This is distinct from an all-America team in that none of the players here are necessarily my pick as the best at their respective positions. In fact, none of them are. Selection on the all-SMQ Team has two requirements: a) I watched the guy play at least once, preferably on multiple occasions, and b) I liked him. For whatever reason, mainly his ability to fit into the roles prescribed for success in the unstoppable, mind-bogglingly versatile and innovative machinations of SMQ's version of the Greatest Show on Turf:
QUARTERBACK • The Krenzel-Mauck Chair in Cerebral Studies: MATT RYAN, Boston College
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I'm less than overwhelmed by the gangly senior's alleged pro prospects, but for a never-ending string of maddening, move-the-chains hooks and dumps to the running back under the linebackers, Ryan was a patient surgeon who never met a smart check down he didn't like. It didn't help that he had no protection, big play receiving threats or running game to speak of (B.C., once a thousand-yard back factory, was 105th in rushing), yet easily led the low octane ACC in attempts, yards, touchdowns, third down completion percentage, regular season wins, value to team and uncanny similarity to Ben Folds. For all his steady virtues, Ryan will forever be remembered for two defining, ad libbed throws that won the biggest games of the Eagles' season:
The second throw was one of only three touchdowns longer than 40 yards Ryan threw all season, and clinched B.C.'s spot in the conference championship. Where the seats were emptier than your relationship with your overdemanding parents.
QUARTERBACK • Fuck It and Run: JAKE LOCKER, Washington
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Any good modern system employs two quarterbacks, one of them inevitably a young, athletic bull whose still-mushy teenage brain need never harden to unleash the full brunt of his bullish read option skillz. I saw Locker three times in his first four starts, extensively against Syracuse, sporadically against Ohio State and less than sporadically against UCLA, but the pattern for his role in Washington's offense was immediately clear in the Carrier Dome: if the throw's not there, go ahead and take off. And if the throw is there, go ahead and take off. This was the plan, anyway, and if Locker had implemented it rather than taking it on himself to let loose 328 passes - 158 of which fell incomplete and 15 of which were intercepted, the worst completion rate in the country - when he was Tebow-izing Pac Ten defenses at six yards a clip en route to the first 1,000-yard season by a Pac Ten quarterback when he did run the ball, Washington might have been better than 4-8 and Ty Willingham might not be firing assistants for his life. The SMQ Team will not make the same mistake: if the ball leaves Locker's hands for any reason, no raw fish for a week.
RUNNING BACK • The Workhorse: KNOWSHON MORENO, Georgia
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Outside of Darren McFadden, of whom I actually saw very little - not that McFadden, being an immortal time traveller who slips seamlessly among dimensions, is eligible, anyway; ditto Tim Tebow, because we want to keep this fair - the best combination of power, burst and big play pop was from Moreno, who demonstrated some early signs of flair while splitting time in the to-the-wire games against South Carolina and Alabama, then officially Broke Out in a 188-yard, three-touchdown romp over Florida. His 101-yard line against Auburn is a disservice to Moreno's performance against the Tigers, which quickly turned an Auburn rally (17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters) into a Bulldog rout:
Yeah, nice blocking, but Knowshon is the true star back Georgia has lacked since Musa Smith.
You, sir, are a fullback and an excuse for awkward nostalgia, and we love you anyway.
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Hester, as Gary Danielson likes to note, is the epitome of the way the SEC played for the first half-century of its existence: tough, versatile and thoroughly white. In a backfield of blue chips, ex-walkon Hester logged three times as many carries as any of his faster (in this case, it's safe to say that's not just stereotyping), more heralded teammates, went over 1,000 yards with barely any negative plays to his credit (on 204 carries, his negative yards totaled fifteen) and bulled his way into the LSU hall of fame by converting on two critical fourth-and-short runs on the dramatic go-ahead drive against Florida, then scored the winning touchdown in the game of the year. He had 106 yards in that game and closed the season with three 100-yard efforts in the last four. McAnderson was just a random big, potbellied blocking back who suddenly showed up every week looking like the anti-Steve Slaton, lumbering downfield out of Kansas' own version of the read option, and wound up being more productive: McAnderson was only three yards behind Slaton (1,053 to 1,050) on 35 fewer attempts.
Honorable Mention: Carl Stewart, Auburn, an ex-tailback who evolved into a tencious blocker.
WIDE RECEIVER • The Fitzgerald-Edwards Prize in Acrobatic Excellence: D.J. HALL, Alabama
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For depressing lack of any Calvin Johnson-eque figure at which to just rain underthrown lobs over helpless corners, Hall earns the distinction by serving for the second year in a row as the only legitimate weapon in Alabama's offense, and for producing three of the single best receiving games in recent Tide history: six catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas, 11 for 140 against Ole Miss and his piece d'resistance, 13 catches for 185 yards and two scores in the nadir of a soon-to-be dismal season, a 41-17 throatstomping of Tennessee. Hall burned LSU for a long first half touchdown the following week, then fell off: just 12 catches, no touchdowns in the last three and a half. Still, for the second year in a row, Hall was the most complete receiver in the SEC: a deep threat, a sure-handed possession player to move the sticks and a high-wire contortionist in traffic. Plus - and, yes, it was last year, so it doesn't really count here - he'll always have this:
Tennessee killer: three straight 100-yard games vs. the Vols, and finally a win.
WIDE RECEIVER • The 'Possession' Guy: JORDY NELSON, Kansas State
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Jordy Nelson does not stop; he knows not limits. He caught nine passes in the opening loss at Auburn, and for the rest of the season made that look like a slow night - he had five catches in a virtuoso first quarter alone in the Wildcats' upset at Texas, four of them nine yards or shorter, and wound up averaging a little under ten yards on eleven catches in addition to his game-breaking punt return for touchdown in the third quarter; ten catches against Kansas, one a 68-yard streak down the sideline; 12 at Oklahoma State, 14 at Iowa State, 15 at Fresno State. One hundred twenty-two catches would be a Big 12 record, if not for Michael Crabtree's equally absurd 125-catch performance on Texas Tech's behalf. But I watched Crabtree drop the game-winner on fourth down in the Raiders' loss at Oklahoma State, his best game of the season otherwise, and Crabtree never doubled as an ace return man. Everything stuck to Nelson.
|QB:||Dennis Dixon, Oregon|
|RB:||Toney Baker N.C. State|
|WR:||Marcus Monk, Arkansas|
|WR:||Limas Sweed, Texas|
|WR:||Sammie Stroughter Oregon State|
|TE:||Kory Sperry, Colorado State|
|OL:||Will Allen, LSU|
|OL:||Jeremy Perry, Oregon State|
|OL:||Phil Trautwein, Florida|
|OL:||Leon Hart, Auburn|
|OL:||Nate McManus, Georgia Tech|
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Gresham must already be among the great red zone tight ends in history: his 6-6, 250-pound frame turned him into a power forward in the end zone, boxing out and pulling down rebounds on a weekly basis. Gresham had a solid 34 catches, but a staggering 11 touchdowns (that's one in three, folks), including seven scores in three of the Sooners' biggest games (Texas, Missouri and Texas A&M) over a four-week period at midseason. My memory is that Texas had no answer for Greshman, though that's faulty - he only had two catches for eight yards. But both were touchdowns. The sophomore averaged over 14 yards per catch and should be generally regarded as unstoppable along with the rest of OU (19 returning starters before NFL departures!) heading into next year.
OFFENSIVE LINE • The Forgotten Heroes: KANSAS STATE
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There is no way for a civilian to really judge an offensive line, and though my sentiments reside with Oklahoma's huge, frequently dominant front, not one of the Sooners can match Kansas State for excellence in the field of absurd and unfortunate names:
LG: Logan Robinson
C: Trevor Viers
RG: Gerard Spexarth
RT: Penisini Liu
Apologies to the very worthy Rashard Mendenhall, Mario Manningham, Stevie Johnson, Richard Dickson and, of course, Mike Hart.
The All-SMQ Defense is up Thursday.