NCF Nation: Ohio State Buckeyes

You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. Fyor good measure, Central Florida Knight won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league – not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall – Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hotshot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Trevor Siemian of Northwestern. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jake Rudock of Iowa. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
There's no dancing around it: Nonleague play simply matters more for the Big Ten than any other major conference.

SportsNation

How many of the most significant nonleague games will the Big Ten win?

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    24%
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    46%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,619)

The league's national reputation is constantly dissected, and the inevitable question that follows -- how does the Big Ten improve its perception? -- is directly tied to performance in games against top teams from other conferences. If the Big Ten steps up and records several key wins early in the year, it remains in the national discussion, especially this season with the inaugural playoff approaching. If the league struggles, it becomes less relevant and possibly left out of the top four on Dec. 7 -- the worst possible scenario after more than a decade without a championship.

This list examines the five most significant nonleague games for Big Ten teams. They're rated according to quality of the opponent, expectations for the Big Ten team, where the game is being played and when it's being played. There's a drop-off after the top two contests but all five games matter in shaping Big Ten perception.

Without further ado ...

1. Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: Michigan State handed Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and then beat preseason national title contender Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The next step, as the Spartans openly acknowledge, is competing for a national title. It might take an upset victory at Autzen Stadium -- one of the nation's toughest venues for a visiting team -- or at least a good showing to remain in the playoff mix. But a win would be huge, not only for Michigan State's profile as a program that has moved up in class, but for the Big Ten, which has struggled in true road games against the Pac-12. A close loss wouldn't ruin MSU's playoff hopes. A blowout loss would damage the Big Ten's push for respect.

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (at Houston), Aug. 30: The opponent isn't as sexy and the location isn't as daunting, but any win against an upper-class SEC opponent benefits the Big Ten. Wisconsin enters the season with numerous questions, from quarterback to receiver to defensive front seven, but it can provide a resounding answer about its expectations by upsetting LSU at NRG Stadium. It's a big opportunity for Badgers running back Melvin Gordon to make a statement in the Heisman Trophy race against a top defense. A Wisconsin win would put the Badgers in the playoff discussion, given their favorable Big Ten schedule. A double-digit loss adds to the SEC's superiority case against the Big Ten.

3. Miami at Nebraska, Sept. 20: This is a hold-serve game for both Nebraska and the Big Ten, and it's a bit more significant for the Huskers than the league as a whole. Bo Pelini's team simply has to win this one, especially on its home field against a Miami team that has had major personnel problems during the offseason. Miami isn't UCLA, and Nebraska can't have a meltdown like it did in last year's top nonleague showdown. Unless Nebraska stumbles at Fresno State the week before, it should be poised to improve to 4-0 with a win, two weeks before the first of several Big Ten road tests at Michigan State. A victory keeps the possibilities alive for Nebraska. A loss here, and it's hard to envision the Huskers winning in East Lansing, Madison or Iowa City.

4. Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6: This is very similar to the previous game: a home contest against a good but not great ACC opponent that the Big Ten team absolutely has to win to remain nationally relevant. Ohio State likely will enter the season as the Big Ten favorite and the league's best bet to reach the playoff, but it can't afford a slip-up against Virginia Tech. Unlike Michigan State, which probably could remain in the playoff hunt with a close loss at Oregon and a Big Ten title, Ohio State might have to run the table to make the top four. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Virginia Tech is no longer an ACC bigfoot that provides a schedule boost. Ohio State has to take care of business on its home field, ideally by 10 points or more.

5. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6: This one is tricky. The game pops nationally because it's Michigan and Notre Dame. It's also the teams' last meeting for the foreseeable future. It's Notre Dame Stadium under the lights. And it's big for Michigan. But has there been a more misleading game for Michigan in recent years? What have the recent Notre Dame victories -- 2013, 2010, 2009 -- meant for Michigan? Bupkis. The dramatic win in 2011 propelled Michigan to an 11-win season, but for the most part these games have been big teases for the Maize and Blue. Still, Michigan needs an early win away from Ann Arbor, if only because tougher road tests -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- follow during Big Ten play. Perhaps this season mirrors 2011 and the Notre Dame game actually propels Brady Hoke's team. Although Big Ten wins against Notre Dame haven't meant much, they don't hurt, either.

Five more games with B1G importance: Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20; Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13; Minnesota at TCU, Sept. 13; Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27; Northwestern at Notre Dame, Nov. 15.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
Maryland and Rutgers fans might have the wrong idea about their new Big Ten brethren.

For the most part, Midwesterners are excessively nice and hospitable. Coastal arrogance or aloofness has no place in the heartland, and the only frostiness in these parts is the weather. Big Ten fans might not have done backflips when they found out Rutgers and Maryland were joining the league, but now that the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are part of the league, they will embrace their new, well-located friends.

But there are certain individuals that rankle even the most sensible Midwesterners. They are the folks you love to boo. Sadly, some of our favorite Big Ten villains -- Bret Bielema, Terrelle Pryor, Taylor Lewan -- are no longer here to kick around, but others remain.

Some of these folks have done absolutely nothing wrong. They have been too good on the field or on the sideline or as high school recruits. Others have said or done things to stir the pot.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State coach James Franklin's exuberance has grown a little annoying for some around the Big Ten.
Today, we unmask these villains.

To those on this list, an important point: the only true villains in college football are good enough to be villains. No one cares what the last-place coach or quarterback thinks. So you have earned this distinction. Put it right next to your playing or coaching awards.

Another reminder: this is all in good fun.

Without further ado, the list in alphabetical (not villainous) order:

Jim Delany, commissioner, Big Ten: He is one of the most powerful figures in college sports and has built the Big Ten into a revenue superpower through initiatives like the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten will never have a commissioner who makes a greater impact for such a long period of time. But Delany is still known more for his pro-BCS stance, Legends and Leaders, and the eyebrow-raising additions of Rutgers and Maryland. He lacks Larry Scott's polish or Mike Slive's willingness to stump for his constituents no matter what. Delany is a true independent voice and, at times, it has hurt his image among Big Ten fans. He might not be truly appreciated until he's gone.

James Franklin, head coach, Penn State: Remember when Penn State's offseasons used to be quiet? Franklin has generated noise -- joyful noise for Nittany Nation, not so much for other fan bases -- since his opening news conference in January. He has made bold statements about dominating regional recruiting and backed it up so far, compiling a top-5 class for 2015. Franklin soaked up the spotlight during his May tour around the state and appears to be in front of every microphone and camera. Recruits and many fans love the guy, but some question his authenticity and get tired of the incessant hype.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: He is about as subdued a superstar as we have seen in the Big Ten and a welcome departure from his predecessor, Pryor. But the introverted Miller has inflicted quite a bit of damage on Big Ten fan bases, leading Ohio State to a 16-0 mark in regular-season league games the past two seasons as the starter. Miller has been the king of comebacks during his Buckeyes career, leading six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most among any FBS player. Knock him if you'd like for lack of a Big Ten title, but his best could be still to come.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: He is the overlord of the Big Ten's best defense and one of the nation's most dominant units. Michigan State and Alabama are the only FBS teams to rank among the top 11 nationally in the four major defensive categories in each of the past three seasons. Narduzzi's incessant blitzes punish quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Just ask Michigan. The Spartans have a good thing going and Narduzzi knows it, telling ESPN.com, "I don't think there's a team in the country that does what we do. ... We've been ahead of the curve for years."

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan: How can Peppers be a Big Ten villain when he hasn't even played a Big Ten game? I'll answer that question with a question: How many recent Big Ten players have generated more headlines before they step on the field than Michigan's prized incoming recruit? It's not Peppers' fault, but 13 of the 14 Big Ten fan bases likely are tired of hearing about the next Charles Woodson, his connection to "Naughty by Nature" and Peppers being the potential savior for an underachieving Wolverines program. Peppers might be the most anticipated Big Ten recruit since Pryor in 2008. He has a lot to prove this fall, and quite a few folks hope he busts.

Villains on deck: Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Connor Cook, Julie Hermann, Christian Hackenberg
Dantonio/MeyerUSA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer and OSU might be the Big Ten favorite, but don't forget about Mark Dantonio and MSU.
Let's get this out of the way first. I don't begrudge anyone for listing Ohio State as the 2014 Big Ten favorite.

The Buckeyes are 16-0 in regular-season Big Ten games under coach Urban Meyer, and 24-0 in the regular season overall the past two seasons. Despite Wisconsin's surge in 2010 and 2011 and Penn State's in 2005 and 2008, Ohio State has carried the Big Ten banner since winning the league's last national title in 2002. Other than the 2011 season, when the program lost its coach and its quarterback late in the spring, Ohio State has been the team to beat in this league.

