Headlining my 2012 Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Offensive All-America ballot is my Outland Trophy nominee, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. Jones will leave Tuscaloosa one of the greatest lineman to ever touch fingers to the line of the scrimmage, having played all five positions in his career.
This season, Jones operates at center. He’s also something of an extension of the coaching staff onto the field, evident in his suggestion of the play that sunk LSU in Week 10.
“Whether Barrett Jones was a football player or not, I think he would be one of the finest people anybody in this room or anywhere else would have the opportunity to meet,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban in a press release. “He would be one of the finest players I ever had the opportunity to coach. And someday, somebody’s going to stand up and say that he’s one of the five best people that I ever met that impacted my life for me when they get older. He has all the right stuff. If we were still trying to get to the moon, he’d be my first nomination to be the astronaut to get us there.”
Jones won the 2011 Outland Trophy, and he is my nominee for the 2012 installment of this award, presented to the nation’s best interior lineman.
- Barrett Jones, Alabama
- Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
A cornerstone of Oregon’s FBS leading 54.8 point per game is this unlikely contributor, redshirt freshman Tyler Johnstone. Johnstone’s stepped in at tackle to neutralize blitzes and give quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner room to operate.
- Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
Lane Taylor’s started 46 games in his career at Oklahoma State, and been an unsung hero of the Cowboys’ explosive, spread offense. This season, OSU has surrendered just nine sacks to rank No. 4 nationally.
- Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
For all the turmoil the Vols have endured these season, the offensive line has been a rock — one of the best in the nation, really. Tennessee’s front five has given Tyler Bray ample opportunity to thrive, allowing just five sacks all season. Five! And bear in mind, that’s against the standout talent in the SEC.
Pretty impressive, and several Vols could garner national attention. Dallas Thomas has wowed scouts with his play on the interior of the Tennessee front five.
- Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
The legend of Johnny Football has been cultivated with those around the redshirt freshman quarterback Manziel. One of the premiere offensive lines sets the foundation for a 43.1 point per game offense defying all expectations of the spread in the SEC. Luke Joeckel is the star of the Aggie front and often lines up against the cream of the SEC defensive end crop.
TIGHT END: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Washington’s passing offense has flowed largely through Austin Seferian-Jenkins. At 731 yards, he leads the Huskies in receiving and is just one reception and one touchdown behind Kasen Williams for most on the roster.
No tight end accounts for more receiving yards anywhere in college football than Seferian-Jenkins. He’s carving out a niche as one of the all-time greats in Husky history — and that’s a significant measure, given the university’s tight end track record.
- DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Clemson spent the season’s first few weeks without 2011 breakout star Sammy Watkins, but the offense missed zero beats. Not only did DeAndre Hopkins keep the Tiger passing attack humming along without Watkins, Hopkins emerged as its No. 1 weapon. He’s caught for nearly 1100 yards and averages in the top 10 for yards per game, but perhaps more impressive are his 14 touchdowns this season. That’s more than Baylor’s Terrance Williams or Heisman candidate Marqise Lee.
- Marqise Lee, USC
Marqise Lee is a transcendent style of wide receiver. He’s lightning quick and elusive, but not merely a slot receiver. He can go around the edges, up the middle, in the air, whereever, and the result is typically the same: a reception for big yards.
He heads into Saturday’s rivalry tilt at UCLA with an opportunity to set numerous NCAA records.
Marqise Lee needs 14 catches, 86 yards + 4 touchdowns to break the all-time Pac-12 records for a single season
— Pedro Moura (@PedroMoura) November 15, 2012
- Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Oregon’s uptempo offense has any number of stars, but none shines brighter than Kenjon Barner. The senior has finally had the opportunity to emerge as the premiere rushing option after supplementing LaMichael James the last two years, and the Ducks have flourished. Barner has rushed for 19 touchdowns, tied for second most in the nation, and has 1360 yards on just 199 attempts.
Barner is also a reliable option in the passing attack with 18 receptions and a touchdown.
- Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Arizona’s surprising run to bowl eligibility has come largely on the legs of sophomore Ka’Deem Carey. He set a Pac-12 rushing record against Colorado, going off for 366 yards, but even before abusing the hapless Buffaloes was rolling off over 100 yards almost every week. Read more about my nomination of Carey here.
QUARTERBACK: Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech
The most narrow limb on which I went was spurning Heisman front runners Collin Klein and Johnny Manziel for Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron. All three are worthy of commendations for incredible seasons. Klein is leading K-State to BCS championship dreams, and Manziel is doing things a very, very limited few freshmen have before him.
Cameron is making history of his own. Playing in Sonny Dykes’ uptempo offense, the redshirt senior has completed nearly 71 percent of his passes — better than Manziel (67.6) or Klein (69.1), with far more attempts than either; Cameron has thrown just over 400 times, Manziel has 336 and Klein 208.
Most impressive, though, is that Cameron has yet to throw an interception. Should his current pace continue in the Bulldogs’ final two games, Cameron will finish the season with 32 touchdown passes and zero interceptions, which would shatter the NCAA mark for touchdowns-to-interceptions.
Couple that with an 11-1 finish and possible BCS bowl, and Cameron’s season is indeed historic.
PUNTER: Sean Sellwood, Utah
A key to Utah’s stingy defense is the field position punter Sean Sellwood often gives the Utes. Sellwood averages 47.3 yards per attempt, the third highest average among FBS punters. More importantly though, Sellwood has an uncanny knack for pinning kicks inside the 20-yard line and setting up opposing offenses on very long fields.
KICK RETURNER: Dri Archer, Kent State
Dri Archer can change a game’s complexion in an instant. The Kent State all-purpose option is dangerous carrying the ball or receiving it, but his best work comes on special teams. Archer leads the nation with 40 yards per return, regularly setting up the Golden Flashes on short fields — and that’s when he isn’t taking kicks back to the end zone. Archer has three returns for touchdowns on the season.
KICKER: Cairo Santos, Tulane
Cairo Santos stands out among his placekicking brethren as the only perfect field goal kicker. He’s 17-17, including a 57-yarder against Rice.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Kansas State had an exemplory, 10-win season in 2011. But with so many close wins and the element of surprise no longer on the Wildcats’ side, could K-State possibly match its success in 2012?
The answer is a resounding yes, and then some. Bill Snyder is the oldest coach in the nation, and he’s parlayed his experience into plenty of tricks. K-State has an offense that, behind Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Klein, is unique in its conventionality. The Wildcat defense is stingy and one of the nation’s most underrated.
Perhaps most impressive is that Snyder is accomplishing this championship run without highly touted talent. KSU does have some ballyhooed recruits, like Miami recruit Arthur Brown, but the majority of players on the Wildcat roster were under the radar. Punctuating that is the rise of Klein, originally a wide receiver convereted to quarterback out of necessity. Not a bad move, eh?