Chris LowESPN Senior Staff Writer
Save the clichés.
You know, the ones like, “They don’t award medals at the 50-meter mark of a 100-meter race,” or my personal favorite, “It’s a four-quarter game.”
Halftime of the 2018 college football season is upon us, and while it is true that no team has ever won a championship and no player has ever won the Heisman Trophy at the midway point of the season, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate who have been the best players through the first half of the season.
We unveil ESPN’s 2018 midseason All-America team with a few of the usual reminders. This is not a list of the top NFL draft prospects, and it’s not a list of the players who were being touted as All-Americans before the season. It’s a list of the players who have played like All-Americans to this point.
Of note, only five of the players on our preseason All-America team — Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, LSU linebacker Devin White and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams — find themselves on this list, so a lot can change by the end of the season.
QB: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
A huge groan reverberated throughout the state of Alabama when Tagovailoa left the Missouri game on Saturday in the third quarter after aggravating a knee sprain. Coach Nick Saban didn’t sound concerned afterward, and the good news for the Crimson Tide is that they face Tennessee this week and then get an open date before going to LSU. Tagovailoa has been magical for Alabama. Through his first five games, he had a 95.5 QBR rating, the highest for any quarterback in the 15 seasons that the metric has been tracked. He has accounted for 23 touchdowns and has still yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter.
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson
The drama surrounding the quarterback change at Clemson has in some ways overshadowed what has been a terrific first half of the season for Etienne, who has been one of the most explosive and effective runners in college football. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and has scored 12 touchdowns (11 rushing and one receiving). In six games, he has 10 runs of 20 yards or longer and might have saved the Tigers’ season in the narrow escape against Syracuse after quarterback Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of the game. Etienne rushed for 203 yards and scored all three of Clemson’s touchdowns against the Orange.
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Through six games, Taylor is already on the doorstep of a second straight 1,000-yard season with 950 yards. The 5-11, 222-pound sophomore is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has rushed for eight touchdowns. He’s exactly what you want in a running back. He’s durable and tough and has the ability to rip off longer runs. He has four runs of 30 yards or longer this season. Few backs have been able to dent Michigan’s vaunted defense, but Taylor had 101 yards in the loss last Saturday to the Wolverines.
WR: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
There’s more than just Tagovailoa to the Air Alabama offense. The 6-1, 192-pound Jeudy has been one of the top sophomore players in the country. He leads all Power 5 wide receivers with nine touchdown receptions, leads all FBS receivers in catches of 20 yards or longer (14) and is averaging an FBS-best 27.1 yards per catch. And get this: Jeudy is averaging a touchdown every 2.88 catches.
WR: Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
As a freshman, the 6-2, 220-pound Shenault averaged 24 yards per catch for the Buffaloes. He has been even more dynamic as a sophomore. He injured his toe Saturday in the loss to USC and had to leave the game, but has been one of college football’s most dynamic players during the first half of the season. Shenault leads the country with an average of 130 receiving yards per game and also has 11 touchdowns (six receiving and five rushing).
Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. catches a Steven Montez pass for a 30-yard touchdown.
TE: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher said he didn’t even have a tight end on the roster when he arrived at Texas A&M, but he has found one in Sternberger, who transferred from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College after starting his career at Kansas. The 6-4, 250-pound junior has already broken the Texas A&M school record for touchdown catches in a season by a tight end (6) and is averaging 17.1 yards per catch. He has outstanding speed and is equally hard to bring down. Go watch him drag a South Carolina defender 20-plus yards in the 26-23 win over the Gamecocks on Saturday.
OT: Jonah Williams, Alabama
Alabama has had no shortage of dominant offensive linemen under Nick Saban, and Williams is the latest. The 6-5, 301-pound Williams has been a starter since his true freshman season. He started out as a right tackle, but transitioned to left tackle last season and has been a monster for the Crimson Tide both in pass protection and the running game. He has gotten better every year and has played his best football this season on an offense that has destroyed everything in its path.
OG: Ben Powers, Oklahoma
It’s easy to get infatuated with all of the flashy skill players on Oklahoma’s offense, but the Sooners have some serious talent up front, too. Powers, a 6-4, 313-pound senior, is one of those interior offensive linemen who has it all — strength, quickness and power. And man, does he finish blocks. Oklahoma leads the country with an average of 8.94 yards per play, and a lot of that production traces back to Powers blowing holes in the opposing defensive line.
C: Michael Jordan, Ohio State
Just like Billy Price and Pat Elflein before him, Jordan has made the transition from guard to center and been a stalwart in the middle of that Buckeyes offensive line. The 6-7, 312-junior has started in every game since stepping foot on campus as a freshman in 2016 (34 consecutive games) and is a big reason Ohio State has been so balanced offensively with an average of 364.7 passing yards and 201 rushing yards per game.
OG: Bunchy Stallings, Kentucky
One of the keys to Kentucky’s hot start this season has been its experience. The Wildcats are laden with players who’ve been in the program for at least three years, and the 6-3, 305-pound Stallings is a redshirt senior who paved the way for a big chunk of Benny Snell‘s 699 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Stallings played some center earlier in his career and is in the best shape of his career. He has been a road-grader for the Wildcats. Go see for yourself and turn on tape from the Florida game.
OT: Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
The “old man” on Clemson’s team, the 6-5, 310-pound Hyatt has been starting for the Tigers since his true freshman season in 2015. He entered this season sixth in Clemson history in total snaps and has once again been a fixture at left tackle for the Tigers, who are fourth nationally in rushing offense and eighth in total offense.
