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The Ultimate USF Football Player Tournament: Round 1, Rocky Regional

The final regional awaits.

Yesterday’s results:

(1) George Selvie d. (16) Sean Price, 99-1%
(8) Jacquian Williams d. (9) Terrence Royal, 59-41%
(4) Rodney Adams d. (13) Dyral McMillan, 100-0%
(5) DeAndrew Rubin d. (12) Jeremiah Warren, 73-27%
(6) Terrell McClain d. (11) Bill Gramatica, 75-25%
(3) Ben Moffitt d. (14) Carlton Williams, 88-12%
(7) Sam Barrington d. (10) Dontavia Bogan, 86-14%
(2) Marquel Blackwell d. (15) Deadrin Senat, 88-12%

All the favorites advanced rather comfortably, though the Jacquian Williams-Terrence Royal match was close for a while. Rodney Adams earns our second shutout of the tournament.

We’ve got the final matchups of the first round for you below, with the ballot at the bottom, as always.

(1) Matt Grothe vs. (16) Mattias Ciabatti

Grothe stats: 2006-2009: 717-1148 passing (62.5%) for 8669 yards, 52 touchdowns; 543 carries for 2206 yards, (4.0 YPC), 23 touchdowns
Ciabatti stats: 2012-2015: 196 punts for 8333 yards (42.5 yards per punt)

The case for Grothe: The man who put USF football on the map. Grothe was the face of the Cinderella 2007 Bulls, taking the country by storm with his wild scrambles and wild haircut. When he was good, he was unstoppable and un-tackle-able— his best plays involved him running circles around defenders before launching a 50 yard touchdown pass. Grothe built a brand for himself and USF that season, and is probably one of the only Bulls that a casual college football fan would recognize.

He won a lot, too. Grothe was under center for a big chunk of USF’s biggest wins (West Virginia in 2006, West Virginia and Auburn in 2007, Kansas in 2008), and he delivered in all of them. He took the starting job by the horns as a redshirt freshman and never let go, leading the Bulls to national rankings and bowl games of which they never could have dreamed just a few years earlier. He’s got a strong case for being the best quarterback in school history, and is undoubtedly a USF legend.

Grothe was named the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2006, as well as Honorable Mention Freshman All-America by Sporting News. He leads both the Big East and USF in career all-purpose yards. He’s second in USF history in career passing yards and touchdowns, and fifth in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

The case for Ciabatti: Ciabatti had about as eventful of a career as a punter could reasonably be allowed to have. He burst onto the national scene with a majestically awful two-yard punt against Miami in 2013... but from that point on, he was pretty much perfect. By almost any statistical measure, Ciabatti was the best punter in USF history, and he was a verifiable weapon for USF in their offense-starved 2014 season, when he pretty much single-handedly won the UConn game by booming massive punt after massive punt in the midst of a quasi-hurricane. He was a genuine Ray Guy Award contender in 2014 and 2015— say what you want about punters, but not too many USF players can claim that they were contenders for national honors. Ciabatti certainly can.

Ciabatti was named First Team All-AAC in 2014, and Second Team All-AAC in 2015. He holds a handful of the major records for punting in USF history, including best yards-per-punt in a season (44.4, 2014) and career (42.5).

(8) Shurron Pierson vs. (9) Mistral Raymond

Pierson stats: 2001-2002: 72 tackles, 21 TFL, 18 sacks
Raymond stats: 2008-2010: 96 tackles, 6.5 TFL, two interceptions

The case for Pierson: Pierson was very likely USF’s best ever edge rusher when he came along in 2001. He arrived with a bang, collecting a team-high ten sacks (and becoming the first ever Bull to hit double figures) and 12 TFL. After a similarly strong junior season in 2002, Pierson set another first and became the first Bull to declare early for the draft. He still managed to set a number of school records that wouldn’t be touched until George Selvie arrived in Tampa. Pierson was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round and played in the NFL for two seasons of spot duty.

Pierson is fourth in USF history in career sacks, and his ten sacks in 2001 are tied for the second-highest season total. He recorded four sacks in a game in 2002, which is tied for the USF single-game record.

The case for Raymond: The most wonderful underdog story you’ll come across. Mistral lost his mother and half-sister growing up, spent a year at junior college and then walked on at USF, where he earned a spot by shouting at the coaches about his tape through a fence. The Bulls’ secondary coach at the time, Troy Douglas, joked that if Raymond was ever in the game, he’d be at the local Sweetbay because the game would be well in hand.

Douglas must have spent a lot of time at Sweetbay, because Raymond broke into the secondary rotation in 2009 and became USF’s defensive captain in 2010. He was their most valuable defensive back that season, playing both cornerback and safety and racking up 56 tackles and 4.5 TFL. Raymond was drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings, with whom he played three seasons, making 10 starts and racking up 53 tackles.

Raymond was named Second Team All-Big East in 2010.

