SEC: Oklahoma Sooners

For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
Friday, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin fired back at Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who mocked the Aggies’ nonconference schedule while at the ESPN car wash this past week.

"They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe," Stoops said. "Boy, those are all a bunch of toughies, right?”

According to AggieSports.com, Sumlin was asked about Stoops’ comments at a fan event in Houston:

Behind Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies hammered the Sooners in the 2012 Cotton Bowl 41-13. Sumlin actually coached under Stoops at Oklahoma until 2008.

During his Houston appearance, Sumlin also had this to say:

It’s unclear if that was a veiled jab at the Longhorns. But this week, Texas coach Charlie Strong did dismiss six players from his team. Of course, Sumlin could have been exclusively referencing his own program. Seven Aggies players have been arrested since December.
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”

Position U: Defensive back

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:00
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Defensive Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (238 points)
It didn’t hammer the field in the secondary like it did at linebacker, but more than a decade of consistency helped Ohio State claim the “Defensive Back U” title, too. When your school seems to always be in the thick of the championship chase, there’s a good chance that it will rank highly on these positional lists. Think Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, USC, Texas. We keep seeing their names, which makes perfect sense if you think of how many wins they accumulated in the 2000s -- and in the case of Ohio State at defensive back, a lengthy tradition from Mike Doss, Will Allen and Chris Gamble to Malcolm Jenkins to Bradley Roby helped the Buckeyes outpace contenders like LSU, Oklahoma and Miami to proclaim itself “DBU.”

Award winners: Jenkins, Thorpe (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Doss (2002), Allen (2003), Jenkins (2008).
First-team all-conference: Nate Clements (2000), Doss (2000, 2001, 2002), Gamble (2002, 2003), Allen (2003), Nate Salley (2005), Donte Whitner (2005), Ashton Youboty (2005), Jenkins (2006, 2007, 2008), Antonio Smith (2006), Kurt Coleman (2009), Chimdi Chekwa (2010), Jermale Hines (2010), Travis Howard (2012), Roby (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Clements (2001), Gamble (2004), Whitner (2006), Jenkins (2009), Roby (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derek Ross (Round 3, 2002), Doss (Round 2, 2003), Allen (Round 4, 2004), Dustin Fox (Round 3, 2005), Salley (Round 4, 2006), Youboty (Round 3, 2006), Donald Washington (Round 4, 2009), Chekwa (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Combs (Round 7, 2001), Donnie Nickey (Round 5, 2003), Coleman (Round 7, 2010), Jermale Hines (Round 5, 2011), Nate Ebner (Round 6, 2012), Christian Bryant (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (220)
With four national awards and consensus All-Americans, Oklahoma was certainly going to be near the top of the board in the defensive back rankings. Its 16 first-team all-conference selections helped the Sooners edge LSU for the second-place spot even when Oklahoma only had two first-round selections in Roy Williams and Andre Woolfolk.

Award winners: Williams, Nagurski (2001), Thorpe (2001); Derrick Strait, Nagurski (2003), Thorpe (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: J.T. Thatcher (2000), Williams (2001), Strait (2003), Quinton Carter (2010).
First-team all-conference: Williams (2000, 2001), Thatcher (2000), Brandon Everage (2002), Strait (2002, 2003), Donte Nicholson (2004), Nic Harris (2007, 2008), Reggie Smith (2007), Dominique Franks (2009), Quinton Carter (2010), Jamell Fleming (2011), Aaron Colvin (2012, 2013), Tony Jefferson (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Williams (2002), Woolfolk (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Strait (Round 3, 2004), Antonio Perkins (Round 4, 2005), Brodney Pool (Round 2, 2005), Smith (Round 3, 2008), Carter (Round 4, 2011), Jamell Fleming (Round 3, 2012), Colvin (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mike Hawkins (Round 5, 2005), Nicholson (Round 5, 2005), Franks (Round 5, 2010), Jonathan Nelson (Round 7, 2011).

3. LSU (218)
With six consensus All-Americans and four award winners on its resume, it is no surprise that LSU threatened to claim the top spot at defensive back. LSU has churned out some incredible talent in the secondary in the 2000s, including players like Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne and Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu.

Award winners: Peterson, Bednarik (2010), Thorpe (2010); Claiborne, Thorpe (2011); Mathieu, Bednarik (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: LaRon Landry (2006), Craig Steltz (2007), Peterson (2010), Claiborne (2011), Mathieu (2011), Eric Reid (2012).
First-team all-conference: Corey Webster (2002, 2003), Landry (2005, 2006), Steltz (2007), Chevis Jackson (2007), Peterson (2010), Mathieu (2011), Claiborne (2011), Reid (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Landry (2007), Peterson (2011), Claiborne (2012), Reid (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Webster (Round 2, 2005), Travis Daniels (Round 4, 2005), Steltz (Round 4, 2008), Jackson (Round 3, 2008), Chad Jones (Round 3, 2010), Brandon Taylor (Round 3, 2012), Ron Brooks (Round 4, 2012), Mathieu (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tharold Simon (Round 5, 2013), Norman LeJeune (Round 7, 2003), Curtis Taylor (Round 7, 2009).

4. Miami (202)
It’s apparently going to be difficult for Miami to maintain such a lofty position in the future. The Hurricanes have certainly experienced a drop-off since joining the ACC in 2004, as evidenced by a reduction in all-conference picks and All-Americans since then. But of the players on this list from The U’s pre-ACC days in the early portion of the 2000s, it’s safe to say that DBs like Ed Reed, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle would have dominated in any conference.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Reed (2000, 2001), Taylor (2003), Rolle (2004).
First-team all-conference: Mike Rumph (2000), Reed (2000, 2001), Al Blades (2000), Phillip Buchanon (2001), Rolle (2002, 2003, 2004), Maurice Sikes (2002), Taylor (2002, 2003), Kelly Jennings (2005), Kenny Phillips (2007), Brandon Harris (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Buchanon (2002), Reed (2002), Rumph (2002), Taylor (2004), Rolle (2005), Jennings (2006), Brandon Meriweather (2007), Phillips (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Devin Hester (Round 2, 2006), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Round 3, 2011), Harris (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Leonard Myers (Round 6, 2001), James Lewis (Round 6, 2002), Alfonso Marshall (Round 7, 2004), Marcus Maxey (Round 5, 2006), Brandon McGee (Round 5, 2013).

5. Texas (194)
It says a lot about the top-end talent that Texas has had in the secondary that nearly half of the Longhorns’ draft picks since 2001 (six of 13) were first-round selections. Two of them, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Others like Quentin Jammer and Earl Thomas were consensus All-Americans before becoming first-round picks.

Award winners: Huff, Thorpe (2005); Ross, Thorpe (2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammer (2001), Huff (2005), Thomas (2009).
First-team all-conference: Jammer (2000, 2001), Rod Babers (2002), Nathan Vasher (2003), Huff (2004, 2005), Cedric Griffin (2005), Michael Griffin (2006), Ross (2006), Marcus Griffin (2007), Thomas (2009), Kenny Vaccaro (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammer (2002), Huff (2006), Griffin (2007), Ross (2007), Thomas (2010), Vaccaro (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4:
Babers (Round 4, 2003), Vasher (Round 4, 2004), Griffin (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Williams (Round 2, 2011), Curtis Brown (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tarell Brown (Round 5, 2007), Chykie Brown (Round 5, 2011).

6. Alabama (166)
Alabama is sort of a Johnny Come Lately on this list, but with four consensus All-Americans and five first-round draft picks (Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) in the last five seasons, the Crimson Tide is making its move. This is another example of the Saban Effect. Between 2000 and 2006, Alabama had two all-conference defensive backs and five draft picks. In the seven seasons since Saban’s arrival, Alabama has had nine all-conference DBs and nine draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Javier Arenas (2009), Barron (2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
First-team all-conference: Roman Harper (2005), Simeon Castille (2006, 2007), Rashad Johnson (2007, 2008), Arenas (2009), Barron (2009, 2010, 2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jackson (2010), Barron (2012), Kirkpatrick (2012), Milliner (2013), Clinton-Dix (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Tony Dixon (Round 2, 2001), Harper (Round 2, 2006), Johnson (Round 3, 2009), Arenas (Round 2, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Waine Bacon (Round 6, 2003), Charlie Peprah (Round 5, 2006), Ramzee Robinson (Round 7, 2007), Marquis Johnson (Round 7, 2010), DeQuan Menzie (Round 5, 2012), Vinnie Sunseri (Round 5, 2014).

