June 27, 2011

Monday with Mike: Best league at each position

SEC zealots like to proclaim their league is the best when it comes to college football, and they're right.

What about the best league at each position? Here's a look.

The best: Pac-12
The buzz: Stanford's Andrew Luck is the nation's best quarterback and the preseason favorite to win the Heisman. For added star power, there also are USC's Matt Barkley, Oregon's Darron Thomas, Arizona's Nick Foles and Washington State's Jeff Tuel, a talented player who toils for a bad team. Oregon State has high hopes for Ryan Katz, who is entering his second season as the starter. Arizona State coaches like Brock Osweiler, a 6-foot-8 guy with mobility. Utah is hoping new coordinator Norm Chow can help Jordan Wynn smooth out a few rough edges. Special mention should go to Conference USA, which has Houston's Case Keenum, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, East Carolina's Dominique Davis, Southern Miss' Austin Davis, SMU's Kyle Padron, UCF's Jeff Godfrey and UAB's Bryan Ellis. Each should throw for at least 3,000 yards this season except Godfrey, who oversees a run-oriented offense. Keenum, ECU's Davis and Padron could (should?) have 4,000-yard seasons, while Kinne could be a 3,500-yard passer.
The best: SEC
The buzz: Cam Newton was the league's leading rusher last season, but we'd be willing to bet a huge sum of money that the league's leading rusher will be a running back this season. The question is which one. There are a lot to choose from: Arkansas' Knile Davis, South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Tennessee's Tauren Poole, Auburn's Michael Dyer, Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden and Mississippi State's Vick Ballard. Each ran for at least 968 yards last season except Richardson, who could be a 1,500-yard rusher this season. There are more. LSU is deep at tailback, with sophomore Spencer Ware the likely starter. Florida has perhaps the two fastest backs in the nation in Jeff Demps -- who qualified for the 100-meter finals at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships over the weekend -- and Chris Rainey. Georgia true freshman Isaiah Crowell arrives with a ton of press clippings. Auburn also has speedy backup Onterio McCalebb, who ran for 810 yards and nine TDs last season. Even Vanderbilt, with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, has talented backs. The only team in the league with questionable talent at tailback is Kentucky, which lost Derrick Locke.
The best: Big 12
The buzz: Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller are among the five or six best receivers in the nation. Those guys combined for 314 receptions for 4,470 yards and 46 touchdowns last season, making that an unbeatable trio for any league. Then you add in Baylor's Kendall Wright, Missouri's T.J. Moe, Texas A&M's Ryan Swope, Oklahoma's Kenny Stills, Oklahoma State's Josh Cooper and Kansas' Daymond Patterson, along with Missouri TE Michael Egnew, and that's a deep and talented bunch of receivers. Blackmon, Broyles, Fuller and Moe were 1,000-yard receivers last season, and Wright should reach that plateau this season. Texas Tech should have a 1,000-yard guy, too -- we just don't know who. The Red Raiders' top two receivers from last season have graduated.
The best: Big Ten
The buzz: The Big Ten has, arguably, the three best centers in the nation in Wisconsin's Peter Konz, Ohio State's Michael Brewster and Michigan's David Molk. There also are stars at tackle in Ohio State's Mike Adams and J.B. Shugart, Iowa's Riley Reiff; Purdue's Dennis Kelly and Northwestern's Al Netter, and at guard with Michigan State's Joel Foreman and Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler. Illinois' Graham Pocic is another center to watch.
The best: SEC
The buzz: The SEC lost its three best defensive linemen: Auburn T Nick Fairley, Alabama E Marcell Dareus and LSU T Drake Nevis. No matter -- SEC teams churn out stud defensive linemen like Detroit used to churn out cars. Already established as prime players are E Devin Taylor and T Travian Robertson at South Carolina, T Malik Jackson at Tennessee, T Josh Chapman at Alabama and E Jake Bequette at Arkansas. Look for a bunch more players to earn a name for themselves this fall, such as Auburn T Jeffrey Whitaker, Mississippi State T Fletcher Cox, LSU Es Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Kendrick Adams, Georgia T Kwame Geathers, Florida E Ronald Powell and Ts Jaye Howard and Sharrif Floyd and South Carolina E Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 recruit. And don't get caught up in the established star power -- or lack thereof. What makes SEC defenses so tough is the line depth, especially at tackle.
The best: ACC
The buzz: The ACC edges out the SEC here. At the top of the heap, the ACC has Boston College's Luke Kuechly, Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor, Miami's Sean Spence, North Carolina's Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown, Florida State's Nigel Bradham[db] and Maryland's [db]Kenny Tate. Forget an all-league team: You could make a legit preseason All-America team out of those guys. Along with the SEC, the Pac-12 deserves mention. Arizona State's Vontzae Burfict and Stanford's Shayne Skov might be the best 1-2 punch at linebacker for any league.
The best: SEC
The buzz: Alabama has the nation's best safety duo in SS Mark Barron and FS Robert Lester. Arkansas FS Tramain Thomas, Auburn FS Neiko Thorpe, Vanderbilt SS Sean Richardson, Kentucky SS Winston Guy and Florida SS Matt Elam are other safeties to watch. LSU has one of the nation's best cornerback duos in Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks are other SEC corners possessing star power.

And now a word from our sponsor

Rutgers announced last week that its stadium now will be called High Point Solutions Stadium as part of a 10-year, $6.5 million deal with the New Jersey-based tech company.

Rutgers becomes the 14th school to play its home games in a stadium named for a sponsor, joining Akron, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Syracuse, Temple, Texas Tech, UCF, USF and Wake Forest. Miami, Pitt, San Diego State, Temple and USF play in NFL stadiums.

That means 11.7 percent of the 120 FBS schools play in a "sponsored stadium."

Grid bits

Former North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson told the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times that he will make a decision to play football or pro baseball by July 1. He also told the newspaper that should he choose to continue playing football, he will attend either Auburn or Wisconsin.

Tennessee backup DL Rae Sykes is, at this time, academically ineligible to play this fall. So why should anyone care about a reserve lineman? If Sykes doesn't play this fall, that means Tennessee will have just eight seniors on its roster. Given that Derek Dooley is entering his second season and that Lane Kiffin was in Knoxville for just one season, that number falls squarely on the shoulders of Phillip Fulmer.

It's never a good time to lose your leading returning rusher. But losing him in late June has to especially sting. That's the case for new Ball State coach Pete Lembo. TB Eric Williams, the Cardinals' leading rusher and a second-team All-MAC performer last season, announced last week he was transferring for personal reasons. Ball State doesn't have much offensive talent to begin with, so Williams' departure really hurts. Rivals.com had picked Ball State to finish last in the MAC West, and that looks like an extremely safe pick now.

The Longhorn Network -- Texas' new venture with ESPN -- hits the airwaves Aug. 26.

It appears former Florida coach Urban Meyer will be a game analyst for ESPN this fall, working with play-by-play guy Dave Pasch and analyst Chris Spielman on noon games, usually involving Big Ten teams. His first game seems likely to be Akron-Ohio State on Sept. 3. (Go ahead and chuckle if you want; we understand why you'd want to.)

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.


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