Meeting Of The Minds: College Football’s Franchise Player

Luck(Editor’s note: So far, we’ve given you our preseason top 10 and some of our favorite things in college football. This week, Crystal Ball Run’s finest minds have convened at a secret location, SEC style, to debate some of the major themes surrounding the game right now. We’ll start with its franchise player.)

Allen Kenney: Alright, fellas, let’s kick this off with an easy one to get the ball rolling. If you were asked to start a college football team today from scratch, who would be your first pick? (The team would only be playing this season, so remaining eligibility isn’t a consideration.)

I hate to go the obvious route on this one, but I have to take Andrew Luck.

Normally, I’d recommend building a team starting with the offensive and defensive lines. Right now, however, I don’t see an Orlando Pace or Ndamukong Suh out there who is a no-brainer.

To me, Luck, looks like the clear-cut No. 1 QB in the country, and that’s a position where it helps to have a great one. Did you see what he did to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl? Like Denzel Washington with his shotgun in Training Day: downright surgical.

Aaron Torres: I think the better question might be, if you could take anyone BESIDES Andrew Luck who would it be? Is there a clear answer?

I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head. (Granted I’m in a car stuck in traffic, so this might not be the best forum to think here.) But as Allen said, there doesnt seem to be an elite, can’t-miss, difference-making edge rusher (Quinton Coples?), shutdown corner, nor offensive tackle. Vontaze Burfict might be the best defensive player in the country, but can you risk the attitude and off-the-field stuff that comes with it?

Same with running back. My hunch would be to say Marcus Lattimore (literally carried that team at times on his back early in the season… specifically Georgia), but can he stay healthy for the whole season?

As for the other quarterbacks. Has Matt Barkley shown the leadership to warrant a first overall pick? Does Oklahoma’s system make Landry Jones? Did Austin Pettis and Titus Young make Kellen Moore?

Michael Felder: Boom, ask and ye’ shall receive!

College football as we’ve seen through Wisconsin and Alabama’s successes doesn’t have the ultimate need of an elite quarterback to win at the highest level. You just need a guy that fits your system and plays within himself. That said, no one has ever won anything if they couldn’t control the line of scrimmage. We saw that play out for the nation in this past national championship game.

With that said, I’m going to take Quinton Coples. Spare me the “homer” rhetoric, folks, the fact is he is an absolute monster and whether my coordinator wants to play a 4-3 or a 3-4, Coples is a fit. He’s played both defensive end and defensive tackle, so he’s got the versatility to hold the edge and chase down quarterbacks on first and second downs AND will be a beast on third-and-longs, pushing the pocket from the interior on my speed rush package.

Coples is a guy I and other minds I respect view as more polished than Robert Quinn, and the kid has got a knack for getting to quarterbacks and blowing plays up behind the line.

Allen: If I can’t take Luck… Hmmm…

Coples is good, but is he “building block” good? Lattimore is tempting. So is Alshon Jeffrey. (Sick talent on that South Carolina offense.)

The homer in me says Travis Lewis. Tackling machine, and I love his attitude and leadership for Oklahoma’s defense.

I’m going to take Manti Te’o, though, if it can’t be Luck. Vicious hitter, tackling machine, makes a ton of plays. Charlie Weis left some decent talent at ND when he got axed, and Te’o is Exhibit A.

Michael: My coaches always said even a great quarterback can’t throw the ball when he’s on his back, so I like my Coples pick. If I had to go another route, I’d agree with taking Manti Te’o.

Love Vontaze Burfict, he’s my kind of football player. I also love Don’t’a Hightower for the Tide but this is the year for Te’o and I expect him to be mentioned in on everyone’s All-American team. It is not often you go into the season “expecting” someone to win the Nagurski Award but I’ll say it here first, I expect Manti Te’o to win the Nagurski.

Aaron: How did I forget Manti Te’o? (Oh that’s right, because I’m sitting in a car, hungover, on the Garden State Parkway!)

But if I took a defender, it’d have to be him. Great instincts, closing speed and is the textbook definition of “sideline-to-sideline defender.” Not to mention he has carried an otherwise overmatched defense for the last two years. (Don’t get offended, Notre Dame fans, I think they’ll be much better this year.)

But really, the more I think about it, I may actually have to go Alshon Jeffrey myself. I know conventional wisdom says you don’t take a receiver in situations like this – what have there been, two taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft ever? – but the dude is just so, so good. (I’m honestly considering naming my first born “Alshon”…. regardless of sex.) Big, physical, strong, great hands. Not to mention that he’s practically a guaranteed six once you get in the red zone. What would you want a receiver to do that he cant?

Also, he’s the only guy on this list with an identical twin brother, unless there’s a Monfaze Burfict I don’t know about. What’s not to love?

Matt Yoder: Wait… Nobody picked John Brantley? And Felder didn’t pick Stephen Garcia? I am absolutely stunned.

I’m a bit late to the party on this, but the obvious no-brainer choice is Andrew Luck. He is far and away the best and most influential player in the country. Nevermind the fact that when one always answer these build a team/franchise/program questions, you always build around the quarterback. Landry Jones and Kellen Moore are great… but they aren’t Andrew Luck.

Having said that, if it’s not Luck… Then it has to be Justin Blackmon.

Allen: Matt, you’re going to have to explain your Blackmon pick. I just don’t see the value in building around a receiver. It seems too easy to take him out of the game.

Justin Blackmon
: There just aren’t any other players in college football this year that stand out to me away from the QB position. There’s no Suh. No Fairley. No Peterson. With that uncertainty, give me Blackmon, who is a dominant receiver that defenses will have to game plan to stop, and still get his numbers. Perimeter players are much more important in the college game than in the pro game (where you would never pick a receiver in this scenario). Blackmon can open up the entire offense for my program.

Granted, he only had 8 catches, 105 yards and a TD against your Sooners last year, AK…

Allen: Touche.

Cliff HarrisTom Perry: As much as I love Andrew Luck, and he is easily the biggest game changer we have this season, I’ve always believed in building on defense first. If you can’t score on me, then I can’t lose.

I’d prefer to go with a linebacker, but for some reason I can’t get past Oregon corner Cliff Harris. I know he’s suspended right now and will miss the season opener against LSU. But I can get past that.

Harris is a shutdown corner who has no fear. He loves to take chances, which can lead to big plays, but he’s instinctive and I want a guy who can change a game all by himself. He probably gambles a little too much in man-to-man coverage, but I’ll live with it. I also like the idea of getting a player who provides multiple positives, and Harris is also one of the best punt returners in the game.

With all of that said, I think it would be hard to pass on Luck.

Michael: I’ve already taken Coples and raved over Te’o so it is pretty clear my heart lies in that front seven. If I have to go another way, to the offensive side of the ball I’m going to run with Marcus Lattimore.

Not just because he’s a workhorse and can carry his team as we’ve seen him do in several big spots. No I’m taking him over guys like Michael Dyer, Edwin Baker and Montee Ball because he is so technically sound in fall facets of the position. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He reads blocks well on run plays and in the screen game. He can block on max protect schemes. He has tremendous balance and secures the football well.

Oh and he can tote the rock. The kid’s the total package. Sign him up for me as the first offensive player that I take this season.

Allen: OK, guys, final thoughts. Luck sounds like the consensus. If you can’t have him, who is it? I’m going with Te’o.

Michael: Coples. Easily.

Aaron: In a sense, I’m going to agree with Matt. I think, like every season, there are truly phenomenal players at the most important positions. This year, its guys like Quinton Coples, Vontaze Burfict, Cliff Harris, Matt Barkley, Marcus Lattimore. But beyond Luck, there isn’t that one can’t-miss, “plug him in and all your problems are solved” guy. As I mentioned in a previous comment, everyone who’d be up for consideration here has some fundamental issue outside of their pure football skill. Most revolve around leadership, injury history or attitude.

Therefore, I’ll be a little different and take Alshon Jeffery.

Again, I know you don’t generally take a wide receiver here, but I want the guy with the highest upside and least risk. Alshon is that. Not only does he have every physical trait you want from a receiver (size, skill, strength, whatever), he’s also a complete player. Go back and watch that Alabama win again last year, and you know what you’ll see? Alshon 10 yards upfield, springing some of Marcus Lattimore’s runs with his blocking. That’s something you just don’t see very often from superstar receivers.

I know it’s different, but in the end, I’m casting my ballot for Alshon in 2011.

Matt: Aaron and I are in the same neighborhood on different streets. My preference is Blackmon over Jeffrey. The bottom line is I want the most dynamic playmaker in the game regardless of position. That guy is Blackmon.

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