There are a number of All-American lists out there. They usually put the people with the best stats and highest name recognition on these lists. For offensive linemen, they use the latter. These lists are recognized and recorded by the schools involved. This is not one of those.
My favorite character from the American version of The Office is Creed. It’s not even close, frankly. I like Michael and Dwight and Kevin but Creed is Creed. Unfortunately, no one else seems to agree with me. Everyone’s enamoured with Jim’s eyebrows and his new love interest and blah blah blah. While it’s true that the absolute funniest peak of the show was dinkin’ flicka, I live for Creed moments. More relevantly, I believe Creed is fully under appreciated. Thus, this is a list of those players I have seen with my own eyes who are not getting enough recognition for their fine contributions. And, like Creed, it’s possible these players are “not offended by homosexuality. In the [90s they] made love to many, many women – often outdoors in the mud and the rain – and it’s possible that a man slipped in. There’d be no way of knowing….”
Creed knows all. Except Pam. Who the hell is Pam?
One note: every single one of my defensive picks either play for the Trojans or have played against them. This is inevitable; I tend to pay attention to defensive players mainly when they’re directly opposed to USC. Offensive players are easier to spot due to highlights and mind boggling stats. This is reflected in the fact that four of my offensive picks have never suited up against USC. I have seen every single one of these players or units in action this season.
The First Annual Creedies
Derek Landri, senior DT, Notre Dame – Way to start this list off with a bang: pick a blah player from the nation’s most overrated team whose chief sin is fielding a non-existant defense that didn’t even look good against the Daytona Beach Coast Guard Night School. I would agree with you on every facet – Tom Zibkowski is not a good safety the way I am not a good safety (though he does have a terrific knack for getting a hold of the ball and putting it into the endzone), Victor Abiamiri likes to apply his lips to the testicles of the offspring of donkeys, etc. – except that I think Landri is just amazing. I hesitate to use that buzz word applied to mid-rounders who inevitably die off at the next level but were the darlings of their college fanbases, but Landri really does have a non-stop motor. I’ve never gone so far as to obtain and then break down game tape, but I’m fairly certain Landri grades out at a very high percentage rate in terms of positive plays. I don’t really remember him getting blown off the ball against ‘SC – a common experience for even the most highly touted defensive tackles – and I do recall cussing, with the regularity and color of a syphilitic sailor, his ability to maintain his gap and even get into the backfield once in a while. More than that I always got a distinct sense that I’d like to have Landri on my team, which seems like a good barometer for these kinds of list. He’s a player I’ve always liked, and I’ve enjoyed USC kicking his team’s ass over and over again, and neither of those two are mutually exclusive.
Xavier Adibi, junior LB, Virginia Tech – I’ve followed Adibi ever since the 2004 USC-Va. Tech BCA Classic. I don’t remember exactly what he did in that game and I don’t remember exactly when he injured his bicep, but I do remember being thankful he wasn’t on the field any more. It’s possible he may not even have recorded any stats against the Trojans, but it was, frankly, slightly frightening to realize he was a true freshman at the time. All of that pretty much sums up the national attitude concerning Adibi: we kinda know he’s there, and we’re grateful, deep in our collective sub-dermal sub-consciousness, that he’s not playing against our team right now but we’ll be damned if we know what his number is. Unless your team is in the ACC, in which case no one cares about you or your opinion. Adibi reminded me of Auburn’s Karlos Dansby: a tall, almost willowy linebacker blessed with speed and the kind of zeal that would hurtle ancient Greek warriors past the advancing line of a phalanx. He is almost viciously dumb in terms of his regard for his own health. Ask any Hokie, though, and they’ll offer up their first born in supplication to Adibi’s ability to make a play on the ball. His numbers (78 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble returned for a touchdown and 3 sacks) aren’t exactly ho-hum, but fellow LB Vince Hall got more of the pub from what I’ve read. Both are good, but from what I’ve seen of Adibi he’s the one you hope sleeps through his clock on gameday.
