Offensive Sophomore of the Year: RB James Conner, Pitt
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Quarterbacks, like coaches and baseball pitchers, are judged by wins and losses. And by that measurement, Winston has been perfect, winning all 26 starts of his Seminole career. Sure, the passing numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as a season ago, especially the 17 interceptions. But on some level, Winston elevated his game as a sophomore by calmly leading Florida State to victory in six games decided by a touchdown or less. He is the most clutch second-half player in the game today.
RB James Conner, Pittsburgh
Despite being a virtual solo act in the Pitt offense, Conner has still rushed for an ACC-best 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns on 277 punishing carries. His league’s Offensive Player of the Year is both a downhill throwback and a new-age Bus in Western Pennsylvania, burying defenders daring to enter his path. Conner has three times gone over 200 yards on the ground, often gaining a head of steam as games wear on.
RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
If Conner is the thumper of this year’s All-Sophomore Team, Pumphrey is its game-breaking scatback. He’s just 5-9 and 170 pounds, but size is inconsequential for the Las Vegas product. The Aztecs rolled the dice on a back largely ignored by the Pac-12, and have been reaping the rewards ever since. Pumphrey ranks among the nation’s leaders in rushing with 1,761 yards and 19 scores on 256 carries.
WR William Fuller, Notre Dame
Fuller arrived from Philadelphia a year ago with ample speed. He added polish to those jets to become the biggest beneficiary of QB Everett Golson’s return from academic suspension. Fuller has 71 receptions for 1,037 yards and 14 scores, with eight of the touchdowns coming from at least 20 yards out. At 6-1, he has good length, and he’ll continue to improve as he sharpens his route-running and ball skills.
WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Two years ago, interest in Higgins was minimal. Today, he’s one of the country’s most prolific pass-catchers and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Higgins has been consistently unstoppable this season, racking up 89 catches for 1,640 yards and an FBS-high 17 touchdown receptions. He has the speed to take the top off the defense, getting behind the secondary even when everyone knows he’s in QB Garrett Grayson’s crosshairs.
TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota
At Minnesota, where sure-handed tight ends are coveted, Williams has been a perfect fit. The Golden Gophers don’t throw it much, but they like to target No. 88 when they do. Williams has pulled down 29 catches for 471 yards and seven of the team’s 11 touchdown receptions. He has sticky hands and the overall athleticism to make acrobatic grabs appear routine.
OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
In 2014, Conklin’s second season as a starter, he took a giant step toward being one of the top young tackles in the country. The 6-6, 303-pound former walk-on is a fortress in pass protection, which was never more evident than when he shut out Big Ten sack leader Joey Bosa. Conklin earned All-Big Ten in 2014, and will have an All-American ceiling in his junior year … if the NFL doesn’t get him first.
OG Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Elflein picked up where he left off at the end of his rookie year, evolving into a First Team All-Big Ten performer and the Buckeyes’ most reliable blocker up front. He’s tough, physical and smart, putting the time in the film room, the weight room and the practice field. In Elflein, Ohio State boasts a blue-collar enforcer, who can set the tone at the line of scrimmage.
C Dan Voltz, Wisconsin
A year after being the nation’s top freshman center, Voltz is predictably the country’s top sophomore center. He’s everything that’s expected from a Badger interior lineman these days, rugged with a penchant for finishing his blocks. Voltz earned honorable mention All-Big Ten, as he attempts to become the next in a growing line of Wisconsin centers drafted into the NFL.
OG Greg Pyke, Georgia
Pyke was a key cog in a Bulldog line that blocked extremely well, first for Todd Gurley and then for Nick Chubb. At 6-6 and 321 pounds, he carries his weight very well, which allows him to beat opponents with his strength as well as his agility. Pyke was named Second Team All-SEC, quite an achievement for a young lineman who appeared in just a pair of games in 2013.
OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
There was a slight detour, a bicep injury that cost him two games, but Tunsil is back on track to being one of the nation’s top young blockers. He was built to protect the blindside of quarterbacks, with long arms and some of the best feet and agility in the game. The two-time All-SEC selection is a year away from being draft-eligible, when it’s expected he’ll be one of the first linemen taken off the board.
