FOOTBALL IS BACK! The 2015 college campaign kicked off Thursday night, and boy was it a doozy. It was also just the tip of the iceberg of chaos and thrills and fun that awaits us this fall, and we’re pretty excited about that. So to celebrate the return of this beautifully bizarre sport, we’re honoring our preseason lettermen: Some of them are the best at what they do. Some of them are the most fun. Some of them are hair. Together, they’re the 2015 Triangle All-Stars.
Andrew Sharp: If you’ve ever needed ammo for explaining why college football is unequivocally better than the NFL, just look to Harbaugh. During his time with the San Francisco 49ers, he was considered a genius to be feared and revered in equal measure. His X’s and O’s were brilliant. His work ethic was unrelenting. He didn’t smile and he was mute in interviews, but that was fine, because smiling and talking don’t win football games. His misery was part of the legend. At Michigan? He’s eating a Big Mac in Paris.
He’s coaching shirtless. He’s rocking virtual reality glasses for some reason. He’s confusing Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and it’s impossible to tell whether he’s kidding. While this hasn’t been confirmed, there’s no way he hasn’t challenged at least one helpless freshman to a pushup contest this summer. He’s perfect for college football.
He’s still an OCD mastermind full of psychotic intensity, and despite Thursday’s opening loss to Utah, he will likely turn around Michigan football in time. And now, the rest of us get to appreciate him for his true genius: He’s the biggest weirdo in all of sports. The NFL suffocated that side of him. College football will let it shine all year long.
Matt Borcas: It remains to be seen if Jones will start for the Buckeyes on Monday night in their season opener against Virginia Tech, as the latest reports indicate that he might split time with J.T. Barrett in Blacksburg. But there’s no questioning Jones’s QB1 status on our team.
Formerly considered a punch line for tweeting about his distaste for academics, Jones reentered the public consciousness during Ohio State’s national title run last season and quickly became a bona fide folk hero. Facing an unimaginably difficult situation, the one-time third-stringer delivered not one, not two, but three performances for the ages, etching his name into college football lore in the span of a month.
It wasn’t just what Jones did that earned him a Triangle All-Stars roster spot, though; it was how he did it: with long bombs, big hits, and an ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face at all times. His freewheeling, improvisational spirit made him an almost Favreian throwback — especially in this era of George Whitfield–engineered QB-automatons — and he’s stepped up his Twitter game, too. All of which raises a critical question: Is there anything Jones can’t do? Aside from, y’know, securing the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback job?
Sharp: Fournette becomes twice as fun if you make the Chris Berman Mike Alstott sounds when he runs. Go ahead. Try it. BURRRRGH BURRRRGH BURGGGGH.
Fournette easily led all players in the (very serious) staff voting process for this All-Star squad, and I think that makes him our team captain for 2015. We got to enjoy him in small doses last year, but he was inconsistent as a true freshman and relegated to the bench far too often. Now that’s over. He’s here because nobody can root against a superstar named Leonard. He’s here because he’s the best running back in America. And he’s here because LSU has no quarterback and no real plan beyond handing Fournette the ball 30 times per game.
BURRRRGH BURRRRGH BURGGGGH.
Matt Hinton: I’ve seen a lot of injuries of varying significance and repulsiveness, but never one that seemed to suck the air out of a stadium or a team as quickly and completely as the broken leg Treadwell suffered against Auburn last November. The stunned vibe in Oxford was partly due to circumstance: Treadwell’s injury was unsettling on its own, but that it came when it did — just as Treadwell, having the night of his life, arrived at the goal line on a play that stood to give Ole Miss a late lead in what amounted to a playoff elimination game — turned delirium into despair.1 In a matter of seconds, Ole Miss lost one of its most visible stars and an exceedingly rare shot at national postseason relevance. The only thing missing from the scene was a swarm of locusts.
Although officials initially signaled that Treadwell had scored, giving the Rebels a 37-35 edge with a little more than a minute to play, they were forced to negate the touchdown upon review. Treadwell, in his agony, had fumbled the ball just before crossing the plane, and Auburn was rewarded with what amounted to a game-clinching touchback as Treadwell was being loaded onto a cart.
So no small amount of surprise and jubilation greeted Treadwell this spring when, still just a few months removed from what looked like a potential career-ending injury, he started popping up on Instagram to document his progress: There he was, jogging on a treadmill, then running alongside fellow rehabee Denzel Nkemdiche, then making his coach cringe by doing backflips on a damn trampoline:
Last month, Treadwell suited up for preseason camp at full speed, a little lighter at 210 pounds (down from as high as 230 last year) but still widely regarded as one of the most coveted wideouts in the country by NFL scouts. If that’s still the case in December, the 2015 Rebels have a very good chance of finishing what they started last year.