What bothers me is the tone about the Buckeyes and this season's Big Ten title race. I've been on several radio shows in recent weeks that have presented the conference as one where Ohio State is 50 yards ahead and everyone else is trying to catch up. Some playoff projections list Ohio State as the Big Ten's only candidate. Bovada's futures list Ohio State with 1/1 odds to win the Big Ten and 2/5 odds to win the East Division. That is an overwhelming endorsement for Meyer's crew.

I'm used to the Big Ten being framed in this way. In other seasons, it has made complete sense. It doesn't make sense entering the 2014 campaign.

The Big Ten conversation can start with Ohio State, but it also must include Michigan State, the team that outclassed Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and went on to win the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The Spartans have earned a spot in the conversation.

Several other teams could catch, and possibly overtake, the Buckeyes and Spartans by early December, but right now, it's a two-team discussion.

So why are the Buckeyes dominating so much of the preseason chatter?

It takes a long time to change perception in college football, and the default perception in the Big Ten goes like this: Ohio State, canyon, everyone else. Michigan State last season was the Big Ten's most dominant team in recent memory -- the Spartans beat all nine of their league opponents by 10 points or more -- but the sense is MSU cannot sustain such excellence.

And why not? Well, the Spartans lost some key pieces from the league's top defense, including All-America cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough.

But so did Ohio State. The Buckeyes actually lose more of their core: four starting offensive linemen, running back Carlos Hyde, linebacker Ryan Shazier, cornerback Bradley Roby.

Both teams say goodbye to quality offensive linemen but bring back proven quarterbacks in Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Connor Cook (Michigan State). The Buckeyes likely have the single best position group between the teams -- and possibly in the entire Big Ten -- with their defensive line, but MSU's defense, with a multiyear stretch of elite performance, looks more complete. The Spartans, who lose only one key skill player on offense -- wide receiver Bennie Fowler -- seem to have fewer question marks on that side of the ball.

Both coaching staffs are excellent. Meyer added two quality defensive assistants this winter in Larry Johnson and Chris Ash. Michigan State retained arguably the nation's top defensive assistant in coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Both teams should thrive on special teams with standout punters Mike Sadler (MSU) and Cameron Johnston (OSU).

I guess I'm trying to figure out where a significant gap exists between Ohio State and Michigan State. I understand the risk of basing too much on a previous season. MSU has to rise up again. But it's not like the Spartans are a one-year marvel. They have averaged 10.5 wins over the past four seasons.

Maybe the perceived gap is based on talent and recruiting. Ohio State has advantages in those areas and a roster that now includes several classes of Meyer recruits. But MSU also has made upgrades in the quality of players it brings in, and its ability to develop players can't be questioned at this point.

If you can make a case why Ohio State is well ahead of Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten, be my guest. But don't base it on Ohio State being Ohio State and Michigan State being Michigan State. That type of lazy, it-is-how-it-is-because-it-always-has-been thinking enters too many college football conversations.

Ohio State could storm through the Big Ten en route to its first recognized league title since 2009. But the Buckeyes don't look like world-beaters on paper. They have significant questions (offensive line, linebacker, secondary, running back) and likely must get through East Lansing on Nov. 8 to return to Indianapolis.

They aren't entitled to the pedestal they have occupied in the past.

Go ahead and list the Buckeyes as your favorite. I might, too. But this year's Big Ten preseason buzz involves two teams, not one.
When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
If the preseason All-America teams are any indication, the Big Ten will have a very good year in the offensive backfield -- both carrying the ball out of it and penetrating it.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon has averaged a gaudy 8.1 yards per rushing attempt during his career.
Running back and defensive line appear to be the league's two strongest position groups -- possibly by a wide margin -- entering the 2014 season. Athlon on Monday came out with its preseason All-America teams, following up Phil Steele, who released his last week. Three Big Ten players made Athlon's first team: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Four other defensive linemen -- Nebraska's Randy Gregory (second team), Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun (second team), Ohio State's Joey Bosa (fourth team) and Iowa's Carl Davis (fourth team) -- made one of the remaining three teams, and two other running backs -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (second team) and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (fourth team) -- also appear.

Steele had Bennett and Calhoun on his first team, Gregory and Bosa on his second team and Davis on his third team. Like Athlon, he lists Gordon as a first-team running back and Abdullah on the second team. It's interesting to see Calhoun getting a bit more love than Gregory, even though Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks and is projected as a higher draft pick.

Not sure about you, but I can't wait for Calhoun and Gregory to share the field Oct. 4 at Spartan Stadium, or for longtime friends Gordon and Abdullah to match up on Nov. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium. Both matchups should be fun to watch all season.

It's not unusual for defensive line and running back to headline the Big Ten. Both positions historically are strong in the league, especially defensive line. A potential concern is that only one quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- and zero wide receivers make any of Athlon's teams. Steele has two Big Ten wideouts, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess (has played tight end but listed as a receiver), on his third team. Still, it's clear these are two positions where the Big Ten continues to need upgrades.

Other Athlon preseason All-America selections include: Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (second team), Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman (third team), Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond (third team), Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (third team), Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (fourth team), Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (fourth team) and Northwestern punt returner Venric Mark (fourth team).

The Big Ten is tied with the Pac-12 for third among overall Athlon All-America selections with 18, trailing both the ACC (27) and SEC (26).

Position U: Defensive back

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:00
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Defensive Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (238 points)
It didn’t hammer the field in the secondary like it did at linebacker, but more than a decade of consistency helped Ohio State claim the “Defensive Back U” title, too. When your school seems to always be in the thick of the championship chase, there’s a good chance that it will rank highly on these positional lists. Think Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, USC, Texas. We keep seeing their names, which makes perfect sense if you think of how many wins they accumulated in the 2000s -- and in the case of Ohio State at defensive back, a lengthy tradition from Mike Doss, Will Allen and Chris Gamble to Malcolm Jenkins to Bradley Roby helped the Buckeyes outpace contenders like LSU, Oklahoma and Miami to proclaim itself “DBU.”

Award winners: Jenkins, Thorpe (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Doss (2002), Allen (2003), Jenkins (2008).
First-team all-conference: Nate Clements (2000), Doss (2000, 2001, 2002), Gamble (2002, 2003), Allen (2003), Nate Salley (2005), Donte Whitner (2005), Ashton Youboty (2005), Jenkins (2006, 2007, 2008), Antonio Smith (2006), Kurt Coleman (2009), Chimdi Chekwa (2010), Jermale Hines (2010), Travis Howard (2012), Roby (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Clements (2001), Gamble (2004), Whitner (2006), Jenkins (2009), Roby (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derek Ross (Round 3, 2002), Doss (Round 2, 2003), Allen (Round 4, 2004), Dustin Fox (Round 3, 2005), Salley (Round 4, 2006), Youboty (Round 3, 2006), Donald Washington (Round 4, 2009), Chekwa (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Combs (Round 7, 2001), Donnie Nickey (Round 5, 2003), Coleman (Round 7, 2010), Jermale Hines (Round 5, 2011), Nate Ebner (Round 6, 2012), Christian Bryant (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (220)
With four national awards and consensus All-Americans, Oklahoma was certainly going to be near the top of the board in the defensive back rankings. Its 16 first-team all-conference selections helped the Sooners edge LSU for the second-place spot even when Oklahoma only had two first-round selections in Roy Williams and Andre Woolfolk.

Award winners: Williams, Nagurski (2001), Thorpe (2001); Derrick Strait, Nagurski (2003), Thorpe (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: J.T. Thatcher (2000), Williams (2001), Strait (2003), Quinton Carter (2010).
First-team all-conference: Williams (2000, 2001), Thatcher (2000), Brandon Everage (2002), Strait (2002, 2003), Donte Nicholson (2004), Nic Harris (2007, 2008), Reggie Smith (2007), Dominique Franks (2009), Quinton Carter (2010), Jamell Fleming (2011), Aaron Colvin (2012, 2013), Tony Jefferson (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Williams (2002), Woolfolk (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Strait (Round 3, 2004), Antonio Perkins (Round 4, 2005), Brodney Pool (Round 2, 2005), Smith (Round 3, 2008), Carter (Round 4, 2011), Jamell Fleming (Round 3, 2012), Colvin (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mike Hawkins (Round 5, 2005), Nicholson (Round 5, 2005), Franks (Round 5, 2010), Jonathan Nelson (Round 7, 2011).

3. LSU (218)
With six consensus All-Americans and four award winners on its resume, it is no surprise that LSU threatened to claim the top spot at defensive back. LSU has churned out some incredible talent in the secondary in the 2000s, including players like Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne and Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu.

