Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with 10 unpopular potential truths and whether he believes them, the non-QB MVP for every Big Ten team and the Alabama Mount Rushmore since 1980.
Everyone loves unpopular opinions right? I mean they are a staple of social media these days. But are they really true? Here are 10 I’ve heard and whether they are TRUE or FALSE…
1. UCLA is the best team in Los Angeles — FALSE. But this is close as USC has been playing down a bit under Clay Helton and UCLA is finally turning a corner under Chip Kelly but I have USC winning the South Division this season.
2. Texas A&M is the best job in Texas — TRUE. But this is for now. Once the Longhorns head to the SEC that will be the best job in the state but right now give me the Aggies.
3. Florida will finish third in the SEC East — FALSE. I have both Florida and Kentucky going 9-3 this season with Florida winning the head-to-head matchup, but the Gators are not that far ahead of the Wildcats.
4. Oregon’s Mario Cristobal is the second-best recruiter to Nick Saban — FALSE. This is close. Dabo Swinney, Ryan Day and others are great but it’s not easy to lure elite players out to the Pacific Northwest like Cristobal has been doing.
5. Notre Dame will lose four games this season — FALSE. The schedule isn’t great but the talent is there for at least nine wins. The Irish won’t win 10 but they won’t go 8-4 either. I have 9-3.
6. Iowa State will lose four games this season — TRUE. This is an unpopular take for sure as many expect Iowa State to challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title but I think the pressure gets to the Cyclones and they land on 8-4.
7. Cincinnati is the best team in Ohio this season — FALSE. Ohio State may have a new quarterback but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes take a back seat to the Bearcats inside the state. Cincinnati could be a top-10 team but Ohio State will be top-five.
9. The AAC is deeper than the Big 12 — TRUE. With my prediction about Iowa State I think parity rules aside from Oklahoma in the Big 12. With Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis and others in the AAC they have become arguably a better Power Five candidate.
We all know the importance of quarterbacks on a football team. They are usually the MVP or the goat of the offense with little in between. But who are the true non-QB MVPs on each Power Five team? Here’s my take on the Big Ten.
Illinois: LB Jake Hansen — Hansen is one of the top linebackers in the conference, especially against the run, where he almost never misses a tackle. He’ll be tasked with leading a new defensive scheme under Bret Bielema this season, but if there’s anyone on that team who’ll be able to get up to speed quickly, it’s Hansen.
Indiana: WR Ty Fryfogle — Indiana’s top pass catcher, Fryfogle had a breakout season last year, and is one of the best jump ball catchers in the whole country, making 50-50 balls more like 80-20 balls. He’s without a doubt quarterback Michael Penix Jr.‘s favorite target, and he’ll need him more than ever this season as he comes back from injury.
Iowa: OL Tyler Linderbaum — Linderbaum is the best center in the country by most accounts. The leader of an always outstanding offensive line, Linderbaum is the linchpin that keeps the unit intact. He is inordinately athletic for an offensive lineman, but particularly at the center position which allows him to pull and get up to the second level with ease.
Maryland: DB Nick Cross — While you could make the argument that both of the Terrapins’ starting wide receivers — Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus are better players, neither of them are as important to their unit as Cross is. A former high four-star recruit, he stands out on the field not only due to his 6-foot-1 frame, but also because he can cover so much ground on the back end, allowing the Terps to play a ton of single high safety and bring more pressure up front.
Michigan: DE Aidan Hutchinson — Before he went down with injury last season, Hutchinson was among the top pass rushers in the entire country, and with Kwity Paye off to the NFL, he’s now the main threat off of the edge for the Wolverines. However, he’s not a one trick pony, as he’s also one of the better run defenders in the conference at his position. If he stays healthy and puts it all together, he’s definitely a threat for the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Michigan State: RB Kenneth Walker III — The Spartans are still unsettled at quarterback, so they’ll be relying on their run game as much as ever this season, and fortunately for them, they’ve got one of the conference’s top backs in Walker getting the lion’s share of the carries. He’s one of the best in the country at both breaking tackles and getting yards after contact (averaging four yards per carry after contact), which is going to be doubly as important this year as the offensive line is still being rebuilt.
