November 14, 2011
As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, one of the unique things I get to do is provide input on the organization’s All-American Team. I thought I’d share my ballot for the defensive side of the ball as well as some brief insight on the selections. Part II next week will take a look at my ballot for the offensive side.
Whitney Mercilus (Illinois): Mercilus leads the nation in sacks with 12 ½ and should be a candidate for several defensive Player of the Year awards. After a 6-0 start, Illinois has lost their past four games, though, and that could derail his chances a bit. Still, he’s a no-brainer for a spot on my first team.
Vinny Curry (Marshall): Curry comes in second in sacks with 10 ½ and with 12 last year, has quietly put together two good seasons for the Thundering Herd.
Jamie Blatnick (Oklahoma State): Blatnick leads the defense for the No. 2 ranked Cowboys and is a big reason they could play for a National Championship. He has seven sacks and an interception on the season and will be playing on Sundays.
Andre Branch (Clemson): The Tigers have come out of nowhere and are ranked in the top ten, largely due to the efforts of Branch. His 58 tackles rank near the top for defensive ends and a huge four-sack effort against Virginia Tech was one of the better defensive performances this season.
Luke Kuechly (Boston College): Kuechly not only leads the nation in tackles with 168, but is on pace to break the NCAA’s single season record. He is looking like the best linebacker in the country right now and one of the top defensive players in the nation.
Zach Brown (North Carolina): Brown is one of those indispensable players who might not get a lot of credit, but he’s always around the ball. On the season for the Tarheels, he’s got 71 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He’s not a leader in any major category, but does a lot of different things. Simply put, he makes plays.
Sammy Brown (Houston): Brown has missed two games and is still in second in sacks for linebackers this season with 9 ½. He’s recorded at least one in every game he’s suited up for this season except the opener against UCLA and is unquestionably the leader of the undefeated Cougars’ defense.
David Amerson (North Carolina State): Amerson’s ten interceptions lead the FBS and he’s a serious threat to return it to the house with three returns greater than 25 yards. He returned one for a touchdown in a big road win at Virginia this season.
Nigel Malone (Kansas State): Malone is second in the nation in interceptions and is leading the way for the surprising 8-2 Wildcats. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and Malone picked him off in a game this season. Twice.
Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma): Jefferson is a do-it-all type of defensive back for the Sooners. He had a three-interception game earlier this season against Ball State and also has three sacks and a forced fumble this year. As a sophomore, he’s only going to get better, too.
Tyrann Mathieu (LSU): Don’t be fooled by Mathieu’s relatively unspectacular stats. Quarterbacks fear him like the plague, meaning he doesn’t get a lot of chances for picks. He’s a staple on No. 1 ranked LSU’s defense and had interceptions in big wins against West Virginia and Florida this season. Mathieu has also forced three fumbles this season – two in the season opening win against highly-ranked Oregon.