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USF showing progress in WIllie Taggart's third year

The USF Bulls football season has been off to a surprising start despite opening the season 1-2. USF have played tough against good competition such as Florida State and Maryland.

Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

The USF Bulls may have a 1-2 record going into their bye week, but the real story of the Bulls' season so far is how good they've managed to look during the first half of games against Power 5 competition.

USF went into the half tied 7-7 against 11th ranked Florida State in Tallahassee before the defense gave up 17 unanswered points and the Bulls eventually lost 34-14 but the good signs of progression far outweighed the bad following the first loss of the season.

The Bulls' defense held Everett Golson to 163 yards passing and a QBR of 17.9. USF's defense did fail to contain FSU running back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for a career high 266 yards and three touchdowns for the game, but Cook could be one of the players heading to New York this December for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony.

Marlon Mack has looked good early in the season and it appears there will be no sophomore slump for the Bulls' leading rusher. He's gone for 285 yards on the ground on 54 carries while averaging 5.4 a carry. Mack rushed for 83 yards against a tough FSU defense and then 71 the following week against Maryland. While he didn't break 100 yards in either game it is still impressive for him to put up consistent numbers especially considering his team is always down late in the game.

Quinton Flowers has struggled at times this season, with on at least one occasion Willie Taggart pulling him for Steven Bench in the middle of a comeback attempt. The sophomore signal caller has gone 34-59 for 326 yards passing and five touchdowns to three interceptions. He'll have to limit the turnovers moving forward if the Bulls expect to make it to a bowl game with Flowers as their quarterback.

Defense could be the saving grace for USF as the unit ranks 57th overall, 65th in passing defense and 48th in rushing defense.

USF starts American Athletic Conference play with everything to gain but it won't be easy as the Bulls' schedule puts them up against all three co-champions (Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF) from last season and newcomers Navy.

The surprising thing about USF's season through three weeks is that the team isn't awful. The goal for the Bulls this season should be 6-6 and a bowl appearance. For a team that has gone 6-18 in Willie Taggart's first two years, and haven't played in a bowl game since 2010, that wouldn't be all that bad.

Being 1-2 going into Week 4 isn't the worst place the Bulls could be, all USF fans need to do is look down I-4 to see a UCF team that is 0-3 and lost their game against FCS opponent Furman.

The Bulls will open up conference play on Friday, Oct. 2 against defending co-champion Memphis. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST with the game being televised on ESPN2.