I'll always prefer college football to the professional game, but athletes can't be students forever. In fact, most of them never are.
Eventually, the players we love now make their way to the pros, where they cease to be nervous kids on an interview and transform into grown men wearing million-dollar costumes for twenty weeks of the year.
The national championship game is one such interview. A lot of the best talent in college football is concentrated together for one game, but for easily confused pro fans how can they distinguish one player from the next? One way to do it is by taking a look at who their NFL counterparts are.
Here's a list of 10 players in the Texas-Alabama National Championship and which Sunday starters they most resemble.
Reminds me of: New England Patriots WR Wes Welker
Shipley has had to man the deep threat position this year after the loss of Quan Cosby, but he's much more dangerous in the short crossing routes and pivot patterns that are similar to how the Patriots use Wes Welker .
He's larger than Welker by a few inches, but in those kind of patterns, he's just as dangerous. He can use the same elusiveness, vision, and lateral quickness he displays in returning punts and kickoffs rather than just trying to burn his man off the line of scrimmage.
Considering Welker's knee injury and how crucial he is to making the Patriots' offense go, I wouldn't be surprised if New England drafted Shipley with one of their first few picks as long as he's still on the board. Then again, Welker went undrafted himself so would Belichick be loath to draft a wide receiver that high?
Reminds me of: Shaun Rogers, DT, Cleveland
A no-brainer, Cody will be a fearsome DT plugging up running lanes and holding up against multiple blockers.
That's only if he lands on a team that can coach the maximum out of him. When athletes use their size to make plays rather than their technique, it's an early sign they could bust in the pros. Cody isn't too sloppy, but he does take plays off occasionally.
He'll be phenomenal either as a true nose tackle in a 3-4 or a 4-3 like Rogers is for Cleveland. The sky is the limit.
Reminds me of: Giants QB Eli Manning
Both were multiple-year starters that played under the weight of crushing expectations (Manning in the shadow of his father Archie, McCoy in the shadow of Vince Young).
Manning and McCoy finished their careers breaking most of their college's statistical records, but lacked a signature win to mark their career (although McCoy can change all that on Thursday).
Their body types are dissimilar, and there's little chance McCoy gets selected first overall like Manning did, but they've been forged in similar cauldrons, and their gutty, albeit inconsistent, play reflects that.
Reminds me of: Departed CB Pacman Jones
Both are undersized corners who play like annoying gnats on receivers and are physical at the line of scrimmage.
But the true similarity is in the return game. Arenas broke the SEC record for punt return touchdowns against Tennessee, while Pacman Jones enjoyed at least one season as a feared threat on special teams.
As it is, the league is moving away from starting corners acting as punt returners in the interests of health, but maybe Arenas gets his shots while still a backup/special teams player as a rookie.
Here's hoping his career is a bit more...uneventful?
Reminds me of: Detroit Lions OLB Julian Peterson
Muckelroy is too small to hold up at the point of attack in a 3-4 OLB system, even though he's a downhill linebacker for Texas.
He's also not a true OLB in a 4-3 system, but neither is Lions OLB Julian Peterson. Peterson attacks with abandon when he's able to play on instinct. That's why he has tallied 55 sacks in his career already.
Muckelroy's career will be interesting to watch. If an NFL team can figure out how to deploy him (maybe as an ILB in a 3-4?) he has the abandon and speed to disrupt plays in the backfield on running downs.
Reminds me of: Darren Sharper, FS, Vikings
Thomas isn't one of those busters you keep hearing about. His specialty is in pass coverage.
Thomas can blanket receivers like a cornerback, but is capable of pattern-reading and baiting a quarterback into a mistake. Those talents helped him tie Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel for most interceptions in the regular season with eight.
His closing speed on the ball will land him in the pros' defensive backfield, but it could take another year because Thomas could be returning to Texas for his junior year.
Reminds me of: Philadelphia Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley.
Bradley matches the gigantic McClain pound for pound and inch for inch. Both stand 6'4" and are around the 250-pounds mark.
In college, Bradley played OLB for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a school that, like Alabama, is heavy on tradition and fields a reliably stout run defense.
Bradley missed this year with a knee injury, but in his only pro year as a starter, he tallied 151 tackles and two interceptions and made the Pro Bowl. Like McClain, he was a multi-year starter for the Huskers and lead his team in tackles his final two years.
McClain will be as beastly at the next level if he can remain healthy. Continuing in the footsteps of Brian Cushing, the LB out of USC, McClain could be a candidate for Rookie of the Year next year.
Reminds me of: Leonard Little, DE, St. Louis Rams
Texas slides DL Sam Acho along the line as needed, but in the NFL I think he'll strictly play end rusher.
The Rams' Leonard Little is the same height as Acho and only a few pounds heavier. He was a middle-round pick out of Tennessee, but had a great season in 2005, leading the Rams in sacks, making tackles, and using his strength to force fumbles.
I could see Acho in a similar role if he adds a few more pounds in the NFL. He's great at pursuing the quarterback and gets off the ball quickly enough to blow past tackles or cut inside.
Reminds me of: Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos (as of this publication)
Both Jones and Marshall are as dangerous over the middle as on go-routes, using their physical superiority to break tackles and their speed to gash defenses for great yards after the catch.
But there are also unfortunate similarities. Jones' look-pass for a touchdown against LSU belied an otherwise underwhelming year, while Marshall's play was spotty and his attitude nauseating.
Jones criminally underperformed this year after a great freshman season, while Marshall has been in and out of Denver's doghouse under Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels.
Both have the potential to break games open for their team, but whether it's their personal choices or the play calling, something's stopping them.
Reminds me of: Dolphins DE/OLB Joey Porter
As much as people wanted to put Sergio Kindle in a box labeled "Brian Orakpo," he doesn't fit the mold of the bull-rushing DE in a two-point stance.
Kindle, slightly leaner and taller, would be better suited as a stand-up edge blitzer in a 3-4, much like Joey Porter, who has been successful disrupting QBs with speed and evasiveness when the defenses at Pittsburgh and Miami used him right.
With Porter aging and the Dolphins' offense gelling to an extent, Miami could reach for Kindle in the first round.