TT: South Florida, nearly a 30-point favorite at home, narrowly slinked past Western Carolina to start the year. A win is a win, but how concerned are you?
RS: That was definitely a concerning game, but when you add in that USF lost to an FCS team by 32 points last season, winning by 5 doesn't seem nearly as bad. Irrational preseason optimism aside, this team looks to be about where they should logically be after last season, which is to say that they still have a ton of work to do.
TT: How do you feel about the job Willie Taggart has done as head coach over the past year or so, and are you satisfied with the Bulls' direction?
RS: When Taggart took over last season, Skip Holtz had pretty much landed the program in a ditch and laughed his way to the bank (also Louisiana Tech, because for some reason they hired him?). Taggart's already built a decent program from the ground up at Western Kentucky, and he went about fixing USF the same way-- by burning the roster to the ground and starting his own recruits basically anywhere he could. As a result, the Bulls were ridiculously young and ridiculously bad last season, but Taggart aced the next step in the rebuild by landing the top recruiting class in the AAC. This season's team is even younger, but in theory they're a lot more talented and should improve as the year goes on, so the jury's out on Taggart until we can more accurately see what these young guys have got.
TT: Freshman running back Marlon Mack ran all over the place last week, accruing 200-plus yards and scoring four times. How do you expect him to fare against a pretty tough Maryland front seven?
RS: Mack looked fantastic, but he's a true freshman playing in just his second college game, so he can't really be counted on to win games singlehandedly for us. I think his success against Maryland will depend more on USF's ability to get something respectable going in the passing game. If they can't, I imagine the Terps will stack the box all day and Mack will have trouble getting going.
TT: You've mentioned to me that Mack looked like a virtual one-man show in his debut, but do the Bulls have any other offensive threats Maryland should excessively worry about?
RS: Uhhh ... maybe? Andre Davis is a game-changer at receiver, but he's day-to-day after getting banged up last week. Taggart also likes to use his tight ends a lot, and he's got a good one-two punch there in Sean Price and Mike McFarland. Of course, none of this matters if the QB can't get them the ball, and Mike White showed flashes as a freshman last season but was really poor in the opener. Other than that... well, we have a really good kicker. Does that count?
TT: They didn't show it against James Madison, but the Terps' passing game figures to be quite good, with a veteran QB in C.J. Brown and a couple of blue-chip wideouts. Does USF have the scheme or the secondary athletes to keep Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and company under control?
RS: There are definitely athletes in the secondary, but they're either really young or really inexperienced (our starting corner, for instance is a former five-star receiver. Make of that what you will.) and got absolutely chewed up by Western Carolina's short passing game last week. I get very, very scared thinking of what Maryland's wide receivers could do to this defense. I think USF's got the horses, but they still look tentative in their new 3-4 scheme and could get absolutely toasted if they don't shore up the issues we saw on Saturday.
TT: What's your prediction on Saturday's result?
RS: I wish I could say that I see USF hanging around in this one, but I don't. Maryland just looks like too complete and multifaceted of a squad too early in the season for such a young team. That said, I think this will be a good litmus test to see just how far the Bulls have come since last season, and I'm cautiously optimistic that they can put up a bit of a fight before probably losing by double digits.