The official malt liquor of preseason all-Big Ten candidates.
People love them some Phil Steele college football preview issues. Quite frankly, I'm indifferent, but... well, it's mid-May, and until you come up with something more interesting for me to post about, I'll do what I damn well please.
Steele came out with predicitions for four - FOUR! - all-conference teams yesterday, essentially stating "these are the players that I think will be among the top 30-40 percent of this conference this season", and, well, since it's May, it's time for us to eat it up. Steele put nine NU players on his four teams, including one on the first team, which puts NU just about squarely middle of the pack - four teams have more than nine, three have nine, and four have less than nine. (for the record, last year NU had eight players on the four teams, including Corey Wootton and Brendan Smith on the first team.)
After the jump, I'll break down NU's entries on the squad team by team.
There are two viewpoints regarding Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos, and one is much closer to the truth than the other.
The first, and incorrect one, and the one you're most likely to hear around campus, is that Stefan Demos is a piece of crap and really terrible at kicking. He simply isn't. He's got range up to and over 50 yards, only missed twice from under 40 on the year last year.
However, it's quite easy to see why people get this idea. First off, it's always easiest to blame the kicker - their job is the most easy to notice on a pass-fail basis, and it's the least physical position, and it's got a stigma about it. If there's one thing I truly, truly hate to do, it's throw NU athletes under the bus - as someone who knows how hard it is to be a student here without being a semi-full time athlete, I feel bad disparaging my schoolmates - so let me do it this once to prove a point: football is a team game, but if individual blame were to be assigned for NU's last two bowl losses, it would most likely fall on Demos. He screwed up massively in both games, and in both games, I get the sense that it had something to do with a pretty good kicker getting a case of the yips. He shanks punts from time to time, so the Maclin return for TD wasn't completely surprising, but the Outback Bowl, yeesh. It's tough to talk about. Three missed field goals, no makes, one a chippie that would have tied the game up, and a missed extra point. This from a guy who didn't miss a field goal for the first six games of the year - he finally had a 40-yarder blocked against Miami - a guy who nailed two game-winning kicks, including a 49-yarder against Eastern Michigan, and who only missed one extra point all year long.
It was uncharacteristic. Demos, all things told, is a really good kicker, especially for a program that has had historically sub-par kicking. (As for punting, that's another story.)
But is he the best kicker in the conference? Not a knock on the guy, but I'd be surprised if he was. I'd like to see NU lessen his punting duties so he can focus on place-kicking - maybe then he can show the potential Steele sees in him. (Also, it appears Steele just did this by taking his postseason all-conference team from last year, which had Demos on the second team, and adjusting it due to the graduation of first-teamer Brett Swenson
. Clever, Phil.)
Second team: Two players
What the hell is a tight end? Does he mean Drake Dunsmore is the second-best superback in the conference? Because that's a word I understand.
But for serious, good call. Drake has the size to be a tight end but the speed of a slot receiver. He's got a rare combo of athletic skills that makes him hell to guard at this level. And with an inexperienced receiving corps, might be Dan Persa's best target this year, and, if our offense is pass-heavy as it normally is, it's not a stretch to say that Drake might end up with the best stats of any tight end-like player in the conference. Also, he totally stiff-armed the hell out of that guy on Auburn.
Also also, last year, every time he made a reception, I sang "he's the-he's the best, he's the-he's the best, the best I ever had", but this year I'm probably going to yell "LAST NAME EVER, FIRST NAME SECOND-BEST TIGHT END IN THE BIG TEN". Catchy.
No-brainer. Q's a fantastic linebacker with the ability to cover a lot of ground that your typical Big Tenny bruiser of a linebacker typically doesn't have. And he'll hit you like a mofo, too. A lot to like about Davie, who was on Steele's third team last year, and he should do big things in his senior year. I'd be surprised to see him as a first teamer on any postseason lists, but he's definitely a solid second-teamer.
Third team: Three players
Netter has started all 26 games at left tackle in his two years at NU, and hasn't given any reason why he shouldn't be allowed to anymore. He's gotten the most consistent action of what's been a genuinely solid line since his arrival - good to see him get some recognition.
It's a little bit difficult to judge Mabin. He was a freshman all-American two years ago, but you have to remember, it's easy to look good with Sherrick McManis
on the other side. When he was forced to step up into bigger roles when McManis was injured - which happened often this past year, with various dudes you'd never heard of getting random starts in the defensive backfield - Mabin wasn't all-American material anymore. It's certainly not risky to act like he'd be one of the best six corners in the conference, but I'm curious to see how his year pans out. I'm not sure he's ready to be as lockdown as Sherrick was, but we'll find out.
Weird pick - Arnold is currently listed as No. 2 on NU's two-deep, behind Jared Carpenter
Now, don't get me wrong: I love me some David Arnold. He struck me as one of our better linebackers last season, one of those guys that when you saw his number on the field, you were kind of certain he'd somehow be involved in the play in a positive light, definitely a guy with a nose for the ball. But after having been switched from safety to linebacker, then back to safety this offseason, and currently not listed to start, I get the feeling this is less of Steele being a member of the NU football cogniscenti like us who saw David Arnold and was like "oh, snap! Dude should be starting!" and more of a random, likely to be inaccurate prediction. It's hard to be amongst the best at your position in the conference if you're not in the starting lineup.
Fourth team: Three players
Can you say "Rimington Trophy". I can, but I can't tell you a single person to have ever won it, or who "Rimington" was, or why I know that it's the NCAA trophy for centers. All I know is that Burkett was on the watchlist for it last year, and is good at what he does. Man up, Phil Steele, and rank the man higher. Consider this to be the beginning of a decade-long Sippin' on Purple fatwa on third-teamer David Molk
from Michigan for taking Burkett's rightful slot. YOU'RE NOT WELCOME HERE, MOLK.
This sounds about right. Browne's a downright beast, but, like Mabin, it's hard to see how good somebody is when they're playing alongside a future NFLer, drawing double teams and making right tackles crap their large, large pants. Browne was also on the fourth team on Steele's preseason list last year - I say we see progress from the junior. He came in two years ago as a vengeful, gigantic dude on the other block from Corey Wootton, and he's had two years to improve on that. He can be better than a fourth-teamer - we'll see if he does it.
Nate Williams, LB
Completing the trilogy of NU linebackers on the preseason list - four of them, really, considering Arnold was a linebacker last year - Williams also deserves this spot. Williams has owned the middle linebacker spot for about a year and a half, and has been really, really, solid. Not spectacular, not flashy, just solid, making hits when you need them. He's not an otherworldly talent, and therefore it's weird to see him on any sort of list, but when you think about it, he more than deserves this spot for how well he's held down one of the more important positions on the field for NU these past two seasons.
That's your dose of random NU football related stuff four months ahead of time for today - enjoy the weather, you punks! Seriously. I wrote most of this post yesterday on our fratio. It's beautiful out.