AP All-America Watch: Miami D's middle man; ODU X-factor
The Associated Press has been honoring college football's best with an All-America team since 1925. The AP midseason All-America team will be released Oct. 16. The full three-team AP All-America selections will be unveiled in December. The fifth All-America watch of the season features a Miami defensive tackle dominating as a senior, Florida's emerging star safety and Old Dominion's X-factor.
Gerald Willis III, DT, Miami
The road to stardom for the former blue-chip recruit has been circuitous . Willis started his career at Florida in 2014, transferred to Miami, sat out a season, injured his knee in 2016, and stepped away from football last year. He returned this year to fill a major need for the Hurricanes on their defensive front. The 300-pound senior has been a star for one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking second overall in tackles for loss with 12.5. No. 16 Miami leads FBS in that category with 12 per game. The Outland Trophy, which goes to the top interior lineman in college football, named him its player of the month for September.
What they are saying: "Gerald is playing as good as anybody we've had here, for sure." — Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Outlook: This is the year of the defensive lineman in college football so Willis will have to keep up his torrid pace to be an All-American at that position.
Brad Stewart, S, Florida
Stewart made the play of the game against LSU last week for the 14th-ranked Gators, returning an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't just one play, though. According to Pro Football Focus College, Stewart was the highest-graded player in the game for Florida. The sophomore from New Orleans was pushed into a starting role due to injuries this season and over the last three games he has settled in as one of the best players on a very good defense.
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Grier had three interceptions against Kansas, all in scoring territory, and fumbled. He has six interceptions this season. The preseason All-American has mostly been great, averaging 363 yards passing per game with 21 touchdown passes. He is unquestionably a Heisman contender.
But some of the other quarterbacks around the country, specifically Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, have been so good that Grier needs to be spectacular just to keep up. Don't bet against him doing just that.
GROUP OF FIVE STAR
Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion
Old Dominion made a lot of noise by upsetting Virginia Tech, but Ximines has been making plays all season. The senior has 7.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the nation and one behind the school record of 8.5 he had last year. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Ximines has gone from two-star recruit to legitimate NFL draft prospect.
ON THE LINE
(ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, a former guard at Auburn, identifies an offensive lineman playing at an All-America level)
Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State.
The fifth-year senior is in his third season as a starter for the 20th-ranked Wolfpack, leading a line that has allowed only two sacks in five games.
"He excels with quickness reaching a nose guard or climbing to her second level. "Has enough power to hold his own at the line of scrimmage and help double-teams." — Cubelic.
Michigan DEs Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary vs. Wisconsin OL David Edwards, Jon Dietzen and Cole Van Lanen.
Winovich and Gary might be the best pair of defensive ends on one team in the country. Gary was a preseason second-team All-American. He plays the strong side and tends to face more double-teams. Winovich is a relentless pass rusher from the weak side and tends to get one-on-one matchups he can exploit. Wisconsin's offensive line has three players, including Edwards, who received preseason All-America recognition. Edward takes the right side tackle spot and Dietzen and Van Lanen rotate on the left. The sophomore Van Lanen has been taking on a bigger load lately. Against Nebraska last week, Van Lanen graded out as one of the best blockers in the country, according to Pro Football Focus College.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast