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The Ultimate USF Football Player Bracket: Round 1, Taggart Regional

The second part of Round One begins today.

Yesterday’s results:

(1) Quinton Flowers d. (16) Mike Ford, 100-0%
(8) Marvin Kloss d. (9) Aaron Lynch, 86-14%
(4) Tyrone McKenzie d. (13) Huey Whittaker, 82-18%
(5) Andre Davis d. (12) Darrell Williams, 95-5%
(6) Kayvon Webster d. (11) Ean Randolph 93-7%
(3) J.R. Reed d. (14) Jamie Byrd, 71-29%
(7) Trae Williams d. (10) Jessie Hester, 65-35%
(2) Kawika Mitchell d. (15) Ryan Benjamin, 96-4%

It was a day of blowouts in the Leavitt Regional, as Quinton Flowers literally got every single vote against Mike Ford (that’s not a small sample size issue, either— over 100 people voted in that matchup, and they all voted for Q). The only matchup that was up in the air for a while was Williams vs. Hester, but a late surge and some campaigning from Jamie on Facebook helped Trae pull away.

Let’s see if the Taggart Regional will have some closer contests today. Our breakdowns are below, with the ballot at the bottom.

(1) Marlon Mack vs. (16) Evan Landi

Mack stats: 2014-2016: 586 carries for 3609 yards (6.2 YPC), 32 rushing touchdowns, 65 receptions for 498 yards, one receiving touchdown
Landi stats: 2009-2012: 72 receptions for 846 yards, three touchdowns

The case for Mack: Likely the best running back in USF history. Mack wasted absolutely no time making a first impression, starting against Western Carolina as a true freshman in 2014 and running for a school-record-tying 275 yards to save the Bulls from a second straight loss to an FCS school. He never slowed down, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons as a Bull, including a tremendous 2016 campaign in which he posted 1,414 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. By the time Mack was a senior, Willie Taggart would go to any means necessary to get his star halfback the ball-- handoffs, jet sweeps, screens, wheel routes, tosses, you name it. If it was a way to get the ball that was physically possibly through the laws of the universe, Taggart had tried it with Mack. Together with Quinton Flowers, he formed the vaunted “9 to 5” offense, by far the best in program history.

Mack was the first hint that the Willie Taggart era would consist of more than three-yard runs up the gut. He was a tall, lanky runner with devastating breakaway speed and tremendous vision, often unstoppable once he broke into the second level. He carried the Bulls through big games like their upset win against Temple in 2015 and The War on I-4 in 2016, where he destroyed half of UCF’s defense on his last touchdown run as a Bull. He rightfully declared for the draft after his junior season, and is a projected third or fourth-round draft pick.

Mack is USF’s leader in career rushing yards and yards from scrimmage; he’s also the American Athletic Conference’s all-time leading rusher. He leads USF in career rushing touchdowns, and ran for a school-record 20 career 100-yard games. His 275-yard debut against WCU is tied for the best single-game rushing total in school history. He was named First Team All-AAC in each of his three seasons in college, and was the AAC Rookie of the Year in 2014. His 1,381 rushing yards in 2015 are the second-most in a season in USF history, as are his 15 rushing touchdowns in 2016.

The case for Landi: USF’s Mr. Everything, Landi arrived in Tampa as a quarterback in the same recruiting class as B.J. Daniels. When Daniels permanently succeeded Matt Grothe in 2010 and inherited a black hole at receiver, Landi seamlessly made the switch and became one of B.J.’s most reliable targets. He was asked to switch positions by Skip Holtz again in 2011, put on weight and became USF’s starting tight end. In his final game in 2012 against Pitt, Landi got to take some snaps at QB in relief of a banged-up Matt Floyd, and moved the offense significantly better than Floyd did.

Landi’s best season statistically was in 2010, when he caught 28 passes for 390 yards, but he was a fan favorite and had a knack for making memorable plays— in the season opener against Notre Dame in 2011, he caught USF’s lone offensive touchdown on a jump ball in the end zone which ended up being the game-winner.

Landi was named a District 4 Academic All-American in 2011.

