The Rakes of Mallow prudently took a week off from compiling the MaxwellPundit standings, allowing those of us among the electorate to take in a larger sample size of intercollegiate gridiron contests before casting our antepenultimate ballots for college football's top players . . . although, unsurprisingly, a fresh survey of the contenders convinced me once again that I was on the right track in the first place.
Much like Northern Illinois's Garrett Wolfe, Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn played themselves out of contention. Partisans of the respective gold-helmeted former contenders have defended their star players by pointing out that Calvin Johnson has played well in as many as two meaningful games per year and it was every other Notre Dame player except Brady Quinn who stunk up the Coliseum last Saturday night. For whatever reason, though, Johnson and Quinn failed to come up big in their respective teams' defining late-season outings, so they are out of sight, out of mind, and off the radar screen.
Fortunately, Brady Quinn has his modeling career to fall back on if this whole quarterbacking thing doesn't pan out for him.
Those developments narrowed the field, leaving us once again with these stellar performers as the best in the sport:
1. Troy Smith (Ohio State): In the season's biggest game, the top player in the country stepped into the spotlight and staked his claim to what I am sure will be a No. 1 ranking as unanimous as that deservedly conferred upon his team as a whole. Against second-ranked Michigan in a rivalry game, the Buckeye Q.B. put the ball into the air 41 times, for a season-best 316 yards and his second consecutive four-touchdown game. Over the course of Ohio State's undefeated campaign, Smith has completed two-thirds of his pass attempts (199 of 297), covering 25 football fields and change while throwing one-sixth as many picks (5) as touchdowns (30). Though there are those in Austin who would consider it blasphemous for me to say so, Troy Smith is this year's Vince Young, the superlative performer without whom the country's top team would not have won the national championship.
Vince Young was Troy Smith when being Troy Smith wasn't cool.
2. James Laurinaitis (Ohio State): The Lawgiver thinks he's overrated, but the numbers don't lie. The Buckeyes' linebacking assassin led the team with nine tackles against Michigan, bringing his season-long tally of stops to an even hundred, including four sacks for 40 yards. Laurinaitis's unending stream of slobberknockers is complemented by a trio of forced fumbles, a pass breakup, and five picks. The 56 yards Laurinaitis has gained on interception returns and the 44 yards he has cost the opposition on tackles for loss add up to a football field's worth of real estate, providing perfect parallel to the 100 tackles produced by Laurinaitis on 43 solo stops and 57 assists. On symmetry alone, the Ohio State linebacker makes the grade.
3. Ian Johnson (Boise State): Don't get me wrong; I'm as impressed as anybody with the Razorbacks' Darren McFadden, whom I saw play live and in person last season. However, the Hogs' star tailback has "only" tallied 1,485 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, despite his having had a pair of 180-yard, two-T.D. games in his last three outings. Johnson, meanwhile, has gained 128 more yards and scored 10 more touchdowns, despite having just nine more carries than McFadden . . . and that does not even take into account the fact that Johnson missed the Utah State game altogether. While the Bronco running back's yards per carry average has declined in each of the last five games in which he has appeared, Johnson gained at least 136 yards on the ground in each of those contests while reaching the end zone 14 times in those 300 minutes of play. Even though he has lost playing time to injury, Johnson is getting stronger as the season progresses and he has established himself as Division I-A's top tailback.
Ian Johnson has tallied 1,613 yards and 24 touchdowns on 253 carries. Those numbers make Darren McFadden look like Gates McFadden!
4. Patrick Willis (Ole Miss): Even though Orson Swindle made a persuasive case for Reggie Nelson, I couldn't ignore Willis's season-ending performance in the Egg Bowl, in which he registered a quarterback hurry, a 10-yard sack, seven solo stops, and 13 total tackles to pace a 20-17 Rebel victory and cement his stature as the S.E.C. leader at halting the forward progress of opposing offensive players. The Ole Miss linebacker's 87 singlehanded stops and 50 assists give him 27 more total tackles than the league's next best defensive player and Willis averages almost 11 and a half tackles per game. There are octagonal street signs that don't produce that many stops.
5. LaMarr Woodley (Michigan): The MaxwellPundit award is about the only individual honor the Wolverine defensive end hasn't won. Woodley has been named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and declared a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award. His league-leading 11 sacks represent one-third of his 33 tackles and he has forced and fallen on four fumbles, including a fumble recovery against Ohio State. Woodley remains among my top five players even after a defensive performance in which his team surrendered 42 points, so he has to be good.
LaMarr Woodley had to overcome the adversity of being replaced by Buzz Lightyear as Andy's favorite toy. No, wait, I'm sorry . . . that's Woody, not Woodley, isn't it? My bad. . . .
Those, once again, are my top five players. With two more votes left to be cast, at the end of the regular season and again after the bowl games, the time for reconsideration is growing short, so your window of opportunity for offering feedback is closing. Now is the time to strike while the iron is hot by telling me where I have gotten it right, where I have gotten it wrong, and which players I am overlooking.