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May 16, 2011

Monday with Mike: Good players, bad teams

We are in the midst of a long wait until football kicks off again in earnest in early August for fall practice.

This time of the year gives fans a lot of time to imagine everything going right this season; after all, dreaming is free.

This also is the time of the year for fans to sit and ruminate on what could go wrong this season, time for fans to obsess over their teams' flaws - real or imagined.

Coaches do the same thing. And so do players. And the players - and the coaches of the players, not to mention the fans - on our list today know their team could be facing some tough times this fall.

This is the second year in a row we've done this exercise; last year, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, we called it the "All-Loser Team" because we think every player on the list is going to toil for a losing team this fall. In an effort to be nicer this time around, we'll simply call it "The Rivals.Com Preseason All-America Team Made Up Of Players Who We Think Are Going to Play For Losing Programs This Fall."

And if you cheer for a team that has struggled of late but don't notice any of their players on this list, cheer up: It very well could be that we don't think your team is going to have a losing record this season.

Here is the team (which, by the way, would be pretty darned good - especially at quarterback, along the offensive line and at cornerback).

OFFENSE

QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Buzz: Griffin was solid as a true freshman in 2008, suffered a season-ending knee injury three games into '09, then returned and made a big splash last season, when he threw for 3,501 yards, 22 TDs and eight interceptions; he also ran for 635 yards and eight TDs. He is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the nation, and if we could be sure Baylor's defense would improve from rancid to competent, Griffin wouldn't be on this list.

RB Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky
Buzz: Rainey, a 5-foot-7 senior, was the nation's No. 3 rusher last season for the Hilltoppers (137.4 yards per game). Lest you think he rolled up those numbers against inferior competition in the Sun Belt Conference, consider that he ran for 155 and a TD against Nebraska and 184 and two scores against Kentucky. He had nine 100-yard games and eight two-TD games. He has 2,847 career yards, fourth-most among returning players.

RB Rodney Stewart, Colorado
Buzz: Colorado's struggles the past few seasons have overshadowed some solid performances by some Buffaloes, and Stewart is one of them. Stewart ran for 1,318 yards and 10 TDs as a junior last season, and has 2,744 yards and 21 TDs in his career; he also has been an effective receiver out of the backfield with 48 career receptions.

WR Damarlo Belcher, Indiana
Buzz: He will be IU's go-to guy as a senior this fall. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season but should vie for first-team honors this season, as he is a great fit in new coach Kevin Wilson's offensive attack. Belcher has great size (6-5/214 pounds) and should set IU's career receptions record this fall; he has 164 catches and the record is 191 by James Hardy, like Belcher a native of Fort Wayne, Ind.

WR Cody Wilson, Central Michigan
Buzz: Central Michigan took a giant step back in 2010 from 2009, but Wilson was a star for the Chippewas. He had 83 catches for 1,137 yards and five TDs, and should be even more productive this season as a junior working with QB Ryan Radcliff.

WR D.J. Woods, Cincinnati
Buzz: Woods, a senior, finished second in the Big East in receiving yards last season (898 yards, on 57 receptions, with eight TDs). Thing is, the was the No. 2 guy on his own team (behind Armon Binns) and will be the Bearcats' go-to receiver this season, meaning an 80-catch season is a possibility. He also has been a solid return man.

T Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
Buzz: Osemele is massive (6-6/354) and an absolute road-grader in the running game. NFL scouts love the guy, but as a guard and not a tackle. He heads into his senior season having started 30 consecutive games at tackle for the Cyclones. Osemele's last name is pronounced "os-em-AH-lee."

T Mike Ryan, Connecticut
Buzz: UConn has run the ball effectively the past few seasons, and Ryan is a big reason for that - figuratively and literally (he's 6-5 and 333 pounds). He will be a three-year starter for the Huskies, and as far as we know, he might be the largest English major in the nation.

G Ryan Miller, Colorado
Buzz: Colorado had a big-time offensive lineman (Nate Solder) go in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Miller isn't quite as good as Solder, but he will hear his name called relatively early in the 2012 draft. Miller played his first two seasons at tackle, then moved inside to guard. He is an avid kite flyer - but make fun of him at your own risk (he's 6 feet 8 and 310 pounds).

