B/R's 2020 College Football All-American Team Heading into Week 2

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 10, 2020

B/R's 2020 College Football All-American Team Heading into Week 2

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    Jaylen Waddle
    Jaylen WaddleVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Most of last year's college football All-Americans are now in the NFL, and a significant percentage of the "would have been" best players for this season have either opted out or play for teams in conferences not suiting up this fall (as far as we know).

    And yet, our All-American team is overflowing with talent we cannot wait to watch as often as possible over these next few months.

    We technically can't call this a preseason All-American team, since there were nine FBS games this past weekend. However, all 25 players on our squad have yet to play this season. We do expect to see them all soon, though. We only considered teams with games scheduled in September and players who have not opted out.

    The SEC leads the way with 11 first-team All-Americans, but the ACC (eight) and Big 12 (six) are well-represented, too.

    The panel for this AA team was David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Joel Reuter, Brad Shepard and myself. All ballots were submitted without knowledge of the picks anyone else made, but 15 of the 25 roster spots were unanimous selections.

Quarterback

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

    Perhaps if the Big Ten was playing football at the same time as everyone else (if at all) this fall, this would have been a tougher decision. After all, Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields were the co-favorites to win the Heisman throughout the offseason.

    With no Fields, though, Lawrence is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the field.

    Lawrence doesn't put up ludicrous numbers like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray or Joe Burrow did when they won Heismans in the recent past. As a sophomore, Lawrence averaged 281.9 combined passing and rushing yards and 3.0 total touchdowns per game. Those other three guys had combined marks of 393.5 and 4.1, respectively.

    But that's just a product of Clemson having a better rushing attack and a better defense than those other quarterbacks who were forced to don the Superman cape time and time again.

    If and when he needs to, Lawrence can be that hero. We saw it in the fourth quarter of the unexpectedly close game against North Carolina last season, and he was sensational in bringing the Tigers back from a 16-0 deficit against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

    He's going to be the best quarterback in the country this season. He's going to be the No. 1 draft pick in the spring. And he's most likely going to win the Heisman, assuming he guides Clemson to the College Football Playoff for his third (Clemson's sixth) consecutive year.

Running Back

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    RB1: Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

    When J.D. King entered the transfer portal late in the 2018 season and was followed less than a month later by Justice Hill declaring for the NFL draft, Oklahoma State's 2019 running back situation quickly turned into "Chuba Hubbard or Bust."

    Fortunately for the Cowboys, he was up to the task and then some.

    Hubbard led the nation in both rushing attempts and yards at 328 and 2,094, respectively. He had 221 yards and three touchdowns in the opener against Oregon State, torched Tulsa for 256 yards and three scores two weeks later and wrapped up September with a 296-yard game against Kansas State. He had at least 100 yards in each of Oklahoma State's 12 games against FBS opponents.

    He's just the fourth player since 2001 to rush for at least 2,000 yards and then return for another season. It worked out just fine for Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey, but here's hoping Hubbard can avoid something similar to Bryce Love's senior year. If he does, Oklahoma State might win the Big 12.

                 

    RB2: Travis Etienne, Clemson

    First of all, allow me to point out that both of these selections were unanimous. There were some Alabama fans fuming in the comments section of my recent running back rankings article because Najee Harris was at No. 3 instead of No. 1. He is a doggone fine third-best running back heading into the year, and he may well win the Heisman if he and Alabama fare as well as is expected. But it wasn't a tough call to have both Hubbard and Travis Etienne ahead of him here.

    Perhaps that's because "ETN" has rushed for more than 1,600 yards in back-to-back seasons and because he developed into a serious threat as a receiver last year. In nine of 15 games, Etienne made at least three receptions for at least 30 total yards. That includes the Fiesta Bowl, in which he had both a 53-yard touchdown reception and the game-winning 34-yard touchdown reception in the second half.

    And it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he's even more involved in the passing game this year considering Clemson needs to replace both Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Etienne might average something like 120 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game, which is Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey territory.

    That would be unduly high praise for most, but this guy has averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his college career and had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season. It's plenty feasible for Etienne.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    WR1: DeVonta Smith, Alabama

    Spoiler alert: DeVonta Smith is merely the first of five Alabama players on our All-American squad. That Nick Saban fella sure does sign some good recruits.

    We've belabored this point many times over the past few months, but it's preposterous that Alabama produced the first two wide receivers taken in the 2020 NFL draft, yet still has the star who led the team in receiving yards (1,256) and touchdowns (14) last year.

    It wasn't a situation where teams were saying, "Oh, we need to worry about Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III" and forgetting about Smith, either. Derek Stingley Jr. was on Smith throughout the game against LSU when he went for 213 yards and two scores. This man is an elite route runner who should continue to thrive in spite of a change at quarterback and a much less loaded Alabama WR depth chart. 