Minnesota: RB Mohamed Ibrahim — The top back in the conference by a good deal, Ibrahim had an outstanding 2020 season where he led the Big Ten in rushing. He’s back and still the No. 1 weapon for a Gopher team that has lost their top two receivers in the past two seasons. Along with Iowa State’s Breece Hall, you could make a strong argument that no running back is as important to their team’s success as Ibrahim is to Minnesota’s.
Nebraska: WR Samori Toure — The Montana transfer was the top wide receiver in FCS in 2019, where he had 1,495 yards on 87 catches for the Grizzlies. He’s going to be key for a team that lost its top weapon in Wan’Dale Robinson to the portal, and he’s got to get on the same page with quarterback Adrian Martinez really quick if Scott Frost is going to be able to turn this team around.
Northwestern: DB Brandon Joseph — Arguably the best safety in the conference, Joseph was simply outstanding during the 2020 season where he was a first-team All-American, leading the West champion Wildcats in interceptions. With Greg Newsome gone to the NFL, he takes over as the leader of a really good Northwestern defensive backfield.
Ohio State: DL Haskell Garrett — You’re probably asking yourself – why didn’t I select one of the Buckeyes’ two outstanding receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson? Well, that’s precisely the reason – they’ve got two of them, but they’ve only got one elite interior defender. Garrett is among the best in the country and getting after the quarterback from the inside of the line, and has the quickness to slide between blocks and get in the backfield in a hurry. He creates havoc on plays and allows the linebackers and defensive backs behind him to capitalize on them.
Penn State: WR Jahon Dotson — Were it not for the two Buckeye receivers getting all of the publicity, we could be talking about Dotson being the best in the conference at the position. He has unbelievable athleticism, and makes acrobatic catches look routine. And while he’s listed at 5-foot-11, he plays much bigger than his size while still retaining an open field elusiveness matched by few players in the country.
Purdue: WR David Bell — The Big Ten is really loaded at receiver, and Bell is among the top in the conference. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but he is able to use his big frame to body defenders and get in the best position to catch the often wildly thrown balls that come his way. In the past two seasons, he’s caught more contested balls than anyone else in the country according to PFF.
Rutgers: LB Olakunle Fatukasi — While the Scarlet Knights have a bevy of high level defensive backs, the linebacking duties on this team really sit squarely on the shoulder of Fatukasi. And while he fell off toward the end of last season, expect a big year from him as this team develops and gets closer to where they want to be. He’s a great tackler and moves sideline to sideline with the best of them.
Wisconsin: TE Jake Ferguson — Ferguson has become one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends over the course of his career in Madison, and was Graham Mertz‘s top target in the 2020 season. Last year, he played nearly every single down on offense as he became a stronger run blocker to add to his already very good receiving skills. As a senior, he has a chance to set a variety of Badger tight end receiving records at a school that has produced some really good ones over the years.
I move on to the SEC as I continue my Mount Rushmore of college football since 1980 and have to start alphabetically with Alabama. Ugh.
DE/LB Derrick Thomas — Many people have forgotten just how unstoppable Derrick Thomas was. The best collegiate pass rusher since Lawrence Taylor, Thomas racked up a then-record 52 sacks in his career, including 27 in his Butkus Award-winning season of 1988. A unanimous All-American and college football Hall of Famer, Thomas was one of the most intimidating players to ever suit up.
WR DeVonta Smith — Smith burst on to the scene as a freshman, hauling in one of the most iconic touchdown passes in history to win the national title against Georgia, and got progressively better after that. His 2020 season was among the best ever for a collegiate receiver – 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns to become the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991. He graduated with the most catches, yards and touchdowns in school history.
RB Derrick Henry — One of the most storied high school recruits of all-time as the nation’s leading rusher in history (with a whopping 12,124 yards and 153 touchdowns at Yulee HS in Florida), Henry’s 2015 season is on par with the best of all-time for a running back. On his way to winning the Heisman Trophy, he ran for 2,219 yards (sixth-most in history), and 28 touchdowns for a national champion Crimson Tide team.
LB Cornelius Bennett — Just how good was Bennett? He was a three-time consensus first-team All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and Lombardi Award winner. In his four seasons, he tallied 287 tackles and 21.5 sacks, teaming up with Derrick Thomas and Wayne Davis to make one of the most formidable linebacking units in the history of the sport.