Award winners: Peterson, Bednarik (2010), Thorpe (2010); Claiborne, Thorpe (2011); Mathieu, Bednarik (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: LaRon Landry (2006), Craig Steltz (2007), Peterson (2010), Claiborne (2011), Mathieu (2011), Eric Reid (2012).
First-team all-conference: Corey Webster (2002, 2003), Landry (2005, 2006), Steltz (2007), Chevis Jackson (2007), Peterson (2010), Mathieu (2011), Claiborne (2011), Reid (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Landry (2007), Peterson (2011), Claiborne (2012), Reid (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Webster (Round 2, 2005), Travis Daniels (Round 4, 2005), Steltz (Round 4, 2008), Jackson (Round 3, 2008), Chad Jones (Round 3, 2010), Brandon Taylor (Round 3, 2012), Ron Brooks (Round 4, 2012), Mathieu (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tharold Simon (Round 5, 2013), Norman LeJeune (Round 7, 2003), Curtis Taylor (Round 7, 2009).

4. Miami (202)
It’s apparently going to be difficult for Miami to maintain such a lofty position in the future. The Hurricanes have certainly experienced a drop-off since joining the ACC in 2004, as evidenced by a reduction in all-conference picks and All-Americans since then. But of the players on this list from The U’s pre-ACC days in the early portion of the 2000s, it’s safe to say that DBs like Ed Reed, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle would have dominated in any conference.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Reed (2000, 2001), Taylor (2003), Rolle (2004).
First-team all-conference: Mike Rumph (2000), Reed (2000, 2001), Al Blades (2000), Phillip Buchanon (2001), Rolle (2002, 2003, 2004), Maurice Sikes (2002), Taylor (2002, 2003), Kelly Jennings (2005), Kenny Phillips (2007), Brandon Harris (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Buchanon (2002), Reed (2002), Rumph (2002), Taylor (2004), Rolle (2005), Jennings (2006), Brandon Meriweather (2007), Phillips (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Devin Hester (Round 2, 2006), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Round 3, 2011), Harris (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Leonard Myers (Round 6, 2001), James Lewis (Round 6, 2002), Alfonso Marshall (Round 7, 2004), Marcus Maxey (Round 5, 2006), Brandon McGee (Round 5, 2013).

5. Texas (194)
It says a lot about the top-end talent that Texas has had in the secondary that nearly half of the Longhorns’ draft picks since 2001 (six of 13) were first-round selections. Two of them, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Others like Quentin Jammer and Earl Thomas were consensus All-Americans before becoming first-round picks.

Award winners: Huff, Thorpe (2005); Ross, Thorpe (2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammer (2001), Huff (2005), Thomas (2009).
First-team all-conference: Jammer (2000, 2001), Rod Babers (2002), Nathan Vasher (2003), Huff (2004, 2005), Cedric Griffin (2005), Michael Griffin (2006), Ross (2006), Marcus Griffin (2007), Thomas (2009), Kenny Vaccaro (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammer (2002), Huff (2006), Griffin (2007), Ross (2007), Thomas (2010), Vaccaro (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4:
Babers (Round 4, 2003), Vasher (Round 4, 2004), Griffin (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Williams (Round 2, 2011), Curtis Brown (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tarell Brown (Round 5, 2007), Chykie Brown (Round 5, 2011).

6. Alabama (166)
Alabama is sort of a Johnny Come Lately on this list, but with four consensus All-Americans and five first-round draft picks (Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) in the last five seasons, the Crimson Tide is making its move. This is another example of the Saban Effect. Between 2000 and 2006, Alabama had two all-conference defensive backs and five draft picks. In the seven seasons since Saban’s arrival, Alabama has had nine all-conference DBs and nine draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Javier Arenas (2009), Barron (2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
First-team all-conference: Roman Harper (2005), Simeon Castille (2006, 2007), Rashad Johnson (2007, 2008), Arenas (2009), Barron (2009, 2010, 2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jackson (2010), Barron (2012), Kirkpatrick (2012), Milliner (2013), Clinton-Dix (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Tony Dixon (Round 2, 2001), Harper (Round 2, 2006), Johnson (Round 3, 2009), Arenas (Round 2, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Waine Bacon (Round 6, 2003), Charlie Peprah (Round 5, 2006), Ramzee Robinson (Round 7, 2007), Marquis Johnson (Round 7, 2010), DeQuan Menzie (Round 5, 2012), Vinnie Sunseri (Round 5, 2014).

7. Florida (136)
Florida always seems to have at least one lockdown corner -- the Sunshine State is certainly loaded with athletes -- and good safeties. That’s reflected in its spot in the top 10 here. The Gators don’t have an award winner and have just three consensus All-Americans (Keiwan Ratliff, Reggie Nelson and Joe Haden), but there is an all-conference pick or draft pick from Florida in nearly every year we examined.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009).
First-team all-conference: Lito Sheppard (2000, 2001), Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009), Ahmad Black (2010), Matt Elam (2012), Vernon Hargreaves (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sheppard (2002), Nelson (2007), Haden (2010), Elam (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Todd Johnson (Round 4, 2003), Guss Scott (Round 3, 2004), Ratliff (Round 2, 2004), Major Wright (Round 3, 2010), Jaylen Watkins (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Marquand Manuel (Round 6, 2002), Reynaldo Hill (Round 7, 2005), Dee Webb (Round 7, 2006), Ryan Smith (Round 6, 2007), Black (Round 5, 2011), Josh Evans (Round 6, 2013).

8. Florida State (134)
There was a big gap between FSU’s consensus All-Americans at DB -- from Tay Cody in 2000 to Lamarcus Joyner last season -- but the Seminoles’ BCS crown certainly signifies that the program is back on the map. Jimbo Fisher’s club had a pair of all-conference picks and two players drafted from that secondary, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the program start moving up this list over the next couple of seasons.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Cody (2000), Joyner (2013).
First-team all-conference: Derrick Gibson (2000), Cody (2000), Chris Hope (2001), Stanford Samuels (2003), Antonio Cromartie (2004), Joyner (2012, 2013), Xavier Rhodes (2012), Terrence Brooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Gibson (2001), Cromartie (2006), Patrick Robinson (2010), Rhodes (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cody (Round 3, 2001), Hope (Round 3, 2002), Jerome Carter (Round 4, 2005), Bryant McFadden (Round 2, 2005), Brooks (Round 3, 2014), Joyner (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Pat Watkins (Round 5, 2006), Myron Rolle (Round 6, 2010), Mike Harris (Round 6, 2012).

9. Georgia (126)
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have just one first-round pick (Thomas Davis, who shifted to linebacker in the NFL) and two All-Americans, but a whopping 17 draft picks -- including guys like Brandon Boykin and Reshad Jones who are making an impression in the NFL today -- helped Georgia crack the top 10 at defensive back.

Award winners: Boykin, Hornung (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Davis (2004), Greg Blue (2005).
First-team all-conference: Tim Wansley (2000, 2001), Sean Jones (2003), Davis (2004), Blue (2005), Tra Battle (2006), Bacarri Rambo (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Davis (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jamie Henderson (Round 4, 2001), Terreal Bierria (Round 4, 2002), Bruce Thornton (Round 4, 2004), Jones (Round 2, 2004), Tim Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Paul Oliver (Round 4, 2007), Asher Allen (Round 3, 2009), Boykin (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wansley (Round 7, 2002), Jermaine Phillips (Round 5, 2002), Blue (Round 5, 2006), DeMario Minter (Round 5, 2006), Reshad Jones (Round 5, 2010), Shawn Williams (Round 3, 2013), Sanders Commings (Round 5, 2013), Rambo (Round 6, 2013).

10. Virginia Tech (124)
There isn’t much flashiness here -- no award winners and just Jimmy Williams among consensus All-Americans – but 17 draft picks helped the Hokies break into the top 10. Frank Beamer’s program has produced some incredible DBs including Williams, DeAngelo Hall and Victor “Macho” Harris, as well as one of the best late-round picks in recent NFL drafts, Kam Chancellor.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Williams (2005).
First-team all-conference: Ronyell Whitaker (2001), Hall (2003), Williams (2004, 2005), Brandon Flowers (2006), Harris (2007, 2008), Jayron Hosley (2010), Kyle Fuller (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Hall (2004), Fuller (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cory Bird (Round 3, 2001), Eric Green (Round 3, 2005), Vincent Fuller (Round 4, 2005), Williams (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Rouse (Round 3, 2007), Flowers (Round 2, 2008), Rashad Carmichael (Round 4, 2011), Hosley (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kevin McCadam (Round 5, 2002), Willie Pile (Round 7, 2003), Justin Hamilton (Round 7, 2006), Harris (Round 5, 2009), Cody Grimm (Round 7, 2010), Chancellor (Round 5, 2010), Antone Exum (Round 6, 2014).

