by Rob Weintraub
College football: where the bands play, the fans sneak in flasks in their long underwear, and the players prepare for that day when they finally get paid to knock heads with the opposition. The NFL's minor leagues are of course intrinsic to its success, but the second the draft ends we seem to collectively forget about where the pros plied their trade on Saturdays (except for those couple of minutes during the intros on Sunday nights).
But I have always kept those alma maters in my frontal lobe while watching the NFL, mainly to gauge which players are best representing dear old Pigskin State. Since 2012, in fact, I have written down my opinion about each Power Five school's alumni MVP. This year, to fill the lull before the Super Bowl, I'm sharing it with you. We'll have a new post each day for FO readers to debate.
BOSTON COLLEGE (18 alums on NFL rosters in 2016, per ESPN.com)
A year ago Kuechly was in the Super Bowl; this year he left the field concussed and sobbing.
A year ago Ryan looked old and lost; this year he's the MVP. Treasure that alumni award, Iceman, for sic transit Gloria.
Offensive players have dominated the national champs' orange-hued award roughly since Michael Dean Perry turned pro, but injuries (Sammy Watkins), suspensions (Martavis Bryant), and poor quarterback play (Hopkins) took down the leading candidates. Meanwhile, Beasley tore free from the Bustoleum that encased him during his rookie season to lead the NFL in sacks. Stiff competition from Dabo Swinney's 'crootin' factory is coming soon, so don't make room on the shelf for multiple trophies just yet, Vic.
A breakthrough season in multiple ways for Crowder, as he not only established himself as an extremely useful player in D.C. but broke Vinny Rey's stranglehold on the Blue Devils award.
FLORIDA STATE (42)
The Noles are a classic example of a program with huge numbers of alumni getting paid to play without the hordes translating into many stars. Jameis edged Devonta last year mainly by dint of positional importance, but the Falcons runner returned the favor this season thanks to his large role in his team's historically great offense.
GEORGIA TECH (19)
The cratering quarterback play in Denver means that for the first time in a decade the stinger-shaped Yellow Jackets award goes to a non-wideout, in this case the unheralded Mason. Pats line coach Dante Scarnecchia deserves a share of the award for transforming the sophomore guard's play.
Teddy B's devastating injury left the Redbirds award to a pair of rank-and-file Steelers. Gay edged out wide receiver Eli Rogers mainly by dint of squeezing 16 games out of his 32-year-old frame, not a small thing for a cornerback.
Not so long ago, The U dominated the pro ranks in both quantity and quality. But the program has spiraled downhill in recent years; while former Canes still stuff NFL rosters, few superstars along the lines of Lewis, Reed, Taylor, Johnson, Wilfork, et al. have emerged. Vernon narrowly lost out to Olsen a year ago, a slight which he rectified by moving north in 2016.
NORTH CAROLINA (23)
Buffalo's defense underachieved relative to its talent once again, but Brown nonetheless cruised to the Tar Heels Trophy against mediocre competition.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE (15)
David Amerson had a good season with 12-win Oakland. Philip Rivers tilted at windmills for the five-win Chargers as the Bolts played their way out of San Diego. Call it a sympathy vote for Rivers as he heads up the 405 to wind up his career in a soccer stadium.
NOTRE DAME (30)
The Irish are an honorary ACC team, but for the interests of this piece they are pure Tobacco Road. Last season Martin was involved in a bitter three-way affair with Smith and Tyler Eifert; this season the path was cleared for an easy win for the Cowboys big ugly.
No-brainer for the second straight season.
2012: Chandler Jones, DE, New England
2013: TIE, Chandler Jones, DE, New England and Arthur Jones, DE, Baltimore
2014: Chandler Jones, DE, New England
2015: Chandler Jones, DE, New England
2016: Chandler Jones, LB, Arizona
Jones notched 11 sacks in his first year in the desert, meaning his upcoming monster contract will be sweetened by the alumni award l'Orange.
A case could be made for Albert, who battled through a painful wrist injury, and fellow tackle Morgan Moses of Washington, who made strides in his third season in D.C. But Long's resuscitation as a pass-rush specialist in Foxborough earns him the Wahoos Trophy.
VIRGINIA TECH (15)
Brown's injury forced him to miss the first month of the season, providing the difference between him and the Battering Kam, who regains the Hokies Award.
WAKE FOREST (4)
Yes, a foot injury knocked the excellent Texans corner out of commission after just six games. But the other three Deacons in the NFL (Nikita Whitlock, Joe Looney, Kyle Wilber) didn't make enough noise to swipe the Demons award from K.J.
You can enjoy Rob Weintraub's Alumni Trophies for other conferences here: