By Lenn Robbins
With the College Football Playoffs about to commence, it’s time to unveil our undisputed All America team.
A few explanations if not rationalizations:
When there was a close call, we leaned toward upper classmen and player’s whose teams had an exceptional year.
For example, there is a bevy of exceptional receivers, such as LSU’s Ja’marr Chase and Mississippi’s Elijah Moore. We went with Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle as our second receiver (DaVonta Smith is the lock of locks), a senior who posted back-to-back 200-yard games and averaged an impressive 20.2 yards per catch. He also was a key figure in Indiana’s remarkable 6-1 season. The Hoosiers haven’t posted an .857 win percentage since 1910.
We made a similar call on the offensive line. Sam Cosmi of Texas and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood were considered. BYU’s Brady Christenson got the nod. His play has been exceptional and he is a core player on one of the nation’s best lines. The 11-1 Cougars are close to being the physical beasts coach Kalani Sitake envisions.
COACH OF THE YEAR – Good Lord there are some great choices. What Jamey Chadwell has done at Coastal Carolina is nothing short of outstanding. Brent Brennan went 2-11 in his first season at San Jose State. The Spartans went 7-0. And the program Matt Campbell has built at Iowa State, the northern most outpost in the Big 12, is remarkable.
But only one coach comes into every season having to live up to what he has built over the last 14 years in the most diehard college program in America. Sure, it’s easy to knock the choice of Nick Saban, who might have his best Alabama squad ever, because he gets so much talent. True. Now consider how nearly impossible it is to maintain the level of success that Saban has achieved.
LSU gets its share of talent but can’t touch Bama if the topic is program. As long as Saban is there, you will NEVER see a former player throwing cash at players after winning the national title.
Florida is in the heart of the talent-rich Sunshine State. You will NEVER see a player rip off an opposing player’s sneaker and heave it, drawing a much-deserved penalty that turned a probable win into a shattering loss.
Going 11-0 is merely the end result of the relentless pursuit of perfect. Doing it year in and year out sets the Tide apart.
FRONT AND CENTER: Center was the toughest call on offense and was the one deviation in our grading. Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum is only a sophomore and although Iowa had a very solid season at 6-2, the Hawkeyes didn’t play in the Big Ten title game. So why Linderbaum? Because his play was so superior he got the edge over Bama’s senior C Landon Dickerson and OU’s junior, Creed Humphrey.
IT’S (NOT) THE PITTS: Florida’s Kyle Pitts is a likely Top 10 pick in the April, although we don’t consider that in our selection criteria. He is a magnificent pass-catching big body wide receiver who plays tight end. We prefer a little old school in our tight end, a player who blocks like a lineman and makes plays in the middle of the field. That tilted the nod to Iowa’s Charlie Kolar.
EYE TEST: DE Jaelan Phillips is one of our favorite players in college football. Watch any Miami game. The UCLA transfer pops off the screen. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound DE/OLB almost gave up football after suffering multiple concussions but found he couldn’t abandon the game he loves. His eight sacks led the ‘Canes and are tied for 10th nationally.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: One of our other favorites is Bama’s Christian Barmore. In the Tide’s 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC title game, it was fascinating to see how often the Gators committed three blockers to deal with Barmore.
His stats are solid, not exceptional – 27 tackles (12th on the Tide), six sacks (first), three passes defensed and one force fumble. But consider this: When tripled teamed, that leaves Bama’s 10 other defenders, many of them elite, to defend the opposition’s eight.
QUARTERBACK OF RICHES: Finally, the quarterback dilemma. This is not the first season we’ve suffered from Quarterback Stat Fatigue. Kyle Trask’s numbers tell the story of an exceptional season – 43 touchdown passes and just five interceptions on 409 pass attempts.
But Alabama’s Mac Jones was equally impressive with 32 touchdowns passes and just four interceptions on 329 pass attempts. He’s led the Crimson Tide to one of the greatest seasons in college football, especially considering the conditions of 2020.
