As we do each week, our submission in the first annual MaxwellAward Pundit voting, hosted by our esteemed colleagues at Rakes of Mallow. For those new to the game, the award - voted on by a dozen of your favorite college football bloggers - ranks the top five players in all of college football.
Thus far, we've had a tough time figuring out how to work in defensive players into this mix (they're eligible), and we've yet to get someone in our top five, but we're getting closer. Last week's ranking in parentheses.
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (2) Last Week: 17-20, 191 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
I'll get to why I bumped down Garrett Wolfe in the comments below, so let's use this space to praise Smith. He's the most frightening player in college football right now, and looking more and more like the CFB equivalent of Donovan McNabb. Black and fleet of foot? Sure. But they're both pure passers with cannons for arms - only using their feet to buy more time to throw.
2. Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois (1) Last Week: 29 carries, 162 yards, 2 TDs
The numbers were fine, of course, but here's what bothered me about tonight's game and made me re-evaluate Garrett slightly. There were two separate plays that the Huskies needed short to medium-short yardage to put away the game. Both were situations where Heisman Running Back gets the call every time. And yet Northern Illinois didn't use Wolfe in either instance. It was either putrid coaching, or a ding on Wolfe. As I watched almost the entire game tonight, I took it as a ding on Wolfe. He's a crazy, fun motor of a man, but he's not the best player in college football. He needed to be OUTstanding tonight on national television. He was "merely" very good... Against a lousy defense. That's not enough.
3. Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan (3) Last Week: 3 catches, 75 yards, 2 TDs
Yaaaawn. Three catches, two touchdowns. It's like clockword for the amazing sophomore, who now has eight touchdowns in the last four games. We're broken records on this guy - what he does for Michigan's offense can't be overstated.
4. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (4) Last Week: 10 catches, 133 yards, 1 TD
The ManBeast just keeps ripping off great weeks in spite of playing for a lousy quarterback like Reggie Ball. Which, for point of comparison, would be like dropping a triple double with your ear tied to your ankle. Very difficult. We're impressed.
5. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (SC) Last Week: 26 carries, 185 yards, 1 TD
He's awfully good, and he's running behind an awfully good offensive line. After a so-so week against East Carolina, Slaton came storming back to absolutely scorch Mississippi State - no slouch against the run. He's a legit threat to break one on every run.
Receiving Serious Consideration
Reggie Nelson, Florida He's all over the place, making plays, intimidating opponents - generally raising hell all across the field. Florida's offense isn't an unstoppable force, but its defense is playing extraordinarily well. Nelson's the big playmaker of the bunch.
Michigan's Defensive Line Another week, another dominant run-stuffing performance. It's hard to single out one guy here, really. Alan Branch is Casey Hampton - a gigantic rush-stopping menace who eats blockers and clogs the middle of the LOS. Lamarr Woodley is playing like Dwigh Freeney. We aren't even touching on the linebackers, who are blowing up plays like last year's elite Buckeye crew. It may be hard to single out individual defenders for this particular award, but we're having no trouble noticing the overall dominance of Michigan on defense.
Tyler Palko, Pittsburgh He drops out of our top five this week, but he continues to play terrific football, slicing defenses with accurate throws (mostly underneath). It's a ball control offense, and it's not very flashy, but Palko's getting it done with ease and with grace.
Adrian Peterson He's a beast, no doubt, but he's handicapped by a so-so offensive line, and a quarterback who doesn't scare opponents. Texas held the talented junior to 109 yards on 25 carries. That's not a bad load, but he was completely shut down in the second half. Kudos to Texas for an outstanding effort.
Chris Leak, Florida It wasn't his best game of the year, but his overall body of work remains excellent. The odds are that Florida's schedule will keep Leak out of this discussion in terms of winning it, but he deserves credit for the job he's done so far - which has been outstanding.
Ian Johnson, Boise State They may not play enough competitive games for him to be a factor in this. The Broncos are cruising to victories right now.
Erik Ainge, Tennessee It was a workmanlike effort from Ainge, who racked up some gaudy numbers against a heretofore stout Georgia defense. If he maintains that kind of production, he'll find himself in our top five. No doubt.
On The Radar
DeSean Jackson (Cal), Robert Meachem (Tennessee), Limas Sweed (Texas), Mike Hart (Michigan)