Commentary

Midseason All-America team

Originally Published: October 17, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Florida didn't have a single player named to the preseason All-SEC offense or defense in voting by the league's coaches.

But after the Gators won their first six games, they have three players on the ESPN.com midseason All-America team. Running back Mike Gillislee, safety Matt Elam and punter Kyle Christy represent the No. 2 Gators, who tied No. 1 Alabama for the most players named to the team.

Alabama, the defending BCS national champion, is represented by center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and cornerback Dee Milliner.

Of course, coaches of both schools hope their players play as well in the second half of the season as they did in the first.

Offense

Quarterback
Geno Smith, West Virginia

lastname
Smith
Before Saturday's 49-14 loss at Texas Tech, Smith was a model of precision and seemed well on his way to a landslide Heisman Trophy victory. Smith, a senior from Miami, is completing 75.3 percent of his passes for 2,271 yards with 25 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in 259 pass attempts. He has guided the No. 13 Mountaineers to a 5-1 start in their first season in the Big 12, while leading the country in pass efficiency (180.8 rating) and points responsible for (26 per game).

Running back
Kenjon Barner, Oregon

lastname
Barner
Barner, a senior from Riverside, Calif., has been a much-needed steadying force for No. 3 Oregon's high-paced offense. Barner is averaging 121.1 rushing yards per game, second best in the Pac-12 and No. 12 nationally, and has been so good that sophomore De'Anthony Thomas has carried the ball only 41 times. How's this for consistency? Barner averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a freshman, 6.1 as a sophomore, 6.2 as a junior and 6.3 as a senior.

Running back
Mike Gillislee, Florida

lastname
Gillislee
Gillislee has been one of the main reasons for No. 2 Florida's turnaround this season, averaging 102.5 yards per game and scoring seven touchdowns. Under new Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease, Gillislee has already carried the ball 120 times in six games, nearly as much as he ran in the past three seasons combined. Gillislee, a senior from DeLand, Fla., has brought a much-needed physical presence to Florida's offense and taken the pressure off sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Wide receiver
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

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Bailey
Quarterback Geno Smith is the trigger man in West Virginia's high-flying offense, but Bailey and fellow receiver Tavon Austin might be the most dangerous players on the field. "If they're not good at making people miss, they only have a good offense," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "They can make four people miss, so it's a great offense." Bailey, a junior from Miami, ranks No. 1 nationally in scoring (14 points per game) and No. 3 in receiving (9.1 catches) and already owns the WVU career record with 30 touchdown catches.

Wide receiver
Marqise Lee, USC

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Lee
In the past 18 games, USC receiver Robert Woods has caught nearly 150 passes for more than 1,600 yards with 20 touchdowns. And Woods might not even be the best receiver on his team. Lee, a sophomore from Inglewood, Calif., has emerged as USC's most explosive player this season with 54 catches for 681 yards with seven touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Hawaii. "I've never seen a college team with two guys like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said.

Tight end
Zach Ertz, Stanford

lastname
Ertz
In college football's age of spread offenses, in which additional receivers have replaced tight ends on the field, TEs still have a prominent role in Stanford's offense. Six former Cardinal tight ends are playing in the NFL, and Ertz might be the next to join them. He leads Stanford with 25 catches for 371 yards with two touchdowns and caught the winning score in its 21-14 upset of then-No. 2 USC on Sept. 15.

Tackle
Tyler Johnstone, Oregon

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Johnstone
Johnstone has stepped in and solidified the left side of the No. 3 Ducks' offensive line, starting each of the first six games at left tackle. A redshirt freshman from Chandler, Ariz., Johnstone protects quarterback Marcus Mariota's blind side and anchors a line that has allowed only eight sacks in 191 pass attempts. Oregon ranks in the top 10 nationally in rushing (302.3 yards), total offense (541.6 yards) and scoring (52.3 points).

Guard
Chance Warmack, Alabama

lastname
Warmack
Alabama's more heralded offensive linemen have overshadowed Warmack the past couple of seasons, but he is now widely considered the Tide's best NFL prospect and possibly a top-10 pick next spring. He has started the past 32 games at left guard for the No. 1 Crimson Tide, who average 217.1 yards rushing and 205.8 passing per game. Warmack was named SEC offensive lineman of the week after the Tide's 52-0 win at Arkansas on Sept. 15; he graded at 91 percent blocking and didn't allow a sack or quarterback pressure.