               

    WR2: Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

    Tylan Wallace averaged 6.6 receptions per game and 114.7 yards per game as a sophomore, and he was putting up nearly identical numbers (6.6 and 112.9, respectively) when he suffered a torn ACL in late October last season. In fact, he has had 20 consecutive games with at least four receptions and 62 yards, accounting for 20 total touchdowns during that streak.

    If he can regain that pre-injury form, Oklahoma State might have the most potent offense in the country. The Cowboys were already quite good in that regard last year with a redshirt freshman at quarterback for most of the season. Now that Spencer Sanders has some experience, this offense should really take off considering all five team leaders in total offense are back.

            

    TE: Charlie Kolar, Iowa State

    Tight ends have gone the way of the dinosaur in a lot of offenses these days, but Iowa State has a great blocker/receiver in Charlie Kolar.

    Brock Purdy's favorite 6'6" target finished last season with 51 receptions for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. And with wide receivers Deshaunte Jones and La'Michael Pettway out of the picture, Kolar might get even more looks in 2020.

    Kolar particularly stands out from the crowd in the Big 12, where no other returning tight end had so much as 20 receptions or 200 yards in 2019.

Offensive Line

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    OT1: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

    Alex Leatherwood was a backup tackle as a true freshman three years ago, started at right guard throughout the 2018 season and then bounced back out to left tackle last year and was one of the best in the nation. And it certainly couldn't have been easy, blocking for the left-handed Tua Tagovailoa until his first injury, then the right-handed Mac Jones for a bit and then back and forth again. Didn't much matter to Leatherwood, though, and he's ready to anchor that elite OL once again. 

              

    OT2: Samuel Cosmi, Texas

    Samuel Cosmi started at right tackle for almost the entire 2018 season before moving over to left tackle last season for the nearly impossible task of protecting Sam Ehlinger's blind side. (Nearly impossible because that dude loves to scramble.) But Cosmi was sensational in that role and is back for more in 2020. Oregon's Penei Sewell is the best offensive tackle still technically on a college football roster, but Cosmi is arguably the best one suiting up this fall.

              

    OG1: Trey Smith, Tennessee

    Trey Smith started all 12 games of his true freshman season (2017) and the first seven of the following year before blood clots put his career in jeopardy. He came back last season, though, moved from left tackle to left guard and was perhaps the best run-blocker in the countryeven though Tennessee didn't run that well as a team. His decision to return as a senior for a team that finished 2019 on a six-game winning streak was a huge one.

           

    OG2: Luke Fortner, Kentucky

    Lynn Bowden Jr. got all of the attention for transitioning from wide receiver to quarterback, but the offensive line also deserves a ton of credit for keeping Kentucky competitive in the SEC despite essentially playing without a quarterback. The Wildcats averaged 350 rushing yards per game over their final eight contests, and that wouldn't have been possible without guys like starting right guard Luke Fortner. According to his Kentucky bio, Fortner had no missed assignments, only allowed one sack and only committed one penalty in the entire 2019 season.

            

    C: Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma

    Oklahoma is going through quite a few changes on offense. New quarterback. New No. 1 rusher and No. 1 receiver. But at least the Sooners have this linchpin to hold everything together. Assuming Creed Humphrey declares for the 2021 NFL draft (he's only a redshirt junior, and this year doesn't count against anyone's eligibility clock anyway), he's a mortal lock to be the first center taken. And it's at least partially due to his mammoth presence in the middle of the OL that just about everyone is penciling the Sooners in for another trip to the College Football Playoff.

Defensive Line

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    DE1: Quincy Roche, Miami

    Quincy Roche is the lone transfer on the list, but if he's anywhere near as good at Miami as he was at Temple, those ACC quarterbacks better keep their heads on a swivel. Roche had 13.0 sacks in 2019, 10 of which came in the final four games of the regular season. He now has 26.0 sacks in his college career, and the transition from AAC to ACC doesn't figure to be a problem. In five career games against 2020 ACC teams (BC, Duke, GT, UNC and Notre Dame), Roche recorded 28 tackles and 4.0 sacks.

           

    DE2: Chris Rumph II, Duke

    Gotta love a guy who finishes strong, and Chris Rumph II got more than half of his sacks last season in its final game. In a contest where the two sides combined for 15 sacks, Rumph got to Miami's quarterback 3.5 times and forced a fumble. Now we see if he can build on that. Rumph also had three tackles for loss against North Carolina and four against Middle Tennessee State. Doing it more consistently this year could turn into a first-round draft grade.

                

    DT1: Marvin Wilson, Florida State

    There are quite a few "How is that guy still playing college football?" stars from the 2017 recruiting class, but Marvin Wilson is probably the best of that bunch. He only played in nine games last season due to a hand injury, yet that was enough for him to rack up 44 tackles, 5.0 sacks and four passes defended. This big man is quite the menace in the trenches.

            

    DT2: Tyler Davis, Clemson

    Tyler Davis had 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season, and he will be flanked by talented big men. It isn't nearly the ridiculous defensive line that Clemson had back in 2017-18, but K.J. Henry and Justin Foster are more than capable at the defensive end spots. And true freshman Bryan Bresee is going to make immediate waves alongside Davis at defensive tackle.

