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.
ALABAMA (42 alums on NFL rosters in 2016, per ESPN.com)
Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when Alabama alumni tended to fall flat at the pro level (Trent Richardson, anyone?). But that trend has most definitely turned as the five-star recruits continue to flow to the Tuscaloosa Finishing School. With the likes of Landon Collins, Dont'a Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Amari Cooper, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dre Kirkpatrick, and others turning in strong seasons, it's a testament to Julio's excellence that he repeated as Top Tide even though his numbers fell off a bit, due to injury and greater balance in Atlanta. Uneasy lies the crown, however, with a fresh wave of highly drafted, Nick Saban-polished studs set to join the fray.
Peters rebounded from a down 2015 to fend off a strong challenge from Chargers rookie tight end Hunter Henry and grab his third Hog award in four years.
Bad enough Newton's atrocious season saw him plummet from the heights of league MVP and the Super Bowl. He also lost out on the War Eagle trophy as well. Ford's ten sacks (plus another half-sack in K.C.'s playoff loss) was enough to best a surprisingly feeble group of pro Tigers.
2012: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh
2013: Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland
2014: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh
2015: (tie) Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati and Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati
2016: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati
Marcus Gilbert of Pittsburgh and Janoris Jenkins of the Giants were in the running, but another excellent pass-rushing season from Dunlap bested them. He had 8 sacks and finished second in our charting with 43 hurries.
Davis' Super Bowl run with the Panthers broke the tie with Atkins a year ago; this season there was no such competition for the Bengals' inside force, especially after Matthew Stafford turned back into a pumpkin/broke his finger.
2012: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
2013: Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver
2014: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
2015: Danny Trevathen, LB, Denver
2016: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
It wasn't exactly a scintillating season, but Cobb's stats (buoyed by his postseason explosion) still outpace the competition, which was hamstrung by injury (Trevathan, Jacob Tamme) and ineptitude (Larry Warford).
2012: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona
2013: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona
2014: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants
2015: (tie) Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona and Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona
2016: Andrew Whitworth, OT, Cincinnati
The Bayou Bengals are the top pipeline to the pros in all of college football, sending a whopping 46 alumni to the Sunday gridiron. With that kind of talent tidal wave, choosing the Tigers Trophy winner is an annual process in hair-splitting. Big Whit has certainly been worthy in previous seasons; his continued excellence at his advanced age earns him the award this go-around.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (15)
All due respect to the strong defenders outta Stark Vegas (Wright, Cox, Chris Jones, Benardrick McKinney, Darius Slay, Pernell McPhee), but Prescott could have a stranglehold on the Bulldogs award for a while. Or not -- that's the nature of this oft-transitory award.
As the Tigers program has spiraled since the retirement of Gary Pinkel, so too the pro performance of its alums. Ray at least produced eight sacks to best middling competition for the Mizzou award.
OLE MISS (18)
That Tunsil's main competition for the Johnny Reb Trophy was Mike Wallace speaks to the disappointment of recent Ole Miss alums in the pros. Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell were also first-round rookies, but unlike Mr. Gas Mask they flubbed mightily. Still, there was enough decent play from former Oxfordians to deny Manning, who won by default in 2015, a lame three-peat.
SOUTH CAROLINA (24)
Cue Etta James: "At last..." Clowney finally lived up to his terrorizing potential this season, easily taking home the Gamecocks Award over his defensive back competition.
There was some controversy to the Vols Award last year, as Manning's dominance came to an end despite his storybook ending (his Lombardi Trophy served as a poor substitute). No doubt this season, as Berry repeats without much argument.
TEXAS A&M (26)
Miller's win this season was far closer than in 2015, as Mike Evans very nearly stripped it away with an outstanding season. In the end, pass-rusher bests wideout, so it's an Aggies Award three-peat for the Von And Only.
The Commodores Award is unofficially known as the "Which Jay Cutler Showed Up This Year?" trophy. After a strong season under Adam Gase in 2015, Cutler was beat up and ineffective this year. There was a twist, though. Hayward hardly won by default; he was legitimately excellent for the Chargers.