Kevin C. Cox
Looking back on a very eventful year for USF athletics.
1. USF is getting left behind in conference realignment and no one cares. This really dwarfs all other stories from 2012 because of its catastrophic long-term effect. At the start of the year, USF still had a decent position in the college football landscape, with their conference fortified with new members and a clear position as the best conference outside the major leagues. Even as recently as two months ago, things were looking good. An automatic bid to an access bowl, while not guaranteed like it had been, was virtually guaranteed to the league's champion as long as they took care of business. And then it all completely went to crap. Rutgers left, Louisville left, the moron Catholic basketball schools decided to break away, UConn and Cincinnati staked their places in line as the next two to leave (as soon as someone invites them), and Boise State contemplated whether it was worth leaving the Mountain West after all. (UPDATE: Boise State has officially announced its intention to remain in the Mountain West.)
There's now a good chance USF ends up being the only former BCS school who doesn't have a seat at the new table. Even worse, no one seems to care about their plight, and a lot of USF fans, instead of lighting a white-hot fire under the seats of Doug Woolard and Judy Genshaft and demanding immediate and sweeping changes, seem resigned to their school's fate. They've both been here since 2004, and this is all they could do? No excuses, they screwed up big time and the effects of that screwup (lost TV money, lost ticket revenue, lost national attention, and lost relevance in college athletics) will be felt for years and years. And unless Florida State gets out of the ACC or Willie Taggart builds a program in like two years, they may never recover.
2. Men's basketball breaks a 20-year NCAA Tournament drought and wins two postseason games. This could well have been the most improbable achievement in USF athletic history. A team that only won 10 games the year before, turning it around behind their unflappable freshman point guard and a tenacious defense, going 20-13, winning 12 conference games, then getting an invitation to the dance and knocking off California and Temple to reach the round of 32.
Even better, the NCAA run set the table for a potentially stable long-term program, something that hasn't happened in eons. Although this year will likely be a step back on the court, the Bulls bring in their best recruiting class ever in 2013, one that should keep them very competitive in whatever conference they end up playing in.
3. Skip Holtz's football team implodes. Even in what turned out to be their best win of the season, at Nevada, you could see the warning signs. Lousy defense and terrible coaching decisions ended up being the hallmarks of this team. They blew close game after close game because of both of those problems, and then after B.J. Daniels broke his ankle against UConn, the whole team unraveled. Ugly blowout losses to Miami, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh were all marked by disgraceful game management by Holtz, who was fired the day after the season ended. Their 3-9 record was the worst season in school history, and it put a serious dent in the faith USF fans had always had that things would turn out OK.
4. Willie Taggart is brought in to save the program. Doug Woolard screws up a lot of things (OK, almost everything), but one thing he can do well is hire coaches. Although the results weren't there, Holtz was considered a good hire under the circumstances back in 2010. This time, Woolard was able to jump into the coaching carousel on time and lured local product Willie Taggart away from Western Kentucky. Taggart, a star at Bradenton Manatee High School and at WKU, took the USF job on December 7, and immediately hit the ground running. A string of commitments to USF's 2013 recruiting class followed, including flipping Freedom HS cornerback Nate Godwin from Minnesota. Taggart has momentum on the recruiting trail -- now he'll have to translate that into momentum on the field, for everyone's sake.
5. Softball reaches the Women's College World Series. Ken Eriksen has had powerhouses during his long tenure at USF, but the 2012 team was the first one to reach college softball's biggest stage. Behind the spectacular one-two pitching combo of bosses Sara Nevins and Lindsey Richardson, and fantastic defense and leadership from senior transfer Jessica Mouse, the Bulls raced out to a 39-5 start, including a 19-game winning streak, then regrouped after a brief slump and won the Gainesville Regional without dropping a game. Then they won a thrilling Super Regional against Hofstra to earn the program's first trip to Oklahoma City. Although their season ended at the WCWS with losses to Oklahoma and LSU, the Bulls notched a 50-win season and bring back most of their key contributors, including their entire pitching staff, to make another run in 2013.