7. Florida (136)
Florida always seems to have at least one lockdown corner -- the Sunshine State is certainly loaded with athletes -- and good safeties. That’s reflected in its spot in the top 10 here. The Gators don’t have an award winner and have just three consensus All-Americans (Keiwan Ratliff, Reggie Nelson and Joe Haden), but there is an all-conference pick or draft pick from Florida in nearly every year we examined.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009).
First-team all-conference: Lito Sheppard (2000, 2001), Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009), Ahmad Black (2010), Matt Elam (2012), Vernon Hargreaves (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sheppard (2002), Nelson (2007), Haden (2010), Elam (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Todd Johnson (Round 4, 2003), Guss Scott (Round 3, 2004), Ratliff (Round 2, 2004), Major Wright (Round 3, 2010), Jaylen Watkins (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Marquand Manuel (Round 6, 2002), Reynaldo Hill (Round 7, 2005), Dee Webb (Round 7, 2006), Ryan Smith (Round 6, 2007), Black (Round 5, 2011), Josh Evans (Round 6, 2013).

8. Florida State (134)
There was a big gap between FSU’s consensus All-Americans at DB -- from Tay Cody in 2000 to Lamarcus Joyner last season -- but the Seminoles’ BCS crown certainly signifies that the program is back on the map. Jimbo Fisher’s club had a pair of all-conference picks and two players drafted from that secondary, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the program start moving up this list over the next couple of seasons.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Cody (2000), Joyner (2013).
First-team all-conference: Derrick Gibson (2000), Cody (2000), Chris Hope (2001), Stanford Samuels (2003), Antonio Cromartie (2004), Joyner (2012, 2013), Xavier Rhodes (2012), Terrence Brooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Gibson (2001), Cromartie (2006), Patrick Robinson (2010), Rhodes (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cody (Round 3, 2001), Hope (Round 3, 2002), Jerome Carter (Round 4, 2005), Bryant McFadden (Round 2, 2005), Brooks (Round 3, 2014), Joyner (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Pat Watkins (Round 5, 2006), Myron Rolle (Round 6, 2010), Mike Harris (Round 6, 2012).

9. Georgia (126)
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have just one first-round pick (Thomas Davis, who shifted to linebacker in the NFL) and two All-Americans, but a whopping 17 draft picks -- including guys like Brandon Boykin and Reshad Jones who are making an impression in the NFL today -- helped Georgia crack the top 10 at defensive back.

Award winners: Boykin, Hornung (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Davis (2004), Greg Blue (2005).
First-team all-conference: Tim Wansley (2000, 2001), Sean Jones (2003), Davis (2004), Blue (2005), Tra Battle (2006), Bacarri Rambo (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Davis (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jamie Henderson (Round 4, 2001), Terreal Bierria (Round 4, 2002), Bruce Thornton (Round 4, 2004), Jones (Round 2, 2004), Tim Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Paul Oliver (Round 4, 2007), Asher Allen (Round 3, 2009), Boykin (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wansley (Round 7, 2002), Jermaine Phillips (Round 5, 2002), Blue (Round 5, 2006), DeMario Minter (Round 5, 2006), Reshad Jones (Round 5, 2010), Shawn Williams (Round 3, 2013), Sanders Commings (Round 5, 2013), Rambo (Round 6, 2013).

10. Virginia Tech (124)
There isn’t much flashiness here -- no award winners and just Jimmy Williams among consensus All-Americans – but 17 draft picks helped the Hokies break into the top 10. Frank Beamer’s program has produced some incredible DBs including Williams, DeAngelo Hall and Victor “Macho” Harris, as well as one of the best late-round picks in recent NFL drafts, Kam Chancellor.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Williams (2005).
First-team all-conference: Ronyell Whitaker (2001), Hall (2003), Williams (2004, 2005), Brandon Flowers (2006), Harris (2007, 2008), Jayron Hosley (2010), Kyle Fuller (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Hall (2004), Fuller (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cory Bird (Round 3, 2001), Eric Green (Round 3, 2005), Vincent Fuller (Round 4, 2005), Williams (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Rouse (Round 3, 2007), Flowers (Round 2, 2008), Rashad Carmichael (Round 4, 2011), Hosley (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kevin McCadam (Round 5, 2002), Willie Pile (Round 7, 2003), Justin Hamilton (Round 7, 2006), Harris (Round 5, 2009), Cody Grimm (Round 7, 2010), Chancellor (Round 5, 2010), Antone Exum (Round 6, 2014).

“DEFENSIVE BACK U” RANKINGS
240 -- Ohio State; 220 -- Oklahoma; 218 -- LSU; 202 -- Miami; 194 -- Texas; 166 -- Alabama; 136 -- Florida; 134 -- Florida State; 126 -- Georgia; 124 -- Virginia Tech; 122 -- USC; 118 -- Wisconsin; 112 -- Nebraska; 104 -- TCU; 98 -- Tennessee; 94 -- West Virginia; 92 -- California, Michigan State; 90 -- Iowa, Louisville; 88 -- Utah; 84 -- Oregon, South Carolina; 82 -- Clemson, Michigan; 74 -- UCLA; 72 -- Penn State; 70 -- Kansas State, Washington State; 68 -- Pittsburgh; 66 -- Auburn, Oregon State; 62 -- NC State; 60 -- Oklahoma State; 56 -- Wake Forest; 54 -- Rutgers; 52 -- Arizona, Notre Dame; 48 -- Colorado, Maryland, Stanford; 46 -- Arizona State; 44 -- Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Syracuse; 40 -- Minnesota; 36 -- Arkansas, Ole Miss, Washington; 34 -- Georgia Tech; 32 -- Baylor; 30 -- Texas A&M; 28 -- Duke, Virginia; 24 – BYU, Purdue; 22 -- Northwestern, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt; 20 -- Boston College; 18 -- Kentucky, Missouri; 16 -- Iowa State; 12 -- Indiana

Position U: Linebacker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:30
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Linebacker U” for the 2000s?


1. Ohio State (222 points)


Move over Penn State. Ohio State is the new “Linebacker U” -- and the Buckeyes claimed the title in a blowout. In many of these positional rankings, only a handful of points separate first and second place. At linebacker, the Buckeyes finished nearly 50 points ahead of second-place Alabama. But when your players stockpile national awards and All-America honors and then many more go on to become NFL draft picks, you put your program in position to rank at the top of this list. Players such as A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and most recently Ryan Shazier have done that in Columbus.

Award winners: A.J. Hawk, Lombardi (2005); James Laurinaitis, Butkus (2007), Nagurski (2008), Lott (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Joe Cooper (2000), Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2003, 2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008), Ross Homan (2010), Brian Rolle (2010), Ryan Shazier (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: A.J. Hawk (2006), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Ryan Shazier (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cie Grant (Round 3, 2003), Matt Wilhelm (Round 4, 2003), Anthony Schlegel (Round 3, 2006), James Laurinaitis (Round 2, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (Round 4, 2010), John Simon (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Courtland Bullard (Round 5, 2002), Rob Reynolds (Round 5, 2004), Larry Grant (Round 7, 2008), Marcus Freeman (Round 5, 2009), Austin Spitler (Round 7, 2010), Brian Rolle (Round 6, 2011), Ross Homan (Round 6, 2011).


T-2. Alabama (174)


The Crimson Tide has claimed two Butkus Awards and has had four consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 2009, when Alabama won the first of its three BCS titles under Nick Saban. Alabama also has had three linebackers picked in the first round (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley) and five linebackers overall drafted during that run of dominance.

Award winners: DeMeco Ryans, Lott (2005); Rolando McClain, Butkus (2009); C.J. Mosley, Butkus (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
First-team all-conference: Saleem Rasheed (2001), Derrick Pope (2003), Cornelius Wortham (2004), DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2008, 2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), Courtney Upshaw (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rolando McClain (2010), Dont’a Hightower (2012), C.J. Mosley (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Saleem Rasheed (Round 3, 2002), DeMeco Ryans (Round 2, 2006), Courtney Upshaw (Round 2, 2012), Nico Johnson (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derrick Pope (Round 7, 2004), Cornelius Wortham (Round 7, 2005).


T-2. Oklahoma (174)


Hey, what do you know? Oklahoma is near the top of the rankings at another position. At linebacker, the Sooners’ position is largely because of the early-2000s run when Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman cleaned up on the awards and All-America circuit. It also helps that Oklahoma has had 12 linebackers drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Rocky Calmus, Butkus (2001); Teddy Lehman, Bednarik (2003), Butkus (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Curtis Lofton (2007).
First-team all-conference: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Jimmy Wilkerson (2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Dan Cody (2003), Lance Mitchell (2004), Rufus Alexander (2005, 2006), Curtis Lofton (2007), Travis Lewis (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Torrance Marshall (Round 3, 2001), Rocky Calmus (Round 3, 2002), Teddy Lehman (Round 2, 2004), Dan Cody (Round 2, 2005), Clint Ingram (Round 3, 2006), Curtis Lofton (Round 2, 2008), Keenan Clayton (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Lance Mitchell (Round 5, 2005), Rufus Alexander (Round 6, 2007), Nic Harris (Round 5, 2009), Travis Lewis (Round 7, 2012), Corey Nelson (Round 7, 2014).