“DEFENSIVE BACK U” RANKINGS
240 -- Ohio State; 220 -- Oklahoma; 218 -- LSU; 202 -- Miami; 194 -- Texas; 166 -- Alabama; 136 -- Florida; 134 -- Florida State; 126 -- Georgia; 124 -- Virginia Tech; 122 -- USC; 118 -- Wisconsin; 112 -- Nebraska; 104 -- TCU; 98 -- Tennessee; 94 -- West Virginia; 92 -- California, Michigan State; 90 -- Iowa, Louisville; 88 -- Utah; 84 -- Oregon, South Carolina; 82 -- Clemson, Michigan; 74 -- UCLA; 72 -- Penn State; 70 -- Kansas State, Washington State; 68 -- Pittsburgh; 66 -- Auburn, Oregon State; 62 -- NC State; 60 -- Oklahoma State; 56 -- Wake Forest; 54 -- Rutgers; 52 -- Arizona, Notre Dame; 48 -- Colorado, Maryland, Stanford; 46 -- Arizona State; 44 -- Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Syracuse; 40 -- Minnesota; 36 -- Arkansas, Ole Miss, Washington; 34 -- Georgia Tech; 32 -- Baylor; 30 -- Texas A&M; 28 -- Duke, Virginia; 24 – BYU, Purdue; 22 -- Northwestern, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt; 20 -- Boston College; 18 -- Kentucky, Missouri; 16 -- Iowa State; 12 -- Indiana

Position U: Linebacker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:30
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Linebacker U” for the 2000s?


1. Ohio State (222 points)


Move over Penn State. Ohio State is the new “Linebacker U” -- and the Buckeyes claimed the title in a blowout. In many of these positional rankings, only a handful of points separate first and second place. At linebacker, the Buckeyes finished nearly 50 points ahead of second-place Alabama. But when your players stockpile national awards and All-America honors and then many more go on to become NFL draft picks, you put your program in position to rank at the top of this list. Players such as A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and most recently Ryan Shazier have done that in Columbus.

Award winners: A.J. Hawk, Lombardi (2005); James Laurinaitis, Butkus (2007), Nagurski (2008), Lott (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Joe Cooper (2000), Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2003, 2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008), Ross Homan (2010), Brian Rolle (2010), Ryan Shazier (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: A.J. Hawk (2006), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Ryan Shazier (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cie Grant (Round 3, 2003), Matt Wilhelm (Round 4, 2003), Anthony Schlegel (Round 3, 2006), James Laurinaitis (Round 2, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (Round 4, 2010), John Simon (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Courtland Bullard (Round 5, 2002), Rob Reynolds (Round 5, 2004), Larry Grant (Round 7, 2008), Marcus Freeman (Round 5, 2009), Austin Spitler (Round 7, 2010), Brian Rolle (Round 6, 2011), Ross Homan (Round 6, 2011).


T-2. Alabama (174)


The Crimson Tide has claimed two Butkus Awards and has had four consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 2009, when Alabama won the first of its three BCS titles under Nick Saban. Alabama also has had three linebackers picked in the first round (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley) and five linebackers overall drafted during that run of dominance.

Award winners: DeMeco Ryans, Lott (2005); Rolando McClain, Butkus (2009); C.J. Mosley, Butkus (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
First-team all-conference: Saleem Rasheed (2001), Derrick Pope (2003), Cornelius Wortham (2004), DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2008, 2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), Courtney Upshaw (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rolando McClain (2010), Dont’a Hightower (2012), C.J. Mosley (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Saleem Rasheed (Round 3, 2002), DeMeco Ryans (Round 2, 2006), Courtney Upshaw (Round 2, 2012), Nico Johnson (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derrick Pope (Round 7, 2004), Cornelius Wortham (Round 7, 2005).


T-2. Oklahoma (174)


Hey, what do you know? Oklahoma is near the top of the rankings at another position. At linebacker, the Sooners’ position is largely because of the early-2000s run when Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman cleaned up on the awards and All-America circuit. It also helps that Oklahoma has had 12 linebackers drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Rocky Calmus, Butkus (2001); Teddy Lehman, Bednarik (2003), Butkus (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Curtis Lofton (2007).
First-team all-conference: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Jimmy Wilkerson (2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Dan Cody (2003), Lance Mitchell (2004), Rufus Alexander (2005, 2006), Curtis Lofton (2007), Travis Lewis (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Torrance Marshall (Round 3, 2001), Rocky Calmus (Round 3, 2002), Teddy Lehman (Round 2, 2004), Dan Cody (Round 2, 2005), Clint Ingram (Round 3, 2006), Curtis Lofton (Round 2, 2008), Keenan Clayton (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Lance Mitchell (Round 5, 2005), Rufus Alexander (Round 6, 2007), Nic Harris (Round 5, 2009), Travis Lewis (Round 7, 2012), Corey Nelson (Round 7, 2014).


T-4. USC (140)


It should come as no surprise that the greater portion of USC’s linebacker point total came during its mid-2000s run, when it was an annual BCS title contender. Standout linebackers such as Rey Maualuga -- the 2008 Bednarik Award winner, consensus All-American and three-time All-Pac-10 selection -- Keith Rivers, Matt Grootegoed and Brian Cushing helped the Trojans become the nation’s most dominant program during that period.

Award winners: Rey Maualuga, Bednarik (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Grootegoed (2004), Rey Maualuga (2008).
First-team all-conference: Matt Grootegoed (2002, 2004), Lofa Tatupu (2004), Rey Maualuga (2006, 2007, 2008), Keith Rivers (2006, 2007), Brian Cushing (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Keith Rivers (2008), Brian Cushing (2009), Clay Matthews (2009), Nick Perry (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Markus Steele (Round 4, 2001), Lofa Tatupu (Round 2, 2005), Kaluka Maiava (Round 4, 2009), Rey Maualuga (Round 2, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Zeke Moreno (Round 5, 2001), Oscar Lua (Round 7, 2007), Dallas Sartz (Round 5, 2007), Thomas Williams (Round 5, 2008), Malcolm Smith (Round 7, 2011), Devon Kennard (Round 5, 2014).


T-4. Miami (140)


When your program has 12 players from one position drafted and four of them go in the first round, chances are you’ll rank toward the top of the board. That’s the case with Miami, which had Dan Morgan (who won three national awards and was a consensus All-American in 2000), Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Jon Beason all become first-round picks after standout careers in Coral Gables.

Award winners: Dan Morgan, Bednarik (2000), Nagurski (2000), Butkus (2000).
Consensus All-Americans: Dan Morgan (2000).
First-team all-conference: Dan Morgan (2000), Jonathan Vilma (2001, 2002, 2003), D.J. Williams (2003), Sean Spence (2011), Denzel Perryman (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dan Morgan (2001), Jonathan Vilma (2004), D.J. Williams (2004), Jon Beason (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky McIntosh (Round 2, 2006), Leon Williams (Round 4, 2006), Tavares Gooden (Round 3, 2008), Darryl Sharpton (Round 4, 2010), Colin McCarthy (Round 4, 2011), Sean Spence (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Darrell McClover (Round 7, 2004), Spencer Adkins (Round 6, 2009).


6. Penn State (134)


The old “Linebacker U” still makes our top 10. In fact, Penn State still has plenty to brag about at the position where it has long been known for producing stars. The Nittany Lions earned four national awards and three All-America designations between Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, plus they had nine players drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Paul Posluszny, Butkus (2005), Bednarik (2005, 2006); Dan Connor, Bednarik (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007).
First-team all-conference: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007), NaVorro Bowman (2008, 2009), Gerald Hodges (2011), Michael Mauti (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Paul Posluszny (Round 2, 2007), Dan Connor (Round 3, 2008), Sean Lee (Round 2, 2010), NaVorro Bowman (Round 3, 2010), Gerald Hodges (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tim Shaw (Round 5, 2007), Josh Hull (Round 7, 2010), Nathan Stupar (Round 7, 2012), Michael Mauti (Round 7, 2013).


7. Georgia (110)


Two-time All-American Jarvis Jones and fellow 2013 first-round pick Alec Ogletree might get most of the glory, but this group is chock full of talent. Justin Houston is making his mark as a pass-rusher in the NFL and there are a bunch of old war horses such as Will Witherspoon, Kendrell Bell and Tony Gilbert who hung around the league for several years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Boss Bailey (2002), Odell Thurman (2003, 2004), Rennie Curran (2008, 2009), Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012), Ramik Wilson (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jarvis Jones (2013), Alec Ogletree (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kendrell Bell (Round 2, 2001), Will Witherspoon (Round 3, 2002), Boss Bailey (Round 2, 2003), Odell Thurman (Round 2, 2005), Rennie Curran (Round 3, 2010), Justin Houston (Round 3, 2011), Akeem Dent (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tony Gilbert (Round 6, 2003).