Kevin Ellison, sophomore DB, USC – I’d probably put Josh Pinkard here if he hadn’t been hurt in the first game of the season, but Pinkard had a penchant for publicity. He was USC’s most versatile player last year as a sophomore and he was expected to be a leader for a young defense as a junior, so Pink got some press (including the most coveted award of all: Herbie’s Fashionista Extravaganza!) All of that means Pinkard would’ve gotten even more press at the end of the season, unlike Kevin Ellison. Everyone hates safety Kevin Ellison. The press, your inner child, your id, your dog, Desean Jackson… they all hate Ellison with a passion that borders on ambivalence because, frankly, they all refuse to acknowledge him. I understand their reasoning: if you ignore the best player on Pete Carroll’s fastest defense in six years, he might go away. We tried a similar strategy with that whole violation of civil rights thing recently, and though the jury is still out on that one it’s apparent the Pac-10 feels the same way: #4 was an honorable mention. Anyone who’s watched a USC game this year knows differently: Ellison is now the heart and soul of a defense with three First Team All Pac-10 and three Second Team All Pac-10 players. Forget Rey Maualuga‘s visible rage, Lawrence Jackson‘s recent sacks, Brian Cushing‘s Elephant: Ellison is USC’s defensive MVP and it’s not even close. It’s pretty hard playing for the Trojans and going unnoticed but this converted linebacker has managed to do it. That’s about to change with a victory over UCLA and a trip to Glendale, Arizona as every aspect of the BCS title game gets dissected; when that happens, Ellison’ll get some pub for his mentoring of a young secondary, his hard hits and his humble demeanor. Until then you heard it here first: #4 is scary good.
Sabby Piscitelli, senior DB, Oregon State – Sabby got First Team All Pac-10 but you still don’t know who he is. Trust me. The only thing most people notice about Piscitelli is how laughably mispelled his name is: “b” isn’t even that close to “m”. He had a monster game in Death Valley two years ago and you didn’t know him then. He now has 13 career interceptions and is the undisputed leader of the Beaver defense, but what does that mean? He showed up big time against USC and was Oregon State’s best player not named Matt Moore, and you still don’t know him. Too bad, because I’ve had a lot of fun watching Sabby for three years now. He is the mirror image of Mike Haas for OSU: steady, reliable and the guy the Beavers are gonna miss most. They both happen to be goofy white guys with odd last names. Sabby’s more than that, though: he’s got a goofy first name, too. Also, he’s the best Pac-10 safety you’ve never heard of. Laugh if you want, but it’s true.
The UCLA defensive line – There’s simply no way to ignore a defense that went from 116th out of 117 teams in rushing allowed to its current standing as the 14th best team in the nation against the run. Not facing four of the top twenty rushing offenses helps: in 2005 the Bruins took on the 6th, 9th, 11th and 15th running teams in the nation; so far in 2006 they haven’t faced a single top twenty rushing offense and the upcoming game against USC will not change that. A change in schedule, though, doesn’t account for the sudden and dramatic improvement. I suspect it’s a pact with the devil, but if that isn’t the case then you can credit senior DE Justin Hickman, junior DE Bruce Davis, junior DT Brigham Harwell and junior DT Kevin Brown. The four have accounted for 26 sacks (24 of which have come from the edge in the form of Hickman and Davis) and 47 tackles for loss. Brown redshirted last year and Davis was adjusting to a change from LB to DE, but no one would’ve predicted losing three of the top six leading tacklers – including defensive leader Spencer Havner, who really was an excellent player despite the team he played for – would lead to a complete turnaround. New defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker has to be acknowledged (he was Pete Carroll’s first hire back in 2000, after all) but I’m going to go ahead and give a lot of the credit to these starting four; after them production drops off immensely, but they’ve managed to adjust UCLA’s point of attack to the line of scrimmage and into the opponents’ backfield. Before this year Karl Dorrell’s defenses were known for linebackers and defensive backs racking up stats because running backs got free passes into the second level on a regular basis; the Bruins still feature four defensive backs in their top five tacklers but this year it’s because offenses are more willing to throw against a stubborn run defense. You can see that reflected in the huge increase in sacks and TFL. UCLA’s defensive line is literally the only area where the Bruins have improved over 2005, but they’ve improved it immensely. It still won’t help them beat USC, but at least now no one will ever accuse me of ignoring the Trojans’ crosstown rivals, the UCLA Whasstheirfaces.
