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The Ultimate USF Football Player Tournament: Round 2, Leavitt & Taggart Regionals

Today we advance to the Round of 32.

Yesterday’s results:

(1) Matt Grothe d. (16) Mattias Ciabatti, 96-4%
(9) Mistral Raymond d. (8) Shurron Pierson, 78-22%
(4) Nate Allen d. (13) Rafael Williams, 99-1%
(5) B.J. Daniels d. (12) Reshard Cliett, 97-3%
(11) Austin Reiter d. (6) Chad Barnhardt, 56-44%
(3) Stephen Nicholas d. (14) Lindsey Lamar, 77-23%
(10) D’Ernest Johnson d. (7) DeDe Lattimore, 62-38%
(2) Mike Jenkins d. (15) Elkino Watson, 93-7%

We dubbed the Rocky Regional the Region of Death yesterday, and it lived up to its name: three of the first round’s four upsets came from this regional, with Mistral Raymond, Austin Reiter, and D’Ernest Johnson all beating the odds to advance to the Round of 32.

So without further ado, let’s move on from the first round and enter the second. Just 32 Bulls remain, and by the end of this week we’ll have whittled it down to the Elite Eight. Today, we’ll be deciding the Leavitt and Taggart Regionals. As always, matchups are below and the ballot is at the bottom.

(1) Quinton Flowers vs. (8) Marvin Kloss

Flowers stats: 2014-present: Completed 60.2% of his passes for 5208 yards, 46 touchdowns; 402 attempts for 2594 rushing yards (6.5 YPC) and 30 touchdowns
Kloss stats: 2011-2014: 31-40 (77.5%) field goals, 38-38 extra points, long of 52

The case for Flowers: Already a USF legend with a year of eligibility remaining, Flowers is one of the biggest stars (if not the biggest) of the Second USF Renaissance. It almost never happened. Flowers spurned offers from the likes of Alabama to play quarterback at USF, committed and de-committed to the Bulls in the span of 24 hours, committed again later down the line, was thrown to the wolves several times as a true freshman, considered transferring in the offseason, and almost lost out to Steven Bench in the ensuing quarterback race. Once Willie Taggart opened up his playbook in 2015 against Syracuse and handed Flowers the reins, the young quarterback has been sublime.

He emerged as a fringe Heisman candidate in 2016, guiding the best USF offense of all time and leading the Bulls to their best season in school history. He might’ve put together the greatest individual season in school history, accounting for 4,300 yards of total offense and 42 touchdowns. A human highlight reel with blazing speed and pro-level decision making, Flowers’ best plays as a Bull would fill several SportsCenter Top 10s. Oh, and he’s still got a year left.

Flowers was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive MVP in 2016, as well as First Team all-conference. He was a Walter Camp Player of the Year Award semifinalist. He owns the USF season records for total offense, rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, and passing touchdowns. His 473 total yards against Memphis in 2015 is a program record. He ranks fourth in USF history in career passing yards and passing touchdowns, and second in career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

The case for Kloss: Undoubtedly the best kicker in school history. “Money” was the best weapon USF had on offense in 2013, and it wasn’t particularly close. Kloss had a cannon for a leg and pretty much guaranteed USF three points anytime they crossed the opposition’s 40. He was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award that season, and likely would have won it if he wasn’t going up against Roberto Aguayo. This is the closest any USF player has ever gotten to a major award. It’s not often that a kicker is a team’s MVP, but you can make a very legitimate case for Kloss. In 2013, he led the nation in field goals from 40+ yards (11) and 50+ yards (4).

Kloss was named Second Team All-America by Athlon and Honorable Mention All-America by Sports Illustrated in 2013. He holds the school records for most consecutive field goals made (13), and career field goal percentage.

(4) Tyrone McKenzie vs. (5) Andre Davis

McKenzie stats: 2007-2008: 230 tackles, 33.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Davis stats: 2011-2014: 153 receptions for 2136 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The case for McKenzie: McKenzie originally enrolled at Michigan State, transferred and had one stellar year at Iowa State before landing at USF just in time to anchor one of the most impressive defenses in school history. Though he didn’t receive the most headlines of the lauded M-M-M linebacker corps (Moffitt, McKenzie, Mompremier), he may have been the best of the bunch. McKenzie was a strong, stocky tackling machine who led the Bulls in stops in both of his seasons in green and gold, and wound up getting drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Patriots. His NFL career, unfortunately, was derailed by a torn ACL in training camp, but he rebounded and played sparingly for the Bucs and Vikings.

McKenzie holds the USF record for tackles in a season with 121 stops in 2007, and his encore season in 2008 ranks fifth, with 116. He was named First Team All-Big East in 2008, and Second Team All-Big East in 2007.

Davis: One of the most physically impressive USF wideouts of all time, and statistically, the best. Davis produced huge numbers despite rarely having a serviceable quarterback getting him the ball. A rangy wide receiver who played taller than his frame and excelled in making circus catches along the sideline, he burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2011 and emerged as USF’s go-to receiver in 2012 against Nevada, when he repeatedly roasted defenders on go routes and caught 12 passes for 191 yards, including the game-winner.

His numbers are lower than they should be thanks to the rotating belt at QB in 2013 and 2014… and yet Davis still finished as USF’s all-time leading receiver. He was that good at USF-- in the second half of 2013 and 2014, Mike White’s strategy was basically “throw the ball up to Dre and pray something good happens.” It very often did.

