Mid-season All-American watch list
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com
With the first half of the 2013 season in the rearview mirror, it's time to unveil the ESPN.com Midseason All-America team.
Some of the midseason All-Americans were expected to be here: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, to name a few.
But there also were some breakout stars in the first seven weeks of the season: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
Here's the ESPN.com Midseason All-America team:
Quarterback | Oregon
Who didn't believe Oregon's offense would slip without coach Chip Kelly? Mariota, a sophomore from Honolulu, has been even better under new coach Mark Helfrich, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,724 yards with 17 touchdowns, while running for 426 yards with eight scores for the No. 2 Ducks. He leads FBS players with a 97.0 QBR rating. Even better: Mariota hasn't thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts and has been sacked only five times in six games. The trigger man in the country's most explosive offense looks like the guy to beat in the Heisman Trophy race.
Running back | Wisconsin
Is there a better home run threat in the backfield than Gordon? He's averaging nearly a first down (9.7 yards) per carry and his 13 career touchdowns have averaged 35.8 yards per play. Gordon ran for 140 yards or more in five of the No. 25 Badgers' six games this season and already has piled up 870 yards with eight touchdowns. Gordon has three runs longer than 70 yards and seven longer than 30. If Gordon, a sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., didn't share carries with James White (88 atttempts) and Corey Clement (48), he'd probably lead FBS players in rushing by a wide margin.
Running back | Washington
Sankey, a junior from Spokane, Wash., was the No. 20 Huskies' workhorse in the first half of the season, carrying the ball 159 times in six games, more than any other FBS player. He leads FBS with 149.8 rushing yards per game and has 899 yards with nine touchdowns. Sankey was at his best in Washington's biggest games, running for 453 yards with six touchdowns against Boise State, Stanford and Oregon. He was the first player to run for more than 100 yards against the Cardinal and Ducks, and ran for more than 100 yards in nine of his past 11 games dating to last season.
Wide receiver | Texas A&M
Evans, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Galveston, Texas, might be the most difficult matchup in college football. Just ask Alabama, which watched Evans catch seven passes for 279 yards with one touchdown in the Crimson Tide's 49-42 victory over the Aggies on Sept. 14. Evans' receiving yards total broke a Texas A&M single-game record that had stood since 1965. Quarterback Johnny Manziel's favorite target had 32 catches for 737 yards with five touchdowns in the first six games and ranks sixth among FBS players with 122.8 yards per game. Evans is averaging a whopping 23 yards per catch.
Wide receiver | Oregon State
Cooks, a junior from Stockton, Calif., has been the main beneficiary of quarterback Sean Mannion's torrid start to the season. Cooks leads FBS players in receiving yards (944), receiving touchdowns (11), receiving yards per game (157.3) and receptions per game (10.5). He had more than 135 receiving yards in five of the first six games, including 210 yards with three touchdowns in a 51-48 overtime win at Utah on Sept. 14.
Tight end | Florida State
O'Leary's grandfather, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, knew a thing or two about performing under pressure. O'Leary, a junior from Palm Beach, Fla., might have ice water in his veins, too. All but two of O'Leary's 11 catches in No. 5 Florida State's first five games were for touchdowns or first downs. He has 11 receptions for 132 yards with five touchdowns. O'Leary scored three touchdowns in the Seminoles' 41-13 win at Pittsburgh in their Sept. 2 opener and then two more in a 63-0 rout of Maryland on Oct. 5. He needs one more touchdown catch to tie the FSU career record for a tight end.
Tackle | Texas A&M
After moving from right tackle to left tackle, where he replaced former Aggies All-American Luke Joeckel, Matthews has become Manziel's security blanket on his blind side. And blocking for Johnny Football isn't easy because he's so unpredictable. Matthews has made 39 consecutive starts and anchors an offensive line that sets the stage for the No. 3 offense (586.5 yards) and No. 4 scoring offense (47.8 points) among FBS schools. He was at his best against Arkansas pass-rushing specialist Chris Smith on Sept. 28, limiting him to one tackle and a half-sack.
Guard | Baylor
Whether Richardson is opening holes for Lache Seastrunk or helping protect quarterback Bryce Petty, he's usually working quickly. The No. 12 Bears averaged 76.4 plays in their first five games, piling up 714.4 yards per game, tops in the country. The fact that Richardson, 6-5 and 335 pounds, is able to keep up is a tribute to his conditioning. He is physical enough and strong enough to overpower opponents in the interior line, but he was also athletic enough to protect Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III's blind side as left tackle in 2011.
