All-America teams: They're everywhere this time of year, virtually all of them the result of a wisdom-of-crowds approach that hews to the conventional wisdom. That's well and good, the conventional wisdom usually being preferable to the alternatives.
For our purposes, though, we've tried to go in a slightly different direction, at least in rationale if not always result. First, there's the format: In addition to the first-team selections detailed below, the FSH All-America Team is just that, a full roster of the best 85 players in college football this season down to the last available scholarship. We've also gone deep into the reservoir of advanced statistics conceived and maintained by Bill Connelly, including F/+ ratings, S&P+ ratings and a comprehensive database of granular measures for individual rushers, receivers and both offensive and defensive lines, all of which come together to serve as the foundation for our selections. In some cases the choice corresponds to the status quo, in some case it doesn't. But in every case we can guarantee that the process was exhaustive.
We'll spare you the gory details of Winston's over-the-top debut, and stick to the essentials. Individually, he led the nation in pass efficiency, finishing within two points of the FBS record set by Russell Wilson. As a team, FSU topped the S&P+ ratings nationally in total offense, passing offense and drive efficiency, all by wide margins. Going into the BCS title game, the Seminoles need 27 points – barely half their season average – to pass the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners as the highest-scoring team on record.
There were more explosive backs, but none who came close to Carey's consistency: After sitting out the opener, he exceeded 100 yards with ease in eleven consecutive games – including a 206-yard, four-touchdown romp in Arizona's 42–16 upset over Oregon – making Carey the only FBS player to hit the century mark in every game he played.
Despite his size and penchant for violence, Williams was a nightmare on the second level, leading the nation by far in highlight yards (1,060) and carries covering at least 20 yards. In all, highlight yards accounted for just over 50 percent of Williams' total, the best ratio among all 1,000-yard rushers.
Cooks led the nation in receiving yards, and came by the title honestly: His catch rate (76.4 percent) ranked second among players who were targeted more than 100 times, behind only East Carolina's Justin Hardy (77.8 percent) and miles ahead of any other frequently targeted WR in the Pac-12.
Advanced or otherwise, statistics can't really do justice to Evans' Megatron-worthy turns against Alabama (7 catches for 279 yards) and Auburn (11 for 287 yards, 4 TDs), which really had to be seen to be appreciated. Despite his inconsistency against the rest of the schedule, though – and despite relatively few targets (93) compared to other top-shelf receivers – Evans still finished among the top ten nationally for yards (1,322), yards per catch (20.3) and yards per target (14.2) for an attack that S&P+ ranked sixth in passing offense.
Like Evans, Goodley made up for a relative dearth of targets by making the most of the opportunities he did get, averaging a sky-high 19.7 yards per catch and 12.9 per target on an offense that was surpassed in S&P+ terms only by Florida State. He fared especially well according to a comprehensive, quality-over-quantity measure we call "RYPR" (explained here), in which Goodley finished third after leading the nation for much of the season. All eight receivers recognized here finished in the top 20 according to RYPR with catch rates of 66 percent or higher.
The only real debate over Amaro's place here is semantic: Given the nature of the "Y" position in Texas Tech's offense, it's easy to argue he's more of an oversized slot receiver than a true tight end. But once you've watched enough film to determine that yes, in fact, Amaro meets the minimum qualifications for the position, his production – 98 catches for 1,240 yards, 7 touchdowns – pretty much speaks for itself. (He's not a bad blocker in a pinch, either.) Altogether, Amaro saw more than twice as many passes comes his way (141) as any other tight end nationally except Eric Ebron, another WR/TE hybrid who finished a distant second with eighty-five.
As a pass blocker, Matthews is every bit as impenetrable as his blue-chip draft stock suggests. As a whole, though, A&M was actually better blocking for the run, ranking third nationally in Adjusted Line Yards (explained here) and second in Opportunity Rate (explained here). In effect, that means the Aggies gained at least five yards on 50.6 percent of running plays, one of only three teams nationally (along with Ohio State and Northern Illinois) to hit that mark on a majority of runs.