G Larry Warford, Kentucky
Buzz: Kentucky was fourth in the SEC and 27th nationally in total offense last season, and Warford's work up front was a reason for UK's offensive success. Warford, who is a junior, was a second-team All-SEC selection last season and should be one of the best linemen in the SEC this season.

C Jeremiah Hatch, Kansas
Buzz: Hatch was a second-team freshman All-America selection at offensive tackle in 2008, then moved to center in 2009 and has played well. He will be a four-year starter for KU and has started 36 of the 38 games in the past three seasons, missing one because of injury; the other missed start was the opener in his redshirt freshman season, but he started Game 2 that season.

DEFENSE

E Vinny Curry, Marshall
Buzz: Curry emerged as a big-time playmaker as a junior last season, finishing with 12 sacks, 94 tackles, 16 quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. His sack total was sixth-most in the nation. Curry had two sacks against both Ohio State and West Virginia, and added 11 tackles and two forced fumbles against WVU.

T Kendall Reyes, Connecticut
Buzz: Reyes, a senior, is heading into his third season as a starter and is an active force for the Huskies up front. He has good quickness to go with his size (6-4/298) and had 39 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, two picks, four pass breakups and two quarterback hurries last season.

E Cam Johnson, Virginia
Buzz: Johnson became a bona-fide standout for the Cavs as a junior last season, finishing with 53 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He also had four pass breakups. His ability to hold up against the run was on view against Georgia Tech, when he had 10 tackles.

LB Jake Knott, Iowa State
Buzz: Knott, who will be a junior this fall, was second in the Big 12 with 130 tackles last season. He also had four interceptions, forced four fumbles and had five pass breakups in his first season as a starter. He had eight games with double-digit tackles, including a 16-tackle performance in a loss to Colorado and 13 stops in a win over Texas Tech.

LB Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Buzz: No matter how things are going for the Commodores (and it usually is bad), they always seem to have a star linebacker. Marve is the latest in a long line of those star 'backers. Marve, a senior, has made 306 career tackles, including 21 for loss; he also has forced seven fumbles.

LB Carmen Messina, New Mexico
Buzz: The Lobos have been horrible the past two seasons, but Messina has played well. Messina, who is a senior, has made 277 tackles in the past two seasons, when the Lobos have won twice. He has 312 career tackles and has forced six fumbles.

LB Bobby Wagner, Utah State
Buzz: Despite playing for a struggling program, Wagner has a shot at being named the defensive player of the year in the WAC because of his production. He simply always is around the ball; he heads into his senior season with 298 career tackles, with 17 tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. He made 133 tackles last season.

CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Buzz: Hayward, a senior, is coming off his best season. He had 70 tackles, six interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a forced fumble last season; he was tied for fifth in the nation in interceptions and the 11 breakups led the SEC.

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia
Buzz: It's too bad Minnifield toils for a bad team because his sterling play too often is overlooked. His dad, Frank, was a long-time NFL corner, and with a good senior season, Chase could be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. He was fifth in the nation with six interceptions last season, and he added 48 tackles and four pass breakups.

FS Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
Buzz: Zimmerman adjusted quickly to major-college football as a true freshman last season, moving into the starting lineup and playing a steadying role for the Wildcats. He had 74 tackles, three interceptions and three pass breakups, and has the athletic ability and football IQ to eventually become an all-league performer.

SS Tony Dye, UCLA
Buzz: Dye and the since-departed Rahim Moore made up one of the best safety duos in the nation last season. Dye, who will be a senior this fall, led the Bruins with 96 tackles and added one interception (against archrival USC) and nine pass breakups. He has the potential to be a first- or second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

SPECIALISTS

K Will Snyderwine, Duke
Buzz: Snyderwine, a senior, was the first-team kicker on the American Football Coaches Association All-America team after going 21-of-24 - including a 52-yarder - last season. The 21 field goals were a school single-season record. Snyderwine, who was on the U.S. national U-19 rugby team while in high school, is 38-of-44 in his Duke career.

P Jeff Locke, UCLA
Buzz: Locke, who will be a junior, was the nation's fourth-leading punter (45.8 yards per punt, on 64 punts) and was the major reason the Bruins led the nation in net punting.

KR Marlon McClure, UTEP
Buzz: McClure, who will be a junior, was fourth nationally in kick-return average, at 31.0 per return on 30 attempts. He took two back for touchdowns, against Arkansas and Tulsa.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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