Where on Earth did the time go?
Week 9 of the college football season is in the books, and with Week 10 rapidly approaching, we've passed the point where making All-American predictions can rightfully be declared "too early."
With such a large sample behind us, the top players in the country have already emerged and started to build their profiles for postseason accolades.
In some cases, like Anthony Barr at UCLA, preseason favorites have justified the hype and remain in heavy contention. But in others, like Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina, what once seemed like a shoo-in is now highly unlikely.
I guess that's why they play the games.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
There are six extraordinary options here, the most top-heavy field of Heisman candidate quarterbacks that college football has seen in quite some time. You could pick Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Bryce Petty, Teddy Bridgewater or AJ McCarron as your first-team quarterback without hearing a peep from anybody.
Still, at the end of the day, Mariota is the best player on what's likely the best—and definitely the most proven—offense in college football. He ranks fifth in the nation in passer rating, ninth in total offense and boasts an absurd TD-INT ratio of 20-0.
No one is going to beat Oregon unless Oregon beats itself. By keeping the offense rolling without turning the ball over, Mariota is ensuring that doesn't happen.
Second Team: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Bishop Sankey, Washington
The true workhorse running back is an anachronism, but Sankey is a throwback to a simpler time. He leads the nation with 199 carries (24.9 per game) and 12 rushing touchdowns and also places second with 1,162 yards.
That all comes in spite of a major outlier, too, as Sankey was stifled for 22 yards on 13 carries in a blowout loss at Arizona State. If not for that one game, when Washington was in a terrible spot and the whole team looked lethargic, he would be the national rushing leader in almost every metric.
Sankey has put up big numbers against both Stanford and Oregon and just helped Washington total 642 total yards against Cal, the most the Bears have allowed this century. He's everything you could want in a college tailback.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
No running back in America gives opposing coaches nightmares like Gordon, a sincere threat to score whenever he touches the football no matter where he is on the field.
He ranks fifth in the nation with 1,012 yards despite ranking 65th with 107 attempts—an average of 9.46 yards per carry. That is over three yards better than the average of all other top-15 running backs in the country (6.20).
He played his worst game of the season in Wisconsin's only Big Ten loss, getting bottled up by Ohio State and gaining just 74 yards on 15 carries. But the attention focused on Gordon that evening allowed Jared Abbrederis room to operate on the outside and helped the Badgers nearly pull an upset in Columbus.
Even when he gets shut down, Gordon is the reason this offense moves.
Second Team: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Second Team: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Against Texas A&M's two highest-ranked opponents of the season, Alabama and Auburn, Evans has combined for 18 catches, 566 yards and five touchdowns.
That is flat-out ridiculous.
Of course, those also happen to be A&M's only two losses of the year, so some might argue that Evans' stats are in vain. But that argument is a flawed one.
The Aggies are still ranked favorably in the polls in large part because they hung around with Alabama and Auburn; had they been blown out in either of those games, voters would look far less favorably on their résumé.
No player in college football—at any position—has looked more like a man among boys this season, which theoretically makes Evans this year's version of Jadeveon Clowney in 2012. That is a good thing to be.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Cooks and partner-in-crime Sean Mannion fell back to Earth against Stanford on Saturday, managing a meager 12 points in their biggest game of the season. But that does not discount the season that either of them are having.
A lot of talented receivers have struggled against the Cardinal secondary, and with Oregon State so pitifully unable to establish a ground game, David Shaw was able to focus major attention on stopping Cooks and taking away what the Beavers do best.
Even after the "down" game, Cooks still leads the nation in receptions, yards and touchdowns. If he can finish the year strong and make a push for that triple crown of sorts, there is no way he will be left off of the All-America team.
Second Team: Allen Robinson, Penn State
Second Team: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Amaro continued his stellar play in Texas Tech's first loss of the season at Oklahoma, finishing above 100 yards receiving (119) for the third consecutive game and above 95 for the sixth time in seven games.
For the year, he is 10th in the country in receiving yards with 861, more than 250 more than any other tight end.
More importantly, he has paced the Red Raiders offense and become a valuable safety net for freshman quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, neither of whom would look nearly as impressive without Amaro getting open down the seam.