Buckeye fans were miffed that Mewhort was snubbed by Big Ten coaches for a first-team all-conference nod, and justifiably so: For our money, Ohio State was the most productive run-blocking team anywhere, ranking No. 1 nationally in Adjusted Line Yards, Opportunity Rate and Offensive Rushing S&P+, and Mewhort was the undisputed leader of that line from the first snap in spring practice. (Late in the season, Urban Meyer pointed out that the offense wasn't the same when Mewhort went to the bench with a minor injury against Illinois, and called him the Buckeyes' "best offensive player.") Among 389 backs who logged at least 50 carries this season, only one – Carlos Hyde – managed to gain at least five yards on at least 60 percent of those carries, a testament to the consistent push achieved by the front five.
It took an eye-opening performance in the Iron Bowl for the rest of America to catch on, but the fact is Auburn has been on a roll for months: Following a Sept. 28 bye week, the Tigers averaged an astounding 382 yards per game on the ground over their last nine, demolishing Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri in the process and finishing among the top five nationally in both Adjusted Line Yards and Opportunity Rate. (On Standard Downs – i.e. run downs – Auburn turned in the best ALY in the nation.) With 36 career starts, Dismukes is the most experienced player on the roster, and the only lineman opposing coaches singled out for an All-SEC nod.
Contrary to popular belief, Baylor's prolific, point-a-minute attack begins and ends on the ground, where the Bears logged more carries for more yards on more yards per carry than any offense in the Big 12. (For the Baylor skeptics in the house, note that the trend holds when we limit the question to conference games only, or to games against opponents with winning records.) Richardson is already a consensus All-American, making him the the first Baylor offensive lineman to earn that distinction since 1956; wherever he comes off the board in April, he'll be the sixth Baylor OL drafted since 2009, matching the number over the previous 25 years combined.
Yankey, too, is solidifying a newly constructed pipeline by sweeping All-America teams and draft boards alike, as prophesied before the season and guaranteed by the old-school beatdown Stanford administered to Oregon in early November. That was a high-water mark for the Cardinal's retro style of play, but they were uncannily consistent all season, finishing within 30 yards of their season average on the ground (210 yards) in ten of thirteen games.
No defense dominated the line of scrimmage like Michigan State, which ranked in the top five against the run by every possible measure – yards per game, yards per carry, third-down rate, Rushing Defense S&P+, Adjusted Line Yards, Opportunity Rate, Power Success Rate – then ended the year by holding Ohio State to its worst output of the season in the Big Ten title game. And no one on Michigan State's defense dominated like Calhoun, a first-year starter who made early headlines with three touchdowns in the Spartans' first two games, led the charge in a midseason obliteration of Michigan and finished as the team leader in sacks (7.5), QB hurries (18) and forced fumbles (2).
Like Calhoun, Sam vexes pro scouts because of his tweener size (6-foot-2, 255), but not to nearly the extent that he vexed opposing tackles: Even with a quiet November, Sam still led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss, on a defense that managed to land in the top 20 according to both F/+ and S&P+ ratings despite its wholesale collapse in the SEC championship game. The previous week, the Tigers corralled Johnny Manziel into the worst stat line of his career.
There are few places more obscure than the middle of the defensive line on a 6–6 ACC also-ran, which makes Donald's ubiquity on the postseason awards circuit all the more impressive: Even for voters who never saw him play, his production (26.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) spoke too loudly to ignore. As a whole, Pitt's defense finished 16th nationally in Adjusted Line Yards – fourth on Standard Downs – and held nine of twelve opponents below their season rushing average.
Usually, the transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 is a boon for the linebackers, not the big guys up front, whose job in the 3-4 often amounts to absorbing a constant barrage of double teams while LBs rack up the tackles. Not so for Williams, who was so active on the interior line he wound up finishing second on the team in total tackles (72), tackles for loss (12.5) and QB hurries as a true sophomore. Even when it looked like the Trojans' season was going to hell in October, the defense held its own, ultimately coming in sixth overall in the F/+ and S/P+ ratings alike.
You won't find Mosley on any highlight reels – he finished his senior season with zero sacks, zero interceptions and one forced fumble – but watch closely and you will inevitably find him around the ball: With 102 total tackles, Mosley led the team not just for the season, but in every single game except one. (Weirdly, he was credited with a single tackle against Tennessee, an outlier he attempted to explain after the fact.) Week-in, week-out, Alabama was its usual, suffocating self, finishing second nationally in scoring defense, fourth in Defensive F/+ and first in Adjusted Line Yards on Standard Downs.