Center
Barrett Jones, Alabama

lastname
Jones
Jones might not be the biggest or strongest Alabama offensive lineman, but he certainly has been the most valuable during the past four seasons. Jones, a senior from Germantown, Tenn., started at right guard in 2009 and 2010, left tackle last season and center this season. Jones, the reigning Outland Trophy winner as the country's top interior lineman, anchors an Alabama offensive line that helped the Crimson Tide score 27 times in 28 trips inside their opponents' red zone.

Guard
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

lastname
Cooper
Offensive linemen have to adjust to the pace of play in new UNC coach Larry Fedora's spread offense, but Cooper picked it up quickly and hasn't looked back. He anchors a UNC offensive line that has allowed only four quarterback sacks, best in the ACC and sixth nationally. He also is often the lead blocker for tailback Giovani Bernard, who is averaging 130.4 yards per game, seventh best in the country. Cooper graded at 93 percent blocking and had 14 knockdown blocks in last week's 18-14 win at Miami.

Tackle
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

lastname
Mewhort
After losing his scholarship this summer because of an offseason arrest, Mewhort has regained new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer's trust and emerged as Ohio State's most consistent lineman. Mewhort, a junior from Toledo, Ohio, leads an OSU offensive line that paved the way for 724 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns the past two games. Undefeated Ohio State is averaging 263.6 rushing yards and has scored 23 rushing touchdowns.

Defense

Defensive line
Bjoern Werner, Florida State

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Werner
The "Germanator" has helped the No. 14 Seminoles overcome the loss of All-American end Brandon Jenkins, who is out for the season with a foot injury. Werner, a 22-year-old native of Berlin, Germany, who was married in 2010, has 21 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, five pass breakups and one forced fumble. Werner and teammate Tank Carradine rank 1-2 in the ACC in sacks and have combined for 18 tackles for loss and 13½ sacks.

Defensive line
Star Lotulelei, Utah

lastname
Lotulelei
Lotulelei's statistics aren't exactly a reflection of his dominant play this season. He is often double- or triple-teamed by opponents and still has 24 tackles, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups. In the Utes' 24-21 upset of then-No. 25 BYU on Sept. 15, Lotulelei had seven tackles, forced a fumble, batted down two passes and blocked a potential game-tying field goal near the end of regulation.

Defensive line
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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Clowney
After Clowney was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011, Gamecocks fans wondered what he would do for an encore. Clowney, a sophomore from Rock Hill, S.C., has nearly equaled his production from 2011 in only seven games this season. He has 31 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks for the No. 7 Gamecocks, despite getting a lot more attention from opponents. In 20 career games, Clowney has 20 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.

Defensive line
Scott Crichton, Oregon State

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Crichton
Crichton, a sophomore from Tacoma, Wash., has been the spark plug behind No. 8 Oregon State's improbable start; the Beavers are 5-0 for the first time since 1939. He is a relentless pass-rusher off the edge and is big enough to play inside in nickel and dime packages. Crichton leads FBS players with eight sacks in five games and is fourth with 11 tackles for loss. In only 17 career games, Crichton already ranks second in Oregon State history with seven forced fumbles.

Linebacker
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

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Te'o
Te'o, a senior from Hawaii, has become No. 5 Notre Dame's emotional leader and a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. He is the best player on the country's No. 2 scoring defense, and leads the Fighting Irish with 59 tackles and has two tackles for loss, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Playing only a few days after he tragically lost his grandmother and girlfriend within a few hours, Te'o had 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery in a 20-3 victory at Michigan State on Sept. 15.

Linebacker
Jarvis Jones, Georgia

lastname
Jones
Two years ago, USC's team doctors told Jones he couldn't play football anymore because of a neck injury. Now Jones is one of the most disruptive players in the country for the No. 11 Bulldogs. The senior from Columbus, Ga., has 36 tackles, 9½ tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one interception. He almost beat Missouri by himself in a 41-20 victory on the road on Sept. 8, finishing with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker
Arthur Brown, Kansas State

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Brown
Brown, a senior from Wichita, Kan., is a lot like No. 4 Kansas State's defense -- steady if not unspectacular. The undefeated Wildcats rank 31st nationally in total defense (339.6 yards) and 74th in pass defense (238.5 yards), but they haven't allowed more than 21 points in a game this season. Brown leads Kansas State with 47 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss, one sack, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in the Wildcats' 24-19 upset at then-No. 6 Oklahoma on Sept. 22.