(8) Jerome Murphy vs. (9) Kion Wilson

Murphy stats: 2006-2009: 191 tackles, 6 TFL, eight interceptions
Wilson stats: 2008-2009: 171 tackles, 12.5 TFL, two sacks, two interceptions

The case for Murphy: An uber-athletic corner who waited his turn behind the Jenkins-Williams combo for a couple seasons before getting his chance to shine in 2008. Murphy didn’t disappoint. He was the rare combination of top-end speed and a human hit stick, but it was the former that saw him shine as a Bull and beyond. In his best season, he was a lockdown corner on USF’s stingy 2009 defense, where he put up a remarkable 77 tackles and four interceptions. Undoubtedly one of the best athletes USF’s ever played at cornerback, and one of the most productive, too. Murphy was also a star on special teams before starting on defense— the guy was too talented to keep off the field. To this day, he’s played in more games (52) than any other USF player.

Murphy was drafted in the third round by the Rams and enjoyed an brief, productive four-year NFL career, totaling 41 tackles and an interception.

Murphy was named Second Team All-Big East in 2009. He recorded the fifth-most career interceptions in USF history.

The case for Wilson: USF’s 2009 defense was littered with stars, but the leading tackler was an unsung hero from Pearl River Community College. Wilson had a promising debut season in 2008 before making a name for himself in 2009 with 105 tackles. He had several defining moments in his senior season, including a remarkable 18-tackle effort against Rutgers, and splitting his hand open against Florida State, receiving 26 stitches, and returning to play the second half. Then-Defensive Coordinator Joe Tresey called Wilson the toughest player he’d ever coached.

Wilson went undrafted in 2010, but his underdog story continued. He caught on with the Chargers as rookie and bounced around teams for a few years before landing with the Steelers, where he started a pair of games in 2013.

Wilson was named First Team All-Big East in 2009. His 105 tackles in 2008 are the ninth-best season total in program history.

(4) Anthony Henry vs. (13) Amarri Jackson

Henry stats: 1997-2000: 254 tackles, seven TFL, ten interceptions
Jackson stats: 2005-2007: 70 receptions for 891 yards and five touchdowns, 18 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns, 56 passing yards and a touchdown

The case for Henry: By far the most famous member of USF’s initial recruiting class. Henry made an impact from the moment he stepped on campus, starting at safety as a freshman and making 73 tackles. Already the Bulls’ greatest defensive weapon at safety, he made the switch to cornerback as a senior and thrived even more than he was already thriving, earning a career-high five interceptions and becoming USF’s first ever shutdown corner.

This led to one of the best NFL careers of any Bull. Henry played in the pros for eight years after being drafted in the fourth round by the Browns, and managed to rack up ten interceptions in his rookie season. He exited the league with an impressive 425 tackles and 31 picks.

Henry was named Second Team All I-AA Independents in 1997. He’s third in USF history with 10 career interceptions, and holds the USF record for most career fumble recoveries with six. He’s eleventh in all-time tackles. His five interceptions in 2000 place him fifth on the all-time USF season list.

The case for Jackson: A football oddity by any measure, Jackson’s massive 6’5” frame made him potentially the most physically imposing wideout in USF history. Did I mention that he could also run and throw? If you took every single desirable offensive football trait and blended them into a six-foot-five human, you would have Amarri Jackson.

He put together one of the most fascinating and tremendous games ever in USF’s 45-14 thrashing of Louisville in their first ever Big East game, where he ran for two touchdowns, threw for another, and caught two passes for 75 yards, serving as ringleader in the massive upset. He secured his place in program lore with that performance, but he was productive for two years after— his best statistical season came in 2006, when he caught 26 passes for 393 yards.

It should be noted that Amarri Jackson did not push off.

(5) Kenyatta Jones vs. (12) Auggie Sanchez

Jones stats: 1997-2000: 41 games, 38 starts
Sanchez stats: 2014-present: 303 tackles, 77 TFL, 6.5 sacks

The case for Jones: Jones was the first ever USF left tackle ever, and he was very possibly the best. Think about that: he started the first ever game for the Bulls as a freshman and played almost every game of the next four years. Since then, USF has joined FBS, joined a Power Five conference (for a time), and climbed up and down the Top 25... and the program still may not have produced a better left tackle. That’s an incredible high bar to set.

Jones set that bar and more. He became the first ever USF player to be selected in the NFL Draft when the Patriots took him in the fourth round in 2001. He had a nice five-season career with the Pats and Redskins that saw him appear in 21 games, and he also became the first Bull to earn a Super Bowl ring, when he started 11 games for the 2002 world champion Patriots squad.

