Lynch, Verrett headline All-Two Star (And Fewer) Team
It's easy to get excited about a five-star recruit. He's probably a physical freak. He's probably bigger, faster and/or stronger than most of the college players at his position. Landing such a prospect should stir the blood of any coach or fan.
If that player succeeds, it's no big deal. He was supposed to. If he fails, he'll go down as a bust for the ages. Meanwhile, another large group of players faxed in their National Letters of Intent or accepted a walk-on invitation last week without fanfare. And guess what? Some of those under-the-radar players will be better than some of the five-stars coaches tripped over one another to recruit.
Every year, I select the SI.com All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team, and, every year, the college football recruiting process allows for future greats to slip through the cracks. This isn't always the fault of the coaches. For example, one of the best players on this year's team was a slightly above average high school tailback who just so happened to truly excel after he was permanently moved to cornerback in junior college. Another no-star prospect entered college as a 245-pound defensive end and wound up an All-Conference offensive guard.
You never truly know until they step on the field. That's what makes this team so much fun to select.
• QB Jordan Lynch, Sr., Northern Illinois (Two stars in class of 2009): Like Donovan McNabb years earlier, Lynch ran the Veer at Chicago's Mt. Carmel High. Like McNabb, Lynch was recruited as an athlete by the schools of the Big Ten. Like McNabb, Lynch signed with the school that wanted him to play quarterback. Last year, Lynch threw for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns. With the Huskies returning almost everyone in 2013, Lynch might put up even better numbers.
• RB Mark Weisman, Sr., Iowa (Two stars in class of 2010): Weisman signed with Air Force out of Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Ill., but he only stayed a semester in Colorado Springs. He joined the Hawkeyes as a walk-on fullback and toiled in obscurity until Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God forced Weisman into the starting tailback spot by smiting Marcus Coker, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill, among others. AIRBHG tried to strike down Weisman with an ankle injury, but Weisman fought through and returned to full-time duty for Iowa's final two games. Between being injured and initially being buried on the depth chart, Weisman played the equivalent of about six full games and wound up carrying 159 times for 815 yards and eight touchdowns. He went on scholarship in January.
• RB Dri Archer, Sr., Kent State (Two stars in class of 2009): Archer was 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds coming out of Venice (Fla.) High, but he always had blazing speed. As a junior in 2012, Archer averaged nine yards a carry and 14.4 yards a reception. We'll get to his absurd kickoff return numbers later. Scoff at the fact that he puts up these numbers in the MAC if you'd like. I guarantee there is another coach in Ohio who loves tiny speedsters and would gladly trade for Archer if NCAA rules allowed it.
• TE Kyle Carter, So., Penn State (Two stars in class of 2011): Carter was one of the biggest beneficiaries when coach Bill O'Brien yanked Penn State's offense out of the dark ages. Playing the "F" tight end -- the same position Aaron Hernandez plays for the New England Patriots -- Carter was the second leading receiver for the Nittany Lions despite missing the final two games after injuring his wrist. Carter initially signed with Penn State over Delaware and Bucknell. Everyone else missed out.
• WR Jared Abbrederis, Sr., Wisconsin (Zero stars in class of 2009): This former walk-on makes his second appearance on the team after leading the Badgers in receiving and being named first-team All-Big Ten in a year of terrible quarterback uncertainty. Abbrederis played quarterback and ran track at Wautoma (Wis.) High. He originally planned to walk on to the Wisconsin track team, but Badgers football coaches offered a walk-on spot shortly before preseason camp. Abbrederis accepted and grew into one of the Big Ten's best receivers.
• WR Tevin Reese, Sr., Baylor (Two stars in class of 2010): The scouts all came to Temple (Texas) High to watch a class of 2010 standout make highlight-reel plays. Not Reese, though. They came to see Reese's Baylor teammate, Lache Seastrunk, a five-star recruit who originally signed with Oregon. Reese, a skinny 160-pounder in high school, wowed Baylor coaches at a camp during the summer of 2009 and committed after receiving a quick offer. It was the only offer he reported. In 2012, Reese was Baylor's second-leading receiver, averaging 18.1 yards a catch.
• OT Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State (Two stars in class of 2009): Playing at Edna Karr High in New Orleans, Lucas dreamed of playing for LSU. But no offer came from Baton Rouge for Lucas, who stood 6-8 and weighed 275 pounds as a high school senior. Kansas State was the only AQ-conference program to offer Lucas, and he ended up the starting left tackle for the 2012 Big 12 champ.
