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.
BAYLOR (13 alums on NFL rosters in 2016, per ESPN.com)
No offense to Bryant, who led the NFL in scoring and is one of the league's most reliable booters, but the negative karma around the Bears program has reduced the competition for this award to ash. The only other potential nominees were a trio of meh receivers (Terrance Williams, Corey Coleman, Kendall Wright).
IOWA STATE (5)
Osemele actually got a scintilla of competition for the cyclone-shaped award this year, courtesy of Dallas pash-rusher David Irving. But Osemele earned his free-agent dollars from the Raiders, and his fourth alumni trophy in five years.
The fraternal battle for the Jayhawks award (and honor of being Denver's best corner) swings back to Talib, though the race was exceptionally close once again. Talib's snatch of Michael Crabtree's gold chain in the regular season finale probably tipped the trophy his way. Fair warning, Aqib, Crabtree has been spotted lingering outside your home, so hold on to the trophy with two hands, if you get my meaning.
KANSAS STATE (8)
Nelson's torn ACL allowed the fresh-faced Lockett to edge out the grizzled Terence Newman in 2015; Newman was even better this season, but couldn't compete with the return to (regular-season) health of the Green Bay great.
Can a player who received a suspension be eligible for the alumni award? As in most of life, I say the answer is nuanced. In the case of a superstar tackle like Williams, whose play was so far ahead of his Sooners competition in 2016, the fact he missed four games for "miscommunicating" with the piss-test guy (Williams' spin) doesn't blacklist him. On the other hand, Lane Johnson missed ten games for "taking mislabeled amino acids," and so while he was very good when playing for Philly, he didn't get enough action to qualify, thus he is blacklisted. In other words, this award is hardly black and white -- or scarlet and cream, as it happens.
OKLAHOMA STATE (10)
Rookie pass-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah was one of the few bright spots in Cleveland's dour campaign, but Dez Bryant still has to take the lasso-shaped Cowboys Award for putting up eight touchdowns and nearly 800 yards despite nagging hamstring issues.
The Red Rifle misfired just enough to open the door for the unheralded Cannon, who was a key part of the Pats' vastly improved play in the trenches.
Thomas was his usual dominant self before breaking his leg, and linebackers Jordan Hicks of Philadelphia and Brian Orakpo of Tennessee had strong campaigns. But Tucker was not only near-perfect (his only miss of the season was on a hurdle-the-line block by New England's Shea McClellin) but was 10-for-10 on kicks beyond 50 yards. Only three other kickers made as many as seven 50-plus-yarders. Tucker's 141 points were a remarkable 41 percent of Baltimore's season total of 343. It's not unusual for a kicker to win an alumni award per se, but taking the prize among a stacked pro talent base like the Longhorns have provided is an accomplishment.
TEXAS TECH (11)
Regardless on which side of the bay he plies his trade, Crabtree has seized Wes Welker's mantle of top Red Raider alum. There's not much competition out of Lubbock lately-- only Danny Amendola even threw his hat in the ring this season.
Previous alumni trophies: