25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2016

25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

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    College basketball takes center stage this month with the NCAA tournament, one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Sixty-eight teams from all tiers of Division I come together to crown a champion in a winner-take-all event played out over three weeks.

    It's one of a handful of events college football fans can use to help them get through the long offseason, and if you try hard enough, you can imagine what some of these athletes would be like playing in pads and throwing or carrying the ball rather than dribbling it.

    We've put together a list of standouts from the college basketball ranks, most of whom will be on display during the NCAA tourney, who would probably make for great football players. For arguments' sake, we're going to assume these hoopsters would play for their school's football team, but in the case of those from schools without an FBS program, we've picked the next best option.

Mo Alie-Cox, VCU Rams

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 250 lbs

    Projected position: Defensive end

    Either Virginia or Virginia Tech would love to have this physical force coming off the edge for it on defense. Mo Alie-Cox has spent the last three years as VCU's enforcer in the paint, knocking opponents off their track on defense or banging through them to score down low.

    Alie-Cox is also one of the Rams' dedicated alley-oop recipients, making him a great candidate to focus on passing downs where if he can't get to the quarterback he'd have the hopes to bat down a throw at the line.

Grayson Allen, Duke Blue Devils

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 195 lbs

    Projected position: Special teams

    During the NFL playoffs, New England wide receiver Danny Amendola laid out a Kansas City player on a punt as he was trying to down the ball. Because the infraction happened just short of the goal line, it only resulted in a two-yard penalty. It also landed Amendola a hefty fine, but that didn't impact the game.

    Looking back on this, many felt the punishment didn't fit the crime, so to speak. Much like the “reprimand” Duke's Grayson Allen received from the ACC in February after appearing to trip a Florida State player late in a game. It was the second time Allen had tripped someone this season, adding to his growing reputation as arguably the most-hated player in college basketball.

    Allen is one of the most all-out competitors in his sport, and that could probably translate into a variety of football positions. We picked special teams, though, as either a gunner or a return man, because it would allow him to go full bore without any concern for safety.

    It would also make it possible for him to get laid out on occasion, which would probably make his growing list of haters very happy.

Andrew Andrews, Washington Huskies

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    Height, weight: 6'2”, 195 lbs

    Projected position: Slot receiver

    Andrew Andrews is frequently one of the smallest players on the court, yet this past season that didn't prevent him from also being the most active and productive one in most games. He's got the kind of motor and approach of a possession receiver, one who's willing to go over the middle to get the tough yardage even if that means taking some hits.

    The senior did plenty of that in 2015-16, resulting in him going to the foul line 295 times. That's currently fourth-most in the country, with his stellar 85.1 percent free throw rate showing he's apt to come through and not just hold onto the ball but get the first down.

    Andrews wasn't able to get Washington into the NCAA tournament during his career, but with the Huskies' football team expected to be a Pac-12 contender this fall, he'd have a shot to finally be part of a winner.

Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, Wichita State Shockers

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    Height, weight: 6'4”, 220 lbs (Baker); 6'0”, 195 lbs (VanVleet)

    Projected position: Running back/option quarterback

    Wichita State dropped football 30 years ago, but if it wanted to start up a program again, it would have a good starting duo to work with in seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Or if each completes his degree this semester, they could take advantage of the graduate transfer rule in college sports and give in-state school Kansas some actual athletes for its football team.

    The Jayhawks went 0-12 last year and haven't won since November 2014. New coach David Beaty tried his hardest last season, but injuries and other roster attrition left him very little to work with.

    With Baker and VanVleet at his disposal, a switch to a run-based offense (possibly the triple option, thus allowing both to get their equal share of touches) might be wise. Baker and VanVleet have spent the last four years feeding off each other, and this season many of their combined 261 assists led to baskets by each other.

Anthony “Cat” Barber, North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Height, weight: 6'2”, 185 lbs

    Projected position: H-back

    North Carolina State is starting over on offense this year with quarterback Jacoby Brissett having graduated and Eliah Drinkwitz taking over as coordinator. These changes have the Wolfpack's prospects for 2016 very uncertain, though the hope is they can maintain the winning level that had been established the past two seasons.

    Cat Barber would make for a fine addition to that system, one that would give NC State arguably its best skill position player in years.

    Barber is coming off a monster season on the court, ranking seventh nationally in scoring at 23.5 points per game. He took 17.3 shots per game, nearly 29 percent of NC State's attempts, while also leading the team in assists at 4.5 per game.

    Someone that interested in getting involved in the offense could line up in the backfield to get carries or spread out into formation to haul in a pass. And with his open-field moves, any chance to get him into space could lead to a big play.

Joel Bolomboy, Weber State Wildcats

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'9”, 230 lbs

    Projected position: Tight end

    Joel Bolomboy has Weber State in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years after it won the Big Sky tournament. The senior only had four points and nine rebounds in that game, serving more as a decoy than the weapon he's been throughout a career that's seen him score 1,470 points and pull down 1,302 boards.

    Any of Utah's three FBS schools would love to have him available as a receiving option, one who would create such an enormous target running up the field it would be hard to miss him.

    Bolomboy has the hands to be a great receiver, improving his turnover rate—which is sort of the basketball equivalent of charting what percent of targets are dropped—from 21.8 percent as a freshman to 14.9 percent in 2015-16.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Cavaliers

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 217 lbs

    Projected position: Linebacker

    Malcolm Brogdon was named the ACC's player of the year leading Virginia in scoring at 18.7 points per game, with the Cavaliers earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the numbers don't tell the full story of Brogdon's impact, such as how he also garnered top defensive honors in his conference.

    Put him in the middle of Virginia's defense as a middle linebacker, though, and the stats figure to pile up.

    Brogdon is a physical player who is always around the ball, no matter what end of the court. That would translate well to the football field, where he'd be able to use his instincts to sniff out play-action and step into passing routes while also attacking running lanes closer to the line.

Chris Boucher, Oregon Ducks

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    Height, weight: 6'10”, 200 lbs

    Projected position: Special teams

    It's become a tradition for Oregon to line up in an odd formation on the point-after attempt following the Ducks' first touchdown, checking to see how the defense reacts before (usually) returning back to a normal alignment. Sometimes, though, they'll go for two, just as they're likely to try a fake on punts and field goals.

    Imagine how defenses would react to seeing Chris Boucher out there, all 6'10” of him, as either a receiver or maybe a long snapper? Or what if he were to line up on the defensive side of a field goal or extra point, where he could use his record-setting block skills to maximum advantage?

    Boucher has 106 blocks, most in the country, swatting away 12.4 percent of two-point shots taken when he's on the court. Oregon shouldn't expect a one-in-eight ratio of blocked kicks, but even the presence of him there to attempt a block could lead to an errant kick.

Deonte Burton, Iowa State Cyclones

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    Height, weight: 6'4”, 240 lbs

    Projected position: Defensive lineman

    Iowa State's basketball team is quite athletic, though it doesn't bring much to the table from a physical standpoint. That is, except for Deonte Burton, who since becoming eligible in December has finally given the Cyclones someone willing to bang around and get down and dirty.

    Burton averages 10 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in just 19.1 minutes, getting to the line 55 times while committing 57 fouls. Extrapolated over 40 minutes, Burton gets more foul shots (and has the whistle blown on him more) than any other Iowa State player.

    Watching him play, it almost feels like Burton's talents are being wasted in shorts and a tank top. New Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell would be wise to offer him a helmet and shoulder pads, letting him slam into the line and cause havoc.

Kyle Collinsworth, BYU Cougars

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    Height, weight: 6'6”, 215 lbs

    Projected position: Dual-threat quarterback

    BYU already has two very capable quarterbacks for new coach Kalani Sitake to choose from this season, but considering the injury history of one of those passers, it never hurts to have the cupboard stocked with backups. Kyle Collinsworth has shown throughout his basketball career that he's like the quarterback of the Cougars' offense, so it would be a natural transition.

    Collinsworth is the NCAA's career triple-double leader, with 11 over his career, including five this season. This year he averaged 15.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists, accounting for more than 43 percent of BYU's field goals in 2015-16.

    Taysom Hill has battled injuries throughout his career at BYU, missing nearly all of last season after hurting his foot in the opener, which enabled Tanner Mangum to step in and excel. But Mangum doesn't bring the level of mobility that Hill (or Collinsworth) has, so using multiple players at the position would diversify BYU's offense and spread out the number of hits those passers take.

Kris Dunn, Providence Friars

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    Height, weight: 6'3”, 205 lbs

    Projected position: Safety

    The two-time Big East player of the year is averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists this season, numbers that are slightly down from what he amassed in 2014-15. Not surprisingly, the Friars haven't been as successful this season but hope to pick it up now that the NCAA tournament is here.

    Dunn's value as a scorer and distributor are evident, but where he has his greatest importance at this point in the season is on defense. He averages 2.5 steals per game, with 169 steals the last two seasons, and his defensive rating of 94.1 is a career best.

    With Dunn on the court, opponents score 0.941 points per possession, better than the team's 0.986 per-possession rate. His impact on defense is like that of a rover in the secondary, one who can poke the ball away or snatch it out of the air.

    Providence doesn't have football, so Dunn could play safety for nearby schools Boston College, Connecticut or Massachusetts.

Kay Felder, Oakland Golden Grizzlies

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    Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 5'9”, 180 lbs

    Projected position: Scat back

    Former Washington Huskies basketball star Nate Robinson, who has been in the NBA since 2005, recently mentioned the desire to try out for a professional football team. The 5'9”, 180-pound dynamo originally went to Washington on a football scholarship and had two interceptions in 2002 before switching to hoops full-time.

    We've heard no news of Kay Felder wanting to become a two-sport star, but it wouldn't be hard to envision him scooting around a football field like he does on the basketball court.

    Felder averaged 24.2 points and 9.3 assists this past season for mid-major Oakland, scoring 38 in a win at Washington and following that up with 37 against then-No. 1 Michigan State. Both of those schools are well-stocked at running back, but Michigan could use someone to gain yards in bunches on the ground.

    Felder has the look of a change-of-pack rusher, one who isn't in on every down but still gets his yards, much like the 1,492 yards that 5'8”, 200-pound DeAndre Washington had last season for Texas Tech.

Rico Gathers, Baylor Bears

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'8”, 280 lbs

    Projected position: Tight end

    Rico Gathers has already made it known he wants to give the NFL a go once he's done playing basketball at Baylor, which could happen as soon as Friday's game against Yale in the NCAA tournament. Gathers is a senior, having played 140 games for the Bears, with the last two seasons showing off his penchant for snatching missed shots out of the air.

    That's just the kind of skill he could convert into catching passes in the pros as possibly the most physically imposing tight end in the game. That's assuming someone wants to take a flier on a guy who hasn't played organized football since middle school.

    That was actually by design, Gathers told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd, saying he wanted to avoid the wear and tear of a sport he figures he can still play without much recent experience. "I'm probably the most durable player in the draft," Gathers said.

    Baylor football coach Art Briles has tried to get Gathers to play for him, and if he opted not to enter the draft this season he'd have one year of eligibility to play for the Bears. And they just happen to have a spot open on offense for a freakish tight end, as 6'7”, 410-pound LaQuan McGowan has graduated.

Josh Hart, Villanova Wildcats

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    Height, weight: 6'5”, 205 lbs

    Projected position: Wide receiver

    Josh Hart is one of the best rebounding guards in the country, pulling in 6.9 rebounds per game while also scoring 15.5 points a night. He's able to drive through traffic to get to the basket, while his leaping ability enables him to soar above the crowd for rebounds.

    Those kinds of skills would make for a great red-zone target for Villanova, one of the top FCS programs in the country. Or if he wanted to take a step up in competition, fellow Philadelphia-area school Temple wouldn't mind having him out there catching passes from P.J. Walker.

    Hart doesn't mind contact, either, as his 121 free throw attempts are the most of any Wildcats player.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin Badgers

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'8”, 235 lbs

    Projected position: Linebacker

    Nigel Hayes has become the focal point of Wisconsin's offense in 2015-16, scoring a career-best 16.3 points per game. He's only shooting 38.1 percent from the field, though, not the kind of efficiency a team would want from its top weapon.

    Hayes shoots 74.2 percent from the free throw line, his 244 foul shots ranking 14th in Division I. Those shots come after he's either drawn contact or sought it out, knowing that his sturdy body could handle the abuse. It also means his talents might be wasted in a role that involves as much offense as he has.

    When Wisconsin still had Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and others during the previous two seasons, Hayes could be more of a glue guy, one who just does a lot of little things. That's a fair assessment of what linebackers do on most football teams, and the Badgers' squad happens to need to replace a pretty good one in Joe Schobert.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma Sooners

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 209 lbs

    Projected position: Quarterback

    Oklahoma went back to the Air Raid last season, opting for a more pass-heavy offense after a few less-than-stellar years trying to throw the ball. Baker Mayfield thrived in this offense, though he only threw it 395 times, fewer than 35 other quarterbacks in the country.

    Buddy Hield laughs at that small number of attempts, while launching up a few more in the process.

    The Sooners' senior star has shot 522 field goals in 32 games, 10th-most in the country, but more importantly he's made 49.6 percent of those shots. His accuracy on the more difficult ones, that being the three-pointers, is an exceptional 46.4 percent.

    If given a chance to drop back and pass for Oklahoma's football team, you'd figure he could come close to Mayfield's 68.1 percent completion rate from 2015.

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 198 lbs

    Projected position: Wide receiver

    Notre Dame lost one of the top deep threats in college football last year when Devin Fuller opted to turn pro. Finding a replacement for him in the lineup is among the Fighting Irish's many offseason goals.

    If all else fails, looking into cross-training Notre Dame's top basketball player for a foray into football might not be a bad idea.

    Demetrius Jackson averages 15.5 points and 4.8 assists this season, with just 61 turnovers in 1,104 minutes of action. His usage rate—charting how often he is involved in the possession—is at 24 percent, second only to post man Zach Auguste. He likes to have the ball in his hands, and he takes care of it.

    Notre Dame has two viable options at quarterback, the other position Jackson would fit best at. Line him up on the outside and let him run under passes from DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire.

Roosevelt Jones, Butler Bulldogs

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 227 lbs

    Projected position: Linebacker

    Roosevelt Jones freely admits he's not very athletic, and his style of basketball is like that of a rec league player who just loves being out there having fun. He makes it work, though, with 14 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game on 48 percent shooting.

    Much of what he does for Butler doesn't show up on the stat sheet, though, but it does in the win column. The Bulldogs are 21-10 this season, their 10th year of 20 or more wins in the past 11.

    Jones just finds a way to get things done, even if it doesn't look pretty. He could probably do the same for Butler's football team, which plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League at the FCS level, but if he wanted to be part of an FBS program, there's no doubt Purdue would take him on.

    Purdue isn't that far from Indianapolis, and with the Boilermakers having won just six games the last three years, at the very least he'd provide them with some headlines.

Gary Payton II, Oregon State Beavers

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 175 lbs

    Projected position: All-purpose back

    His father's nickname in college and the pros was “The Glove” for his defensive acumen, prompting many to call Gary Payton II the “Mitten” because of his similar style. But Payton is just as great an offensive star as he is on defense, almost single-handedly getting Oregon State into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.

    The senior's college basketball career is about to come to a close, but he'd still have eligibility left if he wanted to help Gary Andersen turn around the Beavers' foundering football program.

    Where would Payton—who leads OSU in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals—fit best on the football field? It's probably easier to figure out what he couldn't do, which is probably limited to being an offensive lineman.

    Let Payton play option quarterback but also line up as a receiver in passing situations. Match him up against an opponent's best wideout on defense, and put him back on punt and kick returns. Then sit back and watch the results, which should be solid.

Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Height, weight: 6'10”, 231 lbs

    Projected position: Defensive end

    Domantas Sabonis' future is no doubt in the NBA, as the son of former Portland Trail Blazers great Arvydas Sabonis projects as a first-round draft pick (per DraftExpress) if he chooses to turn pro after his sophomore year. If he ever felt like giving football a shot, though, there's an FBS program not too far from Gonzaga's campus in Spokane, Washington, run by a coach just eccentric enough to give him a tryout.

    Washington State, a few hours down the road in Pullman, is where mad scientist Mike Leach won nine games this past season. The Cougars are best known for their pass-happy offense, a Leach staple, yet WSU has had more defensive players drafted in the past two years.

    Would Sabonis have a future in the NFL? Probably not, but that doesn't mean he couldn't make some plays coming off the edge as a pass rusher, using his massive wingspan to make it hard to throw in his direction.

Ben Simmons, LSU Tigers

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    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    Height, weight: 6'10”, 225 lbs

    Projected position: Wide receiver

    Ben Simmons' college basketball career was over before it started, the possible No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft done with his lone season at LSU without getting to play in the NCAA tournament. His numbers were great, but he couldn't get the Tigers into the postseason, and thus his time in Baton Rouge is ultimately going to get treated like a major disappointment.

    If only he'd followed through on LSU football coach Les Miles' half-serious offer to join his team back in August.

    "I can give him a goal-line position where I would throw it to him," Miles said, per Jerit Roser of NOLA.com. "All he's got to prove to me is one thing is that he can catch. If he can catch, and certainly we would all predict in this room that he could, he will set the NCAA record for touchdowns."

    Simmons jokingly replied to Miles, through Bleacher Report's Uninterrupted video platform, saying "we'll see what we can do, but I'm not sure about the helmet."

    With football, at least Simmons would have gotten to play in a bowl game.

Melo Trimble, Maryland Terrapins

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 190 lbs

    Projected position: Quarterback

    Maryland's quarterbacks threw 29 interceptions last season, most of any team in FBS, while completing only 47.2 percent of their 388 passes. Only one Terrapins player had more catches than the opponents had in 2015, leading to their 3-9 season.

    New coach D.J. Durkin has assembled an all-star staff complete with several assistants who have head-coaching experience. That group is probably willing to try anything to get the quarterback situation solved, even employing a basketball player with solid passing skills.

    Melo Trimble averages 6.2 assists per game, though he has also turned it over 89 times this season. His 17.5 percent turnover rate isn't great, but compared to the success numbers Maryland's current QBs have, it's a major upgrade.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky Wildcats

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Height, weight: 5'9”, 155 lbs

    Projected position: Punt/kick returner

    Among the many things Tyler Ulis does so well is find a way to slip past or through defenders, skills he also uses on defense by constantly getting in the way despite his diminutive frame. He's so small that he's near-impossible to guard and quite difficult to deal with when handling the ball.

    Ulis could probably be a major asset for Kentucky's football team in a variety of positions, such as a slot receiver or a defensive back, but where he'd have the option to make an instant impact every time he's on the field is in the return game.

    Kentucky was 76th nationally in punt returns and 47th returning kickoffs, but it hasn't brought one back since Randall Cobb had a punt return score in 2010. Derrick Locke had the last runback on a kickoff, in 2009.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State Spartans

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    Height, weight: 6'5”, 220 lbs

    Projected position: Wide receiver

    Michigan State will spend all spring and summer trying to identify its best option for the No. 1 receiver position, the one Aaron Burbridge held down so well last season and Tony Lippett handled the year before. Denzel Valentine played football through his junior year of high school, and with a little seasoning he could probably pick the game up again and be a force.

    Valentine is a do-everything player for the Spartans basketball team, the only player in the country averaging more than 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. A leading contender for national player of the year honors, he led MSU to the Final Four last season and may very well do so again.

    And if Mark Dantonio were to give him a shot at being the Spartans' next big-play receiver, MSU might be headed back to the playoffs this fall despite heavy roster turnover from a year ago.

    All statistical information courtesy of CFBStats.com or SportsReference.com, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.