Great pairs make everything better. Think Tagge and Gibson, Dorsey and Reed, Frazier and Wistrom.
Success in college football depends on many things, but championships are rarely won without a stud quarterback and a high energy defensive playmaker. Cam Newton and Nick Fairley proved that last year, carrying Auburn to its first National Championship since 1957.
Heading into the 2011 season, there are two dynamic duos that stand out. These special players are going to light up the stats sheets and dominate the highlight reels all season. If everything goes as planned, they will lead their teams to New Orleans in January.
Russell Wilson and Aaron Henry, Wisconsin
Thanks to an NCAA rule that allows any athlete who has graduated but still has remaining eligibility the ability to transfer and play immediately, Wisconsin can replace second Team All Big Ten Scott Tolzien’s 2500 yards passing and 16 touchdowns with Wilson, who passed for 3500 yards and 28 TD’s for NC State last year.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema pulled off the coup of the century when he landed Wilson over Auburn. Not only is he a great passer, but Wilson is also athletic and mobile. To the chagrin of the rest of the Big Ten, he’ll be working in the same backfield as James White and Montee Ball, both 1,000 yard rushers in 2010. Think Auburn 2004, Part II.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers will lean on Henry, who roams the secondary like a hungry lion in an open prairie full of wildebeest. In 2010, he earned second team All Big Ten finishing the season with 58 tackles and two interceptions. When the Badgers need a big play or an emotional lift, Henry delivers it.
His importance to the Badgers’ success will be even more significant this season as they transition to new defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s attacking, blitz heavy defensive style. Bielema will rely on Henry to cover a lot of territory under this new scheme, and there is no doubt that he is up for the challenge.
Considering the Buckeyes off-season turmoil, Wisconsin was already a favorite to win the Leaders Division. If Wilson and Henry play well and lead the Badgers to a night road win at Ohio State on October 29, Wisconsin might make it to New Orleans for the BCS Championship in an effort to claim its first national championship.
Trent Richardson and Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
With Mark Ingram’s early departure to the NFL, the Crimson Tide’s offense will be powered by Trent Richardson. He is a legitimate Heisman contender and built like locomotive train with the speed of a jet. Richardson is a dominating force who is comfortable running over or around defenders. That is normally sufficient from a running back, but Richardson is even more dangerous because he is a good receiver and kick return specialist.
Given this, Richardson’s new nickname should be “Mr. Everything”—he will carry the Tide’s offense, especially in early days as Coach Nick Saban over-uses him while breaking in a new quarterback.
Alabama’s defense is loaded with All-Americans, but don’t be fooled into thinking this unit is leadership by committee. Even the most seasoned team needs one person to be the glue that keeps the pieces together. Hightower is that man.
He is big, strong and amazingly athletic for his size. Derailed by a knee injury in the 2009 season, Hightower rebounded nicely in 2010, finishing with 70 tackles. Whether he is pass-rushing or eating up running backs, Hightower is a warrior who sets the tone for the Tide’s outstanding defense.
To survive the brutal SEC West, it takes sensational players like Richardson and Hightower leading the team through the weekly battles. Their skills and experience are unmatched by any other team in the SEC, and they will carry the Tide to another SEC title, which likely means another BCS title too.
Championship teams often have two or three moments where the team is on the ropes, and the season hangs in the balance. Wisconsin and Alabama will be in those situations, and there is little doubt that Wilson, Henry, Richardson or Hightower will make that extraordinary play to save the day.