Sports

Three-Point Stance: Teams with deceptive records, surprises, Frankenstein


Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the some teams that should be better than they are, 10 players who emerged as stars this season and the perfect college football defensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back.

1. TEAMS WITH DECEPTIVE RECORDS

Hendon Hooker

Hendon Hooker (USA Today Sports Images)

I find it odd at times to see the records of some teams who are having what I felt were solid seasons. These teams should be better than their record indicates at least by my flawed logic.

Tennessee — Doesn’t it feel like the Vols should be better than 5-5 this season? The offense is much improved and, aside from blowouts to Alabama and Georgia, the Vols have been in most every game. It just feels like they should be 6-4 having scored just eight fewer points on the season than 8-2 Ole Miss.

Nebraska — The Huskers are 3-7 despite having a massive points disparity (286-209) as all seven of their losses are by one score or less. Even in league play their point differential is plus-14 despite being 1-6. That’s crazy.

Boston College — Boston College is 6-4 overall but tied for last in the Atlantic at 2-4 in ACC play. Yet the Eagles have outscored opponent 263-199 this season and if Phil Jurkovec were healthy you can bet the offense wouldn’t have struggled in the more lopsided losses to NC State, Louisville and Syracuse.

Iowa State — Despite being 6-4 the Cyclones have a better point differential in league play than Baylor and Oklahoma.

Cal — The Bears have a positive point differential despite being 3-6 (2-4 in conference) and having so many of their players unavailable due to COVID protocols.

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2. SURPRISING STARS OF THE 2021 SEASON

Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett (USA Today Sports Images)

Tuesday I highlighted the disappointments from the 2021 season so far but what about players that have emerged as top-tier college football stars this year? It all starts in East Lansing, Mich

1. RB Kenneth Walker IV, Michigan State. Walker was an effective but unspectacular running back during his time at Wake Forest. But he has taken to Jay Johnson‘s offense like a fish to water, and now leads the country in yards (1,471), touchdowns (17), and yards after contact (1,068). He’s one of the Heisman front-runners at this point and the single biggest reason that the Spartans are in playoff contention.

2. QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh. Pickett had grown slowly over his first three years as a Panther but has exploded this season. He’s PFF’s top-graded Power Five passer and has an astounding TD to INT ratio of 32 to 4. He has a very strong case as a Heisman candidate, and has Pitt in position to win the ACC Coastal.

3. WR Quentin Johnston, TCU. The sophomore receiver has come on the scene very strong, using his 6-foot-4 frame to beat defenders to 50-50 balls. He’s eighth in the country among Power Five receivers in yards per catch, becoming the big play threat that the Horned Frogs have needed since Jalen Reagor went to the NFL.

4. LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia. There was a strong inkling about how good Georgia’s defense would be coming into the season, but I’m not sure if anyone could have predicted just how good Dean would be and how important his role is to the team. He and Jordan Davis are probably the two best defensive players at any position in the country.

5. LB Leo Chenal, Wisconsin. After missing the first two games of the season because of COVID, Chenal has stepped back into his starting role and been the best linebacker in the country next to Dean. He’s PFF’s top-graded player at the position and is the most disruptive middle linebacker in the country. He’s an absolute force who is rocketing up draft boards due to his size/speed/strength combination.

6. QB Caleb Williams, Oklahoma. When Williams committed to Oklahoma last year, everyone figured he would get at least one year of seasoning behind Spencer Rattler before he stepped into the starter’s role. But with Rattler struggling to gel with the offense early in the season, Lincoln Riley turned the reins over to Williams in the Texas game. He responded by being explosive in both the passing and rushing game. He’s PFF’s top-graded quarterback in the country and makes the most of his legs, a dimension that Rattler never brought to the table.

7. RB Sean Tucker, Syracuse. The second-leading rusher in the country, Tucker has accrued 1,381 yards and 11 scores for a surprisingly frisky Syracuse team. He’s progressed a ton, and as only a sophomore, could push for ACC Offensive Player of the Year next year.

