AP All-America Watch: West Virginia's 'Touchdown Jesus;' Auburn's surging RB
By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Associated Press has been honoring college football’s best with an All-America team since 1925. This season, the AP released its first preseason All-America team and its first midseason team. The full three-team All-America selections are unveiled in December. The ninth installment of the weekly All-America watch features West Virginia’s “Touchdown Jesus,” Auburn’s surging workhorse and Washington State’s “Continent.”
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma is going to be tough to beat for the first-team quarterback spot when the AP All-America team comes out in December. But there are second and third teams, and the shaggy, swashbuckling Grier should be in the mix for some recognition. The Florida transfer nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus” is second in the country in TD passes with 34 and ranks in the top 10 of just about every significant quarterback stat.
What they are saying: “I don’t know if I’ve been around a guy that’s as accurate. We chart drops; we chart bad throws; we chart bad decisions. He just doesn’t have many of them.” — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Outlook: Grier still has a couple of games against big-name opponents left: Texas this week and at Oklahoma the last day of the regular season where he can go throw-for-throw with Mayfield.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
Johnson missed a couple games early in the season with a hamstring injury, but has been rolling since getting healthy. He has cracked 100 yards rushing in five of the last six games, and against Georgia last Saturday the junior had 233 yards from scrimmage to lead the Tigers to a runaway victory. His late-season surge is reminiscent of Tre Mason’s in 2013, which helped Auburn reach the BCS championship game. Johnson was supposed to share carries this season with 235-pound Kamryn Pettway, but injuries and suspensions have made it rare for them both to be available to Gus Malzahn. Johnson has carried the full load, averaging 27 carries the last six games.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The running room just hasn’t been there for Barkley and the junior looks as if he has responded by trying to force things. He has 142 yards rushing on 49 carries, 2.9 per rush, over his last three games and he hasn’t been involved much in the passing game. The Nittany Lions have done a pretty good job of taking advantage of all the attention on Barkley, but they finish the season with games against Nebraska and Maryland — two terrible run defenses — so don’t be surprised if there is a breakout coming.
GROUP OF FIVE STAR
Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
Gallup leads the country in yards receiving with 118 per game after 11 catches for 102 and a score against Boise State last week. The 6-foot-1 senior from Georgia is no system guy, piling up numbers in a high-volume passing offense. He has NFL ability and was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award this week.
ON THE LINE
(Former Auburn offensive lineman and SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic identifies an o-lineman worth watching)
Cody O’Connell, OG, Washington State
The senior nicknamed “Continent” uses his mammoth frame (6-8, 344) to maul defenders. Even in the Cougars’ Air Raid offense, O’Connell seeks out contact and delivers regular punishment.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan vs. Beau Benzschawel, OG, Wisconsin
Hurst has been on the short list of best defensive players in the country this season. He is the anchor of Michigan’s top-five defense and, according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings, no defensive tackle in the country has pressured the quarterback more often. Hurst often lines up over the center, which could be a problem for the Badgers because starting center Tyler Biadasz is banged up. Benzschawel, one of the best guards in the country, will no doubt be asked to at the least provide assistance. He might be one of the few offensive linemen in the country that could be trusted to take on Hurst one-on-one.
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