Davis is USF’s all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions, and receiving touchdowns. His game against Nevada produced the most receptions and yards in a single game in USF history.

(6) Kayvon Webster vs. (3) J.R. Reed

Webster stats: 2009-2012: 190 tackles, 8.5 TFL, three interceptions
Reed stats: 2000-2003: 301 tackles, 18 interceptions, 18 kick returns for 570 yards (31.7 YPR), one touchdown

The case for Webster: One of the speediest and most athletic USF cornerbacks of all time-- if not just USF players in general-- Webster had a knack for the big play throughout his Bulls career. He earned significant playing time as a freshman in 2009, playing in 12 games and never looking back. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of his magnum opus, a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown on Notre Dame’s opening drive in 2011 that probably elicited the single most blissful reaction I have ever had in reaction to a USF play. By his senior year, he had become a more well-rounded player, and had a great season with 82 tackles and four TFL.

Though a better athlete than a cover corner, Webster’s skill set helped him catch on as a special teamer in the NFL with the Broncos, where he racked up 83 tackles in four seasons and recently earned himself a new contract with the Rams.

Webster was named Second Team All-Big East in 2011. His 96-yard fumble return touchdown in South Bend is USF’s longest ever.

The case for Reed: Very possibly the most electrifying human to ever wear a USF jersey. Reed was a ballhawk in the secondary with ridiculous speed, a player that for all sakes and purposes USF shouldn’t have been able to find their their transition to FBS in the early 2000s. Even as a defensive player, he had a knack for coming up with the ball and coming up with big play after big play, and as such USF used him as a returner... where he was also one of the best to play the position. There was very little that Reed couldn’t do.

To top it off, he boasts probably the best single-game individual effort in USF history, when he singlehandedly beat Memphis in 2003. I mean that literally— Reed returned a punt for a touchdown, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and had three interceptions. He wound up getting drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round and enjoyed a productive, four-year NFL career, largely on special teams.

Reed was named Honorable Mention All-America by Sports Illustrated in 2003, First Team All-Conference USA in 2003, and First Team-All Independent in 2002 and 2001. He led the nation in kickoff return average in 2003 at 31.7 yards, a USF season record. He’s also the all-time USF leader in career interceptions, tied for the lead for interceptions in one season (7), and tied for second in career fumble recoveries. He’s sixth all-time in career tackles. His three-interception game against Memphis is also a USF record.

(7) Trae Williams vs. (2) Kawika Mitchell

Williams stats: 2004-2007: 158 tackles, 16 interceptions, four interception returns for touchdowns
Mitchell stats: 1999-2002: 367 tackles, 37 TFL, 8.5 sacks

The case for Williams: Paired with Mike Jenkins, Williams was part of what was very likely the best positional unit in USF history. Even though his partner got headlines, Williams was every bit as productive in college. He had a nose for the ball, and took full advantage of opposing quarterbacks trying to avoid Jenkins on the other side of the field. Williams totaled 16 interceptions as a Bull, including 13 in his junior and senior seasons. He was one of the biggest cogs in USF’s shutdown defense in 2007, making 54 tackles and intercepting six passes, including a remarkable three pick-sixes.

Williams was named Honorable Mention All-America by Sports Illustrated in 2007, earned First Team All-Big East honors in 2006, and Second Team All-Big East honors in 2007. He shares the USF record for most interceptions in a season with Reed, and is second in most career interceptions.

The case for Mitchell: Arguably the best linebacker— or even just defensive player— in USF history. At any rate, there’s certainly never been a more proficient tackler. Mitchell was stocky, fast, capable of playing inside and outside, and was a defensive stalwart for all four years he played in a Bulls uniform. He transferred from Georgia after a redshirt year in Athens, and immediately became the most talented player who had ever worn a USF jersey to that point. In each of his final three years in Tampa, he led the Bulls in tackles.

To top it off, his NFL career might be the most impressive of any USF Bull, ever. Mitchell played eight seasons with four different teams after being drafted by the Chiefs in the second round of the draft, racked up 487 tackles, and won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2008.

Mitchell was named First Team All-Independent in 2002. He’s the all-time leading tackler in USF history, and ranks eighth in career tackles for loss. His 19 TFL in 2002 put him in a tie for second on the single-season USF list, and his 117 tackles the same season are tied for second all-time as well.

(1) Marlon Mack vs. (8) Jerome Murphy

Mack stats: 2014-2016: 586 carries for 3609 yards (6.2 YPC), 32 rushing touchdowns, 65 receptions for 498 yards, one receiving touchdown
Murphy stats: 2006-2009: 191 tackles, 6 TFL, eight interceptions

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 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.

(4) Anthony Henry vs. (5) Kenyatta Jones

Henry stats: 1997-2000: 254 tackles, seven TFL, ten interceptions
Jones stats: 1997-2000: 41 games, 38 starts

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 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.

(11) Deatrick Nichols vs. (3) Andre Hall

Nichols stats: 2014-present: 118 tackles, 11 TFL, eight interceptions
Hall stats: 2004-2005: 480 attempts for 2731 yards (5.7 YPC), 24 touchdowns; 44 catches for 470 yards, four 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.

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.

(7) Carlton Mitchell vs. (2) Jason Pierre-Paul

Mitchell stats: 2007-2009: 105 receptions for 1648 yards and nine touchdowns
Pierre-Paul stats: 2009: 45 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks

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 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.