Stephen McGee, sophomore QB, Texas A&M – I am partial to Stephen. This has been no secret to those who have watched college football games with me. I suspect I have a man crush on the Aggie quarterback: he’s dashing, he’s daring, he’s dismissive of imminent death and approaching bodily harm. His name is McGee, which is only slightly less cool than McCool. (Don’t ask.) I’ve liked him ever since I saw him come this close to leading the Ags over the Vince Young led Longhorns; he didn’t do it, and in the end Texas pulled away for a double point victory, but McGee rushed the shit out of the ball that day (24 att, 168 yards, 2 TDs) – which was nice, since he couldn’t really throw in that game. The way he ran, though… it was in direct contrast to Young who not only was Superman in 2005, he knew he was Superman in 2005. Young ran like a mecha-gazelle strapped to a diamond tipped katana placed on the nose of a Scud missile: there was grace and fleetness of foot, yea, but also power, and the strength of ten times ten men, whereof thine soul was bound until the ending of the world. McGee? If accidented were a word, that’s how he ran: he seemed to accident into almost every good play that day, but you also knew it was the result of a couple hundred thousand synapses filled with Aggie mysticism and zealotry. Vince Young may have been trained in prana-bindu, but Stephen McGee had the look of a former Zensunni slave about to mount his first worm. I thought it’d be hard to maintain the fire I saw in that game but McGee’s led his Aggies to their best record in a while and, in the process, may have staved off one more year of Dennis Franchione-hot seatness. Big back Jorvorskie Lane and the absolutely amazing Michael Goodson will get the pub, but McGee’s been my darkhorse favorite Big 12 player for a while now.
sophomore senior [thanks cfbmedia.com! Yes, I am an idiot several times over.] RB, Penn State – In Penn State’s games against Ohio State and Michigan the only thing capable of deflecting the dull, metallic glow of Anthony Morelli‘s soul being sucked out of his facemask was Tony Hunt, quite possibly the best running back you assumed was disintegrated midseason. I can’t fault you for your assumption seeing as how the Nittany Lions are 114th out of 119 Division I-A teams in tackles for loss allowed, with a bowel churning 90 TFL given up in twelve games and only 23 of those notched as sacks. Even more remarkably Hunt has been tackled behind the line of scrimmage for a total of 67 yards compared to a team total of 368 yards: he has consistently turned big losses into small ones and small ones into actual gains. Here’s an even better stat: Hunt had only one game in which his loss yardage was double digit (12 versus Akron in a 34-16 win) in a season in which the sophomore senior saw more defenders in the backfield than any other BCS team other than Duke. In the two games I saw Hunt play he was the only thing worth watching wearing a Penn State uniform. Hunt has enough going against him as it is without the blandness of a Nittany Lion jersey broadcasting soporifics through the airwaves; the fact that he can stand out at all, not to mention his 1,228 yards being behind only Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill and Michigan’s Mike Hart – both of whom are running behind veteran lines stocked with first round NFL talent, and both of whom have quarterbacks capable of not digesting their own livers on every other down – makes him someone you ought to know assuming he survives the Outback Bowl. The internet’s longest sentence in praise of Tony Hunt? Possibly.
Jarett Dillard, sophomore WR, Rice – I saw Dillard play against both UCLA and Texas in back to back losses early in the season. (They had UCLA-Rice and Texas-Rice on Sky Sports in Europe, but no Texas-Ohio State or Arkansas-USC? Yes, they did[n't].) I had to check the scoreboard a few times to see if this was still Rice I was watching: Rice, one of the last bastions of the option attack, with a receiver who’s caught a touchdown in all twelve regular season games? Rice? Both games were impossibly boring, but none of that matters. Dillard still stood out and his numbers have paced Rice – Rice – to a bowl game; his 20 touchdowns and almost 1,200 yards of receiving will jump out to anyone who peruses the NCAA stats like I do every Friday night (woot, social life!) but the jersey he wears and the TV contract that made sure I never saw another game of his again both mean you’ve never heard of him. That’s too bad, because the Owls have a good one here and you’ll still probably never see him again until the NFL combine… unless you happen to watch a lot of college football in Portugal, in which case you might see plenty of Dillard and the Owls. Just don’t ask me why. [EDIT: It appears Dillard's one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff. I suck, but that doesn't affect Dillard's place on my list. Repeat: I am a stupid person.]
