The Best of the Best: College Football’s First-team All-America Players
2012 Midseason College Football All-America Team
Division I college football players have to be standouts on the field just to land athletic scholarships, but they have to be the top performers at their position to receive All-America honors as the best in the nation.
The All-America team annually recognizes the top college football players at each position. Midway through the 2012 season, we’ve seen some incredible individual performances by immensely gifted athletes who play at the highest level, week in and week out.
Some of these players consistently make game-changing tackles, highlight reel receptions, and touchdown runs more frequently seen on video games than on actual football fields.
Others – linemen who make those impressive plays possible, and special teams performers who consistently put their teams in position to win games – are equally important but sometimes under-appreciated.
Some of these players will pick up serious hardware at the end of the season – awards for their position or for overall achievement as student-athletes, and even conference and national titles.
Some will continue their careers among even more elite company, playing on Sundays in the National Football League. Others will watch their football careers, like their college days, wind down, replaced by jobs, families, and the rest of everyday life.
Regardless of what the future holds for these strong, talented young men, right now, they’re celebrated for being college football’s finest. The players who are named to the 2012 All-America team are at the top of their game. Wherever their paths lead, on the football field and in life, they will always be All-Americans.
There’s still plenty of football to be played, but partway through the 2012 season, these players are excelling on the field and playing their way toward national recognition.
QUARTERBACK: Geno Smith, West Virginia
Five games into the season, West Virginia is 5-0 and Geno Smith has established himself as college football's premier quarterback. He's thrown 24 touchdowns on the year, with no interceptions, and is completing an incredible 81.4% of his passes. Thanks to a 656-yard performance against Baylor, he's averaging nearly 400 passing yards per game, and with 1,996 total passing yards on the season, Smith is on track to surpass the 2,000 yard mark this weekend at Texas Tech.
WIDE RECEIVER: DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Before the season, Tiger fans had their eyes on standout sophomore Sammy Watkins, but with Watkins out due to suspension and illness, junior DeAndre Hopkins has gotten the spotlight - and the passes thrown in his direction. Hopkins is fifth in the nation in receptions, but he leads the nation in receiving yards with 777. Clemson's offense is among the nation's best, and Hopkins is a key reason why.
WIDE RECEIVER: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WVU's Geno Smith has two of the top receivers in the nation at his disposal: Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Austin also gets playing time as a dangerous returner on special teams, but Bailey is purely a receiver - and a darn good one at that. Bailey has 49 catches for 710 yards, and he leads the nation in touchdown catches with 13.
RUNNING BACK: Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada
Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson doesn't play for a team in a BCS conference, so he doesn't get the same attention as players from major conferences. He doesn't get enough attention from opposing defenses, either. The Wolf Pack's workhorse leads the nation with 185 carries and 955 rushing yards. Just halfway through the season, he's nearing the 1,000 yard mark, and averaging 160 yards per game with six games remaining, he's on track to finish with closer to 2,000 yards.
RUNNING BACK: Cody Getz, Air Force
Being the smallest guy on the football field isn't usually a good thing, but Air Force's Cody Getz has used his stature - he's just 5'7" and 175 lbs. - to stay out of the sight, and tackles, of opposing defenders. Getz has emerged as the Falcons' most dangerous rusher this season; he's second in the nation in rushing yards, behind Nevada's Jefferson, and he's averaging just shy of eight yards per carry. Impressive stats from one of college football's most diminutive players.
TIGHT END: Zach Ertz, Stanford
Tight end play has been crucial to Stanford's offense in recent seasons, and 2012 is no different. As quarterback Josh Nunes finds his footing as Andrew Luck's replacement, Ertz has emerged as one of his most reliable targets. Ertz is averaging 15 yards per reception. His 316 yards and two touchdowns on the season aren't huge stats, but Ertz makes huge plays for the Cardinal when the team needed it most.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
The Aggies' starting left tackle has been invaluable to Texas A&M quarterbacks since he won the job as a true freshman. Joeckel has 26 career starts at the position and has provided stellar protection for his quarterbacks. He's also been a key member of the offensive line that made the Aggies one of the top 30 teams in total offense in the past two seasons, and he'll be one of the top picks in the 2013 NFL draft.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Taylor Lewan is a veteran offensive lineman for the Wolverines - and he's also the first one to score a touchdown for Michigan since 1948. Lewan, another NFL prospect, is a big (literally, at 6'8" and 309 lbs., and figuratively) reason why Michigan's line is the Big Ten's leader in sacks allowed, with just five on the year.
CENTER: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Alabama's senior center, Barrett Jones, is one of the most experienced, and most versatile, linemen in the nation. He was the Crimson Tide's starting right guard during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he moved around the line until settling at center in 2012. Jones already has two national championships, but he's at the heart of a team that's playing hard for another one.
OFFENSIVE GUARD: Jonathan Cooper, UNC
Cooper is the veteran presence on North Carolina's offensive line, with 38 starts. The line is at the center of the Tar Heels' success on offense in Larry Fedora's first season. UNC is in the top 15 nationally in total offense, in the top 25 in both rushing and passing offense, and fifth in the country in scoring thanks to solid play by the line, particularly Cooper at right guard.
