NCF Nation: Todd McShay

Season's best SEC players: Nos. 1-5

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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We've reached the end of the line in this week's SEC player ranker. Today we recap the conference's top five players from the 2014 season:

1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.

2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.

3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.

5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.
"College GameDay" will be at Michigan State this weekend, and so will a lot of high-profile recruits such as Ricky DeBerry and Quarte Sapp. Plus, Michigan running back commit Mike Weber is getting closer to lining up his official visits, including trips to the Wolverines' biggest rivals.

Video: Drive to the national championship

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Todd McShay looks over the latest BCS standings and previews the biggest game of the week when Miami visits Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ABC).

Video: Drive to the national championship

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
4:45
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Todd McShay looks over the first BCS standings and previews the Week 9 games of the top seven teams, which are all playing at home.

Video: Alabama seeks consistency

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay wonder where Alabama will find a steadying influence after an inconsistent start to the season.

Video: Drive to the national championship

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
3:30
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Todd McShay checks the latest AP rankings and looks over the biggest games of the week involving five of the top six teams in the country.

Video: Drive to the national championship

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
6:00
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Todd McShay looks at the latest results of the AP poll and previews the big game of the week when No. 23 Arizona State heads north to face No. 5 Stanford.

Video: Heisman Trophy favorite

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
12:30
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Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. discuss their early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley's 2014 NFL draft prospects.

Video: Drive to the national championship

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
4:30
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Todd McShay looks at the latest AP poll and breaks down the highly anticipated Alabama-Texas A&M showdown that will pit two of the top coaches in college football against each other.

Video: Week 3 storylines

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
3:00
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Mel Kiper and Todd McShay break down some of this weekend's top storylines in college football, including the matchup between Alabama and Texas A&M.

Video: Money vs. tradition

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
5:30
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Todd McShay, Trevor Matich and Brian Dawkins discuss the importance of maximizing income without diminishing what is special about rivalry games in college football.

Video: Kiper/McShay Week 2 Preview

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
12:30
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Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay discuss which college team will have a bounce back weekend and the game to watch this weekend.

Video: Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
3:09
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Todd McShay breaks down the players to watch in the matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame.
ESPN The Magazine polled 135 college football players to break down the upcoming season from both a national and a conference perspective.

The results for the Pac-10 were interesting.

First, the players not only picked Stanford to win the Pac-10 championship -- 44.4 percent -- they also named Jim Harbaugh as the best coach (44.4 percent). Said one player: "They were terrible when I first got here. That's all Harbaugh -- he's brought in a completely different level of player."

Best player was Washington QB Jake Locker (33 percent).

But this question -- and answer -- struck me:

1. Is your school in the right conference? YES: 66.7 percent | NO: 33.3 percent.

What?

Which conference do one third of the Pac-10 players polled want to be in?

It's notable that players from the Big East (100 percent), SEC (100 percent), Big Ten (93.8 percent) and ACC (93.3) were overwhelming happy in their conference. As for the Big 12, 25 percent said they were not in the right conference.

Judging from the offseason news about commissioner Larry Scott raiding the Big 12 in order to build the Pac-16, perhaps the Big 12 players want to join the Pac-10.

Or do the Pac-10 players want to join the Big 12? Confusing? Yes.

Wait. There's more!

Turning to a national perspective, guess whose uniforms rate No. 1.
This was an Oregon landslide (53.7 percent). One Big Ten star was particularly blown away. "I don't even have to think about that one," he says. "I almost wanted to transfer there just for those uniforms." As for worst unis, winner Wyoming's brown-and-yellow jerseys elicited 18.9 percent. Wonders one player: "The worst colors ever? What is that, piss and poop?"

Ah, the generation gap. Traditionalists make fun of Oregon's uniforms. But players love them.

As for best coach, that's Alabama's Nick Saban, which I'd second, though Florida's Urban Meyer has to be 1B. But a Pac-10 coach did get mentioned.
As for the last coach you'd ever want to play for, players aren't rooting for USC's Lane Kiffin (29.6 percent). "He's an awesome football coach," says one O-lineman. "But he took a program for one year, talked a lot, then left them out to dry."

But guess what: The first part of that statement will be what matters going forward -- and by that I mean whether it proves true or not.

And, again, sorry to disappoint the folks who constantly pipe the tired "Jake Locker hasn't done anything" but the reality is the players see the same things that NFL draft experts do. To the question of the nation's best player:
Shocker! Reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram won with 51.1 percent of the vote. But No. 2 was a real surprise. Forget Terrelle Pryor. The dual-threat QB players love is Washington's Jake Locker (14.1 percent). They're in awe of the senior's talent (4.39 40, drafted by MLB) and understand why both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay project him as a possible No. 1 NFL pick in 2011. "Best QB in the country. Best prospect, too," says a fellow top draft prospect.

Finally, you can read what players think about a potential playoff here.

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