8. Texas (108)


Texas snuck into the top 10 on the back of Derrick Johnson, who won both the Nagurski and Butkus awards in 2004 and was a consensus All-American in 2003 and 2004 before becoming a 2005 first-round draft pick. The current Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker accounted for 62 of the Longhorns’ 108 points in the linebacker rankings.

Award winners: Derrick Johnson, Nagurski (2004), Butkus (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Derrick Johnson (2003, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Cory Redding (2001), Derrick Johnson (2002, 2003, 2004), Aaron Harris (2005), Sergio Kindle (2008), Emmanuel Acho (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Derrick Johnson (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Roddrick Muckelroy (Round 4, 2010), Sergio Kindle (Round 2, 2010), Sam Acho (Round 4, 2011), Keenan Robinson (Round 4, 2012), Alex Okafor (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Emmanuel Acho (Round 6, 2012).


9. Boston College (104): Luke Kuechly is responsible for most of the points here. The four-time award winner in 2011, was twice named a consensus All-American, earned all-conference honors three times and became a first-round draft pick. That's a grand total of 84 points for the Carolina Panthers star. The Eagles also have an active string of first-team all-conference linebackers that started with Mark Herzlich in 2008.

Award winners: Luke Kuechly, Nagurski (2011), Lombardi (2011), Lott (2011), Butkus (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Luke Kuechly (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Herzlich (2008), Luke Kuechly (2009, 2010, 2011), Nick Clancy (2012), Kevin Pierre-Louis (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Luke Kuechly (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


T-10. Maryland (100)

E.J. Henderson accounts for more than half of Maryland’s points thanks in large part to his two national awards and two consensus All-America designations. Henderson is among three Terrapins linebackers who made the All-ACC first team twice (along with D’Qwell Jackson and Alex Wujciak), while Shawne Merriman is the only Terp during the 2000s to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Award winners: E.J. Henderson, Bednarik (2002), Butkus (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002).
First-team all-conference: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002), D’Qwell Jackson (2004, 2005), Erin Henderson (2007), Alex Wujciak (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Shawne Merriman (Round 1, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: E.J. Henderson (Round 2, 2003), Leon Joe (Round 4, 2004), D’Qwell Jackson (Round 2, 2006)
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Moise Fokou (Round 7, 2009).


T-10. Notre Dame (100)


There are times when a single player’s excellence is the difference between a school's spot falling near the top of the rankings and its sitting further down the list. Such is the case with Manti Te’o, who accounted for 82 points in his incredible 2012 season alone (seven national awards, a consensus All-America selection and then becoming a second-round NFL pick). Notre Dame is penalized in these team rankings by not earning points for all-conference honorees, so its spot in this top 10 speaks to how impressive Te’o’s 2012 season truly was.

Award winners: Manti Te’o, Maxwell (2012), Camp (2012), Nagurski (2021), Lombardi (2012), Bednarik (2012), Lott (2012), Butkus (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Manti Te’o (2012).
First-team all-conference: Not applicable.
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky Boiman (Round 4, 2002), Courtney Watson (Round 2, 2004), Manti Te’o (Round 2, 2013), Prince Shembo (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Anthony Denman (Round 7, 2001), Tyreo Harrison (Round 6, 2002), Darius Fleming (Round 5, 2012).

REST OF “LINEBACKER U” RANKINGS
98 – Florida State; 92 – UCLA; 72 – Florida, Stanford; 66 – Iowa, TCU, Wisconsin; 64 – Nebraska; 62 – Michigan State, Oregon State, Tennessee; 60 – LSU, Pittsburgh; 58 – Virginia Tech; 56 – West Virginia; 48 – NC State; 46 – Michigan, Ole Miss, Purdue; 44 – BYU, California, Kansas State; 42 – North Carolina; 40 – Illinois; 38 – Clemson, Iowa State, Texas A&M; 36 – Arizona, Auburn, Syracuse; 34 – Arizona State, Utah, Wake Forest; 32 – Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia; 30 – Arkansas, Georgia Tech; 28 – Kentucky; 26 – Northwestern, Vanderbilt; 24 – Colorado, Oregon; 20 – Washington; 18 – Oklahoma State, Rutgers; 16 – Mississippi State; 14 – Kansas, Louisville; 12 – Baylor; 10 – Washington State; 6 – Duke; 4 – Texas Tech; 2 – Minnesota; 0 – Indiana

Position U: Offensive line

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:45
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Offensive Line U” for the 2000s?

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. Alabama (242 points): Nick Saban (whose first season at Alabama was 2007) has been the Crimson Tide’s coach for only half of the time period that we examined. But that’s when nearly all of the noteworthy accomplishments have occurred in the 2000s for the Tide’s offensive line: three national awards, seven All-America picks, 11 all-conference selections, four first-round picks and eight linemen drafted. Saban teams win by dominating the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line results reflect why Alabama has been so successful.

Award winners: Andre Smith, Outland (2008); Barrett Jones, Outland (2011), Rimington (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Antoine Caldwell (2008), Andre Smith (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), Chance Warmack (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
First-team all-conference: Paul Hogan (2000), Marico Portis (2002), Wesley Britt (2002, 2003, 2004), Andre Smith (2007, 2008), Antoine Caldwell (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), James Carpenter (2010), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), William Vlachos (2011), Chance Warmack (2012), D.J. Fluker (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Andre Smith (2009), James Carpenter (2011), Chance Warmack (2013), D.J. Fluker (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Smiley (Round 2, 2004), Evan Mathis (Round 3, 2005), Antoine Caldwell (Round 3, 2009), Mike Johnson (Round 3, 2010), Barrett Jones (Round 4, 2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Shawn Draper (Round 5, 2001), Wesley Britt (Round 5, 2005),

2. Michigan (238 points): If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman.

Award winners: David Baas, Rimington (2004); David Molk, Rimington (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2011).
First-team all-conference: Steve Hutchinson (2000), Jeff Backus (2000), Jonathan Goodwin (2001), David Baas (2002, 2003, 2004), Tony Pape (2002, 2003), Matt Lentz (2004, 2005), Adam Stenavich (2004, 2005), Adam Kraus (2006, 2007), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2010, 2011), Taylor Lewan (2012, 2013), Patrick Omameh (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Steve Hutchinson (2001), Jeff Backus (2001), Jake Long (2008), Taylor Lewan (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Maurice Williams (Round 2, 2001), David Baas (Round 2, 2005), Michael Schofield (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Goodwin (Round 5, 2002), Tony Pape (Round 7, 2004), Stephen Schilling (Round 6, 2011), David Molk (Round 7, 2012).

3. Wisconsin (192 points): Although Wisconsin placed well behind the juggernauts from Alabama and Michigan, the Badgers have a ton to brag about. Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi were both Outland Trophy winners, consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks. In fact, Wisconsin had a total of 14 offensive linemen drafted in the 2000s, four of whom went in the first round (with Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick joining Thomas and Carimi).

Award winners: Joe Thomas, Outland (2006); Gabe Carimi, Outland (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Joe Thomas (2006), Gabe Carimi (2010).
First-team all-conference: Casey Rabach (2000), Dan Buenning (2004), Joe Thomas (2005, 2006), Marcus Coleman (2007), Gabe Carimi (2009, 2010), John Moffitt (2009, 2010), Peter Konz (2011), Josh Oglesby (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2011), Travis Frederick (2012), Rick Wagner (2012), Ryan Groy (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Joe Thomas (2007), Gabe Carimi (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Travis Frederick (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Casey Rabach (Round 3, 2001), Bill Ferrario (Round 4, 2001), Al Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Dan Buenning (Round 4, 2005), Kraig Urbik (Round 3, 2009), John Moffitt (Round 3, 2011), Peter Konz (Round 2, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Johnson (Round 7, 2003), Bill Nagy (Round 7, 2011), Ricky Wagner (Round 5, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (186 points): With four first-round picks and four consensus All-America selections, Oklahoma has had a great run along the offensive line in the 2000s. And the Sooners have been consistent throughout that time period, placing at least one lineman on the all-conference team in every season except 2000 and 2002. In some years, there were as many as three on the all-conference first team.

Award winners: Jammal Brown, Outland (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammal Brown (2004), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Trent Williams (2009).
First-team all-conference: Frank Romero (2001), Jammal Brown (2003, 2004), Vince Carter (2003, 2004), Davin Joseph (2005), Chris Messner (2006), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Phil Loadholt (2008), Trent Williams (2008, 2009), Eric Mensik (2010), Gabe Ikard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammal Brown (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Trent Williams (2009), Lane Johnson (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Chester (Round 2, 2006), Phil Loadholt (Round 2, 2009), Donald Stephenson (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wes Sims (Round 6, 2005), Duke Robinson (2009).