T-4. USC (140)


It should come as no surprise that the greater portion of USC’s linebacker point total came during its mid-2000s run, when it was an annual BCS title contender. Standout linebackers such as Rey Maualuga -- the 2008 Bednarik Award winner, consensus All-American and three-time All-Pac-10 selection -- Keith Rivers, Matt Grootegoed and Brian Cushing helped the Trojans become the nation’s most dominant program during that period.

Award winners: Rey Maualuga, Bednarik (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Grootegoed (2004), Rey Maualuga (2008).
First-team all-conference: Matt Grootegoed (2002, 2004), Lofa Tatupu (2004), Rey Maualuga (2006, 2007, 2008), Keith Rivers (2006, 2007), Brian Cushing (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Keith Rivers (2008), Brian Cushing (2009), Clay Matthews (2009), Nick Perry (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Markus Steele (Round 4, 2001), Lofa Tatupu (Round 2, 2005), Kaluka Maiava (Round 4, 2009), Rey Maualuga (Round 2, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Zeke Moreno (Round 5, 2001), Oscar Lua (Round 7, 2007), Dallas Sartz (Round 5, 2007), Thomas Williams (Round 5, 2008), Malcolm Smith (Round 7, 2011), Devon Kennard (Round 5, 2014).


T-4. Miami (140)


When your program has 12 players from one position drafted and four of them go in the first round, chances are you’ll rank toward the top of the board. That’s the case with Miami, which had Dan Morgan (who won three national awards and was a consensus All-American in 2000), Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Jon Beason all become first-round picks after standout careers in Coral Gables.

Award winners: Dan Morgan, Bednarik (2000), Nagurski (2000), Butkus (2000).
Consensus All-Americans: Dan Morgan (2000).
First-team all-conference: Dan Morgan (2000), Jonathan Vilma (2001, 2002, 2003), D.J. Williams (2003), Sean Spence (2011), Denzel Perryman (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dan Morgan (2001), Jonathan Vilma (2004), D.J. Williams (2004), Jon Beason (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky McIntosh (Round 2, 2006), Leon Williams (Round 4, 2006), Tavares Gooden (Round 3, 2008), Darryl Sharpton (Round 4, 2010), Colin McCarthy (Round 4, 2011), Sean Spence (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Darrell McClover (Round 7, 2004), Spencer Adkins (Round 6, 2009).


6. Penn State (134)


The old “Linebacker U” still makes our top 10. In fact, Penn State still has plenty to brag about at the position where it has long been known for producing stars. The Nittany Lions earned four national awards and three All-America designations between Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, plus they had nine players drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Paul Posluszny, Butkus (2005), Bednarik (2005, 2006); Dan Connor, Bednarik (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007).
First-team all-conference: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007), NaVorro Bowman (2008, 2009), Gerald Hodges (2011), Michael Mauti (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Paul Posluszny (Round 2, 2007), Dan Connor (Round 3, 2008), Sean Lee (Round 2, 2010), NaVorro Bowman (Round 3, 2010), Gerald Hodges (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tim Shaw (Round 5, 2007), Josh Hull (Round 7, 2010), Nathan Stupar (Round 7, 2012), Michael Mauti (Round 7, 2013).


7. Georgia (110)


Two-time All-American Jarvis Jones and fellow 2013 first-round pick Alec Ogletree might get most of the glory, but this group is chock full of talent. Justin Houston is making his mark as a pass-rusher in the NFL and there are a bunch of old war horses such as Will Witherspoon, Kendrell Bell and Tony Gilbert who hung around the league for several years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Boss Bailey (2002), Odell Thurman (2003, 2004), Rennie Curran (2008, 2009), Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012), Ramik Wilson (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jarvis Jones (2013), Alec Ogletree (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kendrell Bell (Round 2, 2001), Will Witherspoon (Round 3, 2002), Boss Bailey (Round 2, 2003), Odell Thurman (Round 2, 2005), Rennie Curran (Round 3, 2010), Justin Houston (Round 3, 2011), Akeem Dent (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tony Gilbert (Round 6, 2003).


8. Texas (108)


Texas snuck into the top 10 on the back of Derrick Johnson, who won both the Nagurski and Butkus awards in 2004 and was a consensus All-American in 2003 and 2004 before becoming a 2005 first-round draft pick. The current Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker accounted for 62 of the Longhorns’ 108 points in the linebacker rankings.

Award winners: Derrick Johnson, Nagurski (2004), Butkus (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Derrick Johnson (2003, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Cory Redding (2001), Derrick Johnson (2002, 2003, 2004), Aaron Harris (2005), Sergio Kindle (2008), Emmanuel Acho (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Derrick Johnson (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Roddrick Muckelroy (Round 4, 2010), Sergio Kindle (Round 2, 2010), Sam Acho (Round 4, 2011), Keenan Robinson (Round 4, 2012), Alex Okafor (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Emmanuel Acho (Round 6, 2012).


9. Boston College (104): Luke Kuechly is responsible for most of the points here. The four-time award winner in 2011, was twice named a consensus All-American, earned all-conference honors three times and became a first-round draft pick. That's a grand total of 84 points for the Carolina Panthers star. The Eagles also have an active string of first-team all-conference linebackers that started with Mark Herzlich in 2008.

Award winners: Luke Kuechly, Nagurski (2011), Lombardi (2011), Lott (2011), Butkus (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Luke Kuechly (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Herzlich (2008), Luke Kuechly (2009, 2010, 2011), Nick Clancy (2012), Kevin Pierre-Louis (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Luke Kuechly (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


T-10. Maryland (100)

E.J. Henderson accounts for more than half of Maryland’s points thanks in large part to his two national awards and two consensus All-America designations. Henderson is among three Terrapins linebackers who made the All-ACC first team twice (along with D’Qwell Jackson and Alex Wujciak), while Shawne Merriman is the only Terp during the 2000s to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Award winners: E.J. Henderson, Bednarik (2002), Butkus (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002).
First-team all-conference: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002), D’Qwell Jackson (2004, 2005), Erin Henderson (2007), Alex Wujciak (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Shawne Merriman (Round 1, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: E.J. Henderson (Round 2, 2003), Leon Joe (Round 4, 2004), D’Qwell Jackson (Round 2, 2006)
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Moise Fokou (Round 7, 2009).


T-10. Notre Dame (100)


There are times when a single player’s excellence is the difference between a school's spot falling near the top of the rankings and its sitting further down the list. Such is the case with Manti Te’o, who accounted for 82 points in his incredible 2012 season alone (seven national awards, a consensus All-America selection and then becoming a second-round NFL pick). Notre Dame is penalized in these team rankings by not earning points for all-conference honorees, so its spot in this top 10 speaks to how impressive Te’o’s 2012 season truly was.

Award winners: Manti Te’o, Maxwell (2012), Camp (2012), Nagurski (2021), Lombardi (2012), Bednarik (2012), Lott (2012), Butkus (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Manti Te’o (2012).
First-team all-conference: Not applicable.
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky Boiman (Round 4, 2002), Courtney Watson (Round 2, 2004), Manti Te’o (Round 2, 2013), Prince Shembo (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Anthony Denman (Round 7, 2001), Tyreo Harrison (Round 6, 2002), Darius Fleming (Round 5, 2012).

REST OF “LINEBACKER U” RANKINGS
98 – Florida State; 92 – UCLA; 72 – Florida, Stanford; 66 – Iowa, TCU, Wisconsin; 64 – Nebraska; 62 – Michigan State, Oregon State, Tennessee; 60 – LSU, Pittsburgh; 58 – Virginia Tech; 56 – West Virginia; 48 – NC State; 46 – Michigan, Ole Miss, Purdue; 44 – BYU, California, Kansas State; 42 – North Carolina; 40 – Illinois; 38 – Clemson, Iowa State, Texas A&M; 36 – Arizona, Auburn, Syracuse; 34 – Arizona State, Utah, Wake Forest; 32 – Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia; 30 – Arkansas, Georgia Tech; 28 – Kentucky; 26 – Northwestern, Vanderbilt; 24 – Colorado, Oregon; 20 – Washington; 18 – Oklahoma State, Rutgers; 16 – Mississippi State; 14 – Kansas, Louisville; 12 – Baylor; 10 – Washington State; 6 – Duke; 4 – Texas Tech; 2 – Minnesota; 0 – Indiana

Position U: Defensive line

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:00
AM ET
video
Which team deserves to claim the title of "Defensive Line U" for the 2000s?

1. LSU (200 points)
Four-time award winner, All-American and first-round NFL draft pick Glenn Dorsey produced 68 points by himself, but LSU is “D-Line U” because of the sheer number of outstanding players it has produced. There are 21 draft picks in all, including first-round picks Dorsey, Marcus Spears, Tyson Jackson, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo. That’s an amazing legacy, which helped Les Miles’ Tigers barely edge Texas for the top spot.

Award winners: Dorsey - Outland (2007), Lombardi (2007), Nagurski (2007), Lott (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Chad Lavalais (2003), Spears (2004), Dorsey (2007).
First-team all-conference: Lavalais (2003), Spears (2004), Claude Wroten (2005), Dorsey (2006, '07), Drake Nevis (2010), Sam Montgomery (2011, '12).
NFL first-round draft picks: Spears (2005), Dorsey (2008), Jackson (2009), Brockers (2012), Mingo (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jarvis Green (Round 4, 2002), Marquise Hill (Round 2, 2004), Wroten (Round 3, 2006), Al Woods (Round 4, 2010), Nevis (Round 3, 2011), Montgomery (Round 3, 2013), Bennie Logan (Round 3, 2013), Ego Ferguson (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Howard Green (Round 6, 2002), Lavalais (Round 5, 2004), Kyle Williams (Round 5, 2006), Melvin Oliver (Round 6, 2006), Chase Pittman (Round 7, 2007), Ricky Jean-Francois (Round 7, 2009), Lazarius Levingston (Round 7, 2011), Lavar Edwards (Round 5, 2013).

2. Texas (196)
With 13 draft picks -- including first-round picks Casey Hampton, Marcus Tubbs and Brian Orakpo -- and 11 first-team all-conference picks, Texas finished a close second to LSU in the defensive line race. Orakpo was the big point producer with four national awards, an All-American honor and an all-conference selection before going in the first round of the 2009 draft.

Award winners: Orakpo - Lombardi (2008), Hendricks (2008), Nagurski (2008); Jackson Jeffcoat - Hendricks (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Hampton (2000), Rodrique Wright (2005), Orakpo (2008), Jeffcoat (2013).
First-team all-conference: Hampton (2000), Cory Redding (2001), Tubbs (2003), Wright (2005), Tim Crowder (2005), Roy Miller (2008), Orakpo (2008), Sam Acho (2010), Alex Okafor (2011, '12), Jeffcoat (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Hampton (2001), Tubbs (2004), Orakpo (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Shaun Rogers (Round 2, 2001), Redding (Round 3, 2003), Crowder (Round 2, 2007), Brian Robison (Round 4, 2007), Miller (Round 3, 2009), Henry Melton (Round 4, 2009), Lamarr Houston (Round 2, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wright (Round 7, 2006), Frank Okam (Round 5, 2008), Kheeston Randall (Round 7, 2012).

3. Georgia (182)
Four-time award winner and two-time All-American David Pollack is the main reason that Georgia ranks so high on this list, but the Bulldogs have produced a ridiculous number of NFL defensive linemen in the 2000s. First-round picks Pollack, Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Charles Grant and Johnathan Sullivan are among 20 NFL draft picks from Georgia, including players like Geno Atkins, Robert Geathers and Charles Johnson who have made big impacts in the league.

Award winners: Pollack - Lombardi (2004), Bednarik (2004), Lott (2004), Hendricks (2003, '04).
Consensus All-Americans: Pollack (2002, '04).
First-team all-conference: Seymour (2000), Pollack (2002, '03, '04), Quentin Moses (2005), Justin Houston (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Seymour (2001), Stroud (2001), Grant (2002), Sullivan (2003), Pollack (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Geathers (Round 4, 2004), Moses (Round 3, 2007), Johnson (Round 3, 2007), Corvey Irvin (Round 3, 2009), Atkins (Round 4, 2010), John Jenkins (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyrone Robertson (Round 7, 2001), Josh Mallard (Round 7, 2002), Kedric Golston (Round 6, 2006), Marcus Howard (Round 5, 2008), Jarius Wynn (Round 7, 2009), Jeff Owens (Round 7, 2010), Kade Weston (Round 7, 2010), DeAngelo Tyson (Round 7, 2012), Cornelius Washington (Round 6, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (174)
A pair of All-Americans (Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy, both first-round NFL draft picks) and an award winner (Harris) highlight Oklahoma’s batch of defensive linemen who tied for fourth in our standings. The Sooners had a total of 11 defensive linemen drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Harris - Lombardi (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Harris (2002, '03), McCoy (2009).
First-team all-conference: Ryan Fisher (2000), Harris (2001, '02, '03), Jimmy Wilkerson (2002), Dusty Dvoracek (2003, '05), Dan Cody (2004), C.J. Ah You (2006), Larry Birdine (2006), Auston English (2007), McCoy (2009), Jeremy Beal (2010), Frank Alexander (2011), Ronnell Lewis (2011), Charles Tapper (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Harris (2004), McCoy (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Dvoracek (Round 3, 2006), Alexander (Round 4, 2012), Lewis (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wilkerson (Round 6, 2003), Ah You (Round 7, 2007), Beal (Round 7, 2011), Stacy McGee (Round 6, 2013), David King (Round 7, 2013).

4. USC (174)
With four first-round draft picks -- Kenechi Udeze, Mike Patterson, Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson -- it’s no surprise that USC would rank high on this list. The Trojans tied Oklahoma for the No. 4 spot largely thanks to that foursome, who also accounted for two of the program’s three All-American honors for defensive linemen in the 2000s (Shaun Cody had the other).

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Udeze (2003), Cody (2004), Ellis (2007).
First-team all-conference: Udeze (2003), Cody (2003, '04), Patterson (2003, '04), Frostee Rucker (2005), Jackson (2005, '07), Ellis (2006, '07), Fili Moala (2008), Brian Price (2009), Jurrell Casey (2010), Nick Perry (2011), Leonard Williams (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Udeze (2004), Patterson (2005), Ellis (2008), Jackson (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cody (Round 2, 2005), Rucker (Round 3, 2006), Kyle Moore (Round 4, 2009), Moala (Round 2, 2009), Everson Griffen (Round 4, 2010), Casey (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ennis Davis (Round 7, 2001), LaJuan Ramsey (Round 6, 2006).

6. TCU (158)
Aside from Jerry Hughes’ impressive résumé in 2008 and 2009, TCU doesn’t have a defensive line résumé that competes with some of the other top-tier programs at the position. It certainly helps the Horned Frogs’ cause that they were competing in the WAC, Conference USA or Mountain West up until 2012, as 96 of their 158 points came from linemen earning all-conference honors -- and only two of them earned that recognition since TCU joined the Big 12.

Award winners: Hughes - Lott (2009), Hendricks (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Hughes (2008, '09).
First-team all-conference: Aaron Schobel (2000), Shawn Worthen (2000), Chad Pugh (2003), Bo Schobel (2002, '03), Tommy Blake (2005, '06), Chase Ortiz (2005, '06, '07), Hughes (2008, '09), Wayne Daniels (2010), Stansly Maponga (2011, 2012), Devonte Fields (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Hughes (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Worthen (Round 4, 2001), Aaron Schobel (Round 2, 2001), Matt Schobel (Round 2, 2002), Bo Schobel (Round 4, 2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Maponga (Round 5, 2013).

7. Penn State (152)
Considering that only 11 Penn State defensive linemen have been drafted since 2001, it’s impressive that five of them -- Jimmy Kennedy, Michael Haynes, Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin and Jared Odrick -- went in the first round. Hali, Maybin and Devon Still (a second-round pick in 2012) accounted for the Nittany Lions’ three consensus All-American selections during that time period.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hali (2005), Maybin (2008), Still (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kennedy (2001, '02), Haynes (2002), Hali (2005), Scott Paxson (2005), Maybin (2008), Odrick (2008, '09), Still (2011), Jordan Hill (2012), DaQuan Jones (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Kennedy (2003), Haynes (2003), Hali (2006), Maybin (2009), Odrick (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Anthony Adams (Round 2, 2003), Jay Alford (Round 3, 2007), Still (Round 2, 2012), Hill (Round 3, 2013), Jones (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jack Crawford (Round 5, 2012).

8. Florida State (148)
Jamal Reynolds and Bjoern Werner are the headliners, as both players earned consensus All-American honors before becoming first-round NFL draft picks -- plus Reynolds claimed the Lombardi Award in 2000. But Florida State has plenty to brag about, including 13 total draft picks and 10 all-conference selections among its defensive linemen in the 2000s.

Award winners: Reynolds - Lombardi (2000).
Consensus All-Americans: Reynolds (2000), Werner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Reynolds (2000), Darnell Dockett (2001, '03), Alonzo Jackson (2002), Travis Johnson (2004), Everette Brown (2008), Brandon Jenkins (2010), Werner (2012), Tank Carradine (2012), Timmy Jernigan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Reynolds (2001), Johnson (2005), Brodrick Bunkley (2006), Werner (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Dockett (Round 3, 2004), Chauncey Davis (Round 4, 2005), Andre Fluellen (Round 3, 2008), Brown (Round 2, 2009), Carradine (Round 2, 2013), Jernigan (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Eric Moore (Round 6, 2005), Letroy Guion (Round 5, 2008), Everett Dawkins (Round 7, 2013).