• OG Spencer Long, Sr., Nebraska (Zero stars in class of 2009): Long and his brother, Jake, had no scholarship offers when they finished their careers at Elkhorn (Neb.) High, so they joined the heralded walk-on program at Nebraska. Spencer arrived as undersized defensive end and worked his way onto the starting offensive line. In 2012, he was named a second-team All-America by The Associated Press. "We don't recruit too many 245-pound, scholarship offensive linemen, but now Spencer is a 305-pound, scholarship offensive lineman," Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told the Lincoln Journal-Star last year. "Nobody has a crystal ball [showing] what an 18 year old turns into when he's 21. We're fortunate we're going to have Spencer for three years up front."
• C B.J. Finney, Jr., Kansas State (Two stars in class of 2010): Finney, who makes his second appearance on the team, had an offer from Ohio, but the Andale, Kan., native turned it down to walk on at Kansas State. He played his way into a starting job and a scholarship, and in 2012 he was named a captain.
• OG Jarvis Harrison, Sr., Texas A&M (Two stars in class of 2010): Harrison, from Navasota, Texas, didn't choose a school until about two weeks after National Signing Day. Unlike many recruits who need to achieve a qualifying standardized test score, Harrison didn't want to choose a school until he had a qualifying score in hand. When he hit the mark, he received an offer from then-Aggies coach Mike Sherman. In 2012, Harrison was a key cog in one of the nation's best offensive lines.
• OT John Urschel, Sr., Penn State (Two stars in class of 2009): I know Urschel is a guard, but the country happens to be loaded with guards who were underappreciated coming out of high school -- and I couldn't bear to leave Urschel off the list. Besides, if anyone can learn to play tackle quickly, it's Urschel. The Mathematics grad student has maintained a 4.0 grade point average at the college level. A guy who can get a paper called "Instabilities of the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem" published in an online journal called Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy can adapt to a new position. Heck, after a few weeks he could probably teach the position. We know Urschel can lead the class, too. He also teaches a section of a trigonometry and analytic geometry class for Penn State undergraduates.
• DE Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford (Two stars in class of 2009): Gardner makes a repeat appearance after declining to enter the NFL draft to chase a second consecutive Pac-12 title at Stanford. Gardner finished 2012 tied for second on the Cardinal in tackles for loss with 14.5. His biggest stop came in the Rose Bowl when he stuffed Wisconsin's James White on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter in a game where points were precious. Gardner, from Mequon, Wis., will now have to spend the rest of his life apologizing to the people of his home state for helping deny the Badgers a Rose Bowl title.
• DT Nikita Whitlock, Sr., Wake Forest (Two stars in class of 2009): Whitlock struggled with an ankle injury for much of last season, but he remains the best pound-for-pound nose tackle in the country. He's listed at 5-11 and 260 pounds, but he told SI.com last season that he's actually 5-9, 250. "It's a bit of a height and weight disadvantage, most people would say," Whitlock said. "I'd call it an advantage." For anyone who just wasn't big enough to star on the football field, it's a blast to watch Whitlock dominate against players who outweigh him by 75 pounds.
• DT Wade Keliikipi, Sr., Oregon (Two stars in class of 2009): Keliikipi also struggled with an ankle injury in 2012, but the Hawaiian lineman is a favorite among his fellow defenders for his ability to clog gaps and allow linebackers to make plays. Keliikipi won't post gaudy stats, but he will make life miserable for opposing backs looking for an opening.
• DE Tyler Scott, Sr., Northwestern (Two stars in class of 2009): Northwestern was the only AQ-conference program to offer the 230-pound linebacker from Warren, Ohio. When he committed, Scott told Rivals.com he probably would have to put on weight and move to the defensive line. That's precisely what he did. Scott is now a 265-pound defensive end, and in 2012 he was named the Wildcats' defensive MVP after leading the team with nine sacks.
• LB Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah (Two stars in class of 2006): Reilly starred at linebacker at San Diego's Valley Central High, but his first scholarship offer came after a coach saw Reilly playing another sport. That coach was Mike Leach, and that sport was rugby. Reilly noticed Leach, then Texas Tech's coach, in the crowd and gave him a football game tape. Leach and his staff liked what they saw, and they signed Reilly. But before he enrolled at Texas Tech, Reilly served a Mormon mission in Sweden. When he returned, he joined the Utes. Reilly now starts at Stud linebacker, a hybrid position that requires him to play on the line of scrimmage in a 3-4 look and at strongside linebacker in a 4-3 look.