(4) Nate Allen vs. (13) Rafael Williams

Allen stats: 2006-2009: 226 tackles, five TFL, nine interceptions
Williams stats: 1997-2000: 463 attempts for 2253 rushing yards (4.9 YPC), 18 touchdowns

The case for Allen: One of USF’s best safeties of all-time, Allen anchored some impressive USF secondaries from 2007 to 2009, excelling both as a center fielder and a big hitter at the line of scrimmage. He was fast, athletic, and had a nose for the ball— whenever USF needed a big defensive play, Allen was usually the guy to make it. He grabbed a crucial interception in both the Auburn and West Virginia games in 2007, and his late-game interception of Todd Reesing against Kansas the next season led to the game-winning field goal.

To top it all off, Allen has put together one of the most productive NFL careers of any Bull. He was drafted by the Eagles in the second round, and has since started 76 games, made 285 tackles, and racked up 13 interceptions.

Allen was named Second Team All-Big East in 2009. He ranks fourth in USF history in career interceptions.

The case for Williams: Forever a part of USF lore for scoring the Bulls’ first ever touchdown, Williams was the Bulls’ feature back for three of his four seasons in green and gold. His best year was likely his debut season in 1997 when he ran for a career-high 729 yards and seven touchdowns, but his consistency allowed him to set pretty much every USF rushing record in the book at the time, and become one of the Bulls’ first legitimate offensive weapons.

Williams is fourth in USF history in career rushing yards, and tied for eighth in career rushing touchdowns.

(5) B.J. Daniels vs. (12) Reshard Cliett

Daniels stats: 2008-2012: 649 for 1132 passing (57.3%) for 8433 yards and 52 touchdowns; 526 carries for 2068 yards (3.9 YPC), 25 touchdowns
Cliett stats: 2011-2014: 134 tackles, 16 TFL, seven sacks

The case for Daniels: Brought to Tampa to be Matt Grothe’s successor, Daniels exceeded expectations from day one, when he stunned Florida State in his first ever start in Grothe’s stead. Though he was hamstrung by the diminishing talent around him (thanks, Skip Holtz!), Daniels was often brilliant, a tremendous runner with a cannon for an arm. He could score a touchdown from anywhere on the field on any given play. Once Holtz opened up his offense a bit in 2011, Daniels had one of the best seasons of any QB in school history, accounting for over 3,200 total yards and 19 touchdowns.

Daniels’ jaw-dropping athleticism was enough to get him drafted in the seventh round by the 49ers. He’s since bounced around a number of NFL teams and has seen playing time at quarterback, receiver, and punt returner.

Daniels is tied for second in USF history in career passing touchdowns and is third in career passing yards. He’s sixth in school history in career rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. His 10,501 career yards of total offense rank second in school history and third in Big East history.

The case for Cliett: Cliett came to USF as a speedy safety, but his nose for the ball and downhill style of play soon led Skip Holtz to try him at linebacker. He thrived there, becoming a dangerous edge rusher in 2013 and notching 56 tackles and 7 TFLs. He was consistently one of the most athletic and exciting players on the Bulls’ defense, and got a chance in the NFL after getting drafted in the sixth round by the Texans. Cliett is with the Titans now, though injuries have stopped him from appearing in a pro game yet.

(6) Chad Barnhardt vs. (11) Austin Reiter

Barnhardt stats: 1997-1998: 300 for 519 passing (57.8%) for 4138 yards and 27 touchdowns
Reiter stats: 2011-2014: 36 starts

The case for Barnhardt: The first ever starting quarterback at USF, Barnhardt transferred from South Carolina and had two wonderful years at the helm, guiding a young USF team into uncharted waters. Barnhardt’s SEC experience was invaluable for a team getting their first tastes of Division I football, and his numbers weren’t too shabby either: in 1998, he threw 17 touchdowns and posted the second-highest passer rating in school history. His biggest moment came in a downpour against Liberty, when he led the Bulls on two late fourth-quarter drives, including a 90-yarder to give the Bulls the lead and another to set up the game-winning field goal.

Barnhardt is fifth in USF history in career passing yards and passing touchdowns.

The case for Reiter: After spending a season as a backup in 2011, Reiter started every single game from the 2012 opener onward, becoming one of the most prolific and impressive centers in school history. He was USF’s best offensive lineman for two years straight, earning the team’s Offensive Line award in both 2013 and 2014.

He was drafted in the seventh round by the Redskins, but landed with the Browns in 2016, where he started a game before suffering a season-ended injury. This has already given him one of the best pro careers of any Bulls offensive lineman.

(3) Stephen Nicholas vs. (14) Lindsey Lamar

Nicholas stats: 2002-2006: 326 tackles, 53.5 TFL, 20 sacks
Lamar stats: 2009-2012: 135 carries for 836 yards (6.2 YPC) and five touchdowns; 58 receptions for 510 yards and six touchdowns; 1816 return yards and two touchdowns

The case for Nicholas: A strong contender for the best linebacker in USF history, Nicholas was a remarkable, NFL-level talent from the second he stepped on campus. He could line up at any of the three linebacker spots and excelled at each one, but he was most dangerous making plays behind the line of scrimmage. After three tremendous years in Tampa, he chose to snub the NFL for another year and posted his best season yet in 2006, making 89 tackles, including 15.5 TFL and seven sacks. Snake rewrote the USF record book in college, and fittingly went on to have a similarly impressive NFL career. After being drafted by the Falcons in the fourth round, he went on to make 50 starts and 284 tackles in his seven-year career.

Nicholas was named First Team All-Big East in 2006 and Second Team All-Big East in 2005. He recorded the fourth most career tackles in USF history, and ranks second in career TFLs and sacks.

The case for Lamar: One of the fastest Bulls of all time. The diminutive Lamar was a gamebreaker who came to USF as a running back, was moved to receiver in 2010, moved back to running back in 2012... and was dangerous in every single role. He also posted possibly the best season by a returner in USF history in 2010, when he was a threat to take every kickoff he fielded to the house. He did manage to return two kicks all the way, including a marvelous return against Louisville that turned the game in the Bulls’ favor.

Lamar was named the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year in 2011. He’s USF’s all-time leader in kickoff return yards and kickoff return yards.

(7) DeDe Lattimore vs. (10) D’Ernest Johnson

Lattimore stats: 2010-2013: 337 tackles, 32.5 TFL, 15 sacks
Johnson stats: 2014-present: 228 carries for 1000 yards (4.4 YPC), nine touchdowns; 61 receptions for 746 yards, ten touchdowns; 1189 return yards, 1 touchdown; two passing touchdowns

The case for Lattimore: A versatile linebacker who played both inside and out. Lattimore redshirted in 2009 and then proceeded to start all but one game in his next four years. He was a short, stocky ‘backer as a freshman, but he turned into a dangerous downhill player by the time he was a senior, earning team captain honors in 2013 and leading the Bulls with 98 tackles. In his best season in 2011, he posted 94 tackles, 13 TFL, and seven sacks.

He signed with the Bears as a free agent, where he played in ten games and made three tackles in 2014.

Lattimore earned Second Team All-Big East honors in 2013, and was named First Team Freshman All-America by Phil Steele in 2010. He’s second in USF history in career tackles, seventh in sacks, and ninth in TFLs. His 49 starts are the second most of any USF player.

The case for Johnson: Johnson is one of the most versatile players to ever wear a USF jersey. A big-time recruit who inked with USF in the same class as Marlon Mack, he managed to make a name for himself despite playing behind USF’s all-time leading rusher for three seasons. Johnson ran for nine touchdowns in relief of Mack in 2016, and proved himself to be one of USF’s best ever receiving threats out of the backfield, totaling 649 receiving yards in 2015 and 2016. His success returning punts in 2016 earned him postseason accolades, and he’s even got a pair of passing touchdowns to boot. The Junkyard Dog has earned himself a deserved reputation as USF’s swiss army knife, and will finally get the lion’s share of the carries in 2017.

Johnson was named First Team All-AAC in 2016. He ranks second in USF history in career punt return average.

(2) Mike Jenkins vs. (15) Elkino Watson

Jenkins stats: 2004-2007: 130 tackles, six TFL, six interceptions
Watson stats: 2011-2014: 119 tackles, 32.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks

The case for Jenkins: An NFL talent playing in an era where USF didn’t breed NFL talents very often, Jenkins redefined the caliber of player that USF was capable of producing. After an injury-plagued freshman season, he emerged as the Bulls’ first ever shutdown cornerback in 2005, and he only improved each year. Despite quarterbacks basically avoiding him at all costs by 2007, he still managed 41 tackles, four TFL, and three interceptions. He was a dynamic athlete who was an island in man coverage, had top-end speed, and laid the wood on unsuspecting receivers on more than one occasion. In his senior season, USF was basically just plotting ways to give their best athlete the ball— he returned seven kicks in 2007, and took one of them to the house.

Jenkins was drafted in the first round by the Cowboys— USF’s second-highest draft pick ever, and has enjoyed a long, productive NFL career in which he’s become only the second USF alum to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Jenkins was a Thorpe Award semifinalist in 2007, and was named First Team All-America by AFCA. He was named First Team All-Big East in 2007, and Second Team All-Big East in 2005.

The case for Watson: A big man with a bigger smile, Watson was a looker room favorite who was equally beloved on and off the field. In a Signing Day upset, he chose the Bulls over Miami, and his career lived up to the hype. The near 300-pounder was a hybrid tackle and end, but he produced at whatever position he was placed at. In each of his four years, he tallied at least seven tackles for loss and was one of the Bulls’ best run-stoppers.

Watson was tragically killed in a stabbing in 2015. The USF family will remember him forever.

Watson is tied for ninth in USF history in career tackles for loss.