9. Clemson (138)
Two-time award winner Da’Quan Bowers (38 points) and first-round draft pick Gaines Adams (22 points) -- both consensus All-Americans -- account for 60 of Clemson’s 138 points, but the Tigers have had 13 defensive linemen drafted, which is a big reason why they cracked the top 10. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Vic Beasley add significantly to the point total this season.

Award winners: Bowers - Nagurski (2010), Hendricks (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Adams (2006), Bowers (2010), Beasley (2013).
First-team all-conference: Terry Jolly (2000), Nick Eason (2002), Adams (2006), Bowers (2010), Jarvis Jenkins (2010), Andre Branch (2011), Beasley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Adams (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eason (Round 4, 2003), Bryant McNeal (Round 4, 2003), Donnell Washington (Round 3, 2004), Phillip Merling (Round 2, 2008), Darell Scott (Round 4, 2009), Bowers (Round 2, 2011), Jenkins (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Thompson (Round 3, 2012), Branch (Round 2, 2012), Malliciah Goodman (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Charles Bennett (Round 7, 2006), Ricky Sapp (Round 5, 2010).

9. North Carolina (138)
There aren’t a ton of accomplished North Carolina defensive linemen on this list. The Tar Heels have just one award winner and All-American, Julius Peppers, and just seven all-conference selections. But UNC boasts a whopping six first-round draft picks in the 2000s -- Peppers, Ryan Sims, Kentwan Balmer, Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Sylvester Williams -- which is more than any other school in the top 10.

Award winners: Peppers - Lombardi (2001), Bednarik (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Peppers (2001).
First-team all-conference: Peppers (2000, '01), Sims (2001), Quinn (2009), Coples (2010, '11), Williams (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peppers (2002), Sims (2002), Balmer (2008), Quinn (2011), Coples (2012), Williams (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: E.J. Wilson (Round 4, 2010), Marvin Austin (Round 2, 2011), Kareem Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joey Evans (Round 7, 2002), Chase Page (Round 7, 2006), Hilee Taylor (Round 7, 2008), Cam Thomas (Round 5, 2010).

REST OF “D-LINE U” RANKINGS
128 - Utah; 126 - Nebraska, Ohio State; 116 - Florida; 114 - Pittsburgh; 108 - Iowa, Miami; 104 - Tennessee; 102 - Auburn; 100 - Wisconsin; 98 - Louisville; 96 - Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina; 94 - Arizona State; 92 - Michigan; 86 - Oregon State, Purdue; 80 - California, Syracuse; 74 - Georgia Tech; 70 - Oregon, Virginia Tech; 64 - BYU, UCLA; 62 - Texas A&M; 58 - NC State; 56 - Virginia; 54 - Illinois; 52 - Kansas State; 50 - Michigan State, West Virginia; 44 - Boston College; 42 - Arkansas; 40 - Maryland; 38 - Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Rutgers; 34 - Washington State; 30 - Minnesota, Northwestern; 28 - Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Stanford, Texas Tech, Washington; 24 - Wake Forest; 18 - Baylor, Indiana, Iowa State; 16 - Arizona; 12 - Duke; 4 - Vanderbilt

Position U: Offensive line

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:45
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Offensive Line U” for the 2000s?

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. Alabama (242 points): Nick Saban (whose first season at Alabama was 2007) has been the Crimson Tide’s coach for only half of the time period that we examined. But that’s when nearly all of the noteworthy accomplishments have occurred in the 2000s for the Tide’s offensive line: three national awards, seven All-America picks, 11 all-conference selections, four first-round picks and eight linemen drafted. Saban teams win by dominating the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line results reflect why Alabama has been so successful.

Award winners: Andre Smith, Outland (2008); Barrett Jones, Outland (2011), Rimington (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Antoine Caldwell (2008), Andre Smith (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), Chance Warmack (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
First-team all-conference: Paul Hogan (2000), Marico Portis (2002), Wesley Britt (2002, 2003, 2004), Andre Smith (2007, 2008), Antoine Caldwell (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), James Carpenter (2010), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), William Vlachos (2011), Chance Warmack (2012), D.J. Fluker (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Andre Smith (2009), James Carpenter (2011), Chance Warmack (2013), D.J. Fluker (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Smiley (Round 2, 2004), Evan Mathis (Round 3, 2005), Antoine Caldwell (Round 3, 2009), Mike Johnson (Round 3, 2010), Barrett Jones (Round 4, 2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Shawn Draper (Round 5, 2001), Wesley Britt (Round 5, 2005),

2. Michigan (238 points): If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman.

Award winners: David Baas, Rimington (2004); David Molk, Rimington (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2011).
First-team all-conference: Steve Hutchinson (2000), Jeff Backus (2000), Jonathan Goodwin (2001), David Baas (2002, 2003, 2004), Tony Pape (2002, 2003), Matt Lentz (2004, 2005), Adam Stenavich (2004, 2005), Adam Kraus (2006, 2007), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2010, 2011), Taylor Lewan (2012, 2013), Patrick Omameh (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Steve Hutchinson (2001), Jeff Backus (2001), Jake Long (2008), Taylor Lewan (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Maurice Williams (Round 2, 2001), David Baas (Round 2, 2005), Michael Schofield (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Goodwin (Round 5, 2002), Tony Pape (Round 7, 2004), Stephen Schilling (Round 6, 2011), David Molk (Round 7, 2012).

3. Wisconsin (192 points): Although Wisconsin placed well behind the juggernauts from Alabama and Michigan, the Badgers have a ton to brag about. Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi were both Outland Trophy winners, consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks. In fact, Wisconsin had a total of 14 offensive linemen drafted in the 2000s, four of whom went in the first round (with Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick joining Thomas and Carimi).

Award winners: Joe Thomas, Outland (2006); Gabe Carimi, Outland (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Joe Thomas (2006), Gabe Carimi (2010).
First-team all-conference: Casey Rabach (2000), Dan Buenning (2004), Joe Thomas (2005, 2006), Marcus Coleman (2007), Gabe Carimi (2009, 2010), John Moffitt (2009, 2010), Peter Konz (2011), Josh Oglesby (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2011), Travis Frederick (2012), Rick Wagner (2012), Ryan Groy (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Joe Thomas (2007), Gabe Carimi (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Travis Frederick (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Casey Rabach (Round 3, 2001), Bill Ferrario (Round 4, 2001), Al Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Dan Buenning (Round 4, 2005), Kraig Urbik (Round 3, 2009), John Moffitt (Round 3, 2011), Peter Konz (Round 2, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Johnson (Round 7, 2003), Bill Nagy (Round 7, 2011), Ricky Wagner (Round 5, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (186 points): With four first-round picks and four consensus All-America selections, Oklahoma has had a great run along the offensive line in the 2000s. And the Sooners have been consistent throughout that time period, placing at least one lineman on the all-conference team in every season except 2000 and 2002. In some years, there were as many as three on the all-conference first team.

Award winners: Jammal Brown, Outland (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammal Brown (2004), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Trent Williams (2009).
First-team all-conference: Frank Romero (2001), Jammal Brown (2003, 2004), Vince Carter (2003, 2004), Davin Joseph (2005), Chris Messner (2006), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Phil Loadholt (2008), Trent Williams (2008, 2009), Eric Mensik (2010), Gabe Ikard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammal Brown (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Trent Williams (2009), Lane Johnson (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Chester (Round 2, 2006), Phil Loadholt (Round 2, 2009), Donald Stephenson (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wes Sims (Round 6, 2005), Duke Robinson (2009).

5. USC (182 points): Considering how much success it experienced in the early and mid-2000s, it seems strange that USC didn’t have a first-round offensive lineman until Sam Baker in 2008 (the first of three, as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil have since joined him). Nonetheless, the Trojans churned out six second-round picks, 17 all-conference linemen and a trio of All-Americans, so there has been plenty of acclaim for the group in the 2000s.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jacob Rogers (2003), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2006).
First-team all-conference: Jacob Rogers (2002, 2003), Norm Katnik (2003), Ryan Kalil (2005, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2005, 2006, 2007), Chilo Rachal (2007), Kristopher O’Dowd (2008), Jeff Byer (2009), Charles Brown (2009), Tyron Smith (2010), Matt Kalil (2011), Khaled Holmes (2012), Marcus Martin (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sam Baker (2008), Tyron Smith (2011), Matt Kalil (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jacob Rogers (Round 2, 2004), Winston Justice (Round 2, 2006), Deuce Lutui (Round 2, 2006), Ryan Kalil (Round 2, 2007), Chilo Rachal (Round 2, 2008), Charles Brown (Round 2, 2010), Khaled Holmes (Round 4, 2013), Marcus Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Fred Matua (Round 7, 2006).

6. Florida State (166 points): FSU has only one first-round draft pick and one national award winner (Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last season) along the offensive line in the 2000s. But with three All-Americans and 13 all-conference selections in the 2000s, the Seminoles still rank among the nation’s better programs for linemen.