• LB Khalil Mack, Sr., Buffalo (Two stars in class of 2009): Mack, another repeat selection, owns the Buffalo school records for tackles for loss (56) and forced fumbles (11). He considered entering the NFL draft, but he decided to return for his senior season at the urging of Bulls coach Jeff Quinn. In 2012, Mack led Buffalo with 94 tackles and eight sacks.
• LB Denzel Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss (Zero stars in class of 2011): Nkemdiche faced a double-whammy coming out of Grayson High in Loganville, Ga. He was small for a safety, and he was academically iffy. That scared most schools away, but Houston Nutt's staff at Ole Miss kept recruiting the 198-pounder. When Nkemdiche met the NCAA's academic standards, Ole Miss signed him. Nutt's staff redshirted him, but Hugh Freeze's staff made Nkemdiche a way-too-small linebacker. Nkemdiche responded by leading the Rebels in tackles (82) and tackles for loss (13). Oh, and we hear his little brother is pretty good, too.
• CB Jason Verrett, Sr., TCU (Zero stars in class of 2009): Sure, Verrett was a three-star recruit coming out of Santa Rosa Junior College, but when he graduated from Rodriguez High in Fairfield, Calif., he had no stars. Verrett played tailback in high school, and he was good, but not good enough to draw any serious offers. So he elected to go to junior college to raise his recruiting profile. There, the coaching staff suggested he move to cornerback. He grayshirted in 2009 and then played one year for Santa Rosa in 2010. That was enough to convince TCU coach Gary Patterson that Verrett deserved a scholarship. The zero-star recruit has turned into one of the nation's best cornerbacks. In 2012, he was an SI.com first-team All-America.
• S Hakeem Smith, Sr., Louisville (Two stars in class of 2009): Smith becomes the first player to notch a third appearance on the All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team, meaning we probably will have to retire his jersey when he exhausts his eligibility. Smith has been excellent since he first set foot on the field for the Cardinals as a redshirt freshman in 2010. In 2013, he'll help lead a loaded team that will be favored to win a second consecutive Big East title and will open the season as a dark horse national title contender.
• S Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State (Two stars in class of 2010): Darby overcame a tough upbringing in Long Beach, Calif., to get to Tempe, and he has made the most of the opportunity. He won a starting job as a sophomore, and as a junior, he was named second-team All-Pac-12.
• CB Darqueze Dennard, Sr., Michigan State (Two stars in class of 2010): Dennard earned a spot on the team for a second consecutive year by being named first-team All-Big Ten by the league's coaches in 2012. Dennard has emerged as a shutdown corner even though most coaches didn't think he was capable of playing at an AQ-conference level. He had offers from Middle Tennessee State and Utah State before the Spartans came in with a late offer after Christian Bryant committed to Ohio State.
• P Will Monday, So., Duke (Two stars in class of 2011): Monday actually was highly ranked as a punter, but punters not named Brad Wing rarely get their due from the recruiting services. Monday averaged more than 44 yards a punt and was named first-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman, but the highlight of his season came when he Belked the ball 79 yards in the Belk Bowl.
• K Cairo Santos, Sr., Tulane (Two stars in class of 2010): The 2012 Lou Groza Award finalist came to the United States from Brazil as an exchange student hoping to learn English. When he wound up the kicker at St. Joseph's Academy in St. Augustine, Fla., he decided to stay a little longer. Last year, Santos made all 21 of his field goal attempts, becoming only the second kicker in FBS history to put together a perfect season with 20 or more field goal attempts.
• KR Dri Archer, Sr., Kent State (Two stars in class of 2009): I promised I'd offer one more set of eye-popping Archer stats, and here it is: Archer averaged 36.9 yards a kickoff return last season with three kicks returned for touchdowns. Why didn't he lead the nation in kickoff returns? Teams stopped kicking to him, and with only 16 returns in 14 games, he didn't meet the minimum of 1.2 returns a game.
• PR Scott Harding, Jr., Hawaii (Zero stars in class of 2011): This 26 year old played six seasons of professional Australian Rules Football before opting to leave his native country to walk on at Hawaii. Harding averaged 12.83 yards a punt return last season while also playing receiver, holder and ambidextrous punter.