Center | Oregon
Grasu, a junior from Los Angeles, is the glue of Oregon's offensive line and perhaps the entire team. He anchors a unit that paves the way for the country's No. 2 offense (630.5 yards), No. 2 scoring offense (56.8 points) and No. 3 rushing offense (324 yards). The Ducks have surrendered only five sacks in six games -- the offensive line's goal is to allow fewer than 10 this season -- and they're hardly a finesse offense. Oregon is averaging 5.4 rushing yards on plays of third-and-3 or less and 9.4 yards on plays of third-and-4 to third-and-6.
Guard | Stanford
The returning All-American is one of the best available NFL draft prospects on one of the country's best offensive lines. After playing tackle and guard last season, Yankey has moved to left guard full time this year. The No. 13 Cardinal love running behind him and are averaging 199 rushing yards per game. In a 42-28 win over Arizona State on Sept. 21, Yankey went nose-to-nose with Sun Devils tackle Will Sutton and limited him to six tackles without a sack. The Cardinal have allowed seven sacks in six games.
Tackle | Florida State
When FSU coach Jimbo Fisher persuaded Erving to move from defensive tackle to offensive tackle two years ago, he told the then-sophomore that he'd make millions in the NFL as a pass protector. In Erving's second season at the position, Fisher might want to collect a commission on Erving's NFL signing bonus. Erving, a 6-5, 310-pound junior, has spent the past two seasons protecting the blind side of quarterbacks E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston. In FSU's 63-0 win over Maryland on Oct. 5, Erving held Terps defensive end Marcus Whitfield, who has 5½ sacks this season, to only two tackles.
Defensive line | Clemson
We knew the No. 3 Tigers would be really explosive on offense with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins coming back to run offensive coordinator Chad Morris' spread attack. But we didn't know Clemson would be so much better on defense. The Tigers are allowing only 16.2 points per game, and Beasley's pressure off the edge is a big reason for the dramatic improvement. He leads FBS players with nine sacks and is tied for first with 12 unassisted tackles for loss. He was averaging a sack every 25 plays before last week's win over Boston College.
Defensive line | Pittsburgh
Who's the active sack leader in college football? Probably not the guy you believe. Donald, a homegrown senior from Pittsburgh, leads FBS players in both sacks per game (1.6) and tackles for loss per game (2.4), totaling eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss in five games. He has at least one sack in every game this season and is the FBS active career sack leader with 26½, which is tied for fourth in Pittsburgh history.
Defensive line | Missouri
Why are the No. 14 Tigers so much better in their second season in the SEC than they were in the first? They're better (and healthy) on both lines of scrimmage, which has been a huge difference in their surprising 6-0 start. Sam, a senior from Hitchcock, Texas, leads the SEC with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He had three sacks in consecutive games against Arkansas State and Vanderbilt, and then scored on a 21-yard fumble return in the Tigers' 41-26 upset at Georgia on Saturday.
Linebacker | UCLA
Just imagine the damage Barr might have done if he'd spent his first two seasons at UCLA playing defense. After moving to linebacker from running back prior to the 2012 season, Barr has 17½ sacks and 31½ tackles for loss in 19 games on defense. This season, he has 26 tackles, four sacks, 10 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in five games. The No. 9 Bruins rank in the top five in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (18.2 points), total defense (344.8 yards), rushing defense (138 yards) and pass defense (206.8 yards).
Linebacker | Alabama
Mosley has become the on-field conductor of No. 1 Alabama's defense, and he has performed like a maestro this season. Alabama ranks No. 2 among FBS teams in scoring defense (11.3 points) and No. 8 in total defense (278.2 yards). The Crimson Tide didn't allow a touchdown for 14 consecutive quarters until Kentucky scored in the third quarter of a 48-7 rout. Mosley leads the Tide with 48 tackles and has 3½ tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Linebacker | Ohio State
Shazier was the only returning starter in the front seven of No. 4 Ohio State's defense, and to no one's surprise he has been the Buckeyes' most dependable defender. Shazier leads the Buckyes with 47 tackles and seven tackles for loss, along with one sack and two forced fumbles. He ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 7.8 tackles per game and second with 1.3 tackles for loss. Shazier had nine tackles and 2½ tackles for loss in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 28 and 10 tackles and one tackle for loss in a 40-30 victory at Northwestern on Oct. 5.