Jones was named Second Team All I-AA Independent in 1998.

The case for Sanchez: On pace to finish as USF’s all-time leading tackler, the Bulls’ defensive captain is a total Cinderella story. The younger brother of USF special teamer Armando Sanchez, the second Sanchez came to USF as a lightly-recruited two star linebacker and was promptly flipped to fullback as a true freshman, where he redshirted. He got a chance to play linebacker in 2014 and hasn’t missed a game since. Ask anyone on USF’s defense and they’ll tell you that Sanchez is the leader of the unit, and he’s a tackling machine to boot. He’s notched triple digit tackles in 2015 and 2016, leading the Bulls in both seasons. He’s gotten more effective playing behind the line of scrimmage throughout the years too, notching eight TFLs and a career-high six sacks in 2016.

Sanchez was named Second Team All-AAC in 2015 and 2016. He’s currently seventh on USF’s career tackles list. His 120 tackles in 2016 are the second-highest season total in USF history.

(6) Hugh Smith vs. (11) Deatrick Nichols

Smith stats: 1999-2002: 131 receptions for 1523 yards and ten touchdowns.

Nichols stats: 2014-present: 118 tackles, 11 TFL, eight interceptions

The case for Smith: A former running back with blazing speed, Smith made the switch to receiver in 2000 and his career took off. He became one of Marquel Blackwell’s favorite targets, and rewrote the USF history book in his senior season, when he caught 62 passes for 661 yards and five touchdowns, one of the best ever individual season from a USF wideout. He was a weapon out of the backfield, too, with his sub-4.4 speed making him dangerous on reverses.

Smith was named First Team All-Independent in 2002. His senior season places him second in receptions, sixth in receiving yards, and tenth in receiving touchdowns in the USF single-season records. He ranks third all-time in career receptions, fifth in career receiving yards, and sixth in career receiving touchdowns.

The case for Nichols: Willie Taggart brought in a ton of talented defensive back recruits in his first two classes, and after getting thrown to the fire as a true freshman Nichols has blossomed into one of the best of the bunch. He was very possibly the best player of USF’s rejuvenated Bull Shark defense as a sophomore, when he was a force not just in the secondary (four interceptions) but also in the backfield (nine TFLs). Though his numbers dropped in 2016 as the USF defense regressed, he still made a trio of clutch plays in the end zone to win the Memphis game for the Bulls, one of the most thrilling moments of the season. He’s a physical cover corner with an NFL future, and still has a year left in a Bulls jersey.

Nichols was named First Team All-AAC in 2015 and Second Team All-AAC in 2016. He’s tied for fifth in USF history in career interceptions.

(3) Andre Hall vs. (14) Maurice Jones

Hall stats: 2004-2005: 480 attempts for 2731 yards (5.7 YPC), 24 touchdowns. 44 catches for 470 yards, four touchdowns

Jones stats: 2000-2003: 285 tackles, 40 TFL, 12.5 sacks

The case for Hall: For a long time, Hall was the gold standard against whom all subsequent USF running backs were compared. He was brilliant, a JUCO product who served as the only offensive spark USF had going for them in 2004 and 2005. He very nearly carried USF to a surprise de facto Big East championship game in their first year in the conference, rushing for 1695 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. With very little offensive help and every defense geared in on stopping him, Hall was still one of the most productive and explosive USF offensive players ever. In only two seasons in green and gold, he set pretty much every USF rushing record in the book (a handful of which were later topped by Marlon Mack, but he had three seasons). Hall also worked a little magic in the NFL with the Broncos, getting signed as an undrafted free agent and getting a spot start in 2007.

Hall was named an Honorable Mention All-American by Sports Illustrated in 2005 and voted First Team All-Big East in 2005 and First Team All-Conference USA in 2004. Hall’s 2005 season ranks third in USF history in rushing yards. He’s tied for the most rushing yards in a game in school history, and is second in all-time rushing yards. He’s fourth in school history in career rushing touchdowns.

The case for Jones: A speedy edge rusher as a freshman who blossomed into a fantastic all-around linebacker, Jones made a name for himself early in his career by causing chaos in the backfield. By his senior season, he shifted inside and was the Bulls’ leading tackler with 116 stops, alongside 13 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Where Jones went, chaos followed. Fast, versatile, and incredibly productive, Jones is one of the most underrated Bulls linebackers of all time.

