Bulls in bowls, Blackwell creating a buzz

With a 7-2 record, the USF football team has equaled its best record through nine games since its 1998 campaign, when the Bulls finished 8-3. The team is also riding an 18-game home winning streak, good for third in the nation.

With their seven victories, the Bulls are bowl-eligible and have a chance to run their record to 9-2 with victories over Bowling Green and Houston. Normally, six wins vs. I-A opponents is necessary to go to a bowl, but a team can count one I-AA win every four years.

Bowling Green, ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/ESPN polls, is 8-1, after winning its first eight games. Houston is 4-5 with the Cougars coming off a 54-48 triple overtime loss to East Carolina Saturday. According to CBSsportsline.com, the Bulls are projected to go to the Motor City Bowl, held in Detroit Dec. 26 and play Northern Illinois. In last year’s Motor City Bowl, Toledo defeated Cincinnati 23-16 before a crowd of 44,164 fans. Normally, the No. 2 MAC team plays the Big 10 No. 7 team in the Motor City Bowl. However, Purdue is currently No. 7 in the Big Ten, and with a 4-6 record, it would not be bowl-eligible. Since USF is an Independent and won’t join the Conference USA until next year, the Bulls would have to make a bowl game as an at-large bid.

The Bulls already beat Northern Illinois earlier this year, winning 37-6 Sept. 7. Senior Marquel Blackwell threw for 276 yards with 22 completions on 34 attempts, while senior DeAndrew Rubin hauled in four receptions for 126 yards and three touchdowns.

However, according to CNNSI.com, the Bulls are projected to compete against Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. Marshall boasts senior quarterback Byron Leftwich, who many feel will be the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL Draft this spring. Leftwich has thrown for 2,995 yards, with 19 touchdown passes and averages 374.4 yards a game.

ESPN college football analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has named Blackwell as a senior quarterback “worth keeping a close eye on.” Kiper’s top seven senior quarterbacks comprised of probable first-round draft picks such as Carson Palmer of Southern Cal, Ken Dorsey of Miami, Chris Simms of Texas and Leftwich of Marshall. Blackwell is No. 12 on the list, ahead of Brian St. Pierre of Boston College and Juston Wood of Portland State. Blackwell, who was also named a “darkhorse Heisman candidate” earlier in the year by ESPN, has thrown for 2,065 yards and 15 touchdowns and averages 229.4 yards a game this year.