    Worth nothing: Not only are all four of our defensive linemen from the ACC, but Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr. also was next-closest to making the cut, and Miami's Gregory Rousseau and Pitt's Jaylen Twyman certainly would have made the list if they hadn't opted out. Given the lack of particularly noteworthy offensive linemen in the ACC, it should be a conference season loaded with tackles for loss.

Linebacker

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    LB1: Dylan Moses, Alabama

    A torn ACL ended Dylan Moses' junior season before it had a chance to begin, but he was so impactful in 2018 that he is still expected to be one of the best linebackers in the nation in spite of that year away from the field.

    For both Moses and Joshua McMillon, last season was most likely going to be their final one in college, but their injuries opened the door for both Christian Harris and Shane Lee to flourish as freshmen. Now all four return for what should be a ridiculously dominant linebacker corps.

              

    LB2: Nick Bolton, Missouri

    Nick Bolton made an early splash in his first season as a starter. In Week 2 against West Virginia, he tallied 10 total tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. But it was after senior leader Cale Garrett suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 6 that Bolton really started to shine. He averaged better than 10 tackles per game the rest of the way and ended the season with seven passes defended.

               

    LB3: Chazz Surratt, North Carolina

    A few years ago, Iowa State's Joel Lanning successfully made the unusual transition from starting quarterback to star linebacker. Last season, Chazz Surratt did the same, darn near leading the ACC in total tackles in his first year as a collegiate defender. Surratt also had 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He will be the defensive leader of a Tar Heels team that should finish a season ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Defensive Back

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    CB1: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

    As a true freshman, Derek Stingley Jr. was one of the most valuable players for the undefeated national champions. He had six interceptions and 15 other passes defended, including a pair of picks in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.

    As a sophomore, Stingley is just about the only returning starter left for LSU. It will be interesting to see if teams test him at all or just avoid throwing anywhere near his sideline. The Tigers do still have JaCoby Stevens at safety, too, so it's not like the other two-thirds of the field will just be free passing yards.

              

    CB2: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

    Like Stingley at LSU, expect SEC quarterbacks to try to avoid Patrick Surtain II at all costs. This highly touted prospect was also a starter for the majority of his true freshman year (2018) and has broken up more than his fair share of passes over the past two seasons. Surtain has also forced four fumbles in his career, which is quite the bonus feature for a lockdown corner.

              

    S1: Richard LeCounte III, Georgia

    Richard LeCounte III's decision to return for his senior season was a big win for an already excellent defense. The Bulldogs led the nation at 12.6 points allowed per game last season, and that should remain the case this year. Over the past two seasons, LeCounte has accounted for five interceptions, five fumble recoveries, four fumbles forced and 5.5 tackles for loss. He doesn't have many box-score bonanzas, if you will, but he makes a tangible impact in every game.

             

    S2: Andre Cisco, Syracuse

    Last year, Syracuse brought back two players (Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson) who recorded 10 sacks in 2018, as well as a defensive back (Andre Cisco) who led the nation in interceptions as a freshman. However, the defense took a step backward because the pass-rushers weren't as potent and because Cisco missed a few games with an injury.

    Nevertheless, Cisco picked off another five passes and is now up to 12 interceptions (and 14 other passes defended) in his college career. The most recent player to reach 20 career interceptions was Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith in 2008. It's unlikely he gets there this year, but Cisco could join that club if he comes back in 2021, too.

Special Teams

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    K: Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma

    With an honorable mention to Wake Forest's near-perfect Nick Sciba (47-47 XP, 24-25 FG), we've got to go with the Oklahoma redshirt freshman who didn't miss a single kick last season. Gabe Brkic was a perfect 52-52 on extra-point attempts and hit each of his 17 field-goal attempts. That includes the game-winning field goal against Baylor during the regular season, and another three field goals in the Big 12 Championship Game overtime victory over the Bears.

              

    P: Max Duffy, Kentucky

    Max Duffy led the nation in yards per punt last season with an average distance of 48.1 yards. And in spite of those field-flipping boots, Kentucky's punt-coverage team was solid. Against South Carolina, Duffy punted nine times, averaging 51.1 yards, and the Gamecocks had negative-two punt-return yards. Strangely enough, nearly half of the 95 yards the Wildcats allowed all season on punt returns came on a 42-yarder by FCS foe UT-Martinon a 56-yard punt that was fielded at the 3-yard line, no less.

            

    AP: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

    Speaking of punt returns, no one does that better than Jaylen Waddle. Alabama's speedster had 20 punt returns for 487 yards last year, as well as five kick returns for 175 yards. Thus far in his career, Waddle has scored three touchdowns on special teams. Considering he is also moving up to No. 2 on the WR depth chart, there's a good chance he leads the nation in all-purpose yards this year.

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