Willie Taggart and Expectations

One of the greatest annual traditions in college football is the flood of fan record predictions for the upcoming season that begin before the paint dries on the prior season. After going through an ugly divorce with Jimbo Fisher, many FSU fans are chomping at the bit to predict a successful 2018 season with new head coach Willie Taggart at the helm. I’ve seen hundreds of predictions on social media already and the most common seem to be in the neighborhood of 9-3 or 10-2 with the upside being there for an outside shot at 11-1 or better. On the surface, 10-2 is a reasonable possibility for next year but Willie Taggart is in uncharted waters for almost any program, which isn’t a bad thing. According to’s 2017 College Football Team Talent Composite Ranking Willie Taggart is taking over the fifth most talented roster in the country with an average rating of 90.94. Much has been made of FSU’s recruiting struggles in the 2018 class but as I am writing this piece, prior to 4* WR Warren Thompson’s commitment on Wednesday afternoon, FSU has a 14 man class with an average rating of 91.50. Assuming FSU has a good close, and it looks like it will, it is almost a certainty that FSU will have a top ten roster in college football next season. That roster will be comprised of recruiting classes that ranked 3rd, 3rd, 6th in the nation in addition to wherever FSU finishes this year, which should be somewhere between eight and fourteen.

We’ve established that Willie Taggart is in a unique situation at FSU where he has the privilege of taking over one of the most talented rosters in the country. The one situation in recent history the mirrors the current situation at FSU is what happened in Gainesville when Urban Meyer left UF in late 2010. The parallels are uncanny. Urban Meyer had won a National Title(s) at UF like Jimbo Fisher did at Florida State. Both of them also left following seasons which were uncharacteristically bad for them, a 7-6 team for Fisher and an 8-5 team for Meyer. In addition, both coaches left behind talented rosters for their successors. As previously mentioned, Fisher’s last three recruiting classes at FSU ranked 3rd, 3rd, and 6th nationally. Meyer’s last three full classes at Florida ranked 5th, 7th, and 1st nationally. When Will Muschamp was hired in December of 2010 he was able to hold onto to several of Urban Meyer’s key commits and inked the number 11 class in the nation for 2011, which is very similar to where it looks like Willie Taggart is going to finish in his first recruiting cycle at FSU.

Obviously, Taggart and Muschamp aren’t very similar as coaches. Muschamp took a more traditional approach to obtaining a big-time college football head coaching position by working as defensive coordinator for Nick Saban as well as serving as in the same capacity for Mack Brown at Texas. On the other hand, Taggart took the road less traveled by progressing through the ranks as a head coach at smaller programs such as Western Kentucky and USF and parlaying his success at turning around those struggling programs through his offensive coaching to a job at Oregon before jumping to Florida State. In fact, Muschamp and Taggart are about as different as two coaches taking over such similar situations can be.

In his first season at UF, even with such a talented roster, Muschamp went 7-6 but followed it up by going 11-2 the next year, only a tight loss to Georgia away from going undefeated and making the National Title game. The moral of the story in this situation is that FSU fans should lower their expectations slightly for next year and be a tad more realistic. Yes, the roster is very talented but there is a lot of turnover that occurs within a program after a coaching change. This can lead to some growing pains in the first year of the new regime. FSU plays a tough schedule in 2018 with a grueling run down the stretch that includes games against Clemson and road games at Notre Dame and Miami. If Taggart and FSU go 8-4 in 2018 it isn’t the end of the world. That being said, if that occurs, there should be expectation for marked improvement the following season.

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