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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TOP 50 MOST INTRIGUING PEOPLE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL THIS YEAR







TOP 50 MOST INTRIGUING PEOPLE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL THIS SEASON

ACC
Robert Marve, Miami
The indelible image of the '07 Hurricanes was the 48-0 curtain-closer at the Orange Bowl. Who knew that Virginia was bringing its own wrecking ball to the OB finale? Enter Marve, a redshirt freshman who two years ago broke Tim Tebow's state prep records for passing yardage (4,380) and TDs (48) in a season, as well as a 31 year-old record for completions (280) in a season. How many days until the first 'Marve-lous!' headline?
Orlando Franklin, Miami
Orlando comes to Miami via Jamaica and Canada. Got that? The 6-7, 330 pound sophomore was born in Jamaica and moved to Toronto with his mother as a child. Last season, as a freshman, he held Virginia’s Chris Long without a sack, inspiring the future No. 2 pick in the NFL draft to visit Franklin’s Facebook page and write, "You’re going to be a real good player. Just keep having fun and I’ll see you on the next level."
BIG EAST
Demetrius Jones, Cincinnati
Jones, who took the first snap of the season for Notre Dame last August, may well do the same for Cincinnati on August 28 versus Eastern Kentucky. The former Parade All-American dual threat QB is one of three former Fighting Irish QBs occupying a slot on a two-deep chart this fall (Zach Frazer, U Conn, David Wolke, Western Kentucky). A fantastic athlete, Jones may shine away from the high-pressure clime of South Bend.
Hunter Cantwell, Louisville
Mel Kiper, Jr., projects Cantwell as the top QB in the '09 NFL draft. This despite the fact that the 6'5" senior is a former walk-on who sat behind Brian Brohm the past three seasons. Should someone check Mel's meds? Or is Cantwell about to become the sport's next one-year wonder?
Bill Stewart, West Virginia
His act may seem a little hokey, but Stewart's a Mountaineer through and through. Part Bill Graham, part Jimmy Stewart, the affable assistant filled the void admirably when Rich Rodriquez decamped to Ann Arbor by whupping Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. He's Richie Cunningham with a headset, both the antipode and antidote to his predecessor. And, by the way, he has a five-year contract that totals $4 million...which is exactly what Rodriguez owes WVU as his buyout.
Pat White, West Virginia
Home dates versus Auburn (Oct. 23) and South Florida (Dec. 6) will likely determine whether White, college football's active leader in career rushing yards (3,506), wins the Heisman. The most exciting open-field runner in the game welcomes back sensational sophomore tailback Noel Devine as well as all five starters from a stellar O-line (WVU finished 3rd in rushing in '07). The 4-year starter at QB will garner a slew of "Lifetime Achievement Award" votes--as long as the Mountaineers do not stumble in their final home game, as they have the previous two seasons.
BIG TEN
Paki O'Meara, Iowa
The Big Ten has provided the FBS with its only repeat Heisman winner (Archie Griffin) and its all-time leading rusher (Ron Dayne). And here comes O'Meara, a walk-on who a year ago at this time was not even on the Hawkeye depth chart. The son of a Samoan mother and Irish father, O'Meara's childhood included stops in North Carolina, Melbourne, Australia, Western Samoa and finally, Cedar Rapids, where he rushed for 349 yards in a high school game. Entering fall camp he is listed No. 1 on Iowa's depth chart at RB.
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
He left an offense that featured a Heisman front-runner and its entire O-line returning intact for one that returns two (insignificant) starters. His quarterback transferred specifically because of him. He whiffed on the nation's top recruit (Terrelle Pryor), who chose Michigan's hated rival. Oh, and he owes his old bosses $4 million. On the other hand, Joe Paterno thinks his wife is hot (see recent Big Ten media session, in which JoePa waxed fondly on her days as a WVU cheerleader). Something tells us R-Rod will have the last laugh.
Stephen Threet, Michigan
Ryan Mallett, who two years ago was considered the No. 2 prep QB in the nation (behind Jimmy Clausen), transferred to Arkansas. Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 prep stud overall last winter, chose Ohio State. Thus Threet, a former valedictorian at nearby Adrian High, will be the likely starter under center for the Wolverines when Utah visits on Aug. 30th. Surely Threet will be a quick-study, but as one of nine new starters on offense, will it matter?
Javon Ringer, Michigan State
Once best-known (and, in South Bend, reviled) as the Spartans' designated flag-planter, Ringer has matured into one of the game's best backs. Ringer nearly tripled his rushing output from '06 to '07, eclipsing 125 yards five times last season.
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Hardware hog. The Buckeye 'backer, the cornerstone of the nation's top-rated defense in '07, was a top-10 NFL draft pick for sure if he'd come out last spring. Instead, Laurinaitis, who won the Nagurski Award in 2006 and the Butkus Award in 2007, returns to Columbus for his senior season. Heisman, anyone?
