AP All-America Watch: Kentucky’s big cat; ND’s disruptive DT
The Associated Press has been honoring college football’s best with an All-America team since 1925. This season, the AP released a preseason All-America team and will put out a midseason team. The full three-team AP All-America selections will be unveiled in December. The fourth All-America watch of the season features the speedy ‘Cat for No. 13 Kentucky, a disruptive Notre Dame pass rusher and Oregon’s anchor on the offensive line.
Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats have been one of the country’s most pleasant surprises, off to the programs’ best start since 2007. Snell has been the focal point of a ground-and-pound offense, with a nation-leading 115 carries. The Wildcats average 252 yards rushing per game and Snell accounts for more than half at 127.80, which is good for seventh in the nation. He has eight rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth in the country. Snell is also the face of the Wildcats and their unofficial spokesman, spreading the team’s us-against-the-world message.
What they are saying: “He reminds me of the way Emmitt (Smith) used to run. I mean, Emmitt had the big plays, but he made yards on everything he did.” — Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher.
Outlook: Snell and the Wildcats face maybe their toughest test so far at Texas A&M on Saturday. Kentucky’s success has been built on staying true to its identity, and that means Snell should have plenty more opportunities to make a case for All-American, and maybe the Heisman Trophy.
Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound senior has been disrupting offenses for No. 6 Notre Dame all season, but he went off against Stanford last week. Tillery had a career-best four sacks and now is tied for the national lead with seven. His return for one more year at Notre Dame was one of the reasons why expectations were high for the Fighting Irish this season, and he is delivering on his promise.
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
The marriage of Fitzgerald and new Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead was one of the interesting story lines coming into the season. Mississippi State was a trendy pick to push Alabama in the SEC West, especially if Fitzgerald could develop into a bigger version of Trace McSorley, Moorhead’s quarterback while offensive coordinator at Penn State.
At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds Fitzgerald has always been an effective runner, but his passing needed polish. It still has a ways to go. Fitzgerald is completing 49 percent of his throws and he has the lowest quarterback rating in the SEC at 108.46.
GROUP OF FIVE STAR
John Ursua, WR, Hawaii
The Rainbow Warriors are 5-1, off to their best start since they went unbeaten in the regular season in 2007 — and they are running the same offense. The run-and-shoot has led to some big numbers in the passing game, and no one has been more productive than Ursua. The 5-10, 175-pound junior is second in the nation in catches (8.3 per game) and yards receiving (128.3) and leads the country in touchdowns with 13.
ON THE LINE
(ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, a former guard at Auburn, identifies an offensive lineman playing at an All-America level)
Shane Lemieux, OG, Oregon
The 317-pound junior is in his third season as a starter and a big reason the Ducks are second in the Pac-12 in rushing at 216 yards per game.
“Lemieux has been a surprising physical presence up front for the Ducks. He plays through the whistle and has nice power at the point of attack.” — Cubelic.
Mullen is the best cornerback in a secondary that has been spotty at times and lacking depth. At 6-foot-2, the junior is bound to be a high NFL draft pick. Dortch is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading receiver (45 catches for 555 yards), a 5-9 sophomore coach Dave Clawson likes to use in multiple ways. Mullen probably won’t be able to shadow Dortch, but they are likely to cross paths.