Second Team: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Duke Johnson, Miami
Johnson has been in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries this year, but he has still played enough snaps to qualify—and if he remains healthy the rest of the year, it's hard to find another all-purpose threat quite like him.
"The Duke" ranks fourth in the nation with 182.9 all-purpose yards per game this year, doing his work both on the ground as Miami's feature back and as a returner on both kicks and punts.
The 'Canes struggled to beat Wake Forest at home this past week, which speaks volumes about their merit as an undefeated team, but Johnson came to the rescue with 243 all-purpose yards including 168 rushing.
He is the best player on a team that hasn't lost a game this season.
Second Team: Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) continues to validate the hype, which said that he might be even better at left tackle than No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. He's one of the many reasons Johnny Manziel is so hard to bring down.
OG Cyril Richardson (Baylor) helps pave some of the biggest running lanes in America for Lache Seastrunk and Baylor's merry band of running backs. He's a bona fide NFL prospect and the most underrated cog on that explosive offense.
C Hroniss Grasu (Oregon) is an important piece of Oregon's run-first attack, which relies on mobility and athleticism from its center more than almost any other team in America. He is the perfect combination of talent and schematic fit.
OG David Yankey (Stanford) has taken on some of the best tackles in the league this year and done well to make guys like Arizona State's Will Sutton look average. Even on Stanford's superlative offensive line, he is the one who stands out the most on film.
OT Cameron Erving (Florida State) has done a remarkable job—as has the entire Florida State offensive line—at giving Jameis Winston all the time he needs to succeed in the pocket. A redshirt freshman quarterback is only as good as the man guarding his blind side (see: Manziel, Johnny in 2012).
Second Team: OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
Second Team: OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Second Team: C Bryan Stork, Florida State
Second Team: OG Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
Second Team: OT Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
Michael Sam, Missouri
Missouri collapsed down the stretch against South Carolina last week and suffered its first loss of the season, but Sam continued his dominant play along the defensive line.
For the fourth time this year, he recorded three tackles for loss in one game and now sits alone atop the country with 16.0 on the season. He also notched his 10th sack of the year and is tied with Clemson's Vic Beasley for tops in the FBS.
Even with Jadeveon Clowney standing on the other sideline, Sam looked the part of the best defensive end in the game on Saturday. His pro ceiling might not be as high, but as far as college football is concerned, no lineman is playing better right now than he.
Vic Beasley, Clemson
Sam has usurped some of Beasley's hype from earlier in the season, but the rangy defensive end is still carrying Clemson's defense and making an otherwise leaky unit look pretty good.
While the rest of his teammates came out flat and lethargic at Maryland on Saturday, Beasley paced the team by posting three tackles for loss and still trails Sam by only one TFL for the national lead.
Ten of Beasley's 15.0 tackles for loss have come in Clemson's three true road games, which has helped the Tigers avoid upsets in ugly performances at North Carolina State, Boston College and now Maryland.
Without his contributions, this team would not be ranked Top 10 right now.
Second Team: Scott Crichton, Oregon State
Second Team: Leonard Williams, USC
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Donald has been "slowed down" in recent weeks against Old Dominion and Navy, registering just 1.5 combined tackles for loss and falling off his nation-leading pace.
Still, he remains the most disruptive interior force in college football, and he is still within spitting distance of Beasley and Sam for the national lead in negative plays forced.
Unlike Beasley and Sam, whose numbers are inflated by having huge games, Donald has registered at least 0.5 tackles for loss in every game this season and has only exceeded 2.0 twice.
That type of consistency is hard to find in an A-gap pass rush.
Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
Whitlock, like his entire team, is easy to discount for...well, being a member of the Wake Forest football program.
But don't let the name on the front of the jersey color your opinion of the name on the back. Whitlock has enjoyed a fine career in Winston-Salem, and 2013 is the best he has ever looked.
He had a 15-tackle game against Army earlier this year, and even though Miami kept him from recording a tackle for loss in Saturday's near-upset, Whitlock still made his presence felt with seven tackles up the gut.
And in spite of the goose egg in Week 9, he still ranks seventh nationally with 12.5 tackles in the backfield this year.
Second Team: Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech
Second Team: Will Sutton, Arizona State
Anthony Barr, UCLA
Linebacker is the most stacked position in America this year—outside linebacker in particular—but Barr still stands out as a fairly obvious choice.
