ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jeremy Maclin's mind wanders. Although time and space say otherwise, Missouri's redshirt sophomore receiver sometimes finds himself closer to an NFL camp next year than his bowl game later this month.
"It's hard not to (think about the NFL)," Maclin said, "but you've still got to play football. I've got only more game, guaranteed, in college football."
|We hardly had a chance to get to see Michael Crabtree in college if he goes pro now. (Getty Images)|
The practice pervades the sport, and it stinks. Before we get to know them, they're out the door. Maclin has played 27 career games -- that's two more than Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, who was named to his second consecutive CBSSports.com All-America team on Friday.
He had quite a week -- the redshirt sophomore also won a second consecutive Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best wideout.
"Is there anything left for me to prove?" Crabtree asked. "I wouldn't think so."
Crabtree's reaction is typical of many of his peers. They have been conditioned to think forward instead of remaining in the now. This isn't to say Crabtree shouldn't go to the NFL or isn't ready. It's that we hardly know him.
At some point college football became a synonym for an NFL minor league.
"Because I'm not in the NFL, I have no choice but to think about my job," Crabtree said, "and my job is to play receiver and run my routes."
No choice? Job? Don't have too much fun, Crabby.
Remember that this bowl season when you see seemingly powerful teams play like they're disinterested. It's hard to concentrate when you've got one eye on the combine.
The three Heisman finalists were among those assembled here this week for the college football awards show. It seemed that there as many questions about their NFL prospects as their college accomplishments.
"Right now I'm really not thinking about it," said Oklahoma Sam Bradford, CBSSports.com All-America team quarterback. "It's really not that hard. We have such a huge task ahead of us. So much effort is going to be put toward that. It's not going to be hard at all to put off things."
Bradford, another redshirt sophomore, is leading Oklahoma against Florida in what might be the best BCS title game since the system was instituted in 1998. Soon after, though, Bradford will have to think seriously about his future. The deadline for juniors declaring for the NFL is approximately one week after the BCS game.
Bradford already has been projected as one of the first quarterbacks to be taken in the NFL Draft. His numbers (48 touchdowns, six interceptions) and measurables (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) make him more fresh meat for the pros than a fresh face on campus.
That should bother all of us. This week is supposed to be a celebration. Possibly the closest vote in Heisman history looms. After that, the bowl season.
Still, it seems that Florida's Tim Tebow can't get away from questions about how his magnificent talents translate to the NFL. Is he a quarterback? A tight end? An H-back?
"I kind of always had that (scrutiny) about everything when I came to Florida," Tebow said. "After my freshman year, it was, 'Can I throw?' I'm used to it. It's OK. My goal is to play at the next level."
An anvil could fall on Superman's head and it wouldn't distract him. Instead, he internalizes the doubt and questions, spitting it out on Saturday.
"Yes sir, I use it as motivation," he said.
We should be savoring their performances. Tebow is a once-in-a-generation player. Bradford has led the country in pass efficiency two years in a row. Colt McCoy, another Heisman finalist, led the 'Horns in passing and rushing. The junior could go 0 for 19 in the Fiesta Bowl and still set the single-season record for accuracy (73.6 percent). He felt compelled this week to reiterate that he is returning for his senior season.
"Not many people have the opportunity to start at a place like Texas for four years," McCoy said. "I love my coaches. I have a real close relationship with my linemen. God's given me the opportunity and ability to play. I just can't see myself leaving right now."
Sometimes there is a downside to collecting some of the best talent in the country. Many have speculated that several key Sooners were distracted in last season's Fiesta Bowl. With early draft entrants on the field, it looked like Oklahoma took on a groupthink that none of them wanted to be there. They played like it in a 20-point loss to West Virginia.
In previous years, that attitude was cultivated here at the awards show. Disney World's Boardwalk area was populated with agent runners whose brazenness was startling. Agents would greet players with a handshake as they came offstage from receiving an award. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told host ESPN that if the situation wasn't cleaned up, his players would no longer attend.
The event has become much more wholesome in recent years, even if some players' heads are in the clouds.
"I think college is the next step to the next level," Crabtree said. "I think it's high school, then college, then the league if you plan on playing football for the rest of your life."
Gosh, were classes involved in there at all, Michael?
Gil Brandt hasn't changed his stance. Each year he sees talented juniors eyeing the NFL. On almost every occasion, he prefers that those juniors stay in school. Brandt marvels over the rookie play of Falcons' quarterback who stayed at Boston College for his senior year.
"It's hard to believe Matt Ryan is a rookie who has started only 13 games," Brandt said. "When you get experience, you make plays."
But for every Ryan there is a Matt Leinart to counteract the argument. Leinart stayed for his senior season in 2004, but has become a borderline bust at Arizona.
"You can't believe you're thinking about the next level so much," said Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, "when you have these great teams ahead of you."
Like Maclin, Maybin is a redshirt sophomore who might have only one great team, guaranteed, ahead of him.