April 8, 2009

Spikes one of the scariest defenders around

The dreadlocks, Fu Manchu-like mustache, menacing stare and muscular 6-foot-3, 258-pound frame make Florida All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes look like a beast.

He plays like one, too.

"I want to have a presence," Spikes said. "The guys tell me, 'You look like a beast.' Even in Pop Warner I was trying to intimidate people.

"I'm not going to say names, but there are times after a few snaps I've looked at [opponents'] faces and could see a look like, 'I got to go against this guy all day?' I've hit [running] backs and the look in their eyes tells me they felt me on that play."

Spikes' blend of ability, attitude and appearance gives him a triple shot of intimidation and combines to make him the scariest player in college football.

"Scariest" can have various definitions. It could be defined as an active player that offenses have to account for on every play. It could be a ballhawk who can steal passes and take them for touchdowns. It might be a bone-jarring tackler or a hard-charging pass rusher.

Spikes fits all those descriptions. Last season, he had 93 tackles to lead the national-champion Gators. He had four interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns. And ask former Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno or just check YouTube for proof of jarring tackles.

"When he gets to the point of attack, he gets there with a bad attitude," former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "That's what you want. You've got to have great instincts, and one thing I noticed watching him play is he's very instinctive.

"He reminds me a lot of [Baltimore Ravens All-Pro] Ray Lewis. A lot of times he's out of control. He freelances, but that's what good linebackers do. He's the heart and soul of that group. I coached linebackers 19 years and he's about as good as any I've seen."

Spikes is flattered by the comparisons to Lewis, but said he patterns his game after another player who inspired fear years before Spikes was born.

"I would say I like guys like [Pro Football Hall of Famer] Dick Butkus. He was relentless and fearless," Spikes said. "When I was small, I saw an HBO special on him. He was flying around out there making plays. It was crazy.

"I didn't know anything about playing linebacker then, but I wanted to model my game after him. He was a beast."

Spikes has some beastly characteristics, too. The dreadlocks that hang out behind his helmet add to his intimidating persona. Some fans and teammates in Gainesville call him "Predator" because they say the dreads make Spikes look similar to the ominous character in the movie "Alien vs. Predator."

"You can look intimidating," Spikes said. "But you've got to perform."

Spikes does both.

Scariest players

LB Brandon Spikes, Florida: A big hitter who's equally adept in run and pass defense. He had four interceptions and six pass breakups last season, and also had 93 tackles.

DE Jerry Hughes, TCU: His decision to return for his senior season was a surprise. Hughes earned recognition by leading the nation with 15 sacks, including four against BYU's senior-dominated line. His final sack helped preserve a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Boise State.

SS Eric Berry, Tennessee: Although he plays defense, Berry was one of Tennessee's greatest offensive threats last year. He had seven interceptions for 265 return yards a record 37.9 yards per return. His yardage would have made him the Vols' fourth most-productive receiver.

DE Greg Hardy, Ole Miss: Foot surgery forced Hardy to miss four games last season, but he still posted a team-high 8.5 sacks. He had 10 sacks in '07. If he maintains his focus which has been a problem he could lead the SEC in sacks this season.

DE George Selvie, USF: His sack total dropped to 5.5 in '08 from 14.5 in '07. Blame constant double-teaming. He's still a fearsome rusher. No one looks forward to facing him.

FS Taylor Mays, USC: Would you want to go over the middle with a 6-3, 230-pound free safety lurking? A two-time All-American, Mays packs a powerful punch and always seems to be in the right place.

LB Mark Herzlich, Boston College: Painting his face with eye black adds to his intimidating presence, but it's really not needed. The reigning ACC defensive player of the year, Herzlich made 110 tackles last season, including 81 solo stops. He also led the nation's linebackers with six interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.

DT Terrence Cody, Alabama: The Crimson Tide ranked second nationally in rushing defense last season and Cody was a big reason literally and figuratively. Cody, a 6-5, 365-pound wall, is the country's premier run-stuffer. He likely would have been a first-round NFL draft choice, but he opted to return for his senior season.

DE/LB Sergio Kindle, Texas: Once a highly regarded five-star linebacker prospect, Kindle had 10 sacks while spending time at linebacker and defensive end last season. He had a sack and forced an interception against Oklahoma. He's expected to get more work at end in '09.

DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma: He possesses stunning quickness for someone of his size, which makes him arguably the country's best inside pass rusher. McCoy is mobile enough to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage.

Traveling to Texas

Based on their brilliant '08 seasons, some might wonder how Oregon State's Rodgers brothers Jacquizz and James ever got out of Texas. And Beavers coach Mike Riley eventually wants to take them back to their home state but just for one game.

"We're trying to get a game down there," Riley said Tuesday. "We want to take the guys down there. ESPN has been working with us on that.

"It would be fun to get the Rodgers boys back to Texas."

The brothers are from Richmond, near Houston. Jacquizz rushed for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman last season. James, a sophomore last season, had 51 catches and more than 1,000 yards in total offense.

Riley said he and Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis have discussed approaching Texas Tech, SMU and Houston, among others.

"There is nothing firm yet," he said. "It's in the embryo stage. We've got two years to work with that. I don't know if it's going happen, but I hope so."

This fall, Oregon State faces Portland State, UNLV and Cincinnati in non-conference games.

Oregon State has a history of scheduling strong non-conference opponents on the road. Last season, the Beavers played at Penn State. In '07 they played at Cincinnati, in '05 they played at Louisville and in '04 they played at LSU.

While he'd like to give his star players a chance to play in their home state, Riley admits he has other motivations, too. Oregon State has three Texans on its roster. Riley would like to add a few more.

"There were 400 Division I players signed out of Texas last year," Riley said. "We got one last year and we got a couple the previous two years. We've made some friends in coaching circles. There are a lot of players down there. And we'd be interested in any guys that are interested in coming up here."

The Edge

This week, it's Tennessee vs. Oklahoma. This edge was requested by reader Jason Crockarell of Franklin, Tenn.

Each week, we'll match two teams to determine which has the edge in various categories. Got a matchup you want to see? Send it to olin@rivals.com and we'll work on it.

Oklahoma vs. Tennessee
1. Head-to-head matchups
The series is tied 1-1 with Tennessee prevailing 17-0 in the 1939 Orange Bowl and OU winning 26-24 in the '68 Orange Bowl.
Edge: Even
2. National championships
Oklahoma: Seven 1950, '55, '56, '74, '75, '85 and 2000.
Tennessee: Three 1938, '51, '98
Edge: Oklahoma
3. Sibling revelry
Oklahoma: The Selmon brothers Lee Roy, Lucious and Dewey stared on Oklahoma's defense in the early '70s, and each earned All-America acclaim.
Tennessee: The Majors brothers Johnny, Bill and Bobby starred at Tennessee. Johnny was the Heisman runner-up in 1956 and Bobby was named All-America in 1971.
Edge: Oklahoma
4. Animal mascots
Oklahoma: Boomer & Sooner, the white ponies that power the "Sooner Schooner."
Tennessee: Smokey the blue tick hound, which barks a lot on the sideline.
Edge: Oklahoma.
5. Country music star super-fans
Oklahoma: Toby Keith
Tennessee: Kenny Chesney
Edge: Tennessee. Chesney has been named Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year four times. Keith has been so honored twice.
6. Former quarterbacks turned politicians
Oklahoma: U.S. representative J.C. Watts (R-Oklahoma, 1995-2003)
Tennessee: U.S. representative Heath Shuler (D-North Carolina, 2007-present)
Edge: Even.
6. Reasons to hate quarterback Chris Simms
Tennessee: He went to Texas after committing to the Vols.
Oklahoma: He went to Texas.
Edge: Oklahoma. Simms never beat the Sooners.
7. Checkered items
Tennessee: Its end zones.
Oklahoma: Its past (OU has been on NCAA probation six times)
Edge: Tennessee. The checkerboard end zones never resulted in a postseason ban.
8. Iconic former coaches
Oklahoma: Barry Switzer
Tennessee: Robert Neyland
Edge: Tennessee. Switzer is OU's all-time winningest coach with a 157-29-4 record (.837 winning percentage), which includes three national championships. Neyland is Tennessee's most successful coach and had a career record of 173-31-12 (.829 winning percentage) with two national championships and the Vols play in Neyland Stadium.
10. First-round draft choices
Oklahoma: 38 (Most recently RB Adrian Peterson by Minnesota in 2007)
Tennessee: 40 (Most recently LB Jerod Mayo by New England in 2008)
Edge: Tennessee

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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