Holly Anderson: If you read our staff predictions for the upcoming season, you know that we know that absolutely anything can happen this fall. It’s impossible to draw a straight line from one season to the next with certainty for any team, or even for any player.
And yet. And yet:
Is it possible to look at just one play and know a player really has taken hold, if not necessarily on the field, then at least in our hearts? It seems more than possible when beholding the majesty of Mt. McGowan. He’s been suiting up as an offensive guard for the Bears for much of his career, and he puts on muscle so easily his coaches actually forbade him from weight training this spring. Much of his football future has yet to be written, but frankly, if you’re not sold on “400-pound tight end,” I’m not all that interested in selling to you.
Borcas: Unless you’re Robert Mays, it can be tough to muster enthusiasm for an offensive lineman. Skill position players are much more exciting to watch, and if you deign to glance at the big uglies at all, it’s probably to check out some ballyhooed pass-rusher, not to be entertained by blocking. Nevertheless, Robinson deserves your attention. The 19-year-old sophomore boasts a prototypical combination of size (he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 326 pounds) and technique, and the Tide will need him more than ever in 2015, with a relatively immobile passer taking over for Blake Sims at quarterback.
While Robinson was a five-star pancake chef in high school, his transition to Alabama was still unprecedentedly seamless. He became the first true freshman left tackle to start for Nick Saban, earning Freshman All-America honors and even daring to trash-talk Joey Bosa before the Sugar Bowl. He probably would have gone in the top 10 of this year’s NFL draft if he had been allowed to enter it, which is insane for someone less than a year removed from his senior prom. To answer the obvious question: Yes, it’s totally unfair Robinson will be creating holes for Derrick Henry this season. But Saban never said life was fair.
Hinton: “Oakman” is a fitting aptronym: At 6-9, 275 pounds, with a physique that looks like it could have been carved from a tree, the Bears’ resident edge-rushing terror is truly a Man of Oak. Combine his raw size with his propensity for jaw-dropping feats of strength and explosiveness, and his actual production (32 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles over the past two seasons) is almost an afterthought compared to the sheer physical absurdity of his presence.
Given all of that, his decision last winter to pass on the draft in favor of his final year of eligibility was a shocker: Oakman was projected as a certain first-rounder before the benefit of individual workouts or the combine, where he might have made grown men weep. But his return in Week 2 (after serving a Week 1 suspension for a violation of team rules) will be a godsend for Baylor, whose playoff odds look a lot better with a blue-chip defensive line than they would have if Oakman turned pro. And anyway, if the Bears take care of the “unfinished business” that kept Oakman and left tackle Spencer Drango in Waco, the next level will still be waiting with open arms.
Michael Weinreb: There is a long tradition in college football of overachieving linebackers with colorful nicknames who engage in hulkish acts like mistakenly tearing their own apartment doors off the hinges. This is the niche we were hoping Philip Anthony “Scooby” Wright would fill this season, at least until he injured his knee during Thursday night’s season opener against Texas–San Antonio: A former two-star recruit who still includes that designation in his Twitter handle — though star rating aside, if the blocked field-goal at 1:13 in this high school highlight film is any indication, we probably should have seen this coming — Wright had 163 tackles and was the national defensive player of the year last season and did things to Marcus Mariota that few other humans were capable of doing.
In a Pac-12 conference littered with offensive stars, Wright was the apparent exception to the rule, but now we’ll have to live without him indefinitely. Until he returns, college football will be a little less colorful; until he returns, we’ll continue to preserve a spot on our squad for any dude named Scooby who likes to run through doors.
Mallory Rubin: Do you miss Shaq Thompson? Do you find yourself longing to watch a purple-clad freak of nature perform his actual job to the highest possible standard on defense, and then show off on offense just because he can? Boy, do I have good news for you!
Thompson may be gone, but Washington’s days of respecting the two-way player live on, with sophomore sensation (and All-Name Team member) Budda Baker primed to see time at running back, slot receiver, and punt returner this season.
“We have to utilize the talent,” Jimmy Lake, UW’s defensive backs coach, said this spring, and we in Triangle Land are thrilled to hear it. Baker started every game as a true freshman safety last year, totaling 80 tackles on his way to all-conference honorable mention status. He’s a superb defender, which is exciting and crucial enough in the pass-happy Pac-12, but he’s not content with dominating one facet of the game, because he’s a true TriStar. And an animal lover to boot!
