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August 17, 2009
Monday with Mike: College football's dandy duos
Last week, we talked about college football's terrific trios. This week, let's make it dandy duos.
We're looking at the teams with the best players at the same position.
Here's the list of the top national duos, followed by the best duos by position in each league.
Tailbacks: California, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. Best should be the nation's best running back this season. He's coming off a 1,580-yard, 15-touchdown season in which he averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Vereen likely would start for two-thirds of the teams in the nation; he ran for 715 yards and four TDs. As talented as these guys are, you wonder if Cal coach Jeff Tedford wouldn't mind seeing their yardage total actually go down a bit this season; a plausible reason for that would be that Cal's passing game is much more productive this season than it was last season, when the Golden Bears often bogged down.
Wide receivers: Notre Dame, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. This was, by far, the toughest position. Do you go with Kansas' 1-2 punch of Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, who will be more productive, or Floyd and Tate? I went with Floyd/Tate because, as a duo, they're more talented. Tate has the speed to be a big-time deep threat, while Floyd has great size, good hands and superb instincts. When you compare the numbers, they're really not that close: Floyd, a sophomore, and Tate, a junior, combined for 106 receptions and 17 touchdowns last season, while Briscoe and Meier had 189 catches and 23 TDs. But look beyond the numbers. Because of the difficulty in comparing and contrasting at this position, I finally wondered what would happen if you swapped the offenses. In that scenario, I think Floyd and Tate would be as productive as Briscoe and Meier in KU's offense, and I don't think Briscoe and Meier would be as productive as Floyd and Tate in the Irish's offense. That's my rationale, anyway.
Offensive tackles: Iowa, Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway. This is a large and talented duo. Bulaga is a 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior who began his career at guard. He remains a road-grader in the running game, and he has improved his footwork as a pass blocker to the point where he's now considered one of the nation's top five tackles. Calloway is a 6-7, 315-pound senior who is heading into his third season as a starter. He's not in Bulaga's class, but he'd get a heck of a lot more attention if he weren't on the same line.
Guards: Florida, Mike Pouncey and Carl Johnson. When Johnson, a junior, was inserted into the starting lineup at guard in the fifth game last season, Florida's offense took off. The Gators scored at least 38 points in every remaining regular-season game and hit at least 49 points five times. Johnson was a highly touted high school offensive tackle but hadn't done much with the Gators until last season. Pouncey, a junior, played defensive tackle at the end of his true freshman season in 2007 and brought that mentality to the offensive line. Once Johnson was inserted into the lineup, he and Pouncey mashed and mauled opposing defensive lines, linebackers and even unfortunate defensive backs. Their combined weight is about 660 pounds, and each is proficient at pulling and leading backs and receivers around the outside.
Defensive tackles: Georgia, Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens. Owens, a senior, blew out his knee in the first game last season and missed the rest of the season. His return gives the Bulldogs two big-time athletes in the middle of their line. Atkins, another senior, and Owens are solid run-stuffers but also possess the quick first steps to create some havoc as pass rushers. When you add in Kade Weston - who played too many downs last season in Owens' absence - the Bulldogs have the best tackle rotation in the nation. Of note: Both Atkins and Owens are from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Given the problems at defensive tackle for Florida State and Miami and the unproven depth at the position for Florida, you sure would think the state's "Big Three" regret not signing these guys.
Defensive ends: Oklahoma, Jeremy Beal and Auston English. Beal emerged as a playmaker last season as a sophomore. He has a nice upfield burst and is stronger than he looks; he finished with 8.5 sacks and 61 tackles. English had a lot of hype going into the season and would've lived up to it if not for injury issues. He had 4.5 sacks last season after leading the Big 12 with 9.5 in '07. As formidable as these guys should be, Frank Alexander was a part-time starter last season and added 3.5 sacks.
Linebackers: Penn State, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee. Lee, now a senior, was an All-America candidate in 2007 but missed last season with a knee injury. Not to worry: Bowman emerged as an All-America candidate himself. Bowman, a junior, is a good athlete with great instincts who makes a ton of big plays. He had 106 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, a pick and five pass breakups last season. He has had some off-field issues, but if he keeps his head on straight and Lee is 100 percent recovered, big seasons for both will mean a lot of money next season in the NFL - and an active and productive duo at linebacker for the Nittany Lions. More good news for Penn State: The Nittany Lions have a solid group of defensive tackles, which means Bowman and Lee are going to be running free numerous times this season.
Cornerbacks: Florida, Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. Haden, a junior, was thrown into the fray as a true freshman in 2007 and was overwhelmed at times, not surprising when you consider he was a high school quarterback. But he regained his bearings last season and had a big year. He is not only excellent in run support but also has good hands and the necessary speed to be a good cover corner. Jenkins, meanwhile, was an immediate star as a true freshman last season, earning the starting job early in the season and not letting go. He is extremely physical and has all the tools - quickness, recovery speed, ball skills, hands - to be the best corner in the nation by the time he finishes his career at Florida.
Safeties: USC, FS Taylor Mays and SS Josh Pinkard. Everyone knows about Mays, a senior with linebacker size (6-3/235) but defensive back speed. He is rangy and packs a punch, though a few more big plays would be good. Pinkard is a senior who has battled injuries throughout his career. He was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection as a cornerback last season but has been moved to strong safety this season. If he remains healthy, he and Mays could form an almost impenetrable backline of defense.
BEST DUOS BY POSITION IN EACH LEAGUE