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Friday, May 27, 2011

Killin' Time: My 20 Favorite College Football Players, #10-1

Part two of the list starts with...

#10 Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska 2005-2009
I can't even pretend to dislike Ndamukong Suh. I know he made some pretty malicious hits last year (including the forearm shiver to Cutler that WAS a penalty, dammit, but not the reason the Lions lost the game, since it gave the Bears a wopping 7 yards on 2nd and short), and I know he will be holy terror for a shaky Bears offensive line once again next year. But frankly, he's an amazing player and, barring injury, probably a future hall of famer. I think he's just as, if not more, talented than a young Warren Sapp. Mancrushes are hard to break, and my mancrush on Suh dates back to 2007, because that was the first time I found out that his name means "House of Spears."

In 2008 and 2009 Suh absolutely destroyed the Big 12, with 161 tackles (AS A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN), 43 tackles for a loss, 19 1/2 sacks, 13 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, a forced fumble, and 2 defensive touchdowns in two full seasons as a starter. Those aren't mind blowing numbers for a defensive tackle. Those are pants-shitting, mind-blowing, uncontrollable flop sweat for an opposing center kinda numbers. I won't go over his rookie NFL numbers since that's a whole different story, but if you don't piss a wee bit every time you think of Nick Fairley and Suh side-by-side next year, well, you're a man without fear, sir.

We all know the game that cemented Suh in the hearts of college football fan's everywhere, when he had 4 1/2 sacks in the Big 12 Title game that ended in a 13-12 loss to Texas after the officials remembered that the league would lose millions if Texas Didn't go to the national title game (yeah, I went there). That performance that night (which earned him MVP honors in a losing effort)was damn near superhuman. So for that, I'm willing to overlook his current enemy status in favor of the sheer awesome that was his college career.

#9 Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana 1998-2001
There was a time, actually, when Indiana football was even more hapless than it is now. The late 90s was the absolute dark ages for Indiana football, and they went 18-37 in the Cam Cameron (failed head coach of the Dolphins, current OC for the Ravens) Era. The one thing Indiana had going for it during that time period, however, was one of the most electrifying QBs the Big 10+2 has ever had. Sure, Denard Robinson had an outstanding year this year (and he'll probably regress under new coach Brady Hoke) and rewrote the record books, but before that the last truly dynamic dual threat QB (sorry Troy Smith, Brad Banks, and Juice Williams) was Antwaan Randle El, who shattered records so fiercely during his freshman year that the Freshman of the Year award in the Big 4x3 is now named after him.

In his first ever game at Indiana, Randle had 467 total yards from scrimmage. That year, Randle El racked up 1745 yards passing and 873 yards rushing, to go along with 16 total TDs. He improved each year and finished his career with 7,469 yards and 46 TDs in the air to go along with 3,885 yards and 44 TDs on the ground. That doesn't sound as impressive as it used to in a world that's seen the likes of Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Denard Robinson, but bear in mind that this was over 10 years ago, before spread had truly taken hold, and in a conference that still doesn't like it much and ran out Rich Rodriguez as fast as it possibly could. What Randle El did in making Indiana at least respectable for a few years was a truly impressive feat, and he was fun as hell to watch. That's Top Ten stuff.

#8 Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State 2003-2006
Jared Zabransky makes this list for three reasons: 1) He looked like he had just wandered in from a trailer park and decided to play football:
2) He led Boise State back before it was all "cool" to root for the Broncos #footballhipster 3)He led the most awesome comeback in the most exciting finish to a college football game I've ever seen, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Nevermind that on the two incredibly exciting plays that finished the game (the tight end reverse pass for the TD and the Statue of Liberty 2 pt conversion) he just handed the ball off or pitched it. I will always fondly remember him for his effort in that game.

Also, he's now a journeyman quarterback in the Canadian Football League, which, as you know, scores points with me.

