College Football

Bleacher Report's Perfect College Football Starting Lineup for 2014

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJune 3, 2014

Bleacher Report's Perfect College Football Starting Lineup for 2014

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    If you could pick a starting 22 for a college football team, what would it look like? Would it be full of All-Americans and award winners? Or would it be filled with players who are, athletically, the best at their position? 

    Either way, picking a starting lineup and special teams is harder once you realize how many players won't make the cut. But that's what we tried to do here in Bleacher Report's Perfect College Football Starting Lineup for 2014. 

    If there's one thing that should be noted—and this cannot be stressed enough—style of offense or defense doesn't matter. There will be guys who play in a pro-style offense next to guys who play in read-option or air raid offenses. Defensive tackles who play in a 3-4 are still eligible to be selected for this list's 4-3 defense. 

    It's the dead of the offseason. It's all subjective and fun. There are no rules. 

    Which ones made the list? The selections are in the following slides.

Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Yes, Jameis Winston has been left off this list. Yes, it was an agonizingly difficult decision. So, please, #FSUTwitter, have mercy. 

    • Height: 6'4"
    • Weight: 215
    • Credentials: 4,380 total yards, 40 total touchdowns in 2013; semifinalist for Maxwell, Walter Camp and Davey O'Brien awards; Pac-12 First-Team selection

    Winston threw for more yards last year (4,057) and more touchdowns (40) than Mariota. Winston is bigger (6'4", 235 pounds) and has a Heisman Trophy to his name. 

    So why Mariota? He's a true dual-threat quarterback, and in college, I'll take that over a pocket passer almost every time. It's not that Winston can't run, or that he hasn't shown mobility and escapability, it's just not what he's known for. Mariota, on the other hand, has excellent straight-line speed and is capable of outrunning most defenders. 

    But Mariota doesn't just make plays with his feet. He also has a great arm that isn't utilized for downfield throws nearly enough.

Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Picking just one running back in a field with T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) is tough. 

    Especially because all of the above players were cornerstones for their respective offenses last year. But one stands out above the rest as the total package—even though, statistically, he didn't have a banner year in 2013. 

    Georgia's Todd Gurley. 

    • Height: 6'1"
    • Weight: 232
    • Credentials: Associated Press All-SEC Second Team; Freshman All-American, second true freshman at Georgia—Herschel Walker being the first—to rush for 1,000 yards

    Gurley wasn't a Heisman finalist last season or a consensus All-American. He didn't even break 1,000 yards. But if we're talking about the most complete running back in college football—power, size, speed and versatility—Gurley is up at the top of the list. 

    Gurley was banged-up last year and missed three games midseason. Still, he broke the 100-yard mark four times. He's not the fastest back, but he has good burst, which is important in getting through the first level of the defense. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. 

    He's the real deal. He just has to stay healthy.

Kansas State Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett

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    In a wide receiver class that featured Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans—among many, many others—it was easy to overlook Kansas State's Tyler Lockett. 

    That shouldn't be an issue in 2014. Lockett will be a household name. 

    • Height: 5'11"
    • Weight: 175
    • Credentials: First-Team All-Big 12 selection (Associated Press, coaches) as a wide receiver and kick returner; second-leading returning receiver behind Baylor's Antwan Goodley

    Lockett isn't the biggest receiver on the field, but he is a skilled route runner and knows how to get open. The numbers reflect that. Lockett was the conference's third-leading receiver on a predominantly run-first offense.

    He accounted for 41 percent of K-State's receptions (81), 43 percent of the receiving yards (1,262) and half of the receiving touchdowns (11). He eclipsed the 100-yard mark five times and the 200-yard mark two other times last season. He's vital to the Wildcats' passing game.

Florida State Wide Receiver Rashad Greene

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Keeping with receivers, few coming back for the 2014 season have had more productive careers than Florida State's Rashad Greene. That experience earns him a spot on the B/R Dream Team. 

    • Height: 6'0"
    • Weight: 178
    • Credentials: Led Florida State in receiving yards three straight years; first 1,000-yard receiver for the Seminoles since Anquan Boldin (2002); First-Team All-ACC selection. 

    Little-known fact: Greene was a member of Bobby Bowden's first signing class with the Seminoles. 

    It certainly feels like Greene has been around forever. That's probably because he's been a leader of the offense every year he's been on the field. Now entering his senior year, Greene is a reliable veteran, a safety net for his quarterback. 

    Greene wasn't the No. 1 red-zone target for the Seminoles last season—that was Kelvin Benjamin—but he moved the ball down the field with 76 receptions. 

Alabama Wide Receiver Amari Cooper

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    For the third and final receiver on this here dream team, we're going with someone who had a production dip in 2013: Alabama's Amari Cooper. 

