July 13, 2011

Rivals at 10: Our All-America team

All-America teams are annual staples in college football.

Players are rewarded for their on-field exploits by a variety of news organizations, including Rivals.com, and there often is fierce debate about who is and who isn't an All-American.

Imagine the debates, then, when you try to put together an All-America team based on single-season performances from 2001-10.

It's not an easy task. But we have done it anyway. Here are our choices.

RIVALS AT 10 ALL-AMERICA TEAM: OFFENSE
QB Cameron Newton, Auburn
The season: 2010
The buzz: Quarterback was a position of uncertainty for Auburn - until Newton transferred from Blinn College (Texas). He won the starting job in the spring, then enjoyed one of the best individual seasons in college football history. He rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns and passed for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman and leading Auburn to its first national championship since 1957. He had arguably his most memorable performance when he threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another to lead Auburn from a 24-point deficit to defeat archrival Alabama 28-27.
RB Reggie Bush, USC
The season: 2005
The buzz: The most explosive running back of the decade, Bush posted a startling 8.7-yard-per-carry average while rushing for 1,740 yards in 2005. That was the highest average per carry for any player with at least 200 carries during the decade. Though sharing duties with LenDale White, Bush still had eight 100-yard games and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. He had a season-high 294-yard performance in a wild 50-42 victory over Fresno State in which he had a spectacular 50-yard run that all but clinched the Heisman that season.
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
The season: 2004
The buzz: Peterson immediately burst on the scene at a true freshman and quickly established himself as one of the premier running back in Oklahoma's storied history. He rushed for 100 yards in his first college game, which started a streak of nine consecutive games in which he reached triple-digits. He set an NCAA freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards while helping the Sooners post an undefeated regular season and reach the BCS national championship game. Peterson finished second to USC's Matt Leinart in the Heisman voting, the highest finish ever for a freshman.
WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
The season: 2007
The buzz: Throughout the 2006 season, Texas Tech players continually talked about Crabtree, who was sitting out his freshman season as a redshirt. When the '07 season started, he immediately showed why his teammates were bragging. He caught 12 passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns in his debut and proceeded to catch at least eight passes for more than 100 yards in the each of the following six games. Crabtree set NCAA single-season freshman records for touchdown catches and total receptions by the end of October. He finished the season with a nation's-leading 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. Crabtree was a first-team All-American and received the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh
The season: 2003
The buzz: As a sophomore, Fitzgerald led the nation with 1,672 receiving yards and 22 touchdown catches. He averaged 18.2 yards on 92 catches and caught at least two touchdown passes in eight games. Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, the Walter Camp Award as the nation's top player and finished second in the Heisman voting for a Pitt team that finished 8-5.
TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
The season: 2008
The buzz: Gresham was the ideal tight end for Oklahoma's high-powered spread offense. Gresham caught 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns as one of Heisman winner Sam Bradford's favorite targets. It's a shame injuries prevented Bradford and Gresham from working together the following season. Who knows what kind of numbers Gresham could have put up? Before anyone argues, yes, we know that Gresham didn't win the 2008 John Mackey Award given annually to the nation's top tight end. Missouri's Chase Coffman received the award instead. Coffman did catch more passes than Gresham that year (90-66) and had slightly more receiving yards (987-950), but Gresham scored more touchdowns (14-10) and had a higher average per catch (14.4-11.0). And it's worth noting that Gresham earned first-team All-Big 12 honors over Coffman that season.
T Bryant McKinnie, Miami
The season: 2001
The buzz: "Mount McKinnie" won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman in '01, his second and final season at Miami after transferring in from a junior college. McKinnie was a consensus All-American and didn't allow a sack that season. He helped Miami go 12-0 and win the national title. UM was eighth nationally in total offense and scored 59 regular-season touchdowns (the NCAA did not count bowl statistics until a few seasons later).
T Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
The season: 2006
The buzz: The massive Thomas - Wisconsin listed him at 6 feet 6 and 350 pounds - won the Outland in '06, when he was a consensus All-American selection. He helped pave the way for a productive rushing attack that helped Wisconsin finish 12-1. In high school in Brookfield, Wis., in addition to playing on both lines, Thomas sometimes served as his team's kicker and punter.
G Toniu Fonoti, Nebraska
The season: 2001
The buzz: Fonoti was a consensus All-American in '01, when he was the best lineman on a team that led the nation in rushing at 314.7 yards per game. Fonoti, a 6-4, 340-pounder, was a devastating run blocker. Huskers coaches tracked "pancake" blocks - where an opposing lineman/linebacker ends up on the ground - and Fonoti set a school single-season record with 201 pancakes in 2001.
G Deuce Lutui, USC
The season: 2005
The buzz: The Deuce was loose in 2005, earning numerous All-American mentions. He played at close to 370 pounds that season, setting a school record for heaviest player. USC ran for 260.0 yards per game, which was sixth nationally, and scored 51 rushing touchdowns. The Trojans led the nation in total offense at 579.8 yards per game and averaged 49.1 points per game.
C Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
The season: 2005
The buzz: Eslinger won the Outland Trophy as well as the Rimington Trophy in 2005. He also was the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and a consensus All-American that season. Minnesota was third nationally in rushing offense in '05, averaging 273.1 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry; Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell each rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
RIVALS AT 10 ALL-AMERICA TEAM: DEFENSE
E David Pollack, Georgia
The season: 2004
The buzz: Pollack had 53 tackles and 12 sacks in 2004, when he won the Bednarik (top defender), Lombardi (top linemen) and Ted Hendricks (top defensive end) awards. He also was the SEC's defensive player of the year for the second time and an AP All-American pick for the third time.
T Rien Long, Washington State
The season: 2002
The buzz: Long was a dominant force in 2002, winning the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. Despite missing one game, he had 19.5 tackles for loss and an incredible 13 sacks - remember, he played tackle - for the Cougars, who finished 10-3 and went to the Rose Bowl that season. He was a big reason Washington State finished eighth nationally in run defense.
T Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
The season: 2009
The buzz: Speaking of dominating forces, Suh was a wrecking ball in the middle of the line that season. He had 85 tackles, 12 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback hurries, 10 pass breakups, three blocked kicks and a forced fumble. He also came up with an interception en route to winning the Bednarik, Nagurksi and Outland trophies and the Lombardi Award. He was named The Associated Press player of the year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
E Terrell Suggs, Arizona State
The season: 2002
The buzz: Suggs racked up 14 sacks in 2001, but that was nothing compared to the havoc he wreaked in '02, when he set an NCAA single-season record with 22. He won the Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive end, the Lombardi Award as the best lineman and the Nagurski Award as the best defensive player in the nation that season.
LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
The season: 2005
The buzz: Hawk totaled 95 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, an interception, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles en route to winning the Lombardi Award in 2005. Hawk had 19 tackles in a victory over Michigan State. He was the leader of a Buckeyes defense that paced the Big Ten and ranked fifth in the nation (281.3 ypg). Hawk's unit excelled at stuffing the run, finishing first in the country (73.4 ypg) en route to helping Ohio State finish 10-2 and win the Big Ten and the Fiesta Bowl.
LB E.J. Henderson, Maryland
The season: 2002
The buzz: Henderson was the nation's top linebacker in 2002, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors along with the Bednarik and Butkus awards. Henderson, the only player to earn consensus All-American honors as a junior and senior at Maryland, set an NCAA mark that season for solo tackles with 135. He may have played his best game in his final appearance for the Terps, in the Peach Bowl against Tennessee. Henderson had three sacks and four tackles for loss while breaking up four passes and forcing a fumble in Maryland's 30-3 romp.
LB Rolando McClain, Alabama
The season: 2009