8. WR Josh Downs, North Carolina. Downs had big shoes to fill with both Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome off to the NFL. Through 10 games, the sophomore Downs is fifth in the country with 1,109 receiving yards, and has been the only real consistent help that Sam Howell has gotten throughout the season.

9. LB Will Anderson, Alabama. Anderson was a solid player on last year’s national championship-winning team but has solidified himself as the No. 1 guy on Alabama’s defensive unit. He has 12 sacks through 10 games this season and has also graded out as a top-five run defender among edge players. Simply put, he’s a stud.

10. DE Sam Williams, Ole Miss. With 11 sacks, Williams is third in the country among power five players, helping Ole Miss’ defense make a big leap in Lane Kiffin‘s second season.

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3. FRANKENSTEIN DEFENSIVE LINEMAN, LINEBACKER, DEFENSIVE BACK

Nakobe Dean

Nakobe Dean (USA Today Sports Images)

Finally, I wrap up my Frankenstein series with the perfect defensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back in college football this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Size: Jordan Davis, Georgia. An absolute mammoth defensive tackle, Davis is nearly unblockable at 6-foot-6 and 360 pounds. He commands a double-team on every single play.

Strength: DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M. Leal has great size, but his strength is his biggest asset. He’s one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the entire country, having the ability to play anywhere from zero-technique out to a wide nine. No matter where he lines up, he uses his strength to bully offensive linemen.

Pass Rush: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon. The best pure pass rusher in the country, Thibodeaux has outstanding moves and counter moves, making him unable to be blocked by a single blocker on almost every occasion. There’s a reason he’s the favorite to be the top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Run Defense: Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh. The next great interior defender in a long line of Panthers at the position, Kancey does a great job of being a disruptor in both the run game and the passing game. But he really excels against the run, as he has great block shedding ability and routinely gets to the ball carrier in the backfield.

Motor: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan. You’re not going to find a player in the country who plays harder on every snap than Hutchinson. He’s PFF’s top-graded defensive player because he gives 110 percent on every single play.

LINEBACKER

Size: Leo Chenal, Wisconsin. At 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds, Chenal is an absolute force for the Badgers. He’s PFF’s number one linebacker in the country and has been used by defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in a variety of ways. His combination of size and strength while still retaining plenty of game speed is a sight to behold.

Speed: Nakobe Dean, Georgia. Dean is the best all-around linebacker in the country, and a big reason for that is his speed. While he’s not the biggest guy at the position, he can outrun anyone and moves sideline to sideline with ease.

Pass Rush: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma. Bonitto has graded out as one of the top pass rushers in the entire country from the OLB position over the past two seasons.

Tackling: Bumper Pool, Arkansas. One of the surest tacklers in the country, Pool is a thumper on the inside for the Razorbacks. He rarely misses a tackle on anyone near him, ranking 4th in all of Power Five in total tackles with 74.

Awareness: Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin. The three-year starter is the steadiest MLB in college football, having graded out in the top 20 of PFF’s grades among Power Five linebackers in all three seasons. His ability to diagnose plays is among the best in the business.

Motor: Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State. The linchpin to the Cowboys’ defense, Rodriguez fills a variety of roles for Oklahoma State and is able to get it done in every aspect. He is excellent in pursuit, and never gives up on a play.

DEFENSIVE BACK

Size: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame. Hamilton measures 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and can still run with anyone. He’s a physical freak.

Tackling: Xavier Henderson, Michigan State. The straw that stirs the drink for the Spartans, Henderson is an outstanding defender in all aspects, but really shines against the run. The safety is one of PFF’s top 10 graded defensive backs in run defense and is in the top 10 in the country in total tackles as a defensive back.

Speed: Kelee Ringo, Georgia. Ringo ran a 4.34 40 yard dash in high school at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, despite being 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds. He’s blazing fast which allows him to clean up any mistakes on the back end of Georgia’s historically great defense.

Cover Skills: Roger McCreary, Auburn. The best pure cover corner in college football this year, McCreary uses his high end speed and long frame to keep himself between the ball and defenders. He’s allowed only 27 catches on 57 targets this season (47.4 percent) and only one touchdown.



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