    It's risky to include him on this list when he had just four receiving touchdowns as a sophomore—while others tore it up on the field—but there's no denying his talent. 

    • Height: 6'1"
    • Weight: 202
    • Credentials: Consensus Freshman All-American; had 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman

    Cooper had a disappointing year in 2014, even though he led the team with 45 receptions and 736 yards. Until the Iron Bowl against Auburn, he failed to catch more than five passes in a game. But against the Tigers, and in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, he combined for 15 receptions for 299 yards. 

    He has blazing speed, runs crisp routes and can make plays on the ball—all of the things a No. 1 receiver should do. He gets a mulligan for 2013 and should be one of the top receivers in the country this year.

Florida State Tight End Nick O'Leary

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    Playing tight end is no easy task. It requires catching passes like a wide receiver but blocking like a lineman. Few do it all better in college football than Florida State's Nick O'Leary. 

    • Height: 6'3"
    • Weight: 244 
    • Credentials: John Mackey Award Finalist, All-ACC Second-Team Selection

    O'Leary is one of the top all-around tight ends in college football. Anymore, a player's style is based on preference. Do you prefer a tight end who is a better blocker, or one that's more of a glorified wide receiver? It's hard to find a great combination of both. 

    This spot could have gone to Alabama's O.J. Howard, a freakishly athletic pass-catcher, or Michigan's Devin Funchess. 

    O'Leary is a fine pass-catcher, no doubt, but he's also an excellent blocker and already has a great feel for how to play every aspect of the position. 

    Riding a motorcycle is a different story, however. 

Stanford Tackle Andrus Peat

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Now we're getting into the trenches, where all of the dirty work is done. Run- and pass-blocking is important, but in an age where football has developed into a passing game, protecting the quarterback is paramount. 

    One player growing in that area is Stanford tackle Andrus Peat. 

    • Height: 6'7"
    • Weight: 312
    • Credentials: All-Pac-12 Second-Team selection as a sophomore, 27 games played (14 starts)

    Peat should be one of the first offensive linemen taken in next year's draft if he decides to leave. Run-blocking is his specialty, which is impressive for a guy of his height, but he's improving in pass protection, too. Of all of the young offensive linemen in the country, his ceiling is among the highest. He plays with a ton of power and bullies the hell out of defenders. 

Florida State Tackle Cameron Erving

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Staying with the tackles, we add another player who is still learning the ins and outs of playing the position: Florida State's Cameron Erving. 

    • Height: 6'6"
    • Weight: 302
    • Credentials: All-ACC First-Team selection, Second-Team All-American selection

    Erving has only been playing tackle for two years after beginning his college career as a defensive lineman, so he's still picking up on all of the little things. But man, oh man, is he an athletic tackle with a lot of promise. 

    Erving showed he could stuff edge-rushers like Clemson's Vic Beasley—a much smaller, but quick defender. That's good news for Florida State going forward. Erving can handle it all.

Texas A&M Guard Jarvis Harrison

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Moving further into the middle of the offensive line, it's time to pick the first of two guards: Texas A&M's Jarvis Harrison. 

    • Height: 6'4"
    • Weight: 325 
    • Credentials: 29 career starts.

    Harrison isn't as decorated as many of the other players on this list. A big reason for that was because the SEC was loaded with offensive line talent in 2013—almost all of them are off to the NFL. 

    In fact, Harrison wasn't even the most recognizable name on his own line. That was Jake Matthews. 

    Harrison, like a lot of players on this fictional offensive line, has great athleticism. What he lacks is technique and discipline, but that can be refined through repetition. 

Alabama Guard Arie Kouandjio

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    Rogelio Solis/Associated Press

    Filling in the other guard position is Alabama's Arie Kouandjio, the older brother of former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. 

    • Height: 6'5"
    • Weight: 315

    Like Amari Cooper, this selection comes with a bit of a risk. Kouandjio has had injury problems in the past that have derailed his chances of being one of the best in the country.

    Still, we're banking on Kouandjio healing up nicely and putting together a solid season. He has the athleticism to be a beast in run-blocking. If he can stay on the field, he's a special player. 

Oregon Center Hroniss Grasu

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    Ross Franklin/Associated Press

    The chemistry between a center and a quarterback is one of the most underappreciated parts of football. So why not have the center and quarterback on this list come from the same team?

    Enter Oregon's Hroniss Grasu. 

    • Height: 6'3"
    • Weight: 297
    • Credentials: Rimington Trophy finalist, First-Team All-Pac-12 selection

    Grasu isn't the biggest center in the game, but he's one of the more well-rounded players at his position. The Ducks love to put skill players in space, so blocking and creating running lanes is crucial. This is where Grasu excels. 

    He's not going to drive defenders off the ball like someone in a power offense would, but he's excellent for Oregon's spread offense. 