BYU’s Zach Wilson weighs in with 33 touchdown passes and a scant three picks on 336 pass attempts. Add his 10 rushing scores, more than Jones and Trask combined, and there’s a convincing argument for Wilson, who is not among the Heisman Finalist.
So of course, we went with Trevor Lawrence.
We evaluate quarterbacks on five criteria: 1. Wins; 2. Leadership; 3. Taking care of the ball; 4. Lifting his team, different than leadership. Touchdowns.
Wins: Lawrence is 34-1 as a starter at Clemson.
Leadership: He established a Covid-19 relief fund for his hometown of Georgia, spearheaded the drive to play this season, including a conference call with players from around the country, and led a peaceful demonstration on campus to heighten awareness of racial and social injustice.
Ball Protection: He’s thrown just 16 interceptions in 1,090 pass attempts.
Lifting his team: The 34 wins speak to that but Lawrence is an “It” spreader. The blowout win over Notre Dame, vindicating a loss to the Fighting Irish when Lawrence was sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19, is the most obvious example. But it’s the confidence with which the Tigers play when Lawrence is on the field that is magical. Sorry Jets fans. So sorry.
Touchdowns: Lawrence has scored 105 touchdowns in three seasons.
Note: With the exception of Lawrence, Notre Dame’s Ian Book is our favorite quarterback to watch play. His movement in the pocket is uncanny as is his ability to improvise. He’s won 30 games as a starter. Not bad for a former three-star recruit, whatever that means.
Without any further ado, our best of the best.
QB – Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – The Buckeyes call him Sunshine – not just because he burns everyone; you’ll be hearing about that.
RB – Breece Hall, Iowa State – Mr. Elusive
RB – Jaret Patterson, Buffalo – Mr. Abusive.
U – Travis Etienne, Clemson – Yes, he’s a RB by trade but he also finished third at Clemson with 44 catches and two touchdowns, edging Bama’s Najee Harris.
TE – Charlie Kolar, Iowa State – Go low when trying to tackle this 6-6, 257-pounder. Real low.
WR – DaVonta Smith, Alabama – ‘Nuff said.
WR – Ty Fryfogle, Indiana – Back to back 200-yard games.
OL – Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame – The next great Irish lineman.
OL – Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC – Played guard and tackle.
C – Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz turns out O-Linemen the way Hersheys churns out kisses.
OL – Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech – Once he gets on you, it’s over.
OL – Brady Christenson, BYU – He’s grading higher this season than Penei Sewell did last season.
DL – Rashad Weaver, Pitt – Fascinating how Pitt turns out elite NFL talent.
DL – Christian Barmore, Alabama – The Bartender serves up misery.
DL – Jaelan Phillips, Miami – Concussion-free, he gives OT’s headaches.
DL – Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina – Three straight season with more than 50 tackles.
LB – Zaven Collins, Tulsa – Bronco Nagurski Award winner, nation’s best defensive play.
LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, Notre Dame – Chuck Bednarik Award winner, nation’s best defensive player.
LB – Joseph Ossai, Texas – Sixteen tackles for loss; five sacks, sounds like nation’s best defensive player.
LB – Nick Bolton, Missouri – Nation’s best under the radar defensive player with 198 tackles and 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons
DB – Patrick Surtain II, Alabama – A blanket, not an interception machine.
DB – Brandon Joseph, Northwestern – Just watch: https://bit.ly/3nR2LU2
DB – Nolan Turner, Clemson – A quarterback on defense.
DB – Shaun Wade, Ohio State – The latest stellar Buckeyes DB.
K – Alex Kessman, Pitt – Panthers’ all-time career leader with 64 field goals made.
P – Jake Camarda, Georgia – More than of his punts (17) inside the 20 and allowed two return yards.
Ret – Avery Williams, Boise State – Two punt returns and two kickoff returns for touchdowns.