He leads the nation with five forced fumbles and ranks fifth with 1.86 tackles for loss per game. He is a nightmare to block coming off the edge, and since he is still just learning the linebacker position, there's no telling how high his future ceiling might be.
Barr has played himself into an easy top-five selection in April's NFL Draft, and he might have some collegiate hardware on his shelf by the time that process comes around.
C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The individual numbers may not back up Mosley as a first-team All-American, but that's just proof that sometimes stats can be misleading.
Alabama's defensive leader is the best player on a unit that's looked unbeatable against teams that don't have Johnny Manziel on their roster.
Mosley's sideline-to-sideline speed is the bedrock of Alabama's entire defensive scheme, allowing Kirby Smart flexibility to dial-up pass-rushers or drop players into coverage without having to fear getting shredded on the ground.
He's the engine that makes America's best defense go.
Trent Murphy, Stanford
Murphy started the year slowly, but he has ramped up his production in recent weeks and is a big reason why Stanford—despite a cracker-stale offense—is probably the best one-loss team in America.
He ranks third in the nation with 13.5 tackles for loss and second with 90 tackle-for-loss yards. Both of those numbers are first in the nation among linebackers, a testament to his positional versatility since he can also line up with his hand on the ground.
After logging 3.5 tackles for loss in the stymieing of Oregon State on Saturday, Murphy is up to 10 in his last four games alone. No one is trending upward faster than he is right now.
Second Team: Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Second Team: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Second Team: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Jason Verrett, TCU
TCU is a mess right now, but Verrett (and the defense as a whole) can scarcely be blamed for that dysfunction.
Despite being avoided like the plague by opposing quarterbacks, TCU's senior leader has recorded 33 tackles, two interceptions and 14 passes defended on the year.
The last of those numbers is third in the country, which, given how infrequently he's targeted, is a true testament to his cover skills and ability to adjust to the ball in flight.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Not unlike Verrett, Dennard finds a way to make an impact despite being avoided by quarterbacks on a weekly basis.
Sophomore Trae Waynes, who is plenty good in his own right, sees most of the targets while Dennard locks receivers up on an island, a major reason why Michigan State allows an FBS-low 4.7 yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks.
Dennard doesn't have ideal size for his position (5'11''), but he plays bigger than he's listed and excels at mirroring bigger receivers' movements down the field. He has an NFL future ahead of him.
Second Team: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
Second Team: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Calvin Pryor, Louisville
One bad game was enough to undo Louisville's national title hopes, but the loss to Central Florida—a very good offensive team—should not discount everything the Cardinals have done on defense in 2013.
Pryor is the leader of said overachieving defense, showing up all over the field this year with 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions (including one for the ages against UCF).
As a team, the Cardinals still rank second in the nation with 244.5 yards allowed per game, trailing just Michigan State in that metric. Pryor is a big reason for that success.
Ed Reynolds, Stanford
Last year Reynolds was a defensive home run threat, intercepting six passes and returning them a combined 301 yards for three touchdowns.
In 2013, as the big-play river has run dry, he has adjusted his game and morphed into one of the best secondary tacklers in the country, already posting seven more (54) than last year's total of 47.
Reynolds is also the emotional leader of Stanford's vaunted secondary, which proved its bona fides at Oregon State last week by shutting down the nation's best passing game.
That looks pretty good on an All-America résumé.
Second Team: Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Second Team: Derron Smith, Fresno State
K Michael Hunnicutt (Oklahoma) continues to be a steady force for Oklahoma, placing second in the nation in makes (16) on 18 attempts. Oklahoma's offense is prone to stalling near the red zone, and he ensures that the Sooners still walk away with points.
P A.J. Hughes (Virginia Tech) is the unsung member of the Hokies' scoring defense, pinning teams back inside their own territory with a top-10 national average of 44.8 yards per kick. He is the one part of Beamer Ball that is truly still alive and well.
Ret. Ty Montgomery (Stanford) has become the Cardinal's best method of creating big plays this year, leading the nation with 683 kick return yards and two touchdowns. In both the close win over Washington and the loss at Utah, he made more than one game-changing play on special teams.
Second Team: K Andy Phillips, Utah
Second Team: P Tom Hornsey, Memphis
Second Team: Ret. Christion Jones, Alabama