Michigan State Defensive End Shilique Calhoun

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    Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images

    Transitioning to defense, finding good defensive ends has become one of the most important tasks in football. As the game has become more quarterback-friendly, the need for elite edge-rushers has increased. One of the best defensive ends in college football is Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. 

    • Height: 6'4"
    • Weight: 257
    • Credentials: First-Team All-Big Ten selection, Second-Team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year

    So much focus from Michigan State's stellar defense last year revolved around the front seven. Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds were important players along the interior of the Spartans' defensive line, but Calhoun is a monster off the edge with 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. 

    He's solid in both pass and run defense, which is why he makes the list. He could have left after the 2013 season, but if he has another big year for the Spartans, there's little reason to think he can't be a first-round selection. 

Ohio State Defensive Tackle Michael Bennett

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Moving into the interior of the defensive line, the first of two defensive tackle selections is Ohio State's Michael Bennett. 

    • Height: 6'2"
    • Weight: 288
    • Credentials: Second-Team All-Big Ten selection

    Bennett returns as one of the premier defensive tackles in the country—and he's part of a defensive line that should be one of the best as well. Last season, Bennett finished second on the team with seven sacks. 

    That's actually a pretty remarkable number considering his job last year was to pave the way for players like Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier. Bennett can get in the backfield on his own, which makes him one of the most dominant players along the defensive line anywhere in college football. 

Clemson Defensive End Vic Beasley

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    When it comes to edge-rushing, there are few players in college football who are more dangerous—and exciting—than Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley. 

    • Height: 6'2"
    • Weight: 235
    • Credentials: First-Team All-American selection, First-Team All-ACC

    Although undersized and pretty one-dimensional, Beasley is fast. Super fast. And there's usually little anyone can do about it. Not surprisingly, he led the team in tackles for loss (23) and sacks (13). 

    Beasley probably projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL, but in college, he's an elite pass-rusher along the defensive line. He can be pushed around against the run, but his athleticism is hard to match. 

Ole Miss Defensive Tackle/Defensive End Robert Nkemdiche

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Finishing up the defensive line is Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche, a young player who was the prize recruit in Ole Miss' 2013 star-studded class. 

    • Height: 6'4"
    • Weight: 277 
    • Credentials: Freshman All-American selection, former No. 1 overall recruit, according to 247Sports

    For a true freshman, Nkemdiche made an impact for Ole Miss by playing in 11 games with 10 starts. He bounced back and forth between defensive end and defensive tackle, but statistically, he didn't have the year that perhaps many thought he would with just two sacks.

    Still, there's no denying Nkemdiche's pure athleticism and talent. He has a lot of room to grow along the defensive line and more than enough skill to do it. So while some players on this list are chosen for their experience, Nkemdiche is chosen for what he will bring in a year or two. 

UCLA Linebacker Myles Jack

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Few players made a bigger impact for their team as a freshman than UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. Now in his second year, Jack has the makings of one of the most dominant defenders in the game. 

    • Height: 6'1"
    • Weight: 230
    • Credentials: Paul Hornung Award finalist, First-Team Freshman All-American selection, Second-Team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year

    Jack is famous for serving, briefly, as a two-way player for the Bruins at linebacker and running back. Head coach Jim Mora knows that his player's future resides on defense, however, and he's content to let Jack tear things up there. 

    As an inside linebacker, Jack's speciality is stopping the run. And he's definitely special; his 75 tackles were second-most ever by a freshman at UCLA. 

    Jack is already a stud. He's primed for a monster college career. 

Oklahoma Linebacker Eric Striker

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If defensive coordinators are looking for a fast linebacker to blitz the quarterback, look no further than Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker. The guy is an absolute nightmare. 

    • Height: 6'0"
    • Weight: 220
    • Credentials: All-Big 12 Second-Team selection, 26 game appearances with 13 starts

    In 1945, as World War II was coming to an end, United States scientists developed what was, at the time, considered an alternative to long-range ballistic missiles. 

    However, with Japan's surrender, the project was indefinitely put on hold, and the underground labs were sealed shut. 

    In 2013, federal government officials secretly reopened the project, and Striker was released unto the world with 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Also, he sent Texas quarterback Case McCoy to another dimension.

Texas Linebacker Steve Edmond

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With a disruptive pass-rusher (Striker) and a solid run defender (Jack), this linebacker group needs someone who can drop into coverage to cover short to medium passes. Enter Texas' Steve Edmond. 

    • Height: 6'3"
    • Weight: 245
    • Credentials: All-Big 12 Honorable Mention; 192 career tackles is third among active players

    For all of the jokes about Texas' defense the past two years, Edmond was a guy who got results. He's a sound tackler and is well rounded in coverage, run and pass defense. 

    With a new coaching staff coming that has a background in defense, Edmond, along with the other Longhorn defenders, should have a big year in 2014. 