QB Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
RB Paul Perkins, UCLA
WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss
OT Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
OG Johnny Caspers, Stanford
C Kyle Fuller, Baylor
OG Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
OT Dan Skipper, Arkansas
QB: Tommy Armstrong (Nebraska), Kevin Ellison (Georgia Southern), Dane Evans (Tulsa), Jared Goff (Cal), Austin Grammer (Middle Tennessee), Drew Hare (Northern Illinois), Kenny Hill (Texas A&M), Tyler Jones (Texas State), Gunner Kiel (Cincinnati), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Maty Mauk (Missouri), Cyler Miles (Washington), Cooper Rush (Central Michigan), Zach Terrell (Western Michigan), Chad Voytik (Pittsburgh), Davis Webb (Texas Tech), Logan Woodside (Toledo)
RB: Alex Collins (Arkansas), Matt Breida (Georgia Southern), Marcus Cox (Appalachian State), Tarean Folston (Notre Dame), Derrick Henry (Alabama), Jordan Howard (UAB), Kareem Hunt (Toledo), Aaron Jones (UTEP), Shock Linwood (Baylor), Elijah McGuire (Louisiana), Jacobi Owens (Air Force), Brandon Radcliff (Louisville), Rushel Shell (West Virginia)
WR: Victor Bolden (Oregon State), Daniel Braverman (Western Michigan), Corey Coleman (Baylor), Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina), River Cracraft (Washington State), Travin Dural (LSU), Samajie Grant (Arizona), Ajalen Holley (UL-Monroe), Mack Hollins (North Carolina), Cayleb Jones (Arizona), Corey Jones (Toledo), Isaiah Jones (East Carolina), Keevan Lucas (Tulsa), Teldrick Morgan (New Mexico State), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Jalen Robinette (Air Force), Demarcus Robinson (Florida), Cameron Smith (Arizona State), Dwayne Stanford (Oregon), Ryan Switzer (North Carolina), Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech), Michael Thomas (Ohio State), Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), Jordan Westerkamp (Nebraska), Mike Williams (Clemson), Tyler Winston (San Jose State)
TE: Tre’Von Armstead (Baylor), Thomas Duarte (UCLA), Jarred Gipson (Nevada), David Grinnage (NC State), Hunter Henry (Arkansas), Josiah Price (Michigan State), Jonnu Smith (Florida International)
OL: Zach Banner (USC), Chris Borrayo (Cal), J.T. Boyd (East Carolina), Freddie Burden (Georgia Tech), Shon Coleman (Auburn), Dan Feeney (Indiana), Sean Harlow (Oregon State), Jerald Hawkins (LSU), Ethan Pocic (LSU), Alex Redmond (UCLA), Graham Shuler (Stanford)
DEFENSE & SPECIAL TEAMS
Defensive Sophomore of the Year: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Just two years removed from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School, Bosa is already one of the premier pass-rushers in the country. He’s the total package in an end, big and strong enough to defend the run, with the quickness and technique to conjure up J.J. Watt comparisons. The 6-5, 278-pound Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year currently leads the league with 20 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
On a team best known for its offensive playmakers, Billings is a rising superstar on defense. And even as an interior lineman, he’s impossible to ignore. The 6-2, 300-pound Billings possesses a freakish blend of immense strength and closing speed, tracking down ballcarriers from behind. The All-Big 12 first-teamer has 35 tackles, 11.5 stops for loss and two sacks, which don’t even begin to tell the story of his impact and long-term potential.
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
One step at a time, Nkemdiche is fulfilling his expectations as a former can’t-miss recruit from the 2013 class. As an anchor of the Landshark defense in Oxford, he was named First Team All-SEC after making 33 tackles, three stops for loss and a couple of sacks. Nkemdiche has the rare combination of strength and athleticism to help make him a terror for opposing blockers.
DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Ogbah is beginning to approach Leslie O’Neal territory in Stillwater with his 11 sacks, 17 stops for minus yards and five pass breakups entering the postseason. The 6-4, 270-pound native of Nigeria uses his hands well, and he never quits on a play. Ogbah also brings versatility to the Cowboy front wall, as well as a high ceiling that he’ll continue to approach in 2015.
LB Su’a Cravens, USC
Cravens will make a lot of money someday as a strong safety, but he’s one of the Pac-12’s premier linebackers for now. The second-year star played multiple positions during the regular season, but got most of his reps at outside linebacker. Cravens’ versatility and instincts were evident all year long, as he notched 62 tackles, 16 stops for minus yards, five sacks, two picks and 10 passes defended. He’s the Swiss Army knife of the Trojan back seven.
LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
The ascent of Smith into one of the elite linebackers in college football is in full swing. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, he harbors the unmatched all-around athleticism and conditioning to track down opponents in all directions. One of five finalists for the Butkus Award, Smith leads the Irish with 103 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, three sacks and six quarterback hurries.
LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
From unheralded recruit to one of the preeminent defensive players in college football, Wright has traveled a rather remarkable journey in just two years. The quintessential blue-collar overachiever has amassed a war chest of individual awards and monster numbers in 2014, including 153 tackles, an FBS-high 28 stops for minus yards, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles. Wright plays the game with maximum intensity and the keen instincts to be around the ball at all times.
CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
The latest Fuller to excel in Blacksburg, Kyle might wind up being the best of the family. A year after debuting as an All-ACC second-teamer, he’s risen to Second Team All-American, according to multiple outlets. Skilled well beyond on his years at anticipating throws and blanketing receivers, Fuller has broken up 15 passes to go along with 50 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss.