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
If there could ever be such a thing as a 6-star recruit, the Jeannette, Pa., native would be it. The Buckeye-bound quarterback is the first high school quarterback in Pennsylvania state history to both pass and run for 4,000 yards...and you may have heard that the Keystone State has produced a decent quarterback or two (Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, etc.). The Buckeyes are loaded on offense, but look for Jim Tressel to employ him the way Urban Meyer did Tim Tebow when he was a frosh.
Brett Bielema, Wisconsin
Madison's most eligible bachelor joins Fielding Yost and Jim Tressel as the only Big Ten coaches to win 21 games in their first two seasons. Of course, old Fielding won his first 56 games in Ann Arbor (something to shoot for, Coach Rodriguez) and the Vested One has already appeared in three national title games. Can Bielema, 38, lead the Badgers to a BCS bowl before his 40th birthday?
BIG 12
Robert Griffin, Baylor
The blue-chip quarterback recruit graduated high school last December. After devoting himself exclusively to spring football, he went out and won the 400-meter hurdles at the Big 12 track & field championships. In June, Griffin advanced to the semis in the 400 hurdles at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. Word of warning to Big 12 DBs: Dive for Griffin's legs and you'll wind up on SportsCenter.
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
No one uses the term "diaper dandy" in football, but if they did Maclin would be the dandiest. All the Kirkwood, Mo., native did in 2007 was set an NCAA freshman all-purpose yardage record (2,776) while also being the only player in the nation to score via run, catch, punt return and kickoff return. The kickoff run-back, which went for 99 yards, was Mizzou's first in a quarter-century.
Jeff Wolfert, Missouri
Wolfert attempted one - one! - kick in high school, a kickoff. The Overland Park, Kans., native swung his leg so hard into the ball that he broke his hip and missed the rest of the season. But that was okay, since he had a scholarship offer to Missouri - as a diver. Two years later, he forsook the pool in order to walk onto the Tiger football team. How's that working out for him? Wolfert has yet to miss a field goal or PAT in Big 12 play (90-of-90, including 26-26 on field goals) and has converted his last 64 kicks overall.
Marlon Lucky, Nebraska
How much has Husker football changed since Tom Osborne's coaching days? Lucky, a senior I-back, was the nation's leading receiver among running backs (75 catches) last season. Lucky is also old-school, though, as he is the Big 12's leading returning rusher as well.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Update: He's a man. He's 41.
Artrell Woods, Oklahoma State
Unless you live in Big 12 country, you vaguely recall the story of the Cowboy player who nearly was paralyzed in a freak weight-room accident last July. The sophomore-to-be lost his balance while returning weights to a rack and needed three hours of emergency spinal-fusion surgery to regain the use of his legs. One year later, Woods not only can walk, but he will start at wideout.
Michael Crabtree & Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
What we are witnessing is the most prolific passing tandem in NCAA history. If Harrell (10, 260 yards and 86 TD passes the last two seasons) simply averages this season what he has the past two, the Ennis, Texas, native will leave Lubbock No. 2 on the all-time passing yardage chart and No. 1 in TD passes. All Crabtree did as a redshirt frosh was set new NCAA freshman marks for catches (122) and TD receptions (22).
CONFERENCE USA
June Jones, SMU
Buy low, sell high, make lots of money. In his first year as Hawaii head coach in 1999, Jones led a squad that had gone 0-12 the previous year to a 9-4 finish. That's an NCAA record for the most dramatic one-year about-face. Now Jones leaves his 12-1 Warriors for a Mustang program that finished 1-11 last season, while doubling his salary to nearly $2 million per year.
Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss
Who heads into this season with more rushing yardage over the past two autumns than any player in the nation? Fletcher, whose 2,974 yards outdistance the likes of Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill (2,781) and West Virginia’s Pat White (2,554). The Biloxi native lost his home - and trophies - to Hurricane Katrina as a high school senior. His roomie in Hattiesburg is 311-pound defensive tackle Anthony Gray.
Gus Malzahn, Tulsa
Three years ago he was the head coach at Springdale (Ark.) High. Two years ago he followed his prize recruit QB, Mitch Mustain, to Arkansas, where in his first season as an offensive coordinator above the prep level he helped Darren McFadden to a runner-up Heisman finish. Last year, in his first season in the same role at Tulsa, Malzahn, 42, directed the nation's top unit in total offense (543.9 ypg). Is Malzahn the next Norm Chow or is a head coaching job in his future?
MAC
Dante Love, Ball State
To quote Lenny Kravitz, "Let Love rule." Last year, the Ball State wideout set a MAC single-season all-purpose yardage record with 2,690 yards, 100 of them coming on a kickoff return against Central Michigan. Alas, you may remember him best for dropping a potential game-winning TD pass at Nebraska with :22 remaining.
Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan
NFL scouts know the Chippewa QB even if you don't. Last year, the 6'3" Chicago native became only the second player (the first being Vince Young) to pass for more than 3,000 yards (3,652) and run for better than 1,000 (1,122) in the same season. As a point of comparison, LeFevour nearly doubled the passing yardage output of Notre Dame and gained more yards on the ground than the top three Irish rushers combined.
Eugene Jarvis, Kent State
Don't overlook the nation's leading returning rusher (1,669 yards) simply because he plays in the MAC and, more precisely, because he stands 5'5". Heavyweight Joe Louis once said of his foes, "They can run, but they can't hide." The ability to do both is the secret to Jarvis' success.
Mountain West
Max Hall, BYU
His name sounds like an over-stuffed freshman dorm. His uncle (Danny White) and granddad (Wilford "Whizzer" White) were legends at Arizona State, which is where Hall first enrolled. After a red-shirt year in Tempe followed by an LDS mission, Hall endeared himself to the Provo populace by leading the Cougars on a 10-game win streak and by being the nation's most prolific sophomore passer (cough, Tebow, cough) with 3,848 yards.
PAC 10
Thomas Weber, Arizona State
How can a kicker who lives in the desert have so much ice water coursing through his veins? As a true freshman last season, Weber converted an astounding 24 of 25 field goal attempts. His lone miss came at Oregon, where on his next attempt he nailed the first 50-yarder of his career. The Lou Groza Award winner (the first frosh to win the award) also handled the Sun Devils' punting duties. Talk about setting the crossbar high.
Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
This is the sideline where the charismatic Neuheisel has always belonged. Nearly three decades ago, the Arizona native eschewed admission to Princeton in order to walk on in Westwood...four years later the bright-eyed kid was the MVP of the Rose Bowl. Pete Carroll finally has a worthy adversary in town.
Everson Griffen, USC
Last spring, Trojan coach Pete Carroll arranged to have LAPD officers storm a team meeting and arrest his precocious defensive end for "physically abusing" freshmen offensive linemen. Last season, Griffen, a 6’3, 280-pound monster from Avondale, Ariz., became the first true freshman defensive linemen to start USC’s season-opener since 1986. Griffen is the next in a seemingly endless wave of dominant Trojan defensive studs.
Taylor Mays, USC
When your school song is "Fight On," you don't need an extra incentive to loathe Notre Dame. But Mays, a 6-3 All-American free safety in the mold of Troy Polamalu and Ronnie Lott, has one: he's Jewish. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Stafford Mays and Nordstrom executive V.P. Laurie Black (who's Jewish), Mays was bar mitzvahed when he was 13.
Jake Locker, Washington
The Pac-10's leading returning rusher is U-Dub's sophomore quarterback. This summer, the Ferndale, Wash., native spent weekends playing center field for the minor-league Bellingham Bells. You know who else was born in Washington? John Elway.
SEC
Julio Jones, Alabama
Quite an eventful February for the 6-foot-4 Foley, Ala., native who was the nation's most coveted wide receiver recruit. On national signing day, Feb. 6, he announced that he would roll with the Tide. Thirteen days later, he testified as an eye-witness in a murder trial (the assailant, LaBarron McDonald, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole). Curiously, Jones took the stand wearing an Oklahoma Sooners hoodie. You tell us.
Chris Rainey, Florida
At the Gators’ spring game, coach Urban Meyer lined up some of the school’s fastest non-scholarship students against his sophomore running back. He promised a full scholarship to anyone who beat Rainey in the 40-yard dash. Rainey blew the doors off the competition, then blew away Gator fans by rushing for 75 yards and scoring on a 65-yard pass play. Just what Florida so desperately yearns for: a playmaker in the backfield.
Tim Tebow, Florida
Even those witty folks who compile "Chuck Norris Facts" (e.g., "Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table because he only recognizes the element of surprise") would admit that their Texas Ranger bows at the altar of the Florida Gator. Tebow earned a national championship as a freshman and a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. When he isn't circumcising 3rd World infants or speaking at state penitentiaries, the home-schooled wonder is shunning overtures from Playboy to appear in their preseason All-America photo. It wouldn't surprise us one bit if he could fly.
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
Georgia's sophomore sensation was actually raised up north in Springsteen territory (Middletown, N.J.). And yes, baby, he was born to run. Although he did not become a starter until the Dawgs' seventh game, Moreno compiled 1,334 rushing yards. The last and only other Georgia to breach the 1,000-yard barrier? Herschel Walker.