Oregon Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Moving into the secondary, cornerbacks are being asked to do everything from playing man coverage against receivers to helping out against the run. Few do all of the above better than Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. 

    • Height: 5'10"
    • Weight: 195
    • Credentials: Second-Team All-American selection, First-Team All-Pac-12 selection for consecutive years 

    Ekpre-Olomu can do it all. He can cover, and he can move up to help in run defense if needed—not every corner is willing to get their hands dirty there. He tied for second on the team in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (six). 

    Ekpre-Olomu could have gone to the NFL this year, and he likely would have been a Day 1 selection. Instead, he's coming back for another season as one of the best corners in college football.

Florida Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    At the other cornerback spot, we have one of the best young defenders in the country: Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, who was an impact player as a freshman. 

    • Height: 5'11"
    • Weight: 192
    • Credentials: Freshman All-American selection, First-Team All-SEC

    Hargreaves looks like he's going to be the next great shutdown corner in college football. He's physical, unafraid and will gladly go head-to-head with big-time receivers. Pass defense is where he excels the most. 

    As a freshman for the Gators in 2013, Hargreaves started the final 10 games of the season. He's a lock to start for Florida this year and will be asked to take on the SEC's best receivers. And he'll be ready.

TCU Safety Chris Hackett

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    We're at the last line of defense for the B/R Dream Team: the safety position. When it comes to putting together a secondary, TCU had one of the best groups in the country last year—and will again this year even though cornerback Jason Verrett is gone. 

    The leader of this year's Horned Frogs secondary will be safety Chris Hackett.

    • Height: 6'2"
    • Weight: 195
    • Credentials: Second-Team All-Big 12 selection

    Hackett is everywhere for TCU, which is what you want out of the safety spot. He finished second on the team with 88 tackles. He's excellent in run support and smart in pass coverage with three interceptions. 

    There really isn't much Hackett doesn't do well. He's the ideal safety who can hang back or be aggressive near the line of scrimmage. 

Alabama Safety Landon Collins

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The other safety spot goes to a guy who is, pound for pound, one of the best defenders in the nation: Alabama's Landon Collins. 

    • Height: 6'0"
    • Weight: 215
    • Credentials: Associated Press Second-Team All-SEC selection

    Collins is physical, and his best football is played against the run. However, he's a sound tackler whether he's coming up in run support or preventing a pass play from netting more yards. He also has exceptional closing speed. 

    Collins is a remarkable talent, but he's still evolving as a starting safety. By the time he leaves for the NFL, there's little doubt here that he'll be one of the best at that position. 

Return Specialist: Stanford Wide Receiver Ty Montgomery

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Sometimes, an offense or defense is only as good as the field position it has. That's why a good return man is so important. In 2013, Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery was among the most electric returners in the game. 

    • Height: 6'2"
    • Weight: 215
    • Credentials: First-Team All-American selection (kick returner)

    The numbers speak for themselves. In 2013, Montgomery finished second nationally with 30.3 kickoff return yards per game and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. In all, he had 36 kickoff returns for 1,091 yards, becoming only the second player in program history with more than 1,000 kickoff return yards in a season. 

    For a player of his size, Montgomery has great speed to go along with good vision. 

Florida State Kicker Roberto Aguayo

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    USA TODAY Sports

    You know what they say: No one knows the kicker's name until the game is on the line. Here's a name you should know: Florida State's Roberto Aguayo. 

    • Height: 6'1"
    • Weight: 176
    • Credentials: Lou Groza Award winner, First-Team All-American selection, First-Team All-ACC selection

    What's there to analyze? Aguayo was 94-of-94 on extra points—an FBS all-time record—and 21-of-22 on field goals with a long of 53.

Texas A&M Punter Drew Kaser

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Yes, yes, they're not really part of the team (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but the punter can do a defense huge favors by pinning opponents down deep in their own territory. The best returning punter in college football is Texas A&M's Drew Kaser. 

    • Height: 6'3"
    • Weight: 205
    • Credentials: Ray Guy Award finalist

    Kaser averaged 47.4 yards per punt last season with a long of 76 yards. Three times, he averaged more than 50 yards a punt. 

Head Coach Nick Saban

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    USA TODAY Sports

    All this Dream Team needs is a perfect head coach. 

    Our choice is Alabama's Nick Saban

    Oh, sure, there are other worthy candidates: Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Baylor's Art Briles, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Stanford's David Shaw all come to mind. 

    But Saban has built another dynasty in Tuscaloosa, winning three national championships. The Tide are at the top of the rankings nearly every year and put together some of the best recruiting classes on a consistent basis. 

    Saban takes those players and puts them in the NFL, too. He's 79-15 in seven seasons with Alabama, and he's already earned a statue outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

    There's no coach in the game today who has done as much. 

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