Thu Dec 08 07:43pm EST
The Doc does not have a vote for Saturday night's ceremony in Manhattan, and frankly wouldn't cross the street to cast a lot in the race. If someone from the Downtown Athletic Club flew to my house and put a ballot in front of my face and a pen in my hand, though, and threw in some some strawberry blintzes, I might fill it out with a few of the following names the actual voters have neglected entirely:
5. WHITNEY MERCILUS, DE, Illinois.
Mercilus was a complete unknown at the start of the season, even within the Big Ten — he'd started exactly two games as a sophomore, with minimal impact. At the end of the season, he leads the nation in sacks (13.5) and forced fumbles (nine) for a defense that held up its end of the bargain: The Illini finished seventh nationally in total defense, even after the offense melted into a pile of goo over the course of a six-game losing streak to close the year. In his first season as a starter, Mercilus played his way onto All-America teams, and possibly into the first round of the draft.
4. MELVIN INGRAM, DL, South Carolina.
By defensive line standards, Ingram was a scoring machine: He had two touchdowns in the early win over Georgia — one on a 68-yard fake punt that kept the Gamecocks in the game in the first half, another on a fumble recovery that put the game on ice in the fourth quarter — and took in a third on a fumble recovery against Vanderbilt with the offense struggling to come out of a coma. That was standard: Four of Carolina's six conference wins came with 17 points or less from the offense, courtesy of a unit that finished fourth nationally in total defense en route to the Gamecocks' first 10-win season since 1984.
But by any standard, Ingram was a nightmare for opposing offenses, leading the team in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (13.5) with a first-team All-SEC nod and a pair of early All-America notices for his trouble.
3a. DAVID DeCASTRO, G, Stanford.
All headlines out of Stanford lead back to Andrew Luck's right arm. But the Cardinal offense begins with a grinding power-running game, and that began with DeCastro's move from center to right guard as a true freshman to take advantage of his athleticism on traps and pulls. After 38 consecutive starts, DeCastro is a finalist for the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman, a consensus All-Everything pick right alongside his extraordinarily well-preserved quarterback and will soon be joining him in the first round of the draft.
3b. MATT KALIL, LT, USC.
Kalil could follow the same path if he's so inclined, taking advantage of a top-10 projection alongside his prolific quarterback, Matt Barkley, who was (statistically speaking) the best-protected passer in America this year while emerging as a superstar-in-waiting. (Oh, and he blocks kicks, too.)
If they're both back in 2012 — and Kalil appears to be leaning in that direction — the Trojans are the easy favorite to top the preseason polls, and Kalil should have as much to do with the hype as Barkley does.
2. COURTNEY UPSHAW, Linebacker, Alabama.
Upshaw is the best player on the best defense in the country — not just this year, but in almost any year: 'Bama leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense and third down defense. At 8.8 points per game, the Tide are the least scored-upon team in Division I in more than a decade. And where other players made a few more tackles, Upshaw made more big plays, leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss for the second year in a row, returning an interception for a momentum-shifting touchdown at Florida and forcing a pair of fumbles on top of that.
As a senior, he was first-team All-SEC, a finalist for the Butkus and Lombardi awards and sealed his status as a top-20 draft pick next April. If he and his dominant running mates hold LSU out of the end zone again on Jan. 9, he'll go down alongside Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas, Rolando McClain, et al. as one of 'Bama's best ever.
1. MORRIS CLAIBORNE, Cornerback, LSU.
His flashier, ball-hawking counterpart got most of the attention, and the invite to New York. But it was Claiborne who caught the eyes of SEC coaches, who voted him over Tyrann Mathieu as the league's Defensive Player of the Year, and the NFL scouts, who rank him as the No. 1 corner in next year's draft. Consider: The Tigers lost the best cornerback in college football last year and significantly improved against the pass, on the way to finishing second nationally (behind only Alabama) in total and scoring D.
…his high-flying interception at Mississippi State, his winding interception return to set up a touchdown against Tennessee, his clutch interception in the second half of the win at Alabama and his icing interception return for touchdown in the SEC Championship win over Georgia, well, Claiborne's not hurting for highlights his own self.