Award winners: Bryan Stork, Rimington (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2010), Bryan Stork (2013).
First-team all-conference: Justin Amman (2000), Char-ron Dorsey (2000), Brett Williams (2001, 2002), Montrae Holland (2002), Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2008, 2009, 2010), Bryan Stork (2013), Tre Jackson (2013), Cameron Erving (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Alex Barron (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Montrae Holland (Round 4, 2003), Brett Williams (Round 4, 2003), Ray Willis (Round 4, 2005), Mario Henderson (Round 3, 2007), Rodney Hudson (Round 2, 2011), Menelik Watson (Round 2, 2013), Bryan Stork (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Char-ron Dorsey (Round 7, 2001), Milford Brown (Round 6, 2002), Todd Williams (Round 7, 2003), Andrew Datko (Round 7, 2012), Zebrie Sanders (Round 5, 2012).

7. Miami (158 points): The Hurricanes were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century, thanks in large part to a supremely talented offensive line. Between 2000 and 2002, Miami had eight first-team all-conference players, two All-Americans and two national award winners. The Hurricanes have been successful along the line here and there since then, but their spot in the top 10 is largely because of those outstanding days in the early 2000s.

Award winners: Brett Romberg, Rimington (2002), Bryant McKinnie, Outland (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Bryant McKinnie (2001), Brett Romberg (2002).
First-team all-conference: Joaquin Gonzalez (2000, 2001), Bryant McKinnie (2000, 2001), Martin Bibla (2001), Brett Romberg (2001, 2002), Sherko Haji-Rasouli (2002), Eric Winston (2003, 2005), Jason Fox (2009), Brandon Washington (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bryant McKinnie (2002), Vernon Carey (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Bibla (Round 4, 2002), Rashad Butler (Round 3, 2006), Eric Winston (Round 3, 2006), Jason Fox (Round 4, 2010), Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Linder (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joaquin Gonzalex (Round 7, 2002), Carlos Joseph (Round 7, 2004), Chris Myers (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Washington (Round 6, 2012), Seantrel Henderson (Round 7, 2014).

8. Texas (150 points): Texas would have ranked higher on this list had we compiled it a few years ago. The Longhorns haven’t had a first-team all-conference pick or a draft pick since 2008, nor a consensus All-American since 2006. They were good enough in the early 2000s that the Longhorns still cracked the top 10, but Texas needs to turn it around under Charlie Strong if it intends to stay there over the next few years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Jonathan Scott (2005), Justin Blalock (2006).
First-team all-conference: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Tillman Holloway (2003), Justin Blalock (2004, 2005, 2006), Jonathan Scott (2004, 2005), Will Allen (2005), Kasey Studdard (2006), Tony Hills (2007), Adam Ulatoski (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Leonard Davis (2001), Mike Williams (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Dockery (Round 3, 2003), Justin Blalock (Round 2, 2007), Tony Hills (Round 4, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Scott (Round 5, 2006), Kasey Studdard (Round 6, 2007).

T-9. Iowa (144 points): No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery, who won the 2003 Outland Trophy and was an All-American that season and a two-time all-conference pick, is the big point winner for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have produced a considerable number of productive offensive linemen. They can claim 13 drafted offensive linemen in the 2000s, including three first-rounders (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff).

Award winners: Robert Gallery, Outland (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Eric Steinbach (2002), Robert Gallery (2003).
First-team all-conference: Eric Steinbach (2001, 2002), Robert Gallery (2002, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2002), Mike Jones (2006), Seth Olson (2008), Bryan Bulaga (2009), Dace Richardson (2009), Riley Reiff (2011), Brandon Scherff (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010), Riley Reiff (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eric Steinbach (Round 2, 2003), Bruce Nelson (Round 2, 2003), Marshal Yanda (Round 3, 2007), Seth Olsen (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Sobieski (Round 5, 2003), Pete McMahon (Round 6, 2005), Mike Elgin (Round 7, 2007), Kyle Calloway (Round 7, 2010), Julian Vandervelde (Round 5, 2011), Adam Gettis (Round 5, 2012).

T-9. Ohio State (144 points): With 13 draft picks -- but just one first-rounder, Nick Mangold -- and 14 all-conference picks, Ohio State built a solid résumé for offensive linemen in the 2000s. Center LeCharles Bentley, a Rimington Trophy winner, is the only All-American, but the Buckeyes have turned out plenty of outstanding players along the line.

Award winners: LeCharles Bentley, Rimington (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: LeCharles Bentley (2001).
First-team all-conference: LeCharles Bentley (2001), Tyson Walter (2001), Alex Stepanovich (2003), Rob Sims (2005), Doug Datish (2006), T.J. Downing (2006), Kirk Barton (2007), Alex Boone (2008), Justin Boren (2009, 2010), Mike Adams (2010), Mike Brewster (2010), Andrew Norwell (2012), Corey Linsley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Nick Mangold (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: LeCharles Bentley (Round 2, 2002), Alex Stepanovich (Round 4, 2004), Rob Sims (Round 4, 2006), Mike Adams (Round 2, 2012), Jack Mewhort (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyson Walter (Round 6, 2002), Shane Olivea (Round 7, 2004), Adrien Clarke (Round 7, 2004), Doug Datish (Round 6, 2007), Kirk Barton (Round 7, 2008), Reid Fragel (Round 7, 2013), Corey Linsley (Round 5, 2014).

REST OF "OFFENSIVE LINE U" RANKINGS
134 – Stanford; 132 – Florida; 124 – TCU; 116 – Arkansas; 112 – Auburn; 108 – Louisville; 104 – Penn State, Utah; 98 – California; 96 – Texas A&M; 94 – Boston College, LSU; 92 – Ole Miss; 90 – Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia; 88 – Colorado; 84 – Georgia Tech; 82 – Georgia, Oklahoma State; 80 – Nebraska; 76 – Arizona State, Pittsburgh; 74 – Virginia Tech; 72 – Clemson, Oregon; 70 – Tennessee; 66 – Baylor; 58 – BYU, North Carolina; 56 – Syracuse; 54 – Maryland, Wake Forest; 50 – Illinois, Rutgers; 48 – Kansas State, Oregon State; 46 – Notre Dame; 44 – Missouri; 38 – Mississippi State; 36 – Texas Tech; 34 – Washington State; 32 – Washington; 30 – Purdue; 28 – Vanderbilt; 24 – NC State, UCLA; 18 – Kansas, Michigan State; 16 – Iowa State, Kentucky; 14 – Arizona; 12 – Indiana; 10 – Northwestern; 10 – South Carolina; 8 – Duke
Florida has Florida State. Georgia has Georgia Tech. Kentucky has Louisville. And, of course, South Carolina has Clemson.

When it comes to the new SEC scheduling format starting in 2016, those four schools are already on board. Their annual rivalry games fulfill the league’s forthcoming requirement for a yearly nonconference game against an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 school.

But for the rest of the teams around the league, there’s a void.

Sure, they can go year to year and rotate in nonconference opponents. But where’s the fun in that? Let’s create some new rivalries, and in the case of some programs, reignite old ones.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe spectacular salaries of college football coaches such as Bob Stoops, left, and Nick Saban are generated mostly by the labor of unpaid workers.
Alabama-Oklahoma: If FSU wasn’t already taken, the Noles would have been a perfect fit. The physical and philosophical proximity between programs is obvious. But looking elsewhere, Oklahoma might be a fun matchup. The Sugar Bowl has already created tons of tension on both sides with Sooners coaches delighting in calling out Nick Saban and the SEC.

Arkansas-Baylor: Call it a throwback to the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas, which didn’t join the SEC until 1992, has played more games against Baylor (69) than any school in its current conference. On top of that, the differences between Bret Bielema’s physical style and Art Briles’ free-flowing offensive scheme would be a joy to watch.

Auburn-Oregon: Recent history and playing styles dictates this matchup. Not only do we get a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, but it pits offenses that live to go fast. Maybe it could be a two-hand touch game in which whoever reaches 100 points first wins.

LSU-Notre Dame: We couldn’t make a list of nonconference matchups and leave Notre Dame off, could we? Pitting the Golden Domers against an SEC program would be appointment viewing. Make that program LSU and the opposing coach Les Miles, and television networks will scratch each other's eyes out to get the game.

Mississippi State-Texas Tech: The Bulldogs have shied away from high profile nonconference games in the past, loading up on the likes of Memphis, UAB and South Alabama. Well, it’s time to infuse a little spice into the schedule. Kliff Kingsbury is too cool to keep out of the SEC. His Red Raiders would be a good matchup with Mississippi State, which faced Texas Tech seven times from 1953-70.

Missouri-Kansas: Does this one really need to be explained? The Border War should have never gone away in the first place. Now is the perfect opportunity to save face and bring back a rivalry that goes all the way back to 1891.

Ole Miss-Miami: We’ve got to get ‘The U’ involved. Miami and Ole Miss have already played a few times in their history, with the Rebs holding a 2-1 series lead. But bigger than that, it would get the SEC back into South Florida on a permanent basis because Miami and Florida don’t have the common sense to do that already.

