The Associated Press has been honoring college football’s best with an All-America team since 1925. This season, the AP released its first preseason All-America team and will also weigh-in with a midseason team before the full, three-team All-America selections are unveiled in December. The second installment of the weekly All-America watch:
Cam Phillips, WR, Virginia Tech
The senior showed growth in each of his first three seasons in Blacksburg, but he entered this year as by far the most-seasoned pass catcher on the team. Phillips has taken nicely to being the go-to guy for new quarterback Josh Jackson. He has 27 catches (second in the nation) for 417 yards (tops in the country) and five touchdowns, including 14 catches and three scores in a rout of East Carolina.
What they are saying: “He understands the game. He understands leverages. He understands alignments. He’s a smart football player.” — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente.
Outlook: Phillips has accounted for 48.2 percent of the Hokies’ receptions, 49.3 percent of their yards receiving and, according to ESPN Stats and Info, 44.3 percent of their targets. Only Maryland’s D.J. Moore has a higher percentage of his team’s targets (51.6). Fuente would like to find more balance, but Phillips is looking at being one of the busiest — and best — receivers in the country this season.
Charles Wright, OLB, Vanderbilt
The Commodores’ take the third-best defense in the country (3.44 yards per play allowed) into their game against No. 1 Alabama, and Wright has been major part of that. The junior is second in the nation in sacks with six after getting two — and a couple of hurries — in Vanderbilt’s 14-7 victory against Kansas State. The last time a Commodores player has had as many as six sacks in a season was 2012.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU.
Guice is off to an OK start, averaging 100 yards per game (33rd in the nation) and 5.26 yards per carry. Much was expected of the preseason All-American and in his two games against FBS teams (BYU and Mississippi State) Guice has 198 yards and a 4.7-yard average per carry. LSU getting blown out by Mississippi State helped limit him to 15 carries and he isn’t used much in the passing game (two catches for seven yards). A breakout is likely coming. Maybe this weekend against Syracuse.
ON THE LINE (Former Auburn offensive lineman and ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic identifies an O-lineman worth watching)
Billy Price, C, Ohio State.
The Buckeyes bounced back from a loss to Oklahoma with an efficient victory against Army. He was one of the best guards in the country last season and is making a seamless transition to center, according to Cubelic.
“Price plays with elite quickness, moving laterally well, cutting off defensive linemen, climbing to linebackers and helping in pass protection,” Cubelic said. “His awareness at the position may be the most impressive part of his game, considering his lack of true game experience there.”
ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
Dante Pettis, PR, Washington.
Pettis is the Huskies’ most-accomplished receiver, but he’s been setting record as a punt returner so far this season. He has brought a punt back for a touchdown in each of Washington’s first three games, matching two NCAA records. His eight career punt return TDs equals a mark set by Antonio Perkins of Oklahoma and Wes Welker of Texas Tech. He also became the third player with punt returns TDs in three straight games. He goes for four in row at Colorado on Saturday.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma.
Mayfield had to settle for third-team All-America last season behind Lamar Jackson of Louisville (Heisman Trophy winner) and Deshaun Watson of Clemson (Heisman Trophy runner-up). Mayfield led the nation in passer efficiency rating in 2016 and he is at the top of that leaderboard again (224.2) for players with more than one game. He heads into Big 12 play with 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State vs. Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa.
Barkley’s Heisman campaign is off to a nice start. The preseason All-American ranks fourth in the nation in yards from scrimmage at 182.7 per game with five touchdowns, despite not being needed to put in a full workload in two of the Nittany Lions’ blowout victories. Jewell is also a preseason All-American and the Hawkeyes’ leading tackler. The two are likely to collide frequently in Saturday night as No. 4 Penn State visits Iowa City.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP