We're kicking your morning off by scouring the country to cobble together the best football team possible. Going unit by unit, I get to build a squad that should be unstoppable, a team that is devoid of the mortal weaknesses that infest most teams. This is a fun one, folks, and there are plenty of options out there. But first, it is only fair that I establish the ground rules that I am using.
For starters, this is my football team. That means they are going to play my kind of football. So apologies to everyone who thinks gimmick offense and bad defense is the way the game ought to be played; I give you no quarter.
This football team is going to be a pro-style attack on offense. That means a quarterback up under center who is making post-snap reads through a progression as he drops back and then makes throws like the deep dig, the deep out and the deep hook. It also means legitimate play-action, not run-action fakes—just serious establishment of the run and then sucking the safety into the box with a fake power and going over the top.
Now, that's clearly going to eliminate some folks. The same goes for my defense; I love the complexities and unique rush angles that a 3-4 creates in its most perfect form. However, I'm a 4-3 guy at the core. What can I say? I like over fronts.
I'll start with the backbone of every quality football club. No, not the quarterback or the cute skill position players that folks are wildly in love with. No, I'm starting up front: Give me the Alabama Crimson Tide's offensive line as the true cornerstone of this make-believe football team.
Whatever your offensive line does and no matter how much you're impressed by it, Alabama does it better. It mauls people—grinds folks into the ground and then beats them into submission on a play in, play out basis. That's what I want out of my big boys up front.
Next up, I like a couple of good tight ends. They are a great addition to the run game, and in pass-catching situations, they can be a true blessing as well. For this, I'll turn to Stanford. Levine Toilolo is coming into his own, while Zach Ertz is a quality blocker, and thus the Cardinal find their spot on my team.
I've got some bruisers up front and a tight end group that can both block and run; safe to say, this team is going to be tough in the trenches. To add to the power attack, I'm going to mix in a little speed at the running back position. Give me the Oregon Ducks running backs. This obviously comes with the caveat that De'Anthony Thomas is included in the package.
We know that Thomas is explosive, and behind my offensive line giving him openings where he is untouched until the second or third level, this kid could work wonders. However, we have to mention Kenjon Barner as well. He's a legitimate every-down back, and that's what I need. The kid is explosive enough to get out of the gate when there is a seam and strong enough to plug away for 20 carries of power, iso and off-tackle runs.
My other weapons are wide receivers. This was a tough choice because there are some pretty solid units all over the country. West Virginia has some sound wide receivers. Clemson has a unit that is among the nation's best. For me, I'm going to go with USC. Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are both high-quality threats who understand how to get open against defenses and possess sound route-running.
As for the final piece of my offense, the quarterback. Truth be told, I'm not impressed by any of the quarterbacks that are playing this season. Yes, that includes stat machine Geno Smith. At the risk of a lot of moaning and crying, I'm going to take Matt Barkley here. Not because he's the best quarterback in college football—right now, that title belongs to Geno Smith. Rather, because Barkley is a better fit for what this offense is built to do.
I know Barkley can take drops, execute the play-action that I want and go through the progressions of this scheme. I think Geno Smith can, but that will be for someone else to find out. Smith is having a heck of a season, though.
After wasting time on offense, we finally get to the defense. This is where championships are won. This is the fun part of building a team.
Defensive tackles in my 4-3? I'm going to Purdue. Not just Kawann Short, but Bruce Gaston as well. Both guys are plugs in the middle that are capable of pushing the pocket from the inside out and getting off blocks to make tackles in their gap responsibilities.
To pair with those monsters, I'm going to head down to the Bayou. No disrespect to Florida State or Texas, but I like LSU's defensive ends both for their top-end talent and the overall depth that Les Miles' team brings to the table. Saturday, watching LSU-Florida, Barkevious Mingo was the first man down on punt cover team as a 240-pound defensive end—scary. These guys disrupt the mesh point, play with their hands well and run sideline-to-sideline at an elite level.
Linebacker is where the toughest decisions have to be made. I love Manti Te'o and Prince Shembo at Notre Dame. Alabama has an entire stable of guys that are just top-notch ballplayers. Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree could play for me any day. Oh, and out west there is Stanford with Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas ready to wreck shop.
Unfortunately, those are all 3-4 guys, and just like Geno Smith and the whole pro-style situation, I am going to stay true to the scheme here. Those are some of the best linebackers in college football, but to preserve the integrity of the experiment, I'm going with a group that already plays in the 4-3 style: Michigan State.
The Spartans, under Pat Narduzzi, play a complex, multiple-look scheme that brings pressure from depth, disguises coverages and bails on blitzes to create chaos out of the 4-3. Max Bullough sets the tone, while Chris Norman and Denicos Allen are playmakers who are always around the football. Believe me, in picking Sparty, the choice wasn't easy. USC's linebackers are growing into a great 4-3 group in their own right.
If you were building a team, where would you start?
Now for the defensive secondary. Starting with the corners, I'm going to surprise some folks here and take Mississippi State. Darius Slay, Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks are flat-out legit players. They have solid ball skills, are active against the run and are fully comfortable playing both zone and man coverage. They are advanced enough in their technique to warrant being left on an island, and both players are confident enough to enjoy the challenge.
The final choice was a tough one because I love South Carolina's safeties. D.J. Swearinger is one of my favorite players out there right now, and DeVonte Holloman can flat-out play. However, a three-safety scheme doesn't help my two high safeties too much, especially since I don't want Holloman covering the deep half for me.
Around the nation, there are a lot of great safeties: Matt Elam at Florida, T.J. McDonald at USC and Kenny Vaccaro at Texas, just to name a few. That said, as far as position goes, I've got to take the LSU group.
Eric Reid is a guy who knows how to make plays, and Craig Loston is a very reliable off safety. The pair work great together in the back end for LSU.
That's my team, folks. We'll suffocate you on defense, and on the offensive side of things we're going to grind you into the ground and make you quit. It was tough passing on some of the talent that was not as tailored to the scheme, but just shoving a bunch of ingredients together doesn't make something a pie.