S Gerod Holliman, Louisville
No player has more interceptions this season than Holliman. In fact, no player since 1968 has matched Holliman’s 14 interceptions this fall. Although the Thorpe Award winner plays safety, he covers, tracks the ball and secures it with the skill of an accomplished cornerback. What’s most exciting about Holliman is that this is his first year as a full-timer with the Cards, so the sky’s the limit for his future as a centerfielder.
S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
In terms of DB versatility, there may not be a better player than Ramsey … regardless of class. In Tallahassee, he’s the ‘Star’, a hybrid of a linebacker and a safety, which mandates a jack-of-all-trades. Ramsey seamlessly fits the job description with his long arms, athleticism and heady approach to the game. The emerging mega-star was named First Team All-ACC after making 75 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two picks, 13 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Two years. Two appearances on the All-SEC First Team. It’s just one indication of how talented Hargreaves is at the halfway mark of his Gator career. He has fluid hips, advanced instincts and the great feet to stick with the better receivers on the schedule. Despite being avoided by opposing passers, Hargreaves broke up an SEC-high 13 passes in just 11 games of action.
PK Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
At this pace, Aguayo is going to become the most decorated placekicker in college football history. He already won the Lou Groza Award as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and was a finalist once again this season. Kicking with laser accuracy and uncommon poise, Aguayo has been good on 25-of-27 field goal attempts, including 3-of-3 beyond 50 yards, and is unflappable in the clutch.
P Austin Rehkow, Idaho
Good news, Rehkow is one of the premier punters in America and a Ray Guy Award finalist. Bad news? He is, by far, the most accomplished Vandal in Moscow. The 6-3, 215-pound Rehkow leads the nation at just under 48 yards a boot, using a powerful leg to crush the ball both as a punter and a placekicker.
DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska
DT Darius Philon, Arkansas
DE Kamalei Correa, Boise State
LB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
LB Myles Jack, UCLA
LB Nick Vigil, Utah State
CB Will Likely, Maryland
S Tony Conner, Ole Miss
S Nate Gerry, Nebraska
CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
PK Josh Lambert, West Virginia
P Cameron Johnston, Ohio State
DL: Montravius Adams (Auburn), Josh Banks (Wake Forest), Alex Barrett (San Diego State), Harold Brantley (Missouri), Kenny Clark (UCLA), Hunter Dimick (Utah), Ken Ekanem (Virginia Tech), Treyvon Hester (Toledo), Austin Johnson (Penn State), Alex McCallister (Florida), Joe Ostman (Central Michigan), Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), Hassan Ridgeway (Texas), A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), Nigel Williams (Virginia Tech)
LB: Dominique Alexander (Oklahoma), Michael Barton (Cal), Beniquez Brown (Mississippi State), Rodney Butler (New Mexico State), Dakota Cox (New Mexico), P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech), Salamo Fiso (Arizona State), Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Nigel Harris (South Florida), Deon Hollins (UCLA), Keith Kelsey (Louisville), Steve Longa (Rutgers), Laiu Moeakiola (Arizona State), Calvin Munson (San Diego State), Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Tennessee), Jovan Santos-Knox (Massachusetts), Michael Scherer (Missouri), Christian Tago (San Jose State), Jeremy Timpf (Army), Tanner Vallejo (Boise State), Max Valles (Virginia), Stephen Weatherly (Vanderbilt), Xavier Woodson (Arkansas State)
DB: Ishmael Adams (UCLA), Tony Annese (Central Michigan), Vonn Bell (Ohio State), Daquawn Brown (Washington State), Artie Burns (Miami), Devin Centers (Utah State), DeVon Edwards (Duke), Zach Edwards (Cincinnati), Johnathan Ford (Auburn), Jacoby Glenn (UCF), Dylan Haines (Texas), Nate Holley (Kent State), Xavien Howard (Baylor), Ryan Janvion (Wake Forest), Damontae Kazee (San Diego State), Jayron Kearse (Clemson), Cole Luke (Notre Dame), Greg Mabin (Iowa), Quincy Mauger (Georgia), Reggie Mitchell (Pittsburgh), Justin Nelson (Texas Tech), Tyvis Powell (Ohio State), Weston Steelhammer (Air Force), Jordan Sterns (Oklahoma State), Orion Stewart (Baylor), Corey Tindal (Marshall), Brian Walker (North Carolina), Cleveland Wallace (San Jose State), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Xavier Woods (Louisiana Tech), Daryl Worley (West Virginia)
PK: Jake Elliott (Memphis), Elliott Fry (South Carolina), Zane Gonzalez (Arizona State), Ben Grogan (Oklahoma State), Andy Phillips (Utah)
P: Alex Boy (Nevada), Sam Foltz (Nebraska), Hayden Hunt (Colorado State), Dalton Schomp (Florida Atlantic), Justin Vogel (Miami)