OFFENSIVE GUARD: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
The junior lineman is currently the Bears' starting right guard, but he spent last season at left tackle, proving he can play several positions on the line. There's been no adjustment period for Richardson after making the switch to right guard, because he has the strength and the size to dominate whoever lines up against him.
DEFENSIVE END: Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The Seminoles' defensive line was hit by injuries at the beginning of the year, but it's hard to tell from the way the team has been playing. German-born defensive end Bjoern Werner has been dominant all season. He has 20 tackles on the season, 6.5 sacks (more than his total in 2011) for a loss of 57 yards, and four pass breakups. FSU won't be in the national title picture after the upset loss to North Carolina, but they probably wouldn't have been there at all if it weren't for Werner.
DEFENSIVE END: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
The number one defensive end prospect out of high school, Clowney hasn't disappointed. He has 25 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2012 and he's been a terror for offenses. His fast, fierce play is generating Heisman buzz that's rare for a defensive player.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Star Lotulelei, Utah
Star Lotulelei has a reputation as one of the most tenacious defenders in the nation - and he's earned it. In a nationally televised Thursday night game against USC, Lotulelei got to the Trojans' offensive line early and was the primary reason Utah was up, 14-0, just three minutes into the game. Utah couldn't hold on to the lead, but Lotulelei's spot as one of the nation's top tackles isn't going anywhere soon.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Will Sutton, Arizona State
No one quite knew what to expect from Arizona State this season; few predicted Sutton would play his way into conversations about the nation's top defenders. Last season, Sutton had 33 tackles; already this year, he already has 26 solo tackles and 13 assists, plus 8.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and three pass breakups.
CORNERBACK: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Poyer has been a big force for the surprising Oregon State Beavers. He was honored as the Jim Thorpe Defensive Player of the Week for his three interceptions against Washington State. He's in a seven-way tie to be second in the nation in interceptions, with four for 52 total yards, and he also has a sack for a loss of 13 yards and 16 total tackles on the year.
CORNERBACK: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Before the season, Banks told reporters at SEC Media Days he thought he was the best cornerback in the SEC. He's currently third among SEC defensive backs with three interceptions for 78 total yards and has two pass breakups. Offenses have learned to throw to anyone but the guy Banks is covering, but when he's had the chance to prevent big plays, he's done it. He hasn't allowed a touchdown all season.
SAFETY: Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
Thomas has gotten plenty of tips on how to be an All-America safety from his secondary coach, Tim McDonald, a former NFL player and All-American at USC. Thomas missed the 2011 season due to injury, but he's bounced back with a vengeance. Thomas leads the nation with six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He has 30 total tackles on the year, two pass breakups, and two sacks.
SAFETY: Matt Elam, Florida
The Gators' safety is nothing short of a game-changer. Elam led the team in tackles and had a forced fumble for Florida late in last week's game against LSU which helped the Gators get the win. He also has 26 tackles, a sack and an interception halfway through 2012, but he plays to the occasion and he has a few big SEC games remaining.
LINEBACKER: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Jones transferred from USC after the Trojans' medical staff didn't clear him to play. Georgia's doctors made a different evaluation, and it's paying off big-time for the Bulldogs. Jones is one of several defensive players getting some rare Heisman love; he's one of the nation's premier pass rushers, with 5.5 sacks this year - at least one in each game he's played except for one.
LINEBACKER: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Te'o has been in the spotlight not just because of his outstanding play this season, but because he's been performing at such a high level while playing through the pain and sorrow of losing his grandmother and his girlfriend during the season. The team has rallied around him, and he's responded in a big way, with three interceptions, three pass breakups, and a whopping 46 total tackles on the year.
LINEBACKER: Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Van Noy struggled with injuries last season, but he's becomeone of the Cougars' best playmakers on either side of the ball in 2012, disrupting opposing quarterbacks with 6.5 sacks and five pass breakups.
KICKER: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
Northwestern had an impressive run to start the year, and Budzien was right in the middle of it. He's made 100% of his field goal and extra point attempts: 11 for 11 on field goals (including 4 for 4 on attempts longer than 40 yards) and 23 for 23 on extra points, for total of 56 points scored in 2012.
PUNTER: Riley Stephenson, BYU
BYU's Riley Stephenson is the reason the Cougars lost to Utah, but it had nothing to do with his punting. Stephenson, who has occasionally handled placekicking duties this season, missed a short field goal at the end of the game that would've sent it into overtime. Perhaps his leg was just tired from booming so many long punts by that point. He's averaging 46.5 yards per punt, for 1,348 yards on the season.
RETURN SPECIALIST: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Abdullah is a versatile returner, used on both kickoff and punt returns. He has a punt return for a touchdown, and he's proved he can break away from the pack: his longest returns for kickoffs and punts are each more than 80 yards. He's averaging 16 yards per punt return and 20.8 per kickoff return, and he has a total of 484 return yards on the year.