I have waited right up until the deadline before casting my MaxwellPundit ballot, but, fortunately, at this point in the season, the frontrunners have started to stabilize, so it isn't as though we're looking at a lot of surprises at this juncture.
While players such as Calvin Johnson, Reggie Nelson, and Brady Quinn may be making late charges, none of my top performers have done anything to dislodge themselves from my ballot, although the order in which they are ranked may change from week to week.
Foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but well-reasoned consistency is a sure sign of having been right in the first place! (Photograph from Poets' Corner.)
Therefore, without further fanfare, I bring you my votes for the top five players in college football:
1. LaMarr Woodley (Michigan): The Wolverines' senior defensive end and co-captain is a finalist for the Lombardi Award, and, gosh, don't you think he should be? The standout player on Michigan's stellar defense leads all linemen in total tackles (27), leads the team in tackles for loss (15), is one shy of matching the Michigan mark for sacks in a season (11), has tied a school record with four forced fumbles, ranks in the top 10 nationally in three defensive categories, and has recovered three fumbles, one of which he returned 54 yards for his first career touchdown. All right, so he had one lousy tackle against Ball State. When you're likely on the verge of becoming the first Wolverine ever to win the Lombardi Award, you're the best player in college football, period. Anyone who wants the top spot on my ballot has to go through or run by LaMarr Woodley to get there . . . and no one has been able to do it yet.
Of course, here in S.E.C. country, a fellow can get himself into trouble right quick by arguing that a Michigan defender with a seven-letter surname beginning with W-O-O-D deserves an award for being the best player in college football. . . . (Photograph from Accrofoot.)
2. Patrick Willis (Ole Miss): The senior linebacker's numbers are simply ridiculous. Willis has recorded a league-leading 112 total tackles, including 74 solo stops and seven tackles for loss, in 10 games for the Rebels. He also has broken up half a dozen passes, as well as forcing and recovering a fumble. Against Northwestern State, Willis led the team with 11 tackles, seven of which were solo stops. Not only does he average over 11 tackles per game, he has recorded double-digit stops in 16 of his last 18 outings. Look at it this way . . . if you managed to get by LaMarr Woodley, is there any player in college football you'd less rather run into when you got past him than Patrick Willis? I didn't think so.
3. Troy Smith (Ohio State): I'm not going to try to sugar-coat it . . . the Buckeye signal-caller had his worst outing of the 2006 campaign in Champaign last Saturday, connecting on 13 of his 23 pass attempts for a season-low 108 yards, his first interception since September 23, and his only game this season without a touchdown pass. Although this poor performance cost Smith some points, his numbers for the year---22 touchdowns, a trio of picks, and a neat season-specific 2,006 yards through the air---keep him high on my ballot.
Even flawless mechanized super-quarterbacks have off days, for which the rising defensive stars on my MaxwellPundit ballot say to Troy Smith, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." (By the way, for those of you younger than I am, that thing coming out of the top of the album cover is called a record.)
4. James Laurinaitis (Ohio State): Remember that Troy Smith interception I mentioned? Well, when Smith's errant throw gave the Fighting Illini a chance to topple the No. 1 team in the land, Laurinaitis rose to the occasion, picking off a pass of his own to give possession (and perhaps the victory) right back to the Buckeyes. On Saturday, the Ohio State linebacking terror led the team with 11 tackles, cementing his stature as the defensive leader on the nation's top-ranked team. Over the course of the campaign, Laurinaitis has registered 86 stops, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, five picks, and two forced fumbles.
5. Ian Johnson (Boise State): The Broncos' workhorse did not have his best outing against Fresno State, but he still managed to gain 136 yards on 24 carries and score a pair of touchdowns. Johnson has found the end zone 20 times this season and 10 times in his last three outings while tallying just over 1,300 yards on just under 200 rushing attempts. College football's most underappreciated tailback also is one of its five finest players.
Although most voters would never admit it, the real reason the Boise State running back stands no chance of winning either the Heisman Trophy or the MaxwellPundit Award is that, after "Beverly Hills 90210," Americans simply are unwilling to see another guy named Ian elevated to national prominence in any field of endeavor.
Those are my top five. Am I right? Am I wrong? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.