Tennessee-North Carolina: Even if most people don’t remember it, there’s history there. Tennessee and UNC have played 29 times, with the Vols holding a 20-8-1 advantage. Plus, even if your memory is short, you should recall the double overtime Music City Bowl from 2010 between the schools. If they can re-create that just once, it would make the rivalry worth it.

Texas A&M-Texas: See Missouri-Kansas. Don’t let conference affiliations ruin great rivalries. Texas A&M-Texas should have never been shelved in the first place. And while the UT administration might not see a reason to bring it back -- nor Texas A&M's leadership, for that matter -- surely both fan bases do.

Vanderbilt-Duke:Call it a private school showdown. The proximity is reasonable, the fan bases similar, and the rivalry could easily extend to the hard court. Plus, have you seen Derek Mason’s nonconference schedule this year? It needs help.
Twitter can be such a beautiful thing, but it can also be an outlet for impulse emotions and knee-jerk reactions that can leave you embarrassed and backtracking.

Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is on the backtracking front after taking a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban on Twitter Tuesday night, when he went after Saban's backing of the now tabled 10-second proposal that had most offensive coaches in a real tizzy.

Here's what Gundy tweeted from his account (@OU_CoachGundy):
Looks like someone came up short again. You better take that SEC country somewhere else. Let's Play Faster. #Boomer

You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out the subject of Gundy's tweet. And Gundy didn't have to be an Einstein to realize that he might want to retract those electronic shots he fired. Within an hour of throwing that tweet together, Gundy deleted it and add an apology (which has also since been deleted):
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner

— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy)
[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyNick Saban hasn't responded to Cale Gundy's tweet, and it's unlikely he will.
I get it. Gundy wanted poke fun at Saban and the fact that he stands with the controversial proposal that was created to slow down no-huddle offenses. He wanted to jab him for not getting something he'd like to see implemented at the college level. And he also wanted to point at the guy his team beat by two touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Saban's team was the favorite to win its third consecutive BCS national championship, and people are out for blood when you fail to meet expectations.

It makes sense because OU likes to run the hurry-up, and its offense left the Crimson Tide's defense panting down on Bourbon Street. I'm all for having fun on Twitter and showing that you aren't a robot coach, but you have to be careful poking the bear that is Nick Saban. We don't know when Saban will get a rematch with the Sooners or Gundy, but you'd better believe this is something that will be in the back of his mind the next time that opportunity comes.

Saban might not publicly respond to Gundy, but he'll be thinking about it. His team will know. The people around him will know. And he'll wait until he gets his chance to strike.

Maybe, he'll just retaliate by taking it out on the hurry-up offenses he faces in 2014. I'm sure he's anxious to make on on-field statement.

NEW ORLEANS -- Oklahoma exploded in the first half, then held on for a 45-31 victory over Alabama at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday in one of the biggest upsets in BCS history.

Here’s how it happened:

It was over when: Trailing by a touchdown with less than a minute to play, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron dropped back to pass. But before he could unload the pass, Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker came swooping around his blindside to knock the ball loose. Sooners defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped up the fumble and rumbled 8 yards into the end zone to clinch the stunning victory.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who was absolutely sensational in just his fifth career start. Against one of the top-ranked defenses in college football, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. All of those numbers were easily career highs. Knight threw one interception, but even that pass was on the money, as it bounced off the hands of receiver Jalen Saunders. Knight was special, outplaying a quarterback on the other side who finished second in the Heisman voting.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma’s 31 first-half points were the most the Sooners had scored in a first half all season, and the most Alabama had allowed in a first half this year, as well. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Alabama had given up 31 points over an entire game just seven times under coach Nick Saban before this Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma came into the night averaging 31 points a game.

Unsung hero: Grissom had a monster night to spearhead the Sooners defensively. He finished with two sacks, a third-down pass breakup and two fumble recoveries. The first fumble recovery came at the Oklahoma 8-yard line, thwarting a promising Alabama scoring drive in the second quarter. The second ended the game. It was easily the best game of Grissom’s career. He spent much of last season as a reserve tight end.

What Alabama learned: The Crimson Tide just aren’t quite as dominant as they’ve been in the recent past. Oklahoma might have played out of its mind, but this was also a team that lost to Texas by 16 points and to Baylor by 29. Even with McCarron gone, Alabama will be a national title contender again next season. But the Crimson Tide must shore up some weaknesses, specifically a secondary that got completely torched by a freshman quarterback.

What Oklahoma learned: The Sooners can play with anyone in the country. Alabama has been the preeminent program in college football the past five years, which includes three national titles. But this was no fluke. The Sooners outplayed the Crimson Tide in just about every facet of the game. It has been 13 years now since Oklahoma won a national championship. But with Knight back at quarterback and a couple rising stars on defense, the Sooners could be geared up for a special season in 2014.

Join us for Sugar Bowl Live (8:30 ET)

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:00
AM ET
Can Alabama continue the SEC’s dominance in BCS bowl games? Can Oklahoma end its struggles in BCS games and give a boost to its coach’s offseason claim about the SEC?

Two of the most storied programs in college football history meet in New Orleans and we’ll be here chatting about it throughout. At 8:30 ET, join Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon and SEC reporters Edward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough as we discuss the game. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Allstate Sugar Bowl preview

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:00
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Thursday night’s Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma features two of the most storied programs in college football history. Here’s a preview of one of the most intriguing games of the bowl season:

Who to watch: Alabama's AJ McCarron, who, with two national titles, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Even though the Crimson Tide came up just short of advancing to another national championship game, McCarron has put together another fabulous season. He was a first-team Walter Camp All-American, won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the Heisman voting. On top of owning virtually every passing record at Alabama, McCarron also has a career record of 36-3 as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. A win over the Sooners in his collegiate swan song would cap the finest quarterbacking career in Alabama history in fine fashion.

What to watch: How Oklahoma performs against the preeminent program from the preeminent conference in college football. Even though the SEC has reeled off seven straight national titles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has questioned why the SEC is accepted as college football's top conference, even calling it "propaganda." Stoops also has suggested the SEC's defensive reputation has been overhyped, because of substandard quarterbacking in the past. Stoops, however, has never disrespected Alabama, and this week called the Crimson Tide the best team in the country despite their loss to Auburn. Still, the fact remains, the Big 12's reputation will be squarely on the line this game, especially after Baylor's disastrous showing against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma's reputation will be on the line, too. The Sooners can prove on the national stage they're on their way back to standing alongside the nation’s elite programs. Or they -- and the Big 12 -- will take yet another perception hit heading into the College Football Playoff era, where perception will be paramount.

Why to watch: This will pit two of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history. Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 17 national championships, including four in the BCS era. Despite their histories, the Crimson Tide and Sooners have met only four times before: the 1963 Orange Bowl, 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and then a home-and-home in 2002-2003, which the Sooners swept. Nick Saban and Stoops, however, have faced each other only once, in the 2003 national championship game when Saban was at LSU. The Tigers won that game 21-14.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17. The Sooners have thrived as the underdog, both in the past, and here late this season. But Alabama is another animal, and Oklahoma, which has been inconsistent offensively all season, will struggle to move the ball against linebacker C.J. Mosley & Co.
Alabama reporter Alex Scarborough and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the biggest storylines in Thursday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup between Alabama and Oklahoma:

The last time the Crimson Tide just missed out on a national championship game and ended up in the Sugar, they didn't seem to be very motivated. Will they be motivated this time?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's hard to imagine AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide coming out flat against OU in the Sugar Bowl.
Alex Scarborough: With AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley guiding their respective units, I don't think motivation will be a problem. The leadership on this team is too strong for Alabama to come out flat emotionally. There are too many seniors who don't want to go out on a sour note with back-to-back losses. Revenge, even though it can't come in the form of a national championship, is at play against the Sooners. That loss on the road at Auburn has eaten away at the Tide for a month now, and I believe this team is eager to get that monkey off its back and change the narrative of its season. As Brian Vogler told the media a short while back, this game is all about respect and proving again that Alabama is one of the best teams in the country.

Jake Trotter: I don’t think motivation will be a problem for Alabama. Then again, it could be. After all, the Crimson Tide have played in the national championship game in three of the last four years. Playing in the Sugar is a step down. One thing we do know is that Oklahoma will be motivated. This is the biggest bowl the Sooners have played in since the 2008 national championship game against Florida. As a double-digit underdog against the preeminent program in college football at the moment, it’s a guarantee Oklahoma will be fired up to play well.

For OU to pull off the upset, what is the one thing that has to happen?

