Sports Illustrated has been rolling out its list of the top 100 players in college football heading into the 2017 season as determined by the SI.com staff, and on Friday they released their final installment with the top 10 players.
Lists like this are always subjective and it’s very possible a different group of writers would have come up with a very different version. That being said, the list does give an interesting look at the distribution of the top talent in the sport and which conferences are ahead of others.
Breaking down the list by conference, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the SEC is in first place with 25 of the 100 players, nine of whom play for Alabama. What is interesting, however, is that the ACC isn’t far behind with 21 players on the list. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson into one of the best programs in the country and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State continues to bring in the talent, with both schools landing six players on the list.
With the rise of Washington as well as USC being USC, the Pac-12 is third with 18 players including six apiece for those two schools. The Big Ten is fourth among the Power 5 conferences with 14 players, just one more than the Big 12 who brings up the rear with 13. That leaves nine players from schools outside the Power 5 including Notre Dame.
Last year, the top of the Big Ten was pretty strong as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin were all top-10 teams last year. However, most of those schools saw an exodus of talent because of graduation or early declaration for the NFL Draft. That leaves Ohio State at the top of the conference with four players, Penn State with three and Michigan with two. Rounding out the conference, Northwestern has two players while Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana (yes, Indiana) each have one.
You’ll notice a certain school located in Lincoln does not appear on that list. Some of the other schools who do, however, have a player on the list include Kansas, Toledo, Middle Tennessee State, Iowa State, Boston College and Arkansas State. Yes, based on this list, the best player in Nebraska’s season-opener will not be wearing the scarlet and cream.
The main takeaway from this list is that the Big Ten, and Nebraska in particular, needs to pick up both its recruiting and its player development, at least according to the perception of the Sports Illustrated writers. One could argue based on recruiting that the Huskers are certainly making progress in the talent acquisition area, but the development side still needs to be proven.
This does spark another related question, though. Which Husker is closest to making the list? Who is the best overall player on the roster?
Is it senior kicker Drew Brown? Only one kicker made SI’s list, Florida’s Eddy Pineiro, and he was No. 100. Brown is very accurate, but he doesn’t have the kind of resume Pinerio does in terms of range and volume.
Is it Nick Gates? Gates won the starting right tackle job as a redshirt freshman, and did so well that the coaches decided to move him over to the left side to replace the departed Alex Lewis. Gates brings the nastiness and physicality coaches love to see in linemen, but he struggled with injuries last season and struggled mightily against Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – who the Philadelphia Eagles drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft – in the bowl game to end the season.
Is it Stanley Morgan Jr.? The Huskers’ top returning receiver has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two seasons in Lincoln, but with upperclassmen like Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore drawing targets, his overall production doesn’t stack up to the top wide receivers in the conference, let alone the nation. Morgan will be the clear No. 1 option this season for new quarterback Tanner Lee and has to prove he can consistently produce in that role.
In my opinion, Chris Jones is the answer. The senior cornerback has made tremendous strides over the last couple of years and looked like a potential early-entry candidate for the NFL midway through the season. However, his second half wasn’t quite as good as his first and he decided to return to Lincoln to finish off his career. Jones combines terrific athleticism with solid fundamentals as a field side corner and looks to be the best chance Nebraska has for an early-round draft pick in 2018.
There is no way to know how far Jones is off the list for SI, but the fact that Nebraska’s best player isn’t considered a top 100 player in the sport shows how far the Huskers still have to go to regain national relevance.
The Grab Bag
- The Opening, Nike’s biggest football recruiting event for the best of the best, is happening this weekend in Oregon. Husker commits in attendance include Brendan Radley-Hiles, Joshua Moore and Chase Williams. Some of Nebraska’s top targets at the camp are Micah Parsons, Ronnie Perkins, Talanoa Hufanga, Michael Thompson, Christian Tutt, Isaah Crocker, Houston Griffith, Bryan Addison, TJ Pledger and more. Here is a primer from SB Nation for the event’s schedule.
- Keyshawn Johnson Sr. opened up on Thursday about his decision to pull Keyshawn Johnson Jr. out of Nebraska.
- The Comeback continues its Big Ten previews with a breakdown of the Big Ten East non-conference schedule.
- The Comeback also published a round table centered on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
- ESPN’s Tisha Thompson and Andy Lockett wrote a chilling longform feature about Niko Kollias, a Rochester football player who was kidnapped and tortured.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.