#7 Kyle Orton, QB, Purdue, 2001-2004
You had to know he'd make this list at some point. He actually doesn't rank as high as his God-like Boilermaker predecessor (spoiler alert), but at the time I thought Kyle was the balls. I've got some family ties to the Purdue University that have given me more than a casual rooting interest in them, and I was pulling hard for them in the last three years of the Orton Era (since Ron Turner was busy tanking Illinois into the depths of the sea). Orton was a full-time starter for his last three years and completed over 60% of his passes with a nearly 3-1 TD:INT ratio in that time. Even then, however, his game manager limitations were apparent if anyone cared to look. His sophomore and junior years he threw just 13 and 15 touchdown passes, respectively. He averaged a relatively mediocre (for a spread QB) 7.0 YPA those two years, and he had a tendency to fade down the stretch against tough conference opponents. However, I mostly watched him shredding the cheesecake defenses of the Illini, so I thought he was awesome. I still like the guy, even after the last couple years have made me take shots at him more than I'd like. So here's one more post reminding us why we liked him in the first place. Thanks, Kyle. Purdue's sucked since you left.

#6. Steve Slaton/Pat White, QB & RB, West Virginia 2005-2007
This may be cheating, but it's my list, so what the hell. For three years Steve Slaton and Pat White were uttered in the same sentence as one two-headed monster that ran roughshod through the Big East and put Rich Rodriguez's run-heavy Spread Option on the map. It's pretty safe to say that without Pat White there'd absolutely be no Denard Robinson and there probably wouldn't be a Cam Newton since Arkansas may not have taken a chance on Guz Malzahn's similar offensive scheme.

In the three years that Slaton and White were together for the Mountaineers (I'll ignore Pat's solo effort in 2008), West Virginia was 33-5 and won 3 Bowl games (2 BCS). White averaged 2,571 yards total yards of offense during those three years (despite only starting midway through his freshman year thanks to an injury) and had 74 total touchdowns in that time period. Slaton averaged 1300 yards rushing a year, had 50 rushing touchdowns, and also had 805 receiving yards and 5 receiving TDs in that time. They were a lethal combination that was both must-see TV and fun as hell to play as in NCAA Football videogames. Dave F*&king Wannstedt ruined their national title hopes with a 13-9 upset win in the last game of the regular season in 2007, but that's the only black mark on one of the more impressive three-year runs in college history.

#5. Jared Lorenzen, QB, Kentucky 2000-2003
I shouldn't even have to explain it. Hell besides his pretty excellent stats, I'm just going to explain why Jared Lorenzen cracks the top five in images:

If you never saw Jared Lorenzen chugging his way through a hapless defender on a five yard bootleg, I can only say that you live in a world of such profound sadness that I have nothing but the utmost pity for you. God he was awesome.

#4. Rex Grossman,QB, Florida 2000-2002
I've mentioned this before, but the reason I had such an incredibly difficult time joining the bench Grossman bandwagon was because I absolutely loved watching him in college. Steve Spurrier will always be one of my favorite figures in all of sports just because he's an ornery dick and his drawing-plays-in-the-sand style of game managing baffled and confused everybody. He was Mike Leach before there was a Mike Leach, and he got great results out of noodle-armed QBs like Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. Grossman, however, was the first QB Spurrier had who could go deep on anybody and everybody, and the results were incredible. As we learned in Chicago, Rex had no ability whatsoever to fit balls into tight spots, make difficult reads, or throw intermediate passes with any regularity. That didn't matter at Florida, because Spurrier and Rex went deep all the god damn time, and that was all that mattered. Hell, Rex never shook the mentality that Spurrier instilled in him, because in 2000 and 2001 it made him one of the best QBs that the SEC has ever seen.

Rex took over for Jesse Palmer (the guy from the Bachelor who know dumbs up ESPN's college football coverage) as a redshirt freshman in 2000 and completed over 60% of his passes for 21 touchdowns (against just 7 interceptions) and had a rating of 161.8(109.5 on the NFL scale) in just about half a season as a starter.

2001, though, was when Rex cemented my mancrush. Throwing deep on nearly every play, he set every single season passing record Florida had while completing 65.6% of his passes for 3896 yards, 34 TDs, 12 INTs, and a 170.8 rating (113.9 NFL). He got absolutely jobbed of the 2001 Heisman trophy in the closest race ever (sorry, but Eric Crouch, with all of his running ability, didn't even come close to Rex in total yardage or touchdowns). Rex averaged a ludicrous 9.9 yards per attempt that year.