5. USC (182 points): Considering how much success it experienced in the early and mid-2000s, it seems strange that USC didn’t have a first-round offensive lineman until Sam Baker in 2008 (the first of three, as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil have since joined him). Nonetheless, the Trojans churned out six second-round picks, 17 all-conference linemen and a trio of All-Americans, so there has been plenty of acclaim for the group in the 2000s.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jacob Rogers (2003), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2006).
First-team all-conference: Jacob Rogers (2002, 2003), Norm Katnik (2003), Ryan Kalil (2005, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2005, 2006, 2007), Chilo Rachal (2007), Kristopher O’Dowd (2008), Jeff Byer (2009), Charles Brown (2009), Tyron Smith (2010), Matt Kalil (2011), Khaled Holmes (2012), Marcus Martin (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sam Baker (2008), Tyron Smith (2011), Matt Kalil (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jacob Rogers (Round 2, 2004), Winston Justice (Round 2, 2006), Deuce Lutui (Round 2, 2006), Ryan Kalil (Round 2, 2007), Chilo Rachal (Round 2, 2008), Charles Brown (Round 2, 2010), Khaled Holmes (Round 4, 2013), Marcus Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Fred Matua (Round 7, 2006).

6. Florida State (166 points): FSU has only one first-round draft pick and one national award winner (Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last season) along the offensive line in the 2000s. But with three All-Americans and 13 all-conference selections in the 2000s, the Seminoles still rank among the nation’s better programs for linemen.

Award winners: Bryan Stork, Rimington (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2010), Bryan Stork (2013).
First-team all-conference: Justin Amman (2000), Char-ron Dorsey (2000), Brett Williams (2001, 2002), Montrae Holland (2002), Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2008, 2009, 2010), Bryan Stork (2013), Tre Jackson (2013), Cameron Erving (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Alex Barron (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Montrae Holland (Round 4, 2003), Brett Williams (Round 4, 2003), Ray Willis (Round 4, 2005), Mario Henderson (Round 3, 2007), Rodney Hudson (Round 2, 2011), Menelik Watson (Round 2, 2013), Bryan Stork (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Char-ron Dorsey (Round 7, 2001), Milford Brown (Round 6, 2002), Todd Williams (Round 7, 2003), Andrew Datko (Round 7, 2012), Zebrie Sanders (Round 5, 2012).

7. Miami (158 points): The Hurricanes were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century, thanks in large part to a supremely talented offensive line. Between 2000 and 2002, Miami had eight first-team all-conference players, two All-Americans and two national award winners. The Hurricanes have been successful along the line here and there since then, but their spot in the top 10 is largely because of those outstanding days in the early 2000s.

Award winners: Brett Romberg, Rimington (2002), Bryant McKinnie, Outland (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Bryant McKinnie (2001), Brett Romberg (2002).
First-team all-conference: Joaquin Gonzalez (2000, 2001), Bryant McKinnie (2000, 2001), Martin Bibla (2001), Brett Romberg (2001, 2002), Sherko Haji-Rasouli (2002), Eric Winston (2003, 2005), Jason Fox (2009), Brandon Washington (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bryant McKinnie (2002), Vernon Carey (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Bibla (Round 4, 2002), Rashad Butler (Round 3, 2006), Eric Winston (Round 3, 2006), Jason Fox (Round 4, 2010), Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Linder (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joaquin Gonzalex (Round 7, 2002), Carlos Joseph (Round 7, 2004), Chris Myers (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Washington (Round 6, 2012), Seantrel Henderson (Round 7, 2014).

8. Texas (150 points): Texas would have ranked higher on this list had we compiled it a few years ago. The Longhorns haven’t had a first-team all-conference pick or a draft pick since 2008, nor a consensus All-American since 2006. They were good enough in the early 2000s that the Longhorns still cracked the top 10, but Texas needs to turn it around under Charlie Strong if it intends to stay there over the next few years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Jonathan Scott (2005), Justin Blalock (2006).
First-team all-conference: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Tillman Holloway (2003), Justin Blalock (2004, 2005, 2006), Jonathan Scott (2004, 2005), Will Allen (2005), Kasey Studdard (2006), Tony Hills (2007), Adam Ulatoski (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Leonard Davis (2001), Mike Williams (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Dockery (Round 3, 2003), Justin Blalock (Round 2, 2007), Tony Hills (Round 4, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Scott (Round 5, 2006), Kasey Studdard (Round 6, 2007).

T-9. Iowa (144 points): No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery, who won the 2003 Outland Trophy and was an All-American that season and a two-time all-conference pick, is the big point winner for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have produced a considerable number of productive offensive linemen. They can claim 13 drafted offensive linemen in the 2000s, including three first-rounders (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff).

Award winners: Robert Gallery, Outland (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Eric Steinbach (2002), Robert Gallery (2003).
First-team all-conference: Eric Steinbach (2001, 2002), Robert Gallery (2002, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2002), Mike Jones (2006), Seth Olson (2008), Bryan Bulaga (2009), Dace Richardson (2009), Riley Reiff (2011), Brandon Scherff (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010), Riley Reiff (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eric Steinbach (Round 2, 2003), Bruce Nelson (Round 2, 2003), Marshal Yanda (Round 3, 2007), Seth Olsen (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Sobieski (Round 5, 2003), Pete McMahon (Round 6, 2005), Mike Elgin (Round 7, 2007), Kyle Calloway (Round 7, 2010), Julian Vandervelde (Round 5, 2011), Adam Gettis (Round 5, 2012).

T-9. Ohio State (144 points): With 13 draft picks -- but just one first-rounder, Nick Mangold -- and 14 all-conference picks, Ohio State built a solid résumé for offensive linemen in the 2000s. Center LeCharles Bentley, a Rimington Trophy winner, is the only All-American, but the Buckeyes have turned out plenty of outstanding players along the line.

Award winners: LeCharles Bentley, Rimington (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: LeCharles Bentley (2001).
First-team all-conference: LeCharles Bentley (2001), Tyson Walter (2001), Alex Stepanovich (2003), Rob Sims (2005), Doug Datish (2006), T.J. Downing (2006), Kirk Barton (2007), Alex Boone (2008), Justin Boren (2009, 2010), Mike Adams (2010), Mike Brewster (2010), Andrew Norwell (2012), Corey Linsley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Nick Mangold (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: LeCharles Bentley (Round 2, 2002), Alex Stepanovich (Round 4, 2004), Rob Sims (Round 4, 2006), Mike Adams (Round 2, 2012), Jack Mewhort (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyson Walter (Round 6, 2002), Shane Olivea (Round 7, 2004), Adrien Clarke (Round 7, 2004), Doug Datish (Round 6, 2007), Kirk Barton (Round 7, 2008), Reid Fragel (Round 7, 2013), Corey Linsley (Round 5, 2014).

REST OF "OFFENSIVE LINE U" RANKINGS
134 – Stanford; 132 – Florida; 124 – TCU; 116 – Arkansas; 112 – Auburn; 108 – Louisville; 104 – Penn State, Utah; 98 – California; 96 – Texas A&M; 94 – Boston College, LSU; 92 – Ole Miss; 90 – Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia; 88 – Colorado; 84 – Georgia Tech; 82 – Georgia, Oklahoma State; 80 – Nebraska; 76 – Arizona State, Pittsburgh; 74 – Virginia Tech; 72 – Clemson, Oregon; 70 – Tennessee; 66 – Baylor; 58 – BYU, North Carolina; 56 – Syracuse; 54 – Maryland, Wake Forest; 50 – Illinois, Rutgers; 48 – Kansas State, Oregon State; 46 – Notre Dame; 44 – Missouri; 38 – Mississippi State; 36 – Texas Tech; 34 – Washington State; 32 – Washington; 30 – Purdue; 28 – Vanderbilt; 24 – NC State, UCLA; 18 – Kansas, Michigan State; 16 – Iowa State, Kentucky; 14 – Arizona; 12 – Indiana; 10 – Northwestern; 10 – South Carolina; 8 – Duke

Position U: Wide receivers

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:00
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Wide Receiver U" for the 2000s?


1. USC (134 points)


USC has been amazingly successful at producing pro wide receivers, as a whopping 11 former Trojans have been selected in the NFL draft since 2001. Mike Williams, a 2003 All-American, is the only first-round pick in the bunch, but look over the list: Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Woods, 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and All-American Marqise Lee. Some supreme pass-catching talent has come through L.A. since the turn of the century.