The buzz: He was the dominant player on an Alabama defense that ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (242.2 ypg) and second in rush defense (68.2 ypg), McClain paced the squad in tackles with 105. He also was tied for the team league in tackles for loss with 14.5 and added four sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, six pass breakups, two fumbles recoveries and a forced fumble for a 14-0 Crimson Tide squad that won the national championship over Texas.
CB Terence Newman, Kansas State
The season: 2002
The buzz: Newman was one of the most decorated defensive players in program history. He won the Thorpe Award and was named the Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2002, when he helped K-State to an 11-2 record. Newman finished the season with five interceptions, two touchdowns on punt returns, a score on a kickoff return and a touchdown reception.
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
The season: 2010
The buzz: Peterson became only the second defensive back to win the Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player in the country. The other was Heisman winner Charles Woodson in 1997. Teams tried to avoid Peterson on defense and in the kicking game, but to no avail. Peterson, who also won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, intercepted four passes and returned two punts for touchdowns. He also had 42 tackles, six pass breakups and a blocked field goal.
FS Sean Taylor, Miami
The season: 2003
The buzz: Taylor performed admirably in 2003, intercepting 10 passes and returning three for touchdowns; he earned consensus first-team All-America and Big East defensive player of the year honors. He was the best player on the most recent Miami team to win more than 10 games.
SS Roy Williams, Oklahoma
The season: 2001
The buzz: The hard-hitting Williams was the most-feared defensive player in the nation in 2001, when Oklahoma went 11-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. Williams was Oklahoma's first Nagurski Award winner and second Thorpe Award winner. He finished the season with 107 tackles and five interceptions. Williams enjoyed some Heisman consideration, too, finishing seventh in the voting. He had 146 points, the most for a defensive player since Charles Woodson won the Heisman in 1997 and the most until Ndamukong Suh finished fourth with 815 points in 2009.
RIVALS AT 10 ALL-AMERICA TEAM: SPECIAL TEAMS
K Mike Nugent, Ohio State
The season: 2004
The buzz: Nugent won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker by going 24-of-27 on field-goal attempts, including an astounding 5-of-6 from at least 50 yards out. His career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired gave Ohio State a 24-21 victory over Marshall. He hit a 55-yarder again a month later in a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin. He tied a school record by making five field goals - including a 50-yarder - in a 22-14 triumph over North Carolina State. Two of his three misses were from 49 and 53 yards.
P Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
The season: 2006
The buzz: Sepulveda capped a brilliant college career in '06 by leading the nation with an average of 46.5 yards per punt, the highest single-season average in school history. He landed 39 percent of his punts inside the opponent's 20 and placed 12 percent of them inside the 10. The performance helped make Sepulveda the first two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation's top punter. These feats would have been impressive enough had Sepulveda achieved them under ordinary circumstances. That he put up these types of numbers after tearing his ACL in April 2006 made his accomplishments even more amazing.
KR C.J. Spiller, Clemson
The season: 2009
The buzz: Spiller returned 23 kickoffs in 2009 and scored on four of them, setting an ACC record for kickoff-return touchdowns in a season. His electrifying season included a 96-yard return on the opening kickoff of the Tigers' season against Middle Tennessee, a 92-yard return against Maryland, a 90-yard return against Miami and an 88-yard return against South Carolina. He ended his career with an NCAA-record seven touchdowns on kickoff returns. Spiller, who was a tailback, also gained 7,588 career all-purpose yards, the second-highest total in NCAA history.
PR Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State
The season: 2004
The buzz: Ginn didn't return all that many punts in '04, but he sure made the most of his opportunities. He scored on four of his 15 returns and led the nation with an average of 25.6 yards per attempt. His four touchdowns on punt returns set a Big Ten single-season record. He delivered his biggest returns in some of Ohio State's biggest games. Ginn's touchdowns were a 65-yarder against Wisconsin, a 67-yarder against Penn State, a 60-yarder against Michigan State and an 82-yarder against Michigan.



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