Of course, we know how the story ends. Spurrier leaves, Ron Zook comes in, Rex declines majorly in a whole new system, he jumps to the NFL and quickly learns that a quarterback needs a hell of a lot more than the ability to throw the ball downfield in order to be successful. But damn, can you really blame me for thinking he was going to be awesome?

#3 Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois 2005-2007
The second Illini on the list, Rashard Mendenhall makes it despite being woefully underutilized by Ron Zook his first two years on campus. I know Pierre Thomas was there and he was awesome, but there's no excuse for Mendenhall only having 126 carries before 2007, especially when he 6.8 yards per rush on those carries.

Mendenhall was unleashed in 2007 and showed off a combination of size, speed, athleticism, and receiving skills that probably will never be matched by another Illini, despite Mikel LeShoure's incredibly similar season last year. Mendenhall was so close to the platonic ideal of a runningback that I may never get over him. Too bad he decided not to enter the draft and has never taken an NFL snap* His 2007 season was beyond awesome as he racked up 1,681 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on the ground along with 318 yards and 2 TDs through the air. He came up one yard shy of 2,000 yards from scrimmage. After that he was gone, giving Ron Zook a valuable lesson that you should ride your studs for the three years that you have them before they jet off to the NFL (what's that? He didn't learn and Mikel LeShoure had just 143 carries in two years before his junior year? F*&k). But no ineptitude on Zook's part can erase any of the memories of Rashard's total ownage that year.

#2 Drew Brees, QB, Purdue, 1997-2000Oh, no, my Drew Brees bandwagon didn't begin last year when I rode the Saints to a Superbowl win. It began all the way back in 1998, when the undersized Breesus first burst onto the scene with 39 touchdown passes for a Purdue team that rode his arm to a 9 win season. Breesus followed that year up taking Purdue to bowls in both 1999 and 2000, including the Rose Bowl, and racking up two more first team All Big Ten Honors, winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, finishing 4th in the balloting for the 2000 Heisman Trophy, and just kicking major ass in every possible way. He finished his career 116 total TDs (90 passing, 14 rushing, 2 receiving) and nearly 12,000 yards passing. Then, much to my dismay, he was snagged by the Chargers in the 2nd round, who totally didn't appreciate him like I do. We all know what he's done since then. Man, Breesus is so f*&king awesome.

1. Kurt Kittner, QB, Illinois 1998If someone claims to be a fan of the Illini sports and doesn't know who Kurt Kittner is, that person should be shot. Kurt Kittner was a four year starter for Ron Turner's Illini and was the only reason Ron wasn't fired about four years before he was. In Kittner's two healthy seasons as the full-time starter (1998) the Illini were 18-6, and they narrowly missed a bowl game in 2000 after they lost their final game when Kittner sat out with a concussion. In the 1999 MicronPC Bowl (now the Champs Sports Bowl) Kittner led Illinois to a 63-21 demolishing of Virginia. In that game Kittner threw for 254 yards and 2 TDs, added a rushing TD, and hit the trifecta when he caught a 30 yard touchdown pass from Brandon Lloyd. Kittner was named the game MVP after the most impressive individual performance by any Illinois player not named Red Grange.

Kittner's senior season was the finest season the Illini have had in my lifetime, however, and it is that which makes him my all time favorite. Illinois went 10-2 in 2001 and won the first (and so far only) Big Ten title they've won in my lifetime. Kittner that year threw for 2994 yards on 374 attempts (for a nifty 8.0 ypa) with 23 TDs and a 135.9 rating (85.7 NFL). Kittner finished his career with a career line of 668/1229 (54.4%), 8,460 yards, 66 TDs, 33 INTs, 6.9 YPA, and a 124.5 rating (82.8). The numbers are pretty good, but they don't do Kurt justice, because the main reason I will always love Kurt Kittner is that Illinois was actually above average with him at QB. That's a pretty mighty accomplishment.

Kurt went on to start a few games for the Falcons after Michael Vick broke his leg in 2003, and he sucked. Then he was cut by a billion other teams before winning the last NFL Europe World Bowl with Jarrett Payton as his runningback. All of that just makes me love him more.

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