Award winners: Marqise Lee, Biletnikoff (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
First-team all-conference: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Steve Smith (2006), Damian Williams (2009), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mike Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Keary Colbert (Round 2, 2004), Steve Smith (Round 2, 2007), Dwayne Jarrett (Round 2, 2007), Patrick Turner (Round 3, 2009), Damian Williams (Round 3, 2010), Robert Woods (Round 2, 2013), Marqise Lee (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kareem Kelly (Round 6, 2003), Ronald Johnson (Round 6, 2011), David Ausberry (Round 7, 2011),


2. LSU (124 points)


LSU hasn't accumulated as many All-America receivers as USC, but you won’t find a school that has done a better job of turning out pro wideouts. The Tigers have sent 14 receivers to the NFL through the draft since 2000, including four first-round picks (Michael Clayton, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and new New York Giants WR Odell Beckham). LSU’s national reputation is largely that of a defense-first program -- for good reason -- but the Tigers quietly have turned out a lot of NFL-caliber wideouts.

Award winners: Josh Reed, Biletnikoff (2001); Odell Beckham, Hornung (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Josh Reed (2001).
First-team all-conference: Josh Reed (2000, 2001), Michael Clayton (2003), Dwayne Bowe (2006), Rueben Randle (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Clayton (2004), Dwayne Bowe (2007), Craig Davis (2007), Odell Beckham (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Josh Reed (Round 2, 2002), Devery Henderson (Round 2, 2004), Skyler Green (Round 4, 2006), Early Doucet (Round 3, 2008), Brandon LaFell (Round 3, 2010), Rueben Randle (Round 2, 2012), Jarvis Landry (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Bennie Brazell (Round 7, 2006), Demetrius Byrd (Round 7, 2009), James Wright (Round 7, 2014).


3. Pittsburgh (120 points)


The level of competition for Pittsburgh increased when it joined the ACC, so it will be interesting to see whether the Panthers keep churning out all-conference receivers the way they did in the Big East. That will be a tall order. But guys such as early-2000s stars Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant would have been All-Americans no matter where they played.

Award winners: Antonio Bryant, Biletnikoff (2000); Larry Fitzgerald, Walter Camp (2003), Biletnikoff (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Antonio Bryant (2000), Larry Fitzgerald (2003).
First-team all-conference: Antonio Bryant (2000, 2001), Larry Fitzgerald (2002, 2003), Greg Lee (2005), Derek Kinder (2006), Jonathan Baldwin (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Larry Fitzgerald (2004), Jonathan Baldwin (2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Antonio Bryant (Round 2, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Kinder (Round 7, 2009), Dorin Dickerson (Round 7, 2010), Devin Street, Round 5, 2014).


4. Oklahoma State (112 points)


Off-the-field issues have marred the NFL careers -- and in some cases, the college careers –- of some of Oklahoma State’s most renowned wideouts. But one thing that absolutely isn’t in question is their ability. The Cowboys have featured some of the most ridiculously talented receivers in college football in the last 14 seasons, most notably Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.

Award winners: Justin Blackmon, Biletnikoff (2010, 2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Rashaun Woods (2002), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Rashaun Woods (2002, 2003), Adarius Bowman (2006), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2011, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rashaun Woods (2004), Dez Bryant (2010), Justin Blackmon (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


5. Michigan (96 points)


There was a time when Michigan would have ranked higher on this list -– maybe even at No. 1 -– but the Wolverines haven’t produced great wideouts in recent seasons the way they did in the early 2000s. David Terrell and Braylon Edwards dominated Big Ten games back in the day, but Michigan hasn’t had a first-team all-conference wideout since Mario Manningham went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Award winners: Braylon Edwards, Biletnikoff (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Braylon Edwards (2004).
First-team all-conference: David Terrell (2000), Marquise Walker (2001), Braylon Edwards (2003, 2004), Jason Avant (2005), Mario Manningham (2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: David Terrell (2001), Braylon Edwards (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Marquise Walker (Round 3, 2002), Jason Avant (Round 4, 2006), Mario Manningham (Round 3, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Steve Breaston (Round 5, 2007), Adrian Arrington (Round 7, 2008), Junior Hemingway (Round 7, 2012), Jeremy Gallon (Round 7, 2014).


6. Oregon State (92 points)


This one might surprise folks outside of Pac-12 country, but look down the list. A couple of Biletnikoff Award winners -– including 2014 NFL first-round pick Brandin Cooks, who posted video game numbers (128 catches, 1,730 yards, 16 TDs) last season. And don’t forget their team at the turn of the century that featured future NFL teammates Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at wideout. That duo had to create a matchup problem or two for college defensive coordinators.

Award winners: Mike Hass, Biletnikoff (2005); Brandin Cooks, Biletnikoff (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Brandin Cooks (2013).
First-team all-conference: James Newson (2003), Mike Hass (2004, 2005), Sammie Stroughter (2008), James Rodgers (2009), Markus Wheaton (2012), Brandin Cooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brandin Cooks (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chad Johnson (Round 2, 2001), Markus Wheaton (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Round 7, 2001), Mike Hass (Round 6, 2006), Sammie Stroughter (Round 7, 2009).


T-7. Clemson (82 points)


It’s not unusual for Clemson to have dynamic offensive talent, but a recent surge at wideout helped the Tigers jump to this spot. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins ensured that Clemson had a receiver represented on the All-ACC first team in each of the past three seasons, and both players went on to become first-round draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Airese Currie (2004), Chansi Stuckey (2005, 2006), Aaron Kelly (2007), Sammy Watkins (2011, 2013), DeAndre Hopkins (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rod Gardner (2001), DeAndre Hopkins (2013), Sammy Watkins (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Hamilton (Round 3, 2004), Jacoby Ford (Round 4, 2010), Martavis Bryant (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Airese Curry (Round 5, 2005), Chansi Stuckey (Round 7, 2007).


T-7. Oklahoma (82 points)


Rarely spectacular but always highly productive, Oklahoma has built a solid tradition at receiver under Bob Stoops. Check out the list of 11 wideouts who have been drafted since 2001 -– just one first-round pick (Mark Clayton in 2005), but a big group went in the early rounds because the Sooners keep signing players like Ryan Broyles and Mark Bradley, who develop into dangerous pass-catchers in the Oklahoma offense.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Clayton (2003, 2004), Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mark Clayton (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brandon Jones (Round 3, 2005), Mark Bradley (Round 2, 2005), Travis Wilson (Round 3, 2006), Malcolm Kelly (Round 2, 2008), Juaquin Iglesias (Round 3, 2009), Ryan Broyles (Round 2, 2012), Jalen Saunders (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Manuel Johnson (Round 7, 2009), Kenny Stills (Round 5, 2013), Justin Brown (Round 6, 2013).


9. Texas Tech (80 points)


There was a time when the Mike Leach-led Texas Tech passing game ranked among the most exciting in the game. Michael Crabtree was the centerpiece of that attack, winning a pair of Biletnikoff Awards before becoming a first-round pick. Perhaps Kliff Kingsbury will revive some of the excitement from the old days under his mentor, but the Red Raiders haven’t had an all-conference receiver since Crabtree in 2008.

Award winners: Michael Crabtree, Biletnikoff (2007, 2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Jarrett Hicks (2005), Joel Filani (2005, 2006), Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Crabtree (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Carlos Francis (Round 4, 2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joel Filani (Round 6, 2007).


10. Ohio State (76 points)


Four first-round draft picks -– Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez –- and a total of 11 drafted receivers helped Ohio State crack the top 10 despite not having any national award winners or All-Americans. As one of the most successful college programs of the 2000s, the Buckeyes are a fixture in these positional rankings, so it’s no surprise they made the top 10 here.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Santonio Holmes (2005), Ted Ginn Jr. (2006), Anthony Gonzalez (2006), Dane Sanzenbacher (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Jenkins (2004), Santonio Holmes (2006), Ted Ginn Jr. (2007), Anthony Gonzalez (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brian Robiskie (Round 2, 2009), Brian Hartline (Round 4, 2009), DeVier Posey (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ken-Yon Rambo (Round 7, 2001), Reggie Germany (Round 7, 2001), Drew Carter (Round 5, 2004), Roy Hall (Round 5, 2007)

Rest of "Wide Receiver U" rankings
72 – Louisville; 70 – Georgia Tech; 66 – Florida, Florida State; 64 – Miami; 60 – Texas A&M; 56 – Georgia; 54 – Texas; 52 – West Virginia; 50 – Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin; 48 – Baylor; 46 – Kansas State; 44 – Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Missouri, Rutgers; 36 – California; 34 – Arizona, Indiana, N.C. State, UCLA; 32 – Vanderbilt, Washington; 30 – Illinois, Oregon; 28 – Arizona State, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia Tech; 26 – Minnesota, Utah, Wake Forest; 24 – BYU, TCU; 22 – Alabama, Washington State; 20 – Maryland, Ole Miss; 18 – Colorado, Duke, Iowa, Virginia; 14 – Kentucky, Syracuse; 12 – Auburn, Kansas; 10 – Northwestern; 8 – Stanford; 6 – Iowa State, Nebraska; 0 – Boston College, Mississippi State

Position U: Quarterbacks

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Quarterback U" for the 2000s?

