All-America Watch: Penny cashes in; Oliver avoids soph slumpThe Associated Press — By RALPH D. RUSSO - AP College Football Writer
For many college football fans of a certain age, their introduction to The Associated Press All-America team came during Bob Hope's annual TV Christmas special.
We will pause now to allow younger fans to Google "Bob Hope Christmas special."
The AP has been honoring college football's best with an All-America team since 1925, and with the help of Hope introducing the first-team players on his show for years during the 1960s, '70s and '80s, it became the most recognized of the five teams used by the NCAA to determine a consensus All-America team for each season.
This season, the AP released a preseason All-America team and will also weigh-in with a midseason team before the full, three-team All-America selections are unveiled in December. Until then, our weekly watch begins this week:
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State.
Penny had one of the quietest quality seasons in the country in 2016, running for more than 1,000 yards, with a 7.5-yard average per carry and 11 touchdowns. Playing behind NCAA career rushing leader and second-team AP All-America Donnel Pumphrey can do that to a running back. Penny is the man for the Aztecs now. In San Diego State's victory last Saturday against Arizona State, Penny ran for 216 yards and returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown .
What they are saying: "You're seeing what we knew all along, that he's one of the best running backs in the country." — Aztecs coach Rocky Long after the Arizona State game.
Outlook: Penny leads the nation in all-purpose yards at 284 per game and will get a chance to take down another Pac-12 team on Saturday when No. 19 Stanford comes to San Diego.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.
It certainly looked like the year of the quarterback last weekend, with high-profile stars from USC's Sam Darnold to Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield to UCLA's Josh Rosen all going off. But through two weeks of the season, it is still Jackson's world. The Heisman Trophy winner and All-American leads the nation in total offense at 505 yards per game heading into a showdown with No. 3 Clemson.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State.
Barrett is taking a lot of criticism after a poor performance against Oklahoma. The fifth-year senior has been one of the most productive players in Ohio State history, and the Buckeyes' offensive issues against high-end competition is not all on Barrett. But his limitations as a passer are not going away.
ON THE LINE
Identifying the top offensive linemen in college football is the most difficult part of putting together an All-America team. So we brought in an expert: Cole Cubelic played offensive line for Auburn from 1996-2001. He is currently a radio show host in Hunstville, Alabama, a sideline reporter for the SEC Network and a member of the committee that selects the winner of the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the nation's best offensive line unit. Cubelic will highlight an offensive lineman for All-America Watch each week and his choice this week:
Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish offense struggled against Georgia last Saturday, but don't blame Nelson.
"He was as consistent as ever with movement at the point of attack and finding blocks in space," Cubelic said.
Nelson also made a blitz pickup that was the offensive lineman's version of a one-handed touchdown catch.
"Nelson is as good as it gets nationally at guard," Cubelic said.
ISN'T THAT SPECIAL?
Utah has a tradition of good kickers and punters. That Salt Lake City altitude doesn't hurt. Matt Gay is trying to be the latest Utah specialist to make a run at All-American through the thin air.
Gay has made all seven of his field-goal attempts, including a 4-for-4 performance in Utah's 19-13 victory against BYU. Not bad for a former NAIA soccer player who made the team as a walk-on in preseason practice.
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver made the All-America team as a freshman last season, and his first game of 2017 put him on the path to repeating that accomplishment as a sophomore. Oliver made 11 tackles, 1.5 behind the line, and forced a fumble as the Cougars limited Arizona to 152 yards rushing in a victory on Saturday.
Mississippi State LT Martinas Rankin vs. LSU OLB Arden Key.
Key, a preseason All-American, has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and missed the Tigers' first two games of the season. He was a force last year, setting a school record with 12 sacks. Rankins is a high-ceiling offensive lineman who has also played center and tackle.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
More AP college football at www.collegefootball.ap.org and www.Twitter.com/AP_Top25