*Update 5/27/16: In light of recent events at Baylor, it should be noted that this article simply examines nothing more than the on the field similarities between South Florida and Baylor.
This past Monday, it was reported by Josh Newberg of 247 Sports and Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune that South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, along with new QB coach Shaun King, and new WR coach T.J. Weist were traveling to Baylor this week to study and learn spread concepts that they can bring back to Tampa.
And why not? As has been mentioned several times before, Taggart and staff saw great success last year by completely overhauling their scheme to an up-tempo, spread style that led to the Bulls offense exploding down the stretch of the season. It's logical to switch to a style like the Gulf Coast when you have a quarterback in Quinton Flowers who can make quick decisions in zone-read, a stable of play-making running backs, and receivers who can burn defenders in space. It makes all the sense in the world to fine tune said system through taking notes directly from a guy who's innovated the Big 12 and college football over the past five seasons like Art Briles.
Look at the similarities Baylor and South Florida shared in rush offense in 2015:
|2015 Rushing Stats||Yards Per Play||Rushing Play Pct.||Yards Per Rush||Rushes Per Game||Rushing Yards per Game|
|Baylor||7.1 (3rd)||64.45% (12th)||5.8 (4th)||54.8 (4th)||319.6 (3rd)|
|South Florida||6.2 (25th)||65.24% (9th)||5.4 (11th)||45.7 (19th)||245 (9th)|
While coaches learning concepts from their contemporaries is something that has been done numerous times before, it got me thinking that South Florida shares similarities to Baylor not only in terms of schematics, but also in terms of access to a plethora of talented in-state recruits, and state/region wide perceptions. A key stated goal during Willie Taggart's run in Tampa has been to not only win on the field but to establish an identity for the program and following what Briles has done at Baylor since 2008 could be the right approach.
Green and Gold Similarities
Similar to Taggart, the Texas born Briles arrived to Waco in 2008 to turn around a dead in the water Baylor program that hadn't seen a winning season since 1995. The only success the Bears saw on the field was in NCAA Football on PS3 when I played with them in Dynasty Mode one summer (we crushed the Big 12).
Also similar to Taggart is recruiting philosophy. Keying in on mostly three and four star kids within the talent-laden state of Texas, Briles, a Mike Leach disciple at Texas Tech, identified the players needed to run an offense that a few short seasons later would boat race Big 12 opponents and produce a Heisman trophy winner.
The pattern of both coaches follows similarly in their first three seasons in terms of results, caliber of players being brought in, and emphasis on key local recruits being convinced to stay home.
|Three-Year Results||Record||S&P+ Ranking||Recruiting Rankings (247)||Average Recruit Rating||Pct. of In-State Recruits|
|Briles Year One||4-8||42||52||81.44||96%|
|Taggart Year One||2-10||103||41||84.22||85%|
|Briles Year Two||4-8||55||40||82.81||83%|
|Taggart Year Two||4-8||115||69||83.07||95%|
|Briles Year Three||7-6||52||46||80.43||92%|
|Taggart Year Three||8-5||50||63||84.07||
In his first three seasons at the helm, Briles was able to elevate Baylor from near the bottom of college football S&P+ wise to the top 50's while maintaining a consistent pace for recruiting mostly three-star players from Texas. Like, South Florida under Taggart, the Bears found themselves in the cellar of the Big 12 for the first two seasons under a new regime. However, fortunes finally started to pay off in 2010 when Baylor went 7-6, beat Texas for the first time in the Mack Brown era, and achieved their first bowl season since 1994.
What may excite Bulls fans is that things really start to escalate in year four, as was the case with Briles and then offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery in 2011. With the triple-threat attack of Robert Griffin III,Terrance Ganaway, and Kendall Wright, the Bears zoomed to a 10-3 record, averaging 45.3 points per game and sealing the Heisman trophy for Griffin. This season set the stage for Baylor's identity as for what I like to call the "video game numbers" offense and to be in the yearly conversation of College Football Playoff contenders. (SB Nation's Ian Boyd did a great job of breaking down the "Art" of this offense a few years back.) This establishment of an identity for a previously dormant program created a higher national profile, a new $250 million stadium, access to recruits like Corey Coleman and Shawn Oakman and the rest as they say is history. If you are Willie Taggart, you should be using that as the benchmark for what could be accomplished in Tampa.
Now back to Taggart at USF. While the Bulls in their Group of Five status aren't in a position to have an inside track to the CFP like Baylor, they are at a critical juncture with their still relatively young program to establish an identity and develop a system of success that can sustain itself if and when Taggart and staff leave.
We have seen several G5 programs shine bright for a season or two only to flame out after either their coach leaves or there is some form of shake up in the administration. Programs with a consistent history of success like Boise State, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State know exactly who they are, what type of schematics will bring them the most success, and what type of players they will bring in from their available talent pool.
Taggart for his entire career has taken after his close friends and mentors in the Harbaugh family, who he both played and coached. Maybe emulating another green and gold program in Waco, Texas wouldn't be a bad idea as USF looks to cement themselves into the upper echelon of the G5 (and possibly a power conference) moving forward.