SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/18/2006 12:27:00 PM
Best Players You've Never Seen
Yvenson Bernard ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns (including this one) in an upset victory over Cal.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
I do my best to check in on as many different players and teams from around the country as possible each season, but inevitably there are some that will slip through the cracks. Looking at the various All-America and all-conference teams this preseason, I realized there were several notable performers who, because their team wasn't exactly worth watching last season, I've never seen play. And I'm guessing, unless you’re a fan of one of their teams, you haven't either.
I'm looking forward to checking them out when the season gets under way.
Yvenson Bernard, RB, Oregon State: Bernard finished ninth in the country in rushing as a sophomore (1,321 yards, 13 touchdowns), but he did it for a 5-6 Pac-10 afterthought. If the Beavers get back on the right side of .500 this season, we'll be seeing a lot more of Bernard.
Dan Bazuin, DE, Central Michigan: Bazuin was second only to Louisville's Elvis Dumervil in sacks (16) last season. The last great MAC pass-rusher, Western Michigan’s Jason Babin, put up similar numbers in 2003 and became a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.
Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss: This one I really feel bad about -- I probably should have seen the nation's leading returning tackler (128 in 10 games) at some point last season, but the Rebels were so darn awful. We'll probably be checking them out early for Willis and Brent Schaeffer.
Josh Beekman, G, Boston College: It's not that I didn't see B.C. last season, I just wasn't watching the offensive line. Beekman is drawing raves as a first-team preseason All-America and may wind up the top-rated guard in next spring's draft. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Rafael Little, RB, Kentucky: The junior, who ranked fifth nationally in all-purpose yards last season (180.2 yards per game), has been described as Kentucky's equivalent to Reggie Bush. He's supposed to be extremely exciting to watch – even if it means watching a Kentucky game.
Who are some other stars-in-the-making who you feel have slipped under the radar? As a guideline, don't bother nominating anyone whose team is in the preseason top 25.
Though not an OSU fan (I go to the school down the road, hint hint) I'm familiar enough with the Beavers to say Bernard is the real deal. It will be interesting to see how he fares this season, he may get more carries but I wouldn't be surprised if teams put eight men in the box at times as they key him as Oregon State's major threat on offense now that the seemingly uncoverable Mike Hass is gone to the NFL.
Great article, Stewart. This one could have been several pages longer. There are some guys, like UTEP's Jordan Palmer or UNT's Jamario Thomas that could be included here (since we really don't watch their games), but aren't because they get enough hype already. Others, however, I guess you left out due to space constraints.
How about RB Lynell Hamilton of San Diego State? He was a stud his true freshman year, then redshirted in 2004 and wasn't 100% last season. Now that he's back to form, expect those big numbers from 2003 to return in his Junior year. And the Aztecs have a decent history at cranking out good Running Backs, don't they?
Or there's Marshall's Ahmad Bradshaw. While not the lovechild of Ahmad Rashad and Terry Bradshaw as his name might suggest, the 5' 11" junior was second in the CUSA in rushing yards last year (behind DeAngelo Williams, of course). Expect him to run like crazy in '06. On a side note, expect Marshall to be a lot better this year with a stronger defense and a favorable schedule.
I'll close by mentioning Marcus Monk of Arkansas. While the Razorbacks aren't exacly the worst team in the world, and many are calling them the most improved team in 2006, we haven't heard much about Art's son. Once McFadden returns from his stupid toe injury, you'll see the balance return to this very potent offense. I can't wait to see what new OC Gus Mahlzahn will do with players of this caliber at his disposal.
This was a great column, and there are about a million players who could be listed here. It was just nice to see an article that pays some credit to the guys who don't suit up for the Buckeyes, Trojans, Longhorns, etc... Keep up the good work.
Hill was overshadowed by a poor Washington St. team last year and the great season turned in by Jerome Harrison, but he is a big play waiting to happen. Hill had over 1,000 yards and scored 13 TDs last year and with Wazzu placing a greater emphasis on passing this year, he shoudl easily exceed those totals.
I would have to nominate two players at the University of Toledo, myself. One is Offensive Lineman John Greco, and the other is Wide Reciever Steve Odom.
Greco is a powerhouse and the leadership behind one of the most effective offensive lines in the nation last season, and Odom has a chance to break every single major UT recieving record this season (which would also involve breaking most MAC marks.)
Haruki Nakamura- Safety at the University of Cincinnati is one of the best safeties in college football. Mark Dantonio who has coached some great defensive players at Ohio State feels that Nakamura has real NFL potential.
How about Jason Hill of Washington State? He had over 1,000 yards and 13 TDs last year, despite missing a game and playing hurt in several others. Like Jerome Harrison, he was often forgotten because Wazzu struggled. He thought about heading to the NFL but thought better of it. With his QB (Alex Brink) a year older, and several very talented wideouts on the field to keep defenses honest, he should put up monster numbers again, and he could be a first rounder in '07.
I don't know how many Washington State games you watched, but i guess somewhere between 0 and 1 at the most. Despite the record, some fun players to watch, most of all WR Jason Hill, but also DE Mkristo Bruce, LB Scott Davis and WR/KR Michael Bumpus. the Cougs were in every game last year except for USC, fun to watch and a lot of explosive guys are back. Check 'em out!
Bernard's a good choice, but how about another under the radar Pac-10 running back. Chris Markey is poised to have a breakout year for the Bruins as he'll get the chance to carry the load for UCLA rather than sharing carries with the departed Maurice Jones-Drew.
Josh Beekman? Of BC? You can't be serious. You're just angling for a trip to Boston in September, "to do an up close and personal profile". You want some chowdah and a Red Sox game on SI's dime, and you know if you wait beyond the third game of the season this 3-8 BC squad will be exposed and you'll be stuck in Tuscaloosa or Lubbock or some other God-forsaken place.
James Hardy, WR Indiana- A legit All-America candidate who constantly draws double teams in the Big Ten. This former b-ball player is a great weapon in the red zone too bad the Hoosiers are never there!!