Cornerback
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

lastname
Banks
Opponents haven't thrown to Banks' side of the field much this season, but he made them pay when they did. Banks, who leads active FBS players with 15 career interceptions, has already picked off three passes, helping the No. 12 Bulldogs stay undefeated after six games for only the fourth time in 113 years. Opponents have challenged Banks 29 times in man coverage; he allowed 17 catches for 136 yards. He needs one interception to tie Walt Harris' MSU record of 16 career picks.

Cornerback
Dee Milliner, Alabama

lastname
Milliner
Any concerns about No. 1 Alabama's rebuilt secondary were erased in the Crimson Tide's 41-14 victory against then-No. 8 Michigan in the opener. Milliner, a junior from Millbrook, Ala., had five tackles, four pass breakups and one interception in Alabama's rout. He leads the country in passes defensed with 2.75 per game, and his play is a big reason the Tide again lead the country in scoring defense (7.5 points), total defense (181.1 yards) and pass defense (125.8 yards).

Safety
Matt Elam, Florida

lastname
Elam
Second-year coach Will Muschamp wanted the Gators to be a more physical, hard-hitting team this season, and Elam set the tone for one of the country's most-improved defenses. Elam, a junior from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has emerged as one of the country's biggest hitters, with 33 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and two pass breakups. He had seven tackles and forced a game-changing fumble in the third quarter of the Gators' 14-6 upset of then-No. 4 LSU on Oct. 6.

Safety
T.J. McDonald, USC

lastname
McDonald
McDonald is so good at pressuring the quarterback that USC's coaches have experimented with lining him up as a defensive end in obvious passing situations. He's also athletic enough and fast enough to cover slot receivers. That versatility has helped McDonald, a senior from Fresno, Calif., become perhaps the country's best safety. He has 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass deflections, one interception and a blocked field goal for the No. 10 Trojans.

Special teams

Punter
Kyle Christy, Florida

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Christy
Christy's right leg has been a valuable weapon for the No. 2 Gators, as field position has become paramount in so many close games. Christy, a sophomore from Brownsburg, Ind., ranks first in the SEC and fifth nationally, averaging 46.4 yards per punt. Florida is second in the SEC and fifth nationally in net punting, averaging 42.8 yards. Eleven of his 29 punts have been 50 yards or longer, 12 landed inside opponents' 20-yard line and 10 resulted in fair catches. He averaged 49.1 yards in the upset of LSU and pinned the Tigers inside the 10 three times in the first half.

Kicker
Brett Baer, Louisiana

lastname
Baer
Baer picked up where he left off last season, making his first seven field goal attempts this year, extending his streak to 18 in a row dating to 2011. He is 12-for-15 on field goals this season and has made 37 of 41 (90.2 percent), which is ahead of the NCAA accuracy record set by FSU's Bobby Raymond in 1983-84. Baer kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal against FCS foe Lamar and only seven of his 24 punts have been returned for 34 yards.

Kick returner
Marcus Murphy, Missouri

lastname
Murphy
Murphy, a sophomore from DeSoto, Texas, has been one of the few bright spots for the Tigers in their first season in the SEC. Murphy ranks third nationally in punt returns with an 18.8-yard average, and he already has set a school single-season record by returning three punts for touchdowns. He had punt return touchdowns of 72 and 70 yards against FCS foe Southeast Louisiana in the opener; ran a punt back 66 yards for a touchdown against Central Florida; and then returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score in last week's 42-10 loss to Alabama.

All-purpose
Kain Colter, Northwestern

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Colter
Colter, a junior from Denver, opened the season as the Wildcats' starting quarterback. After starting under center as a true quarterback the first four games, he moved into a "slash" role against Indiana on Sept. 29. He had 161 rushing yards with a school-record four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 131 yards in a 44-29 victory. Colter is Northwestern's second-leading rusher with 421 yards and eight touchdowns, second-leading passer with 432 yards and two scores and sixth-leading receiver with 13 catches for 152 yards.

Mark Schlabach | email

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