Barring a dramatic turn of events in the bowl season, Murphy is well on his way to the Pac-12 title for both tackles for loss and sacks, where he currently leads the nation with fourteen. Add it all up – or subtract it, actually – and he was responsible for more negative yardage than any other FBS player.
As a whole, Ohio State's defense left a lot to be desired, finishing well outside the top 25 according to F/+ (35th) and S&P+ (40th), as well as more conventional measures. Then there was Shazier, who finished so far ahead of the rest of the Big Ten in total tackles (135), solo tackles (95), tackles for loss (23.5) and forced fumbles (4) that his place here is assured. The problem was the rare occasion that he didn't make the play: After Shazier, the Buckeyes' next four leading tacklers are all defensive backs.
Like most great corners, Dennard's individual stat line (59 tackles, 4 interceptions, 10 passes broken up) is a pale reflection of his actual impact, which was apparent enough to anyone who watched Michigan State at any point this season. As a team, the Spartans ranked second nationally in pass efficiency defense, and Dennard played his way into a first-round grade in April's draft.
Vernon Hargreaves III
In a banner year for freshman corners (see also: Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson and Wisconsin's Sojourn Shelton), Hargreaves moved to the head of the class by picking up a first-team All-SEC nod from conference coaches, making him the only Florida player on either side of the ball to make the cut. That's an accurate reflection of the Gators' season: While the rest of the team foundered, Hargreaves tied for the SEC lead with 14 passes defended, and the secondary as a whole finished No. 1 in the S&P+ ratings for pass defense.
Yes, technically Joyner is listed as a cornerback this season after spending his first three years at safety, a concession to inevitable doubts about his size at the next level. In practice, though, he served as a roving, Polamaluvian presence, frequently lining up in the nickel role and even serving as the Seminoles' most effective blitzer – he actually led the team in sacks with five, as well as forced fumbles. (Against Clemson, Joyner forced two fumbles in the first quarter that led directly to FSU's first two touchdowns in the blowout.) For the most active player on a unit that led the nation in pass efficiency defense and ranked No. 1 overall in Defensive S&P+, there's a place for him here no matter where he lines up.
Prewitt was the veteran glue of a very young but consistently solid secondary, one that matched first-rate units from Alabama and Florida by allowing only nine touchdown passes all season. (Only Louisville fared better, allowing eight.) For his part, Prewitt tied for the team lead in tackles and accounted for half of the Rebels' interceptions with six, which also led the SEC. He was rewarded as Ole Miss' only representative on the all-conference team, earning more votes from league coaches than any other defensive back.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham is the "all-purpose" pick, a nod to his skills as both a wide receiver – he ranks fourth nationally in RYPR – and as a return man. Combining both roles, he accounted for more all-purpose yards than all but two other FBS players, Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews and Georgia State's Albert Wilson, both of whom did the bulk of their damage in the Sun Belt.
In matters of the foot, the decision-making process is slightly less advanced: Freese is one of only two FBS kickers to hit every field goal attempt this season, finishing a perfect 18-of-18 with two successful tries from beyond 50 yards. His game-winner against Maryland, a career-long, 52-yard bomb as time expired, was college football's kick of the year.
What Stanford lacked in big-play cachet on offense, it was occasionally able to make up on kickoff returns, where Montgomery led the nation in return average (31.2) and in returns covering at least 50 yards (6). In early October, in back-to-back, down-to-the-wire games against Washington and Utah, Montgomery accounted for more all-purpose yards as a rusher, receiver and return man (589) than the rest of the team combined.
The default rubric for punters is distance, and Kaser could justify his existence here on distance alone: At 47.4 yards per punt, he led the SEC, and 17 of his 44 attempts traveled at least 50 yards. But the entire point of punting (and of distance) is field position, and no one fared better on that front than Texas A&M – on average, opposing offenses took over with the ball at their own 24-yard line, the best starting field position for any defense in the nation.
Switzer, a true freshman, arrived at UNC with no discernible hype, and needed a few weeks to get up to speed. By November, though, he was untouchable, at one point returning four punts for touchdowns in a span of three weeks against Virginia, Pittsburgh and Old Dominion, including a winding, 61-yard gallop at Pitt that proved to be the decisive score in a 34–27 win for the Tar Heels. In all, four punt-return touchdowns led the nation – no one else had more than two – as did Switzer's total production in that role of 419 yards.