|Sunday, December 8
Updated: December 12, 10:21 AM ET
The best of the best
By Ivan Maisel
The first ESPN.com All-America Team:
Stats: Palmer completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 3,639 yards, 32 TDs with 10 interceptions.
Maisel's Take: The football equivalent of a sappy TV movie: bounced from offensive coordinator to offensive coordinator, he finds himself -- and maybe a Heisman -- through the guidance of one man. Norm Chow honed skills Palmer no longer believed he had.
Stats: McGahee rushed for 1,686 yards (averaging 6.4 ypc) and 27 TDs
Maisel's Take: He combines speed and size like no other back in the Saturday game. Gets to the hole like a Porsche and looks like a Hummer when he gets through it.
Stats: Johnson rushed for 2,015 yards -- averaging an amazing 8.0 ypc -- and scored 20 TDs. He added three receiving TDs for good measure.
Maisel's Take: Like Palmer, it took him three-plus seasons to put it together. But oh, what a package once he did.
Stats: Rogers made possibly the catch of the year against Notre Dame, tightroping the back of the endzone for the grab. He finished the season with 1,351 yards (19.9 ypc) and 13 TDs.
Maisel's Take: Of all the regrets quarterback Jeff Smoker may have about a season that began in the top 25 and ended in substance abuse, his biggest will be when he realizes he wasted his opportunity to throw to Rogers.
Stats: Williams caught 89 passes for 1,390 yards and 11 TDs.
Maisel's Take: Says UCLA defensive coordinator Phil Snow: "He's got it all: size, speed, he'll go get the ball, and he's done it for two years."
Stats: Clark, the second leading receiver on the Orange Bowl-bound Hawkeyes, finished with 39 catches for 645 yards (16.5 ypc) and four TDs.
Maisel's Take: Clark's built like a tight end, but has hands like a wideout and he's always there to make the clutch catch.
Maisel's Take: Brett Romberg of Miami gets the publicity, but the NFL scouts love Faine's combination of size and mobility.
Maisel's Take: From 1-10 to 11-1, coach Kirk Ferentz built the Hawkeyes on the backs of players like Steinbach. Iowa natives shoved into the lineup too soon because Ferentz had no one else, they learned on the job, stuck together and grew together.
Maisel's Take: The Terrapins' offense spent most of this season in a constant state of flux. One of the few constants turned out to be Wike, who led the O-line that gave QB Scott McBrien time to learn.
Maisel's Take: When the season began, only NFL scouts knew a lot about him. The word has spread. He's big, has great feet and a lot of flexibility.
Maisel's Take: The biggest reason that Arkansas rushed for 230 yards per game. Andrews plays as if the guy in front of him just stepped on his mother's hand.
Stats: Pollack notched 97 tackles, including 22 for loss. He also had 13 sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Maisel's Take: Pollack has the body of a man and the engine of a three-year-old who just hoovered a box of Cocoa Puffs. He goes non-stop for three hours and doesn't throw a tantrum when he's done.
Stats: The Nagurski Award winner had a NCAA-record 22 sacks. He finished with the most tackles for loss in the nation with 29.5 and tied for the Pac-10 lead with six forced fumbles.
Maisel's Take: Has the quickest first step this side of Iverson. Hey, Terrell, lip-read this: seven-figure contract.
Stats: Kennedy finished with 78 tackles including 15 for loss. He also had five sacks and three pass breakups.
Maisel's Take: Teammate Michael Haynes got 13.5 sacks because two offensive linemen were trying to thwart Kennedy in the middle of the line. There's a reason that the Big Ten coaches named Kennedy, not Haynes, the league's defensive player of the year.
Stats: Long was a terror on opposing QBs, notching 13 sacks. He also had 47 tackles, including 20.5 for loss.
Maisel's Take: Unlike the last Cougar All-American with the initials R.L., Long will succeed on Sundays.
Stats: Henderson dominated the ACC with 163 tackles, including 15.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also forced two fumbles and had eight QB hurries.
Maisel's Take: He came back for this season to show what he could do with a healthy back. Verdict -- a lot.
Ohio State, LB
Stats: Led the 13-0 Buckeyes with 111 tackles, including 16.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Maisel's Take: Want to know where Wilhelm is? Look for the ball. Part of a group of seniors who refused to let their teammates fail after the defensive disasters of 2001.
Stats: Watson led the 10-2 Irish with 90 tackles, including 10 for loss and three sacks.
Maisel's Take: Unknown when the season began, Watson made himself a star with his ability to stop the run and pass (four interceptions).
Stats: Doss is one of the hardest hitting safeties around. He was second on the team with 98 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He also had one pick and seven breakups.
Maisel's Take: Great skills of recognition and closes faster than a car salesman at the end of the month. The scouts have noticed his open-field tackling skills, too.
Stats: Polamalu notched 68 tackles, including nine for loss and three sacks.
Maisel's Take: Like Doss, a strong safety with free safety skills. He's known for his quickness and his ability to put his hat on the other guy's numbers.
Stats: A shutdown corner who recorded five interceptions and 14 pass breakups. He also had 44 tackles. Oh yeah, he averaged 16.3 yards per punt return and two TDs. Maisel's Take: What can't he do? Newman covers receivers and return kicks with equal skill.
Stats: Trufant was third on the Cougars in tackles with 69 and had three interceptions and 12 pass breakups.
Maisel's Take: Bounced back from an injury-plagued 2001 to become the corner that Pac-10 receivers feared most.
Stats: Mariscal averaged 48.25 yards per punt, including a long of 68. He boomed 20 punts of 50-plus yards and put 14 inside of the 20-yard line.
Maisel's Take: P: Yes, he kicks in mile-high air. But he also averaged nearly 45 yards per punt in the Buffaloes' four regular-season Big 12 road games.
Stats: Kaeding was a deadly weapon for the Big Ten co-champs. He was 3-of-3 from 50-plus yards and 13-of-14 from 30-plus yards.
Maisel's Take: Nearly automatic (20-of-22 field goals) in any kind of weather, on every kind of grass.
Stats: Abney returned a NCAA record six kicks for TDs this year and averaged 15.1 yards per punt return and 26.8 yards per kickoff return.
Maisel's Take: Returning statistics can run together, but when a guy takes back four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns, you take notice.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.