Posted by Jerry Hinnen
There has been one good piece of news to come out over the past 24 hours for Cam Newton : the Maxwell Football Club named him one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award , the organization's honor for the best player in college football. And though Newton has accumulated the stats and highlight reels of an All-American running back this season, it's perhaps for the best for him he doesn't actually play the position. That's the way it looks from the complete list of semifinalists:
WR Justin Blackmon , Oklahoma State, So.
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, Jr.
QB Andy Dalton , TCU, Sr.
QB Robert Griffin III , Baylor, So.
RB Kendall Hunter , Oklahoma State, Sr.
RB LaMichael James , Oregon, So.
QB Colin Kaepernick , Nevada, Sr.
QB Andrew Luck , Stanford, So.
QB Ryan Mallett , Arkansas, Jr.
QB Taylor Martinez , Nebraska, Fr.
QB Kellen Moore , Boise State, Jr.
QB Cam Newton , Auburn, Jr.
QB Terrelle Pryor , Ohio State, Jr.
QB Denard Robinson , Michigan, So.
QB Ricky Stanzi , Iowa, Sr.
QB Tyrod Taylor , Virginia Tech, Sr.
All right, so it's also a little odd that none of the top 16 players in the nation by the Maxwell's estimation happen to play defense. But it's nothing unusual for defenders to get snubbed in the national Player of the Year talk, and since the Maxwell Club also hands out the Bednarik Award to the nation's best defensive player, the Maxwell itself appears to be a de facto offensive players-only honor; even the great Ndamokung Suh didn't crack the semifinalists list last season .
So the much bigger surprise is that among a list of the nation's top 16 offensive players, only two running backs, Hunter and James, make the cut next to two wide receivers and a whopping 12 quarterbacks. Since when has the the second-most high-profile position on the football field been this devoid of stars?
Since 2010, apparently. Last year's Maxwell semifinalist list included seven tailbacks, including a pair of Heisman finalists in Toby Gerhart and Mark Ingram and several who returned to college football for this 2010 season: Ingram, Noel Devine , Jacquizz Rodgers , Dion Lewis . Unfortunately for those four players, the season hasn't played out as expected for any of them; not one currently ranks among even the top 30 rushers in the nation at present, with Rodgers' 803 yards (good for 33rd) the best year to-date of the bunch.
Why the sudden downturn in the fortunes of the nation's top tailbacks? Some of it is probably a simple fluke. But some of it is the continuing rise of the spread offense, which revolves around the all-purpose quarterback at the expense of pounding along with the traditional bruising tailback. Auburn , Nevada , Michigan , TCU , Baylor -- these are all some of the most explosive offenses in the country, and all five begin with a mobile QB. It's no wonder all five placed their quarterbacks on the list above despite the presence of top rushers like Nevada's Vai Taua , Baylor's Jay Finley , and TCU's Ed Wesley . This year's top pro-style attacks, meanwhile, are all quarterback-dominated as well: Stanford and Luck, Arkansas and Mallett, Boise and Moore. Offenses like the 2009 Cardinal and Tide attacks that turned Gerhart and Ingram into superstars just aren't out there this year.
They'll probably be back next year. But that doesn't mean they'll be back in the same numbers we've seen in the past; as long as the spread remains as in vogue as it is today, the kind of bludgeoning workhorse tailback that makes award lists is going to stay an increasingly endangered species.