Mark Richt, Georgia
The Bulldogs' youthful-looking coach, 48, has it made in the shades. The USA Today/Coaches' Poll has tabbed Georgia as the preseason No. 1, but there's more to the likeable top Dawg than just a top ranking. His wife, Katharyn, serves as a water girl during games. Their oldest son, Jonathan, is a freshman quarterback at Clemson. Two adopted children were orphans from the Ukraine. And this past spring Richt took two dozen of his players to a poverty-stricken town in Honduras to do service work. Good coach, good guy.
Herman Johnson, LSU
Someone needs to accost the folks in Baton Rouge who dole out nicknames. Two years ago the Tigers had a 6'8", 310-pound hoopster named Glen Davis (now with the Celtics) who was famously dubbed "Big Baby." So where does that put Johnson, LSU's mammoth (6'7", 351) left guard who weighed in just two ounces shy of 16 pounds at birth? Believed to have been the biggest baby ever born in Louisiana, "The House" has actually lost 50 pounds since matriculating at LSU.
Michael Oher, Mississippi
The son of a crack addict, Oher was essentially a homeless child on the streets of Memphis. Adopted by a wealthy white family, Oher grew (and grew) into a 6'6", 320-pound offensive tackle considered by most NFL scouts as the nation's best. It would make a great story. In fact, it already is. Author Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Moneyball) chronicled Oher's childhood in his 2006 best-seller, The Blind Side.
Eric Berry, Tennessee
An aspiring dentist -- he graduated high school with a 3.75 GPA and interned at a dentist's office this summer -- Berry also led SEC freshmen last year with 86 tackles ("This may hurt a little"). The son of former Vol team captain James Berry also had five interceptions in '07, most notably a pick against Heisman winner Tim Tebow that he returned 96 yards for a TD.
SUN BELT
Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic
Howard Schnellenberger presided over the genesis of Miami football as we know it, nurturing future NFL greats Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar. His latest passing protégé is Smith, a 6'5" stud who had more success throwing the football last season than Tim Tebow. The Jacksonville native couldn't draw a sniff from any SEC schools as a high school senior, but NFL scouts are drooling.
Giovanni Vizza, North Texas
Apparently being the nation’s leader among true freshmen in completions (223), passing yardage (2,388) and touchdowns (16), on a team that finished freaking 2-10, is not enough to secure a starting job. Vizza, the Sun Belt Conference Frosh of the Year in ’07, is being pushed for the starting job by incoming freshman Riley Dodge...whose dad is the head coach. Isn’t the "This town ain’t big enough for the both of us" the plot of every Western?
WAC
Pat Hill, Fresno State
You rarely see mustaches such as Hill's outside of biker bars or porn films, but that hairlip is no disguise for the fact that Hill, 56, is the most fearless coach in college football. Hill's credo — "Anybody, any time, anywhere" — has led the Bulldogs to visit USC (where they almost shocked the No. 1 Trojans in '05), LSU, Oklahoma and Tennessee in the past five seasons. This September, Wisconsin, a preseason Top 15, visits the Valley.
INDEPENDENTS
Navy's Trident: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Eric Kettani and Shun White
Ever so quietly, the Middies have become the first school in the NCAA annals to lead the nation in rushing for three consecutive seasons. Mark it down for four, as three of the team's four leading rushers from a unit that averaged a school-record 444.1 ypg in '07 return. White's career per-carry average is a school-record 9.4 yards-per-carry, while Kettani, the leading rusher, was stopped for a loss just once in 152 carries last year. Quarterback Kaheaku-Enhada frustrates secondaries as much as he does play-by-play men, averaging an Academy-record 17.1 yards per completion. These sailors excel in ground assault ops.
Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
Seven and six. As in seven touchdown passes and six interceptions. Certainly this was not the season the nation's most highly-touted freshman quarterback anticipated, but it was hardly Clausen's fault. Notre Dame's offensive line got its QBs sacked 58 times last season (worst in the nation), but you know what? Notre Dame's very own Beer Olympian (photos that underscore just how powerful a microscope he operates under) never made excuses, though plenty of valid ones, such as inexperience and injury, existed. Brady Quinn's freshman numbers? Nine and fifteen.
Armanti Edwards, Appalachian St.
The most dynamic Mountaineer QB in the nation may not play for West Virginia after all. Last year as a sophomore, Edwards helped App. State to its third consecutive FCS national title as well as that jaw-dropping 34-32 upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Whereas Pat White had 14 TDs passing and rushing, Edwards pulled a 17-17 combo despite missing four games due to injury.
Ryan Perrilloux, Jacksonville St.
From MVP of the SEC championship game to All-Cautionary Tale team. Last season Perrilloux rescued LSU's perilous national championship hopes by stepping in for injured quarterback Matt Flynn and leading the Tigers to victory against Tennessee in the SEC title game. Four months later, Les Miles booted his misadventurous QB off the team and he has since landed at this FCS school in northeast Alabama. Can you say, "CFL-bound"?

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