Marquel Blackwell, QB/1999-2002
You were expecting someone else, maybe? Not a chance. When it was time to decide who was the greatest player in USF history, it was a unanimous choice. We all voted Blackwell #1.
After a highly successful high school career at Dixie Hollins High School (the same school Jim Leavitt attended), Blackwell signed with USF in 1997, but he didn't want to join the team as a partial qualifier and potentially lose eligibility, so instead he went to work on becoming a full qualifier. Once he did, he enrolled and joined the team in 1998, then spent his redshirt season on the USF scout team. When Glen Gauntt, the heir apparent to Chad Barnhardt, struggled badly in the first two games of the 1999 season, Blackwell got the call and never gave the starting job back. He played in all 44 games of his USF career (the only quarterback to play in every possible game), and finished with a long list of school records, most of which still stand, including:
- Most career wins, 30
- Most career passing yards, 9,108
- Most career touchdown passes, 67
- Most touchdown passes in a season, 20
- Most touchdown passes in a game, 5 against East Carolina in 2002 (the guy basically got Steve Logan fired)
- Most attempts in a game, 65
- Most attempts in a season, 456
- Most attempts in a career, 1417
- Most completions in a game, 37 (twice)
- Most competions in a season, 258
- Most completions in a career, 787
- Most consecutive passes in a single game without an interception, 63
- Lowest interception percentage, career, 1.98% (28 INTs in 1417 attempts)
- Lowest interception percentage, season, 0.74%
- Most consecutive passes without an interception, 235
Blackwell set those last two records in his amazing senior season in 2002. He threw just three picks in 403 attempts, including his last 235 in a row without an interception. At the time it was believed to be the second-longest such streak in NCAA history. (It's since been broken by Russell Wilson, but at the time the longest streak was believed to be held by… get ready… you won't believe this one… Trent Dilfer.)
Even more impressive was that he set that record in Mike Hobbie's pass-first, pass-second spread offense. When Hobbie took over as offensive coordinator in 2001, the tempo went up, along with the passing attempts and the yards. Blackwell had been more of a dual-threat quarterback in his first two years, but now his running was de-emphasized, and Marquel flourished as a spread passer. Set up in the shotgun on nearly every play, Blackwell threw the ball 859 times in his last two seasons for almost 5500 yards, with 38 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions. Marquel's 2002 season is by far the best any USF quarterback has ever run their particular offense.
Sure, you might say that if Matt Grothe had stayed healthy, he would have taken away a lot of Blackwell's records and staked a better case to being #1 on the list. But think of this - Grothe already had six extra games in the bank that Blackwell didn't, because of 12-game regular seasons and bowl games. Their total number of games (44-42) and starts (42-41) ended up being almost identical. And ultimately, Blackwell's ball security and his continued improvement as a passer from the beginning of his career to the end is what set him apart for us when the inevitable comparison had to be made.
In the big picture, Marquel Blackwell's claim to being the greatest player in USF history is clear. On his watch, the Bulls went from a decent I-AA program to a legitimate I-A team that went 9-2, beat its first ranked opponent, and would have gone to a bowl game if there had been enough of them to go around. The bottom line is that no one played as well over a full college career and had as big a hand in moving the USF football program forward, both literally and figuratively, as Marquel Blackwell did.
Previous entries: #2 - J.R. Reed, #3 - Matt Grothe, #4 - Kawika Mitchell, #5 - Andre Hall, #6 - Anthony Henry, #7 - Mike Jenkins, #8 - Stephen Nicholas, #9 - George Selvie, #10 - Nate Allen, #11 - DeAndrew Rubin, #12 - Hugh Smith, #13 - Kenyatta Jones, #14 - Ben Moffitt, #15 - Chad Barnhardt