That's what we set out to determine by ranking every program in the five biggest conferences (plus independents Notre Dame and BYU) with a point system based on accomplishments between the 2000-01 season and 2013-14.

We awarded points for the following: winning one of 20 major college football awards, consensus All-Americans, NFL draft picks and coaches' first-team all-conference selections -- or in the case of the ACC, the media's first-team picks that the conference recognized until its coaches began picking their own team in 2012.


1. Oklahoma (142 points)


Winning major awards is the most effective way to place your team near the top of these rankings, so Oklahoma's eight awards since 2000 -- including a pair of Heisman Trophies (by Jason White and Sam Bradford) -- helped the Sooners claim the "Quarterback U" label. Other schools might have a better record of placing quarterbacks in the pros, but the Sooners have been one of the nation's most consistent programs in the 2000s thanks in part to solid quarterback play from the likes of White, Bradford, Josh Heupel and Landry Jones.

Award winners: Josh Heupel, Camp (2000); Jason White, Heisman (2003), Maxwell (2004), O'Brien (2003, 2004), Unitas (2004); Sam Bradford, Heisman (2008), O'Brien (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Heupel (2000), White (2003), Bradford (2008).
First-team all-conference: Heupel (2000), White (2003, 2004), Bradford (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bradford (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Landry Jones (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Heupel (Round 6, 2001).


2. USC (134 points)


USC didn't win as many national awards as Oklahoma -- the Trojans had five compared to the Sooners' eight -- but the program's three first-round draft picks (Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, plus Mark Sanchez in 2009) helped make up some ground. Leinart was a points-earning machine in our standings thanks to his three national award wins, a consensus All-America season and winning all-conference honors three times prior to becoming a first-round pick in 2006.

Award winners: Palmer, Heisman (2002), Unitas (2002); Leinart, Heisman (2004), Camp (2004), Unitas (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Palmer (2002), Leinart (2004).
First-team all-conference: Palmer (2002), Leinart (2003, 2004, 2005), John David Booty (2006), Sanchez (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Palmer (2003), Leinart (2006), Sanchez (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Matt Barkley (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Booty (Round 5, 2008), Matt Cassel (Round 7, 2005).


3. Texas (122 points)


Texas' standing is built almost exclusively on the backs of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, who combined to win seven national award wins in their distinguished careers. McCoy accounted for five awards, two All-America nods and an all-conference selection before becoming a third-round NFL pick in 2010. The only other Texas quarterback to earn a point in those 14 seasons was Chris Simms for his becoming a third-round NFL draft pick in 2003.

Award winners: Young, Maxwell (2005), O'Brien (2005); McCoy, Camp (2008, 2009), Maxwell (2009), Unitas (2009), O'Brien (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Young (2005), McCoy (2008, 2009).
First-team all-conference: Young (2005), McCoy (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Young (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: McCoy (Round 3, 2010), Simms (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


4. Florida State (102 points)

Jameis Winston didn't just help put Florida State's program back on top of the national rankings, he helped return the Seminoles to their place among the nation's top quarterback factories. Sure, EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder had both become NFL first-round picks within the past few years, but a Seminoles quarterback hadn't won a national award since 2000 until Winston took home three last season. Winston also became the first FSU quarterback since fellow Heisman winner Chris Weinke in 2000 to win first-team all-conference honors.

Award winners: Weinke, Heisman (2000), Unitas (2000), O'Brien (2000); Winston, Heisman (2013), Camp (2013), O'Brien (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Winston (2013).
First-team all-conference: Weinke (2000), Winston (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ponder (2011), Manuel (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Weinke (Round 4, 2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Adrian McPherson (Round 5, 2005).


5. Florida (100 points)

Tim Tebow is one of the best examples of how one spectacular player can impact on our rankings. Not only did he play a part in Florida winning a pair of BCS crowns, Tebow also cleaned up on the awards circuit by claiming all four of the Gators' national awards in the 2000s. There are some other names worth mentioning -- let's start with Rex Grossman -- but Florida ranks so high on this list largely because of Tebow's lengthy list of accomplishments.

Award winners: Tebow, Heisman (2007), Maxwell (2007, 2008), O'Brien (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Grossman (2001), Tebow (2007).
First-team all-conference: Grossman (2001), Tebow (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Grossman (2003), Tebow (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jesse Palmer (Round 4, 2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


6. Auburn (76 points)


Auburn has experienced some lean times at quarterback since 2000, but when the Tigers have been good at the position, they've often been REALLY good. The greatest example, of course, was in 2010 when Cam Newton turned college football on its ear. He led Auburn to the BCS championship and claimed four national awards -- the Heisman, Camp, Maxwell and O'Brien -- before becoming the top overall pick in the 2011 draft. Jason Campbell, who also led the Tigers to an undefeated season in 2004, deserves a nod here as well for winning all-conference honors and becoming a first-round draft pick.

Award winners: Newton, Heisman (2010), Camp (2010), Maxwell (2010), O'Brien (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Newton (2010).
First-team all-conference: Campbell (2004), Newton (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Campbell (2005), Newton (2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


7. Ohio State (70 points)

Troy Smith's standout 2006 season produced more than two-thirds of the points that helped the Buckeyes claim seventh place in the quarterback rankings. He claimed three major awards, including the Heisman, and won All-America and all-conference honors that season. Braxton Miller has already been named to the All-Big Ten first team twice and has a good chance to make it a three-peat this fall.

Award winners: Smith, Heisman (2006), Camp (2006), O'Brien (2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Smith (2006).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2006), Todd Boeckman (2007), Miller (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Terrelle Pryor (Supplemental draft, Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Krenzel (Round 5, 2004), Smith (Round 5, 2007).


8. Louisville (62 points)


Major-conference loyalists might gripe over this one, and they'd have a valid point since new ACC member Louisville racked up most of its points while competing in Conference USA. Cardinals quarterbacks won first-team all-conference honors each season between 2000 and 2005 (Louisville was a member of Conference USA through 2004 and joined the Big East in 2005), but Teddy Bridgewater's first-team all-conference designation in 2012 was the first for a Louisville quarterback since that streak ended with Brian Brohm in 2005.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dave Ragone (2000, 2001, 2002), Stefan LeFors (2003, 2004), Brohm (2005), Bridgewater (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bridgewater (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Ragone (Round 3, 2003), LeFors (Round 4, 2005), Brohm (Round 2, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


9. Texas A&M (60 points)

Johnny Manziel was a one-man wrecking crew in college, running circles around hapless defenders as Texas A&M generated huge offensive totals over the past two seasons. Johnny Football accounted for 48 of Texas A&M's 60 points in our quarterback standings, and he's one of two Aggies first-round picks along with Ryan Tannehill.

Award winners: Manziel, Heisman (2012), O'Brien (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Manziel (2012).
First-team all-conference: Manziel (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Tannehill (2012), Manziel (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Stephen McGee (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


10. Stanford (56 points)


Former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck racked up 50 points on his own, including three national awards in 2011 and a pair of all-conference selections before he jumped to the pros. Kevin Hogan might add to the Cardinal's point total this season, but it was almost entirely the Andrew Luck Show that helped Stanford crack the top 10.

Award winners: Luck, Camp (2011), Maxwell (2011), Unitas (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Luck (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Luck (2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Trent Edwards (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randy Fasani (Round 5, 2002).

REST OF "QUARTERBACK U" RANKINGS

52 -- Nebraska; 48 -- Baylor; 40 -- Oregon; 38 -- West Virginia; 34 -- Ole Miss; 32 -- Boston College, LSU, Notre Dame, Purdue, Virginia Tech; 30 -- BYU, Miami; 28 -- Alabama, Michigan; 26 -- Georgia; 24 -- Clemson, Iowa, Kansas State, NC State, Wisconsin; 22 -- Arkansas, California; 20 -- Texas Tech, Utah, Washington; 18 -- Missouri; 16 -- Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 14 -- Vanderbilt; 12 -- Indiana, Penn State; 10 -- Michigan State, Oregon State, Virginia; 8 -- Arizona State, Iowa State, Washington State; 6 -- Georgia Tech; 4 -- Arizona, North Carolina, Rutgers, Syracuse, Tennessee; 2 -- Duke, Illinois, Kentucky; 0 -- Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi State, South Carolina, UCLA, Wake Forest
Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
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Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."

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