Linebacker | Wisconsin
Borland, a senior from Kettering, Ohio, leads the No. 25 Badgers with 56 total tackles -- twice as many as any other player. But first-year coach Gary Andersen asked him to do one more thing Saturday: deliver the pregame speech to his teammates. Whatever Borland said worked, as the Badgers blasted then-No. 19 Northwestern 35-6 to climb back into the Big Ten race. Borland ranks third in the Big Ten with 9.3 stops per game. He had a career-high 16 tackles against Ohio State and 10 against the Wildcats.
Cornerback | Virginia Tech
Facyson, a freshman from Newnan, Ga., was thrust into Virginia Tech's starting defense after returning starter Antone Exum injured his knee in a pickup basketball game in January. Facyson became the first freshman to start at cornerback in coach Frank Beamer's 27 seasons in the opener against No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta. He more than held his own, helping limit Tide quarterback AJ McCarron to only 110 passing yards and a 23.4 QBR. Facyson is tied for third nationally with four interceptions, along with having 17 tackles, nine passes defended, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The Hokies are tied for the FBS lead with 13 interceptions and are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 47 percent of their passes.
Cornerback | TCU
The Horned Frogs defense might not be as menacing as we're used seeing to this season, but Verrett has emerged as the county's best lockdown cornerback. Even though opponents are staying away from his side of the field, he has 24 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception and 11 passes defended. The former juco transfer led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups and six interceptions last season.
Safety | Louisville
Pryor, a junior from Port St. Joe, Fla., hails from Florida's "Forgotten Coast." But opposing quarterbacks can't forget about him in No. 8 Louisville's secondary. He has 36 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery and 2 forced fumbles. His physical style and big plays have helped the Cardinals lead FBS schools in scoring defense (7.3 points) and rank No. 2 in total defense (229.5 yards). Louisville has been especially good in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score only 57.1 percent of the time.
Safety | Alabama
Sunseri, a junior from Tuscaloosa, Ala., is probably the third-best pro prospect among Alabama's safeties. He isn't as physically gifted as teammates Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Landon Collins, but he had a bigger impact in the first half of the season. And with Clinton-Dix suspended indefinitely for accepting an improper loan from a strength coach, Sunseri will have to carry an even bigger load in the second half of the season. A part-time player last season because of his shortcomings in pass coverage, Sunseri has developed into an every-down player this year. He returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of Alabama's first two games: 38 yards in a 35-10 win over Virginia Tech and 73 yards in a 49-42 win at Texas A&M. He also has 20 tackles, one tackle for loss and six passes defended.
Punter | Memphis
Hornsey, an Australian who grew up playing rugby, is tied for third among FBS players with a 47-yard average on punts. Even more impressive, the Tigers lead FBS teams in net punting (45.1 yards), with opponents getting only 25 punt return yards in five games. Hornsey has pinned 10 of his punts inside his opponents' 20-yard line and he already has 10 punts longer than 50 yards. Not bad for a guy who didn't start playing American football until 2010.
Kicker | Utah
Phillips, a 24-year-old former five-year member of the U.S. ski team, had never played football at any level before earning the Utes' starting place-kicking job this season. Through six games, he's a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals and 27-for-27 on extra points. On Saturday, he kicked a career-long 48-yard field goal to help the Utes upset No. 5 Stanford 27-21, the first time Utah defeated a top-five ranked opponent at home. Phillips also has successfully converted two onside kicks this season.
Kick returner | Oregon
After showing glimpses of his explosiveness as a freshman last season, Addison has emerged as one of the country's most dangerous big-play threats as a sophomore. Addison is No. 2 among FBS players in punt returns, averaging 23.9 yards. He had two punt returns for touchdowns in the Ducks' 55-16 win over California, the first for 75 yards and second for 67 yards. He also has caught 27 passes for 502 yards with six touchdowns in the first six games, Addison caught eight passes for 157 yards with two touchdowns in Saturday's 45-24 win over Washington.
All-purpose | LSU
After LSU coach Les Miles hired former NFL offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in the offseason, it didn't take Cameron long to realize he needed to get the ball in Beckham's hands. In only six games, Beckham already has 37 catches for 733 yards with six touchdowns (he had 43 receptions for 713 yards with two scores in 13 games in 2012). Beckham is second among FBS players with 209.1 all-purpose yards per game; he also ran for 33 yards, returned seven punts for 74 yards and returned 21 kickoffs for 524 yards. In No. 6 LSU's 56-17 rout of UAB, he had 331 all-purpose yards, including a 60-yard punt return and a 100-yard touchdown off a field goal return.
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