Brent Celek, senior TE, Cincinnati – Celek can catch. He’s got 31 catches for 460 yards and three TDs. Celek can run. Celek can run like an angry bearcat, whatever that is, but he can also run like a murderous, cybernetically enhanced nucleo-bearcat who disdains defensive backs and Cinderella stories. He can block like a demon, if demons were trained in the schools of leverage, pad height, leg drive, angle, stance explosiveness and inside hand placement – which they are not, but if they were they would probably block a bit like Celek. I’m exaggerating, but I know you’ve never heard of the guy. It’s tough enough remembering an All-American caliber tight end outside of Zach Miller, especially after last season’s glut of high quality TEs; expecting anyone to do so with a Cincinnati tight end is cruel and unusual. Frankly, Celek didn’t blow anyone away with his performances against Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia (a total of 10 catches for 115 yards and 0 touchdowns), though he did snag a TD against Louisville in a 17-23 loss. Luckily I got to see him in his two best games against big name opponents, and, more importantly, he helped blow up Rutgers’ dream season and did so with a rumbling scamper across four fifths of a football field. Why is this important? Because I covet the recruiting fields of Jersey and USC’s tithe must not be diminished, ever. Celek lands here less for sustained under-the-radar excellence and more for the fact that you probably saw his highlight but you’ll never remember his name, and also because I am extremely paranoid even in the midst of a recruiting rampage whose like we haven’t seen since Genghis Khan’s five star hordes. USC needs Jersey, and Brent Celek was but one small cog in the mighty wheel that is Pete Carroll’s master plan. Also, he’s a pretty good tight end.
The Oklahoma offensive line – It’s hard enough paying attention to USC’s offensive line play that pretending to know anything about other team’s individual players, especially the interior line, would be ridiculous. Rating an offensive line as a unit, though, is usually pretty easy: just check out the NCAA’s stats on sacks and tackles for loss allowed, then collate rushing statistics. Throw in whichever of Minnesota/Wisconsin is running better and you’ll have that year’s top five offensive lines. If you went by the above measurements it’s possible you’d rate Oklahoma’s line as one of the best in the nation: they are, afterall, ranked 10th, 32nd and 14th in those respective categories. Unless you lived in a cave in Pluto’s ass – I’m talking the Roman ruler of the dead, not the planetoid – you probably realize this doesn’t encompass the entire story. The entire story: Oklahoma lost a number of offensive linemen to desertion and brainfartage before the season even started, then had to deal with the monster of all brainfarts when Rhett Bomar decided his early Halloween costume would be a Barry Switzer-era jackass, then started converted QB-WR-QB Paul Thompson at the helm, then saw arguably the best collegiate tailback in a decade go down with a broken collarbone, then found out its pets’ heads were falling off. There are five main reasons why the Sooners are now 10-2 and set to face Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game: senior LT Chris Messner, sophomore LG George Robinson, sophomore C Jon Cooper, sophomore RG Brandon Walker and freshman RT Trent Williams. Rumors of Oklahoma’s demise have been greatly exaggerated: with four returners the Sooners are going to feature the best offensive line in the Big 12. Who cares if they aren’t going to have a quarterback you could name even with a program and a depth chart nearby? Oklahoma’s rushed almost twice as much as they’ve passed, and with a three headed running attack returning at a minimum and everyone in Norman greeting Adrian Peterson with pendulating stopwatches and hypnotic finger wriggles in the hope that #28 comes back I don’t see why the Sooners won’t be competitive again.
Bob Stoops, eighth year head coach, Oklahoma – See above description of why I chose the Sooners’ offensive line. This is without a doubt Stoops’ best coaching job in his entire tenure in Norman. He’s stayed relatively quiet after the back to back embarassments in the MNC game, and Oklahoma’s still going to lose to Texas next year, but let’s give Bob some credit: what he’s done with the Sooners this season is nothing short of amazing.