Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE
Willie Taggart is a very good coach and he's going to be a good thing for USF. But how good can his teams be in this situation?
I like Willie Taggart a lot. He's a very good coach, he really wants to be here, and he has the exact personality I think a USF coach needs to have. He's going to be a shot in the arm for the players on the roster, the student body, the high school football system in the area, the fans, and everyone else around the program. He's going to be a great face for USF football.
Still, I can't help but wonder if he's the best football fit for USF. We know Taggart is straight out of the Jim Harbaugh school -- he wants to run the ball and own the line of scrimmage on offense. But in order to do that, you have to be able to recruit on the offensive line, and that's an area that is not so easy for a school like USF to find quality players. With Taggart coming in, it means that the top five schools in Florida will all run some variation of a pro-style offense. Florida is rich with skill position talent, like backs and receivers, and the defensive back seven. It's not so rich with offensive linemen, though. If everyone's after the same limited quantity (and by everyone I mean the schools in Florida and everyone else who recruits the state), then there won't be enough really good ones to go around.
People point to Taggart's roster at Western Kentucky, which was dotted with kids from Florida, and talk about his extensive recruiting connects in the state. And all that is true, but many of the Florida players he recruited are at skill positions. Of the 13 offensive linemen on the WKU roster, only four of them are from Florida. Three of them are the smallest three linemen the Hilltoppers had, and only one of them was a starter.
Bud Elliott, SB Nation's recruiting writer and the manager of Tomahawk Nation, came to us last offseason with the theory that USF should try a Moneyball-type approach and cater their playing style to match the talent available to them. There's an inefficiency in the market for skill players in Florida, and it leads to a lot of them leaving the state. That theory made a lot of sense to me, and that's why I was in favor of guys like Sonny Dykes or Chad Morris when the USF job came open. Aside from the system selling itself, it would be easy to find the players you would need to get an offense like theirs up and running. (And also it would be a lot of fun to blog about, but that's beside the point.) Lining up in the I-formation and hammering the ball down the other team's throat, the way Taggart wants to do... well, that might be harder.
Will USF's defense get better? Absolutely. Will the team as a whole get better? I think so. What worries me is that Taggart will only be able to do so well because of the recruiting challenges. I'm concerned he may get to a certain level, like making a bowl every year, and then plateau. Going 8-4 every year isn't the worst thing in the world. But it may be hard to surpass that unless Taggart and his staff can find some diamonds in the rough, or unless they're even better recruiters than we think.