back to the Black Table
  I know a lot of people who say they hardly ever watch TV. People who say they maybe flip on CNN for 15 minutes in the morning, possibly they'll catch an occasional "Daily Show," and that's about it.

I'm not one of those people. In fact, if you only watch half an hour of television each day, then on Saturday, Aug. 30, I'll probably watch as much TV as you watch in a month, and I hope to repeat that feat each Saturday until December.

When you love college football as much as I do, it's really not that hard to watch 15 hours in a day. You turn on the pregame shows first thing in the morning, then you start the first game before noon. By 3 p.m., several games are on and you're flipping among them, trying to see as much of each game as possible without ever seeing a commercial. ESPN and ESPN2 usually have a couple late West Coast games, and then there are highlight shows until after midnight.

But there's something else that I don't like about college football, and that's the way ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, ABC, NBC and all the rest of the college football world get together and decide before the season which players deserve to receive hype. Those players get a ridiculous amount of attention every Saturday, while hundreds of other young men labor in obscurity. So as I present to you the official Black Table preseason Top 25, I'll tell you one guy on each team who deserves more attention than he gets.


Sophomore kicker Trey DiCarlo will win at least one game with his strong leg. He made 16 of his 22 field goal attempts last year, and I also like kickers who wear non-kicker numbers. DiCarlo wears No. 83.
Junior safety Sean Taylor is the best college football player in the country. One of these days someone will notice that he's better than his more-publicized teammates.
Karlos Dansby decided to return for his senior year, even though he could have been the first linebacker taken in this year's draft. I also like linebackers who wear quarterback numbers. Dansby wears No. 11.
Center Nick Leckey is a physical, hard-hitting offensive lineman. A side note about Kansas State: I really like this team. I think it has an outstanding chance of going undefeated. The problem is, I'm writing this on Friday, the Wildcats open the season against California on Saturday, and the Black Table will run this next week. So on the off chance that Kansas State loses on Saturday, I was just joking about putting them at No. 4. I meant to put them at No. 44.
No one can stop Longhorns wide receiver Roy Williams, but the guy who comes the closest is his teammate Nathan Vasher, one of the game's best cornerbacks.
Strong safety Jerome Carter is the best blitzing defensive back in America. Also, I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks Chris Rix is a good quarterback.
Wide receiver Fred Gibson averaged better than 20 yards a catch last year. And have you seen the ESPN commercial with an unnamed Georgia player wrestling an Alligator? Funny stuff.
Senior linebacker Vegas Robinson will have a great year if he's fully recovered from an ankle injury. He also has my favorite name in football.
Defensive end Claude Harriott is the country's best pass rusher. The Panthers also have several members of my all-name team: wide receiver Princell Brockenbrough, fullback Lousaka Polite, guard Penny Semaia and linebacker Azzie Beagnyam.
Defensive end Larry Stevens is solid against the run and the pass. He also wears No. 13. But Michigan will be without its best player, cornerback Marlin Jackson, for at least one game, after he was suspended. That sure seems to happen a lot in college football.
Danny Young is the best long snapper in the nation. If NFL coaches mean it when they say special teams is as important as offense and defense, Young will be an early-round draft pick next year.
Punt returner Steve Suter led the country with four touchdowns last year. Bonus entry: Left tackle Stephon Heyer leads the country with a size 22 shoe.
Sophomore running back Maurice Clarett hasn't gotten enough attention this off-season. Sure, he's been the topic of endless debate on every sports-themed show on television, and journalists from Sports Illustrated and the New York Times have devoted thousands of words to his performance in the classroom, but why hasn't he been the subject of a lengthy profile in The New Yorker? From the coverage I've seen, it seems that a college football player who likes football more than academics is the most shocking news story in the country. Of course, Clarett isn't the best player on his team; that honor goes to Chris Gamble, the only player in America who will start on both offense and defense. But now that Gamble, like Clarett, is under NCAA investigation, maybe we'll hear more about him.
Kicker Kirk Yliniemi made 15 of 16 field goals last year. The Beavers also have the easiest opening game opponent in the country, Sacramento State.
Free safety Jim Leonhard didn't even earn a scholarship until after his freshman year, but his 11 interceptions led the NCAA in 2002.
Right tackle Kelly Butler is a junior who has already made 25 starts. And why don't more peoplt talk about the team's defense? Nine starters return from the group that gave up the fewest yards in the Big Ten last year.
Center Todd Bachert leads an experienced offensive line. An upset of Ohio State in the first game wouldn't surprise me.
Marques Harris can excel at linebacker or defensive end. Former pro skier Jeremy Bloom handles punt returns, and if you think about it, returning punts is a lot like downhill skiing.
Linebacker Darryl Blackstock led all freshmen with 10 sacks last year. Al Groh sure looks like he knows what he's doing a lot more here than he did with the Jets.
Guard Anthony Herrera is better than his more famous linemate, Michael Munoz. And yet Herrera might not even start for coach Phil Fulmer, who has seemed confused the last couple of years.
Right tackle Winston Justice is the nation's most athletic big man. But I just don't believe they can overcome the loss of Carson Palmer.
Paul Duren led the team in tackles last year as a freshman. The Cowboys will try to beat Oklahoma for the third straight year.
Offensive tackle Max Starks will be a first-round pick in 2004. But it's coach Ron Zook who all the Gator faithful will watch.
Linebacker Rod Davis averages about 15 tackles a game. The Golden Eagles' Sept. 25 game against Nebraska could be a breakthrough moment for the program.
At 371 pounds, right tackle Shawn Andrews is the most imposing physical presence in the country.And even with all of the great SEC stadiums, Arkansas has the conference's best home record the last five years.




Michael David Smith writes the Cerebral Fan website, featuring regularly columns about football for the thinking man.