Jones was named Second Team All-Conference USA in 2003. He ranks eighth in USF history in career tackles. He ranks eighth in career tackles for loss. In his senior season, he posted the fifth-most tackles in a season in program history.

(7) Carlton Mitchell vs. (10) Taurus Johnson

Mitchell stats: 2007-2009: 105 receptions for 1648 yards and nine touchdowns
Johnson stats: 2005-2008: 112 receptions for 1434 yards and 12 touchdowns

The case for Mitchell: The deep threat to end all deep threats, as far as USF receivers go. Mitchell’s coming-out party came as a redshirt freshman in 2007, when he caught one of the most famous passes in Bulls history: a 55-yard bomb from Matt Grothe that Mitchell corralled, tightroped down the sideline, and sneaked into the end zone for an icebreaking score. This was the first of many, many times the speedy Mitchell would find himself behind opposing secondaries. His senior season in 2009 was stellar, as he established himself as B.J. Daniels’ favorite target and racked up 706 yards. He declared for the draft as a junior and was drafted in the sixth round by the Browns.

Mitchell is third in USF history in career receiving yards and seventh in career receptions. His 2009 season is the fourth-highest single-season receiving total in USF history. He was named Honorable Mention Freshman All-America by The Sporting News in 2007.

The case for Johnson: If Mitchell was the flashy option, Johnson was the steady one. Once he broke into the receiver rotation in 2006, he created an instant rapport with Matt Grothe and posted three straight seasons with at least 34 catches and at least 400 yards. His best season was his final one, a 38-catch, 498-yard campaign in 2008. He also saved his best game for the most crucial moment, the borderline dangerous showdown against UCF that season. With the Bulls on the brink of their first ever loss to the Knights, Johnson came up huge with 143 yards receiving and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Johnson is fourth in USF history in receiving touchdowns, fifth in in career receptions, and seventh in receiving yards. He recorded the sixth-most receiving touchdowns in school history in 2008.

(2) Jason Pierre-Paul vs. (15) Maikon Bonani

Pierre-Paul stats: 2009: 45 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks
Bonani stats: 2008-2012: 69-91 field goals (75.8%), 112-116 extra points, long of 50

The case for Pierre-Paul: Without a doubt, the most physically impressive and athletic player to ever suit up for the green and gold. Pierre-Paul was a huge, 6’5”, 275 lb. defensive end (who could do 13 backflips!) with remarkable strength and speed, and a huge recruiting coup for USF and Jim Leavitt. Together with George Selvie and Terrell McClain, he helped form the single most terrifying defensive line in USF history. He simply could not be contained one-on-one an edge rusher. Though it took a while for him to get up to speed to Division I football, he was nearly unstoppable once he did.

Pierre-Paul obviously only stayed in Tampa for one season, and to this date remains USF’s highest draft selection, going 15th in the first round to the Giants. He’s probably the most accomplished USF player in the NFL to date, making the Pro Bowl twice, an achievement no other USF alum has been able to match. Of course, he recently lost part of his hand in a terrifying fireworks accident, but he rebounded, got back on the field, and earned another contract with the Giants. Think about that: Pierre-Paul has so much athleticism in his body that the loss of the top of his hand was largely irrelevant to him.

Pierre-Paul was named First-Team All-America by Pro Football Weekly in 2009, and was voted First Team All-Big East. He ranks sixth in USF history in single-season tackles for loss.

The case for Bonani: The rare kicker with a flair for the dramatic, Bonani marked his arrival at USF with a game-winning field goal against a ranked Kansas squad as a freshman. Mind you, this was before he suffered serious injuries after falling from a Busch Gardens ride trying to help a passenger in peril. He fully recovered and went on to become one of the most reliable kickers USF has ever had, winning back his job in 2010 and being pretty much automatic from anything under 45 yards for the next three seasons.

Bonani was named First Team All-Big East in 2012 and Second Team All-Big East in 2011. He holds the USF records for field goals in a career, field goals in a game (5) and is tied for field goals in a season (19). He is USF’s all-time leading scorer with 319 points, and has the second-highest career field goal percentage.