Riley McAtee: Ramsey plays defense the way I imagine the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes would. He flies across the gridiron like a tornado, wreaking havoc on offenses. When he goes in for a tackle — and he makes quite a few tackles — he seems to suck players into his presence like a cyclone, only to spit them out yards away from where the collision began.
Except most tornadoes don’t talk trash like Ramsey.
I’m sure that GIF will make a lot of people angry, because a lot of people don’t like trash-talkers like Ramsey. But I love that GIF, I love trash-talkers, and I love trash-talkers who double down on their trash talk, which is what Ramsey did when he told ESPN that other teams don’t talk back to him because “when you’re winning they can’t say anything back.”
With Ramsey on the team, FSU will probably keep on winning. The All-ACC pick was arguably the best player on his defense as a sophomore and is now set to be the foundation of the unit. Oh, and he has real Olympic aspirations to boot.
To stay safe in the face of a runaway Ramsey, it’s recommended you have an emergency plan and know the routes to your nearest safe shelters, preferably structurally sound ones like basements or ground-level, windowless rooms. But your best bet might just be to evacuate the area and stay out of his path in the first place.
Jack McCluskey: “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!”
The highlight of Jackson’s freshman season — you know the one — elicited many strong reactions, including that exclamation on SportsCenter as Jackson front-flipped into the end zone to cap a 98-yard kickoff return TD.
That visceral reaction would be particularly prescient if only Jackson hadn’t been a five-star recruit with ridiculous athleticism (he’s a legit track star, too).
No, the amazing thing about that play, and about Jackson’s Holiday Bowl performance overall, was that to some extent we could see it coming, and still he managed to astound.
Take his other score from that game, a 71-yard catch-and-run. He collected a short Cody Kessler pass and sped around the edge and up the sideline. As no fewer than six defenders — helpfully numbered in the video — converged, without breaking stride Jackson cut left into the only remaining daylight and then hit an even higher gear.
Sometimes his legs move so quickly, and his torso stays so still, it seems the two halves of his body can move independently of each other — like a hula girl on a dashboard.
“He’s like a highlight film,” USC receivers coach Tee Martin said after the sophomore dazzled in his first practice with the offense this preseason. That’s right, he also plays a pretty mean corner.
So what’s next for Jackson? The Heisman? The Thorpe Award? The freakin’ Olympics?
Whatever it is, chances are it’ll be quite the spectacle.
Anderson: I’m not sure what I can say about Scott that hasn’t already been covered in exhaustive detail by my esteemed colleague, but for those of you joining our program already in progress, a few telling highlights: Alabama’s siege engine of a punter led the nation in 2014 with a 48-yard average — which also would have put him first among NFL punting averages last season. His punts that landed in an opponent’s red zone (31 of 55 inside the 20) also led the FBS, and also would’ve led the NFL. He recorded two 70-plus-yard punts, and seven 60-plus-yard punts. And at a time of such upheaval for an upstart team like Alabama, isn’t it nice to know that amid all the quarterback trials here and secondary tribulations there, this plucky program has one facet of its game that can consistently be relied upon?
Oh, and he’s a sophomore. Look at him! He’s positively cherubic!
Ryan O’Hanlon: Last week, when UCLA announced freshman quarterback Josh Rosen would be starting the team’s opening game against the University of Virginia, the journalist in me couldn’t help but wonder why it was burying the lead: Wasn’t the real story here that Jerry Neuheisel’s hair would finally be free?
AP/Mark J. Terrill
JUST LOOK UPON THAT PILE OF GOLDEN STRAW, YOU FOOLS. Forcing a helmet atop Neuheisel’s head is a national disgrace akin to dragging the American flag across an empty parking lot, feeding a basket of crumpled 100-dollar bills to a farm animal, or televising a Saturday-morning British soccer game on USA Network instead of rerunning Royal Pains.
There is untamed, windswept, natural beauty — and then there is the desert landscape in the background of this photo:
I have spent many a sleepless night trying to accurately describe what sprouts from Neuheisel’s cranium — “Carey Mulligan’s hair, but perfect,” “If Ric Flair’s stylist were actually God”— but it never seems right. Sometimes a thing will so fully encapsulate an ideal that it can only be defined by speaking its name.
From Les Miles snacking on grass to Oregon’s collection of memes-as-play-calls, the college football sideline has become a place where eccentricity flourishes. But thanks to Jim Mora’s decision to give the backup quarterback job to Neuheisel’s ’do, may it now become our very own modern arena for aesthetic fulfillment.