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May 10, 2010

Monday with Mike: Best leagues by position

With all the spring practices over nationwide, it's time to fully focus on the fall.

As such, here's an early list spotlighting which league is best at each position.

Conference USA
: Outside of Houston's Case Keenum, who conceivably could throw for 6,000 yards this season, there's not really a big name in the league. But there are a lot of guys who are going to put up big numbers this fall, and a lot about being a quarterback is putting up big numbers. Southern Miss' Austin Davis, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, SMU's Kyle Padron and UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe seem like good bets to join Keenum in the 3,000-yard club. Tulane's Ryan Griffin and Marshall's Brian Anderson have some good physical tools and should have solid seasons, as well.

: Heck, the state of Oregon alone -- with the Ducks' LaMichael James and the Beavers' Jacquizz Rodgers -- is darned good. Then, you add in Washington's Chris Polk, California's Shane Vereen, the stable of backs at USC, Arizona's 1-2 combination of Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby and the potential of Arizona State's Cameron Marshall, and you realize how loaded this league is with good backs. Heck, Washington State's James Montgomery -- if he has recovered from a potentially life-threatening leg injury -- is a former touted recruit who has a chance for a good year, too.

: In Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones, you have two receivers who should go in the first round of the 2011 draft. But for various reasons, it would be a shock if either led the league in receptions. That's where Arkansas' Greg Childs comes in; expect a 1,000-yard season from Childs. There's also South Carolina sophomore Alshon Jeffery, a rising star who could put up magnificent numbers if Stephen Garcia has a big season. LSU has Terrance Toliver, a speedy wideout who has caught NFL scouts' eyes, if not a lot of passes from Jordan Jefferson. Florida's Deonte Thompson has excellent speed and should have a breakout season with what should be the Gators' renewed emphasis on the pass. Kentucky won't wow anyone with its passing attack, but Randall Cobb remains a dangerous weapon for the Wildcats when he has the ball in his hands. Tennessee's Gerald Jones is another who is dangerous but doesn't get the ball enough. And Auburn's Darvin Adams will produce if he gets the ball. As for tight ends, the Vols' Luke Stocker is one of the six or seven best nationally at the position. If he ever truly bears down, South Carolina's Weslye Saunders would be unstoppable. Arkansas' D.J. Williams, Georgia's Orson Charles and Vanderbilt's Brandon Barden are weapons, too.

Big Ten
: Wow, here's a surprise -- the Big Ten has a number of big-time linemen. Wisconsin has two of the best in the nation at their positions in tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt. Ohio State has guard Justin Boren, a Michigan transfer, and some talented youngsters who could make their mark this season. Penn State has guard Stefen Wisniewski, who is moving from center and has All-America potential at his new position. Northwestern tackle Al Netter has NFL potential. So does Iowa sophomore tackle Riley Reiff, who is moving from guard to replace first-round pick Bryan Bulaga -- and there are those who say Reiff has a bigger upside than Bulaga. Michigan State guard Joel Foreman, Michigan center David Molk and Michigan guard Stephen Schilling are three more high-caliber linemen.

Big Ten
: The Big Ten "wins" this position, too. Ohio State end Cameron Heyward and Iowa end Adrian Clayborn look like first-round locks in the 2011 draft -- and neither was the most productive end in the league last season. That would be Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, who had 13 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and an incredible seven forced fumbles. Iowa also has end Broderick Binns and tackle Christian Ballard. Big things also are expected this season from Wisconsin end J.J. Watt, Michigan State tackle Jerel Worthy, Illinois end Clay Nurse and Penn State end Jack Crawford.

: If Boston College's Mark Herzlich returns to form after missing last season with a rare form of cancer, the league truly will be loaded at linebacker. North Carolina has Quan Sturdivant, seen as a likely first-round pick, and speedy Bruce Carter. Maryland has tackle machine Alex Wujciak. BC could have a great 1-2 punch with Herzlich and Luke Kuechly, who made 158 tackles last season as a true freshman. N.C. State's Nate Irving should be one of the best 'backers in the nation if he is recovered from injuries suffered in a car accident that forced him to miss last season. Virginia Tech's Barquell Rivers will be a 100-tackle guy if he has overcome the quadriceps injury he sustained in a spring weightlifting incident. Georgia Tech's Anthony Barnes should benefit from the Yellow Jackets' shift to a 3-4 scheme. Florida State's Nigel Bradham is quite the physical specimen, and if his production were to match his potential, he would be a sure-fire All-ACC pick. Virginia's Steve Greer is a rising star. Miami's Colin McCarthy has All-ACC talent, assuming he can stay healthy.

: The depth of the league's cornerback crop gives it the edge over everybody else. Virginia's Ras-I Dowling, North Carolina's Kendric Burney, Miami's Brandon Harris and Virginia Tech's Rashad Carmichael head into the season with realistic hopes of being an All-ACC selection. Clemson strong safety DeAndre McDaniel might be the nation's best at his position; the same goes for North Carolina free safety Deunta Williams. All six are potential All-America selections, and no other league can claim that kind of talent.

Grid bits
Navy lost one of its best players when slotback Marcus Curry was dismissed from the team Friday. Curry had 872 yards from scrimmage and scored eight TDs last season. Reports say Curry had a rather checkered off-field career at the academy, including a positive drug test that Curry said was caused by smoking a cigar that he did not know contained marijuana.

The Emerald Bowl will be no more after this season. Well, the game at San Francisco's AT&T Park still will exist but under a different name: The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Give it up for former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who announced recently that he will donate $2.6 million to his alma mater. He will give $2 million to the athletic department and $600,000 to the engineering department. Suh was a construction management major, which is under the auspices of Nebraska's engineering department.

Iowa plays host to Ball State on Sept. 25, and the Hawkeyes will use the game to celebrate the 1960 and 1985 Big Ten title teams. They'll do so by wearing jerseys from 1958.

Former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer will give the commencement address for the UT College of Communications on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on the recruitment of Miami Belen Jesuit outside linebacker Nick Menocal, a 6-3, 235-pounder. He has one offer so far, from hometown Florida International, but expect that offer list to grow quickly. At that size, he ran the third leg on Belen's 4x100 relay team, which won the Florida state Class 3A title Friday night. While there are eight classifications for football in Florida, there are just four for track, and Belen -- with four football players -- cruised to the 4x100 title, clocking a 41.38. St. Petersburg Lakewood was second in 41.86 and Miami Jackson third in 42.32. Belen's leadoff leg was run by senior-to-be wide receiver Javier Rodriguez, while Virginia-bound wide receiver Pablo Alvarez ran the second leg and William & Mary-bound quarterback Nic Platt ran the anchor leg. Alvarez also won the state title in the 300-meter hurdles in 36.73 seconds. Punta Gorda Charlotte's Mike Bellamy, who might be the best running back in the state this fall, won the 3A 100 meters in 10.51 seconds, while Tampa Hillsborough cornerback Terrence Mitchell, who signed with USF, was third in 10.74.

In March, we "previewed" the USA Rock Paper Scissors League College Championships. It ended up being an all mid-major final, with Eastern Illinois senior Brittany Kraft beating Northern Iowa junior Andrew Richard during spring break in Acapulco. Kraft, who is majoring in elementary education with a concentration in math, threw a rock to beat Richard's scissors. Richard is majoring in philosophy. (People still major in philosophy? Cool.) For her win, Kraft earned $25,000, which must be used toward college tuition.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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