AP: Darrell Henderson, Memphis
If he were playing for Alabama or Ohio State, Henderson would be right there at the top of the Heisman Trophy polls and may be anyway by season’s end. The 5-9, 200-pound junior running back has put up eye-popping numbers for the Tigers. He has 1,133 rushing yards (averaging 10.3 yards per carry) and leads the country in all-purpose yards (1,435) and touchdowns (15). And you want explosive plays? Henderson also leads the country with eight plays from scrimmage of 50 yards or longer.
DE: Chase Winovich, Michigan
All across the Wolverines’ defensive line, they are absolutely loaded, which explains why Michigan has been one of the best defenses in the country. The 38-13 beatdown of Wisconsin on Saturday was especially impressive. Winovich, a 6-3, 255-pound redshirt senior, has been a whirling dervish for the Wolverines with 10.5 tackles for loss. He’s surrounded by talented players, but opposing coaches will tell you that Winovich is the guy who makes it all go for a defense that’s playing at a championship level.
DT: Gerald Willis III, Miami
It has been an up-and-down career for the 6-4, 300-pound Willis, who started his career at Florida before being dismissed from the team. He also has weathered suspensions and a knee injury at Miami and took a leave of absence last season. But he came back with a vengeance this season as a redshirt senior and has been the most productive interior defensive lineman in college football with 13 tackles for loss, including two sacks.
DT: Ed Oliver, Houston
Nearly unblockable in one-on-one situations, the 6-3, 292-pound Oliver has been as advertised this season. He has 11.5 tackles for loss through the Cougars’ first six games and nine quarterback hurries, despite constantly facing double teams. There will invariably be comparisons between Oliver and other disruptive defensive tackles who’ve gone on to stardom in the NFL; the way Oliver plays hard on every down and puts so much pressure on opposing offensive lines makes him one of the premier defenders in college football.
Houston’s Ed Oliver takes down East Carolina QB Reid Herring, forcing him to fumble the ball. Emeke Egbule recovers and puts six on the board.
DE: Chase Young, Ohio State
Losing a player the caliber of Nick Bosa would severely hamper a lot of teams, but Young has stepped right in and made one big play after another for the unbeaten Buckeyes. The 6-5, 265-pound sophomore has eight tackles for loss, including four sacks, and made a couple of huge plays in the win at Penn State. He stopped Miles Sanders for a 2-yard loss on the decisive fourth-and-5 play and also had a fourth-down pass deflection that could have gone for big yardage.
LB: Devin White, LSU
The array of talent on LSU’s defense is impressive to say the least. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has plenty of pieces to work with, but having a guy like the 6-1, 240-pound White roaming all over the field and making plays opens up everything for the Tigers. White, a junior, had 13 total tackles in the win over Georgia on Saturday and leads LSU with 66 total tackles, including seven for loss. He’s one of the most devastating tacklers in college football.
LB: Josh Allen, Kentucky
As pass-rushers go, the 6-5, 260-pound Allen has been right there at the top from his outside linebacker position. He’s having a sensational senior season and has been a blur off the edge. Allen has 10.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks. Five of those sacks have come against SEC opponents, and he also has five quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Offenses simply haven’t been able to block him one-on-one.
LB: Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
The nation’s leading tackler, the 6-foot Burr-Kirven added about 10 pounds this season as a senior and is now somewhere in the 230-pound range. He has racked up 93 total tackles, forced three fumbles and recovered two. Burr-Kirven has been a force against the run, but versatile enough to also drop back and be effective in pass coverage. In his most recent outing, he had 19 total tackles in the overtime loss to Oregon.
CB: Julian Love, Notre Dame
One of the things that separates this Notre Dame defense from the 2012 unit is a secondary that has come up with timely plays; Love is tied for second nationally with 12 pass breakups and also has one interception and three fumble recoveries. The 5-11, 193-pound junior has excellent ball skills, tackles equally well and is always in position to make plays. His 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech was one of the swing plays in that road win for the Irish.
S: Grant Delpit, LSU
There’s a distinct LSU flavor to our midseason All-America defense, and with good reason. The 6-3, 203-pound Delpit is having a huge sophomore season. He’s an enforcer as a tackler with 44 total tackles to rank second on LSU’s team, including 7.5 for loss. He has intercepted three passes, registered four quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. Some on the Bayou are already comparing him to former LSU great Jamal Adams.
S: Deionte Thompson, Alabama
It wouldn’t be an Alabama defense without an elite safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick was one of the top players at his position a year ago, and Mark Barron was a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. The 6-2, 196-pound Thompson is a redshirt junior who has waited his turn and is quickly entrenching himself as one of the Crimson Tide’s best defenders. He leads the team with 40 total tackles and also has two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
CB: Greedy Williams, LSU
LSU likes to refer to itself as DBU, which a few other schools around the country might not necessarily agree with, but few people around college football would disagree that Williams is one of the best cornerbacks in the country and has been for two years now. The 6-3, 184-pound junior has great length for a cornerback and leads the SEC in completion percentage allowed. He hasn’t given up a touchdown all season, and the way he smothered Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf, a future pro, was a textbook lockdown-cornerback performance.
K: Andre Szmyt, Syracuse
What a story Szmyt has been for Syracuse. A preferred walk-on, the redshirt freshman stepped in for four-year starter Cole Murphy and has been about as good as a place-kicker can be for the Orange, who are off to a 4-2 start. Szmyt is 16-for-17 on field-goal attempts and 3-for-3 on kicks of 50 yards or longer.
P: Braden Mann, Texas A&M
Not only has Mann boomed the football all season and been a real weapon for Texas A&M with his 54.4 yard average, which is on an FBS-record pace, but he had a tackle and forced fumble on a South Carolina punt return Saturday that got the ball back for the Aggies in their key road win. Mann also uncorked a 67-yarder against the Gamecocks.