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.
ARIZONA (11 alums on NFL rosters in 2016, per ESPN.com)
Ka'Deem Carey. Marquis Flowers. Nick Foles. Nick Folk. Robert Golden. Earl Mitchell. Will Parks. Brooks Reed. Trevin Wade. Scooby Wright. Even the combined efforts of the ten other pro Wildcats don't add up to a half-season of Gronk.
ARIZONA STATE (13)
T-Sizzle was back, and notched eight sacks, but it's hard to argue his season was better than the one turned in by the Tazmanian (Sun) Devil, even factoring in Burfict's missed time to injury and suspension. It was very close, and I admit my Bengals bias, so if you want to mentally consider the trophy split down the middle, I can live with it. One thing we can all agree upon: Brock Osweiler didn't receive consideration.
Strawberry Valley remains one of the most underrated sources of talent, both in quantity and high quality. Sure, Mr. Olivia Munn has bagged four of the last five awards, but he has always had to work hard for it. This season that meant fending off the likes of Alex Mack, Lorenzo Alexander, DeSean Jackson, Mitchell Schwartz, Cameron Jordan, and Marvin Jones. It was no sure thing at midseason -- if anything, Rodgers trailed most of the players on that list. But his finishing kick got Rodgers comfortably across the line.
Make it Bakh-to-Bakh Buffs Trophies for Bakhtiari, who improved his play this season, perhaps in part thanks to the contract extension he signed in September.
LeGarrette Blount certainly pushed hard for the Ducks Trophy, even threatening to cold-cock the award panel (me, that is), but in the end Mariota played a more important position extremely well, even factoring in his late-season injury.
OREGON STATE (20)
The temptation to give the Beavers Trophy to Rams punter Johnny Hekker was strong, but it's not like Hekker's awesome fourth-down performance contributed to many wins. Had the Rams made the playoffs behind defense and field position, the two oversized front teeth made of gold would reside on his mantle. Instead, the Beaver stays in the Big Easy for the fourth straight season.
An extremely close race between Sherman and Steelers guard David DeCastro came down to position importance, with the cornerback touching out the guard at the wall (and doing so with a bad knee, to boot). Andrew Luck had a strong positional argument, given he plays the most important spot and does so very well, but was let down by his compatriots just enough to slide him to third.
In a single season Anthony Barr went from perhaps the best young linebacker in football to a player head coach Mike Zimmer called out for his "tendency to coast" (which Zim noticed with just one functioning eye, apparently). Fortunately, the Vikes have another Bruins alum to step into the breach left by Barr's mystifying drop-off. Kendricks edged out Pats special teamer Matthew Slater, who was named All-Pro despite teammate Nate Ebner having the superior season.
While Southern Cal still sports a gushing pipeline to the pros, the overall impact of the talent dried up some this year, due to age and injuries (and perhaps the degradation of the program in recent years, which looks to have been halted). Palmer took a giant backwards step, and even Smith wasn't quite the player he was last year. But it was enough to make him the foremost Man of Troy once again.
New team, no problem for one of the league's most unheralded players. Alex Smith was in the mix even more so than last season, and made a real push, especially given the import of his position. Then came his playoff performance...
Trufant's injury made this an easy call, but Peters may have dethroned the Falcons corner anyway.
WASHINGTON STATE (6)
The Paloose is hardly a pro hotbed, allowing a decent but hardly dominant defender like Bucannon to three-peat.
Check out the other Rob Weintraub Alumni Trophy articles: