Best Little Men

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
3:51
PM ET

Watching Arizona's dynamic freshman Keola Antolin run all over Cal got me thinking it might be a good time to spotlight the best little men in college football this season. Obviously, you could focus solely on receivers and returners, but I wanted to include some other guys who even though they are much bigger have often been labeled as "undersized" for their positions.

  1. Todd Reesing, Kansas, QB: He's around 5-10, 190 or so, and he has been carving up Big 12 defenses for two years now. He takes a pounding and keeps making plays. He's accurate. He's a leader. In many ways he's the quintessential great Big 12 quarterback. This season, he's fourth in the country in passing, having thrown 17 TDs and 5 INTs while completing 70 percent of his passes to go with 110 rushing yards.
  2. Mike Thomas, Arizona, WR: This is the Pac-10's version of Steve Smith, a short, explosive, playmaking wideout/return man. Thomas is 5-foot-8 and has been feasting on defenses for years. Last season he caught 83 passes for over 1,000 yards and 11 TDs and he's putting up similar numbers again. He'll probably leave Zona as the school's all-time leader in receptions and yards.
  3. Damion Fletcher, So. Miss, RB: Great leader. Very productive. He's on pace for his second 1,500-yard rushing season in a row and his yards-per-carry average is up from 5.4 to 6.1. Fletcher, a 5-10, 175-pounder who does more damage with his slashing style than pure speed, also has caught 22 passes this season as he continues to shine despite playing in a new scheme.
  4. (tie)Brandon James, Florida, KR-RB/Trindon Holliday, LSU, KR-WR: These are the two most dangerous return men in college football. Both are short, stunningly explosive speedsters who can change the momentum of a game in a heartbeat. Stats don't really measure their impact.
  5. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State, RB: Everybody except for USC loves the Quizz Show. The 5-6 freshman from Texas is on pace to run for 1,400 yards and 15 TDs, while also catching 33 passes. What Rodgers did to the Trojans' D on a Thursday night will be talked about for years. The guy really has been a gem for the Beavers, a team that probably has a few other guys who could get mention on this list (DE Victor Butler).
  6. Noel Devine, WVU, RB: In a list of dynamic smaller guys who thrive on great speed and eye-popping moves, Devine might be in a class of his own. There are still some times when he does disappear in games (Rutgers, 19 carries for 55 yards) but there are games when it seems like he is unstoppable. This year, he has become more of a focal point of the offense and is on pace to rush for almost 1,300 yards.
  7. Michael Smith, Arkansas, TB: This is the best SEC back that nobody talks much about. Smith, a 5-7, 173-pounder, isn't one of these short, squatty guys. He's more in the Warrick Dunn mold. He has rushed for over 500 yards in the past three games. The Tallahassee product has been by far the best thing the Hogs have had in a dismal season. The guy has had at least 150 rushing/receiving yards in all four of his SEC games and that has come against some pretty talented defenses (Alabama, at Auburn, Florida and at Kentucky).
  8. Purnell Sturdivant, Va. Tech, LB: Listed at 5-10, 225 pounds, Sturdivant, pound-for-pound one of the strongest guys in the Hokies' program, is just a relentless fifth-year guy with a great nose of the action. He leads the rebuilt Hokies D in tackles with 56 and also has 3.5 TFLs.
  9. Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss, WR-QB-PR: McCluster has been quite a find for the Rebels. At times, he's been the only playmaker. He's all of 5-9, 161 pounds but nobody in that program works harder. Houston Nutt has relied on him to spark the Wild Rebel attack and McCluster has done everything from throw passes to break big runs as well as keep defenses off balance. The best example of the guy's toughness is the effort he put into run blocking against bigger DBs in the Georgia game last season after he returned from injuries that had kept him out of action for almost a year. McCluster probably would be higher on this list if he could dodge some of the fumbling problems that he's had this season.
  10. Bemi Otulaja, Maryland, NG: A former walk-on who earned a scholarship in the summer, Otulaja is just a blue-collar plugger who has emerged as the anchor of the Terps D at 5-10, 280. Inside the program, both coaches and players rave about the guy's leadership and toughness. It also doesn't hurt that he's the strongest guy on the team. This weekend, the Terps held No. 21 Wake Forest to 219 total yards in a 26-0 Maryland rout.

RANDOM STUFF

•I was amazed at the show Antolin put on Saturday night. Talk about taking your opportunity and running with it. He'd been third team and then after starter Nic Grigsby fumbles on Zona's second play, Mike Stoops yanks his star and doesn't give him another carry. (Grigsby had actually fumbled three other times in the previous four UA games.)

Antolin, who had been slowed by a toe injury earlier this season, looks like Zona's answer to Quizz Rodgers -- a short, tough, darter in the Darren Sproles mold in that he bursts through a hole before the defense can spot him. (Antolin's next test is against the team that Rodgers made his rep on, USC.)

Antolin is an interesting player. Oregon State actually offered him, as did Iowa. He is from Vegas and played behind DeMarco Murray for some of his prep career, although with Murray off to Oklahoma, Antolin did score 20 TDs in his senior year with seven coming off kick returns.

•I can't get over just how well Texas and star QB Colt McCoy are playing. As amazing as his improvement has been, maybe an even bigger stunner has been the way senior RB Chris Ogbonnaya has been producing in the past three weeks. Folks inside the UT program rave about what a great young man he is and they are so happy to see how his years of hard work are now paying off. Keep in mind this was a guy who had just 22 yards rushing in Texas' first three games and now has 263 in the past three games to go with over 200 more receiving yards.

•What is going on with Wisconsin? Yes, the Badgers are banged up, but they've really look sloppy in recent weeks. They're committing a ton of penalties and now are not a very good tackling team. The Badgers have lost their past two games by a combined 63 points as Tom Mulhern writes:

"It's a mental thing," UW coach Bret Bielema said after the game. "It's a physical thing. It's an everything thing. We have to improve what we do in all three phases of the game. We have to improve our mental approach."

•UNC linebacker Bruce Carter blocked another kick this weekend against UVa. He now has five blocks on the year.

•Give a lot of credit to BC's stout inside duo of B.J. Raji and Ron Brace for bottling up Virginia Tech's slick freshman tailback tandem of Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby. The Tech backs combined for a 1.7-yards per carry average in the Hokies' loss at BC. Tech had come into the game running the ball well inside, but Saturday night, the two backs' longest gain was 5 yards.

•Stephen Garcia didn't beat LSU Saturday night, but he sure was impressive as Carolina gave the Tigers all they wanted. Garcia was sacked six times, but probably could've been sacked 10 times if he wasn't so athletic. Ken Burger is gushing about the freshman's potential:

"Those who have been following Gamecock football for ages, however, will recognize this as perhaps the most promising night in this stadium since Todd Ellis quarterbacked USC back in 1980s. For far too long, USC fans have watched a long lineup of hopefuls come in and out of the program without delivering on the high hopes and promises that always follow the latest quarterback sensation. I won't name names because they are still around and they are nice people. Suffice it to say it's been decades since someone with Garcia's overall talent and potential has been on the field in a Gamecock uniform."

•Just how is Oklahoma State's huge investment working out? Darren Rovell talks to the biggest booster in the college sports world, Boone Pickens, and finds out it's not really panning out.

•Sorry Tulsa fans. I should've included your team in the Liberty Bowl, not UTEP. I actually watched a lot of the UTEP-Tulsa game Saturday night in Bristol. Anyways, I forgot to adjust my projections. It was a long flight home Sunday morning.

•Miami's freshman class has been as good as advertised. This weekend at Duke, true freshmen accounted for five of the Hurricanes' seven touchdowns. Davon Johnson, Aldarius Johnson, Laron Byrd and Travis Benjamin all caught touchdown passes while 17-year-old QB Jacory Harris completed 18 of 28 passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 53 yards and another score. True freshmen caught 16 of the 23 completions and were among three of Miami's seven top tacklers.

•As horrible as Tennessee's season has been, it's scary to think how much worse it might be if Eric Berry was playing for Georgia and not UT. This weekend, Berry, again, was amazing. He had a season-high 10 tackles, a sack and returned an interception for a touchdown in Tennessee's 34-3 win against Mississippi State. He now leads the nation with five INTs.

•The hardest thing for the media to tout is offensive line play. Still, Bama's Mike Johnson was named SEC Lineman of the Week after he, according to the school, did not allow a sack or quarterback pressure and did not have any missed assignments in Alabama's 24-20 win against Ole Miss. I thought there was a touch of sweet irony here for Johnson, a bright, 299-pound junior guard. In last year's Bama win over Ole Miss, the Rebels' defensive game plan was to line up star end Greg Hardy over Johnson every chance they could and Hardy dominated the game with 13 tackles and three sacks. This time, a more polished Johnson, perhaps not playing out of position anymore, shined against the Rebels.

•Think Chuck Long's chair is getting warm at San Diego State? SDSU, which has been outscored 146-24 in its past three games, ranks worse than 100th among the nation's 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 11 statistical categories. In addition to ranking last in rushing offense and rushing defense, the Aztecs are 113th in total offense, 112th in scoring offense, 111th in scoring defense and punt return average and 110th in total defense and kickoff return average. SDSU is 107th in pass efficiency, 103rd in net punting and 101st in sacks allowed.

After losing 70-7 to New Mexico over the weekend, Long assessed his status and made a plea of sorts.

"I don't think that would be fair, especially considering what we've had to do here," Long said to Mick McGrane. "Our program is not healthy yet, but we do see light at the end of the tunnel with the issues we're dealing with inside [the program]. So, no, I don't think [being fired] would be fair or right."

Nebraska's D is getting better. The 218 total yards for Iowa State on Saturday weren't just the lowest allowed this season by the NU defense, but the least since Nevada managed just 185 in the season-opening game of 2007.

According to the Omaha World Herald, the last time NU held a Big 12 opponent to fewer yards was when it limited Colorado to 212 in the final regular-season game of 2005. Asked how Nebraska was able to bend but not break for much of Saturday, Carl Pelini said: "Heck, for a while there we didn't even bend."

Iowa State gained 67 of its yards on a touchdown run by Alexander Robinson two plays into the second half. The Cyclones had no other runs longer than 10 yards and no pass plays longer than 16.

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