak on Saturday, Taggart said he doesn’t see the Tigers straying much from their typical power-style. 

“You watch the high school film and that’s probably all you can go off of,” Taggart said. “You can hear what a coach has to say, but he hasn’t been at Oregon for over a year now. He’s at Towson  and I don’t think they’re just going to change their entire offense when a guy just got there in training camp.”

USF opens its regular season when it hosts Towson on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.