If you ask USF coach Willie Taggart about the Bulls’ home matchup with No. 13 Florida State this Saturday, he’ll tell you it’s nothing more than the next game on the schedule.
He’s right to stick with preaching that philosophy in the face of USF’s most anticipated game under his command. What else could he say to his players and the media?
Acknowledging that Saturday means something special to the Bulls detracts from all the growth they’ve accomplished in the past year.
There’s also no reason to change the mindset or the mantra of a team that’s only lost twice in its past 12 games.
“It’s the next game and each game is a big week,” junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing for us this year is that it’s on to the next game and every game is the next biggest game. In years past, we would have looked at this game as ‘Yeah, this is Florida State, this is a crazy big game, and we have to get up for it.’
“But if we don’t get up for all our games this year, we would be 0-3 right now and be in these trap games as you call them.”
But no matter what Taggart or any of his players say about hosting Florida State, the opportunity this game presents is like none other the Bulls have seen under his leadership.
With a national platform on ABC at noon and a crowd anticipated to be one of the largest in program history, the stage is set for USF to reveal itself as a force in college football.
“I told the guys, ‘This is why you come to college, you want to be on the national stage, you want to play in big games and let the whole country see you,’” Taggart said. “And you’ve got a great opportunity this week. I shouldn’t have to say anything for them to be fired up this week. You’re on national TV; the entire country gets to watch you.
“If you just think about it, you don’t even have to have cable to watch this game, you just need some rabbit ears and you can watch this game. It’s big time, everyone gets to watch it.”
Forget the Seminoles losing their status as second in the country following last week’s 43-point loss at the hands of Louisville. A Bulls’ win will undoubtedly earn them a national ranking, which would be a first since 2009.
As far as the Seminoles’ motivation following a blowout goes, Taggart said the Bulls also have plenty to be fired up about.
“When we weren’t winning and things were tough, I think you’d find all those ways to try and motivate your guys to go out and try to win a ballgame. With our football team now, I don’t think we have to do those things. Our guys understand what it takes to win ballgames.
“They have to have a great week of practice, a great week of preparation and then go out and play their absolute best against this opponent to get what we want. But, we don’t need a miracle or anything like that. We need to go out and play football the way we know how to play football.”
Even if Taggart and his players somehow treat their matchup with FSU just like any other Saturday in September, the audience certainly won’t.
With aspirations of joining a Power 5 conference hanging over its head, USF will have the chance to back up everything it’s been touting to Big 12 officials in the past few months.
As far as football goes, it may just be another game. But when it comes to opportunity, this is USF’s biggest chance to show the nation its best days of football aren’t behind it.
For the Big 12 and fans alike, Saturday represents a litmus test of sorts.
The Bulls will show how they handle the pressure of facing a major college football power on national TV. They’ll show if they can draw a Big 12-worthy crowd.
Most importantly, the Bulls will prove whether or not what they’ve been building is an entertaining product that can captivate the attention of the nation.
For one Saturday, USF has the stage.
“It’s a great opportunity to go out and show the progress we’ve been making,” Taggart said. “I’m sure people have probably heard about it and have been cheering us on from afar, but now they get a chance to see it for themselves on national TV.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys to go out there and put on a show, show everyone what they’re capable of doing against a very talented football team. It’s big time.”