Scarborough: Aside from Alabama surprising me and coming out flat, I think it comes down to the defense. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will put up plenty of points on offense, but can Mosley and the secondary rebound after what was a testing season defensively? Alabama was excellent in terms of production this season, but our colleague Edward Aschoff was wise to focus on the importance of the Tide facing another zone-read team as both Auburn and Texas A&M had success moving the ball against them. Even Mississippi State had some success spreading the field and pushing the tempo. Alabama has to set the edge and stop the run early against Oklahoma, forcing Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or whoever plays quarterback for the Sooners into obvious passing situations. If Oklahoma finds itself in a lot of second-and-mediums and third-and-shorts, Alabama will be in trouble because while there's plenty of talent at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, there's a significant drop off at cornerback once you look past Deion Belue.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight and the Sooners need to get off to a good start if Oklahoma is going to pull off the upset.
Trotter: The Sooners have got to get off to a good start. Whether Knight or Bell (or both) is at quarterback, this is not an offense built to come back from behind. After falling behind early to Texas and Baylor, Oklahoma had to scrap the game plan and start throwing the ball. And the end-result was a pair of blowouts. Conversely, if Oklahoma can start fast, then hang in the game past halftime, the pressure will swing on Alabama, which is expected to win this game big. And like at Oklahoma State, the Sooners would be a successful trick play or big turnover away from taking the Tide to the wire.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Scarborough: This is going to be a very interesting game for Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest. He's had a fairly solid junior season, but he hasn't done what many expected when the season began and there was speculation over whether he'd turn pro early. Well, he's already said he intends to return to school, and with Mosley moving on, he'll be the man leading and executing Kirby Smart’s and Nick Saban's defense in 2014. How he does against Oklahoma is an important step in that progression. He needs to show he can both lead his teammates, as well as show the sideline-to-sideline type of tackling that Mosley brought to the table. As more teams go to the zone-read offense, that part of the game becomes more and more important. And if I can add a second player to watch quickly, keep an eye on freshman tailback Derrick Henry. He's a talented big man at 6-foot-3, and the buzz is that he may be poised to pass Kenyan Drake for second on the depth chart.

Trotter: Receiver/returner Jalen Saunders is Oklahoma's X-factor. In the Sooners' upset victory over Oklahoma State, Saunders unleashed a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone in the final seconds. For the Sooners to have a chance, Saunders must deliver another monster performance.

Oklahoma focused on stopping Mosley

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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NEW ORLEANS -- When asked about his very first impression of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard was as concise as he could be, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
AP Photo/Dave MartinButkus Award winner C.J. Mosley leads Alabama in tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries this season.
"That dude's good; very, very good," Ikard, an All-American, said.

"He's obviously the most talented linebacker in the country."

Mosley, an All-American himself and the recipient of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, is quiet and gentle away from the field but a thunderous wrecking ball on it. He can cover the field from side to side, drop back to defend the pass, rush the passer and stuff the run.

He's the heart of Alabama's staunch defense and enemy No. 1 for Oklahoma's offense.

Ikard and his teammates agreed they'll game plan to try and thwart Mosley's effectiveness in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl. You'd think that added attention would put some pressure on Mosley, but this is nothing new for the nation's best.

"I can't really control that," Mosley said. "I just gotta do what I have to do and make plays when my name is called."

He's made plenty of plays this year for the Crimson Tide. A year removed from leading the Tide with 107 tackles while sharing time, Mosley leads Alabama this season in tackles (102), tackles for loss (nine) and quarterback hurries (eight) as a full-time starter at weakside linebacker. He's also defended five passes and forced a fumble.

"C.J. Mosley is probably the best player we've played against this year, probably one of the best I've played against in my four and a half years here," Ikard said.

"You always have to be aware of where 32 is at."

And that isn't easy to do. He's so active that one blink and you'll lose him. But spend too much time locking in on him and you'll lose focus, making it easier to blow an assignment. It puts many offensive players, especially offensive linemen, in precarious situations.

Like a playmaking receiver who can line up inside, outside or in the backfield, you have to account for Mosley in some form or fashion whenever he's on the field or he'll make you pay.

"Your eyes are just attracted to him just by the way he runs around and makes big plays," Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said.

"We're going to account for him like anybody else, but he's definitely a force to be reckoned with. He's all over the field and he's a great leader out there."

Despite lining up in the middle of Alabama's defense, the Tide's defensive quarterback finds ways to get to the ball, no matter where it is. He's so dangerous because he's so multitalented. He pores over extra film for hours each week, while still trying to motivate and push his teammates with his relentless practice habits.

The quiet tone and smoother demeanor he shows the media is only a small part of who Mosley is. He's an animal on the field, and the Sooners understand the challenge of making him obsolete is quite an undertaking.

"He's a great player. He won the Butkus Award for a reason," Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay said. "He's fundamentally sound, he gets to the ball, his technique is great."

But for all the good Mosley does, he admits he isn't perfect. He's actually pretty goofy in the way he looks when he plays. Though he carries an impressive, stone-like 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame, his legs can get the best of him at times with his "unorthodox" running style that gives him some awkward-looking strides when he runs. His legs sometimes get caught under him, making sprinting tough.

It doesn't impede his pursuit too much, but it does receive a few giggles in the film room from his teammates.

"I've been doing that since high school," Mosley said with a laugh.

The Sooners might have 10 other players to account for when Alabama's defense takes the field, but everyone knows the Tide's defense goes the way of its commander. Mosley is the linchpin, and disengaging his playmaking ability will go a long way for the Sooners inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"That kid is the defense, if you ask me," Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said.

"It's been a blessing having him on this team, and I'm definitely going to miss him next year."

Alabama ready for more of the zone-read

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
10:30
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- When No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) looks at its matchup with 11th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide can't help but see similarities to their last opponent.

You know, the opponent that derailed Alabama's national championship hopes with a miracle of a kick return and a run game that churned out nearly 300 yards on the Tide's vaunted defense.

Oklahoma, which is averaging 235.8 yards per game this season, isn't quite Auburn, but it does possess that pesky zone-read that gutted the Tide on the Plains. For all the inconsistency that Oklahoma has had this season on offense, Alabama isn't overlooking the Sooners' running game, which could pose quite the threat if it gets going early.

"It's very important [to stop the running run early] because once they get started, they keep on rolling," cornerback Deion Belue said. "They're a tough team as it is because their offensive line is big and strong. The thing is stop the run. If all else fails, we have to do that. If not, they can keep on rolling and then they have the option to run and pass any time they want to."

The thing with Oklahoma is that the offense can get a little complicated at times with quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight sharing time. A starter hasn't even been announced for Thursday, but the good news is that both can run the zone-read, which has been pretty successful for the Sooners this season.

Oklahoma averages 7.2 yards per zone-read play when Knight is in and 4.5 yards per play with Bell, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Knight has gained 257 yards and is averaging 10.3 yards per play when he keeps the ball on zone-read rushes, which is the best among AQ players with at least 25 zone-read runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So while the Sooners aren't sure who will be under center first, Alabama knows to expect plenty of running plays, regardless.

"We're just going to look at it as them trying to take our manhood, kinda, and try and down us a little bit [with their run game]," defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oklahoma has run 138 zone-read plays this season and averaged 18.7 zone-read plays (130 yards per game) in each of its last three games (all wins) after averaging 9.1 plays per game (47.2 yards per game) in its first nine games.

"We're going to be all right against it," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "We've repped it. That's the same offense the last we guys we played [ran]."

In Alabama's 34-28 loss to Auburn, the Tigers gained 270 rushing yards on 38 zone-read plays (7.1 yards per carry), including seven runs of 10 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Alabama entered that game allowing 3.6 yards per rush on such plays, which second best in the SEC.

Senior running back Brennan Clay (913 yards) has been the bell cow back for Oklahoma, and while he's been very impressed with Alabama, he thinks Auburn's 296-yard outing against the Tide created a blueprint for how to hurt a rush defense that was allowing just 91 yards a game before facing Auburn.

"They're not the gods that everyone [claims] them to be," Clay said. "I feel like everyone was putting them on such a high pedestal, but anyone can get beat on any given day. It's whatever transpires in between those lines on the football field is what matters.

"If we come out being aggressive, being able to establish the run, make big plays, we'll be fine."

Establishing the run is easier said than done. Before Auburn, Alabama had allowed 100-plus rushing yards just four times and surrendered just five rushing touchdowns. With about a month to prepare, Alabama won't be startled by what it sees inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Thursday.

This isn't a defense prone to continuing its mistakes.

"They're just very technical. They don't make a whole lot of mistakes, they're really physical, they know how to make plays and stop offenses, especially high-powered offenses," Knight said. "That's been a staple of their program the last couple years."

What's also been a staple of this defense is winning up front. Getting the push up in the trenches will be important for both teams, and Oklahoma All-American center Gabe Ikard said winning there will dictate the game. Fail against their big uglies, and Ikard said Oklahoma is toast.

"They're extremely powerful and big up front -- biggest defense we've seen, most physical defense we've seen, best defensive we've seen all year," he said. "It's going to be a great challenge to control the line of scrimmage against those guys. They're D-linemen are bigger than anybody we've seen this year, and that includes Notre Dame.

"If we can't run the ball, it'll be a long day for us."

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