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July 1, 2010

Roughly 20 years in the making, the All-Saban Team

There are few accolades in college football that University of Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn't been associated with.

He's the first coach in the modern era to lead two different programs to a national championship.

Among personal honors, he won the Football Writers Association/Eddie Robinson, Associated Press, Sporting News, Walter Camp and Liberty Mutual awards as national coach of the year the last time he felt short of the national title (2008), never mind the rest of his career.

Individual awards? He's had so many All-Americans that there's been at least one at every position minus three: tight end, punter and, somewhat surprisingly, quarterback.

It makes one wonder what an All-Saban Team might look like among all his college players from Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04), and finally Alabama (2007-curremt).

In terms of pure talent it's impossible to evaluate - except, of course, for Saban, who is steadfastly against making comparisons between his various teams and players. However, in terms of awards and honors an All-Saban Team wouldn't have room to include every All-American.

Here's how the team was comprised:

1) A player had to be named all-conference or All-American (first-team only), drafted by an NFL team or win a major award while Saban was his coach.

2) Any player named all-conference or All-American a year after being coached by Saban, or either won a major accolade or was drafted within two years of playing for the coach would be considered although weighed against the time factor.

3) Other players could be considered, especially if recruited/developed by Saban, but listed no higher than honorable mention.

For example, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2004-06) wouldn't be considered for being the first-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, well after Saban left to coach the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2004 season, but could be for being named the 2006 Manning Award winner and All-SEC (in addition to the 2005 SEC Player of the Year by the Columbus Touchdown Club).

Otherwise, the selections were primarily determined by accolades. Here goes:

Offense

QB: JaMarcus Russell (LSU) _ He only started four games for Saban in 2004, but still passed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. He eventually went 25-4 as a starter and despite leaving a year early for the NFL finished his career ranked among LSU's top five in every career passing category. Honorable mention: Tony Banks (Michigan State), Josh Booty (LSU), Rohan Davey (LSU), Matt Mauck (LSU), Greg McElroy (Alabama), John Parker Wilson (Alabama).

RB: Mark Ingram (Alabama) and T.J. Duckett (Michigan State) _Ingram won not only Alabama's first Heisman Trophy last season, but Saban's as well. In addition to helping lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship he also set the Alabama single-season rushing record with 1,658 yards. Duckett accumulated 621 carries for 3,379 yards and 29 touchdowns and was the 18th overall selection of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Honorable mention: Joseph Addai (LSU), Glen Coffee (Alabama), Scott Greene (Michigan State), Sedrick Irvin (Michigan State), LaBrandon Toefield (LSU), Domanick Williams (LSU).

WR: Josh Reed (LSU) and Plaxico Burress (Michigan State) _ Reed originally signed as a tailback but moved to wide receiver nine weeks into the 1999 season and had a 100-yard performance in just his second game. He caught 94 passes for 1,740 yards his junior season to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. Burress set a Big Ten record with 65 receptions his first year and then topped that with 66 as a sophomore to go with 1,142 yards and a school-record 12 touchdown catches. He was the eighth-overall pick in the 2000 draft. For a No. 3 receiver, Michael Clayton was the 15th selection in the 2004 draft. Honorable mention: Dwayne Bowe (LSU), Bennie Brazell (LSU), Nigea Carter (Michigan State), Michael Clayton (LSU), Craig Davis (LSU), Skyler Green (LSU), DJ Hall (Alabama), Herb Haygood (Michigan State), Dervey Henderson (LSU), Rick Isiah (Toledo), Julio Jones (Alabama), Derrick Mason (Michigan State), Muhsin Muhammad (Michigan State), Gari Scott (Michigan State).

TE: Chris Baker (Michigan State) _ Baker made 47 consecutive starts and had a string of 24 consecutive games with at least one reception. He set the school record for tight ends with 133 receptions, 1,705 yards and 13 touchdowns, and was selected in the third round of the 2002 draft. Honorable mention: Jerry Evans (Toledo), Josh Keur (Michigan State), Vince Marrow (Toledo), Colin Peek (Alabama), Robert Royal (LSU).

T: Andre Smith (Alabama) and Flozell Adams (Michigan State) _ Smith won the 2008 Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman and was the subsequent sixth-overall pick in the NFL Draft. Adams was named the 1997 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and a semifinalist for both the Outland and Lombardi (lineman of the year) awards. Honorable mention: Craig Kuligowski (Toledo), Greg Randall (Michigan State), Andrew Whitworth (LSU), Brandon Winey (LSU).

G: Mike Johnson (Alabama) and Stephen Peterman (LSU) _ Johnson was a two-year All-American who started 41 consecutive games and set an Alabama record by appearing in 54 games. He was also a team captain and lead blocker during Ingram's Heisman Trophy season. Peterman was named an All-American by three publications after allowing one sack during his senior season. He was a third-round draft pick. Honorable mention: Herman Johnson (LSU), Barrett Jones (Alabama), Tupe Peko (Michigan State), Scott Shaw (Michigan State).

C: Antoine Caldwell (Alabama) _ Although LSU had a couple of impressive centers with Rudy Nuswanger (2005 Draddy Award winner) and Ben Wilkerson, neither was a consensus All-American or NFL draft pick. Caldwell was a consensus All-American, two-year team captain and was selected in the third round of the 2009 draft. Honorable mention: Rudy Nuswanger (LSU), Jason Strayorn (Michigan State), Ben Wilkerson (LSU), Louis Williams (LSU).

Defense

DL: Terrence Cody (Alabama), Chad Lavalais (LSU), Glenn Dorsey (LSU), Marcus Spears (LSU) _ All four players were named All-American, although Cody received the honor twice despite playing nose guard. Lavalais was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2008, Spears had nine sacks and 17 tackles for a loss as a senior before being the 20th pick in the subsequent draft, and Dorsey won the Outland, Nagurski (defensve), Lombardi and Lott (defensive impact) awards during his senior season. Honorable mention: Wallace Gilberry (Alabama), Howard Green (LSU), Jarvis Green (LSU), Marquise Hill (LSU), Melvin Oliver (LSU), Chase Pittman (LSU), Josh Shaw (Michigan State), Robaire Smith (Michigan State), Demitrius Underwood (Michigan State), Dan Williams (Toledo), Kyle Williams (LSU), Claude Wroten (LSU).

LB: Rolando McClain (Alabama), Julian Peterson (Michigan State) and Bradie James (LSU) _ McClain won both the Butkus and Lambert awards as the nation's best linebacker, and was the No. 8 selection in the 2010 draft. During his two years at Michigan State, Peterson recorded 140 tackles and 25 sacks in only 23 games before being a first-round draft pick. James finished his career ranked second in LSU history with 418 tackles and was also a national scholar-athlete. Honorable mention: Matt Eberflus (Toledo), Trev Faulk (LSU), Ali Highsmith (LSU), Ike Reese (Michigan State), Josh Thornhill (Michigan State), T.J. Turner (Michigan State), Lionel Turner (LSU).

CB: Kareem Jackson (Alabama) and Corey Webster (LSU) _ Although Jackson didn't post gaudy numbers he was the best cover corner on Alabama's national championship team and selected 20th overall in the 2010 draft. As a senior he intercepted one pass, returning it 79 yards at Ole Miss, broke up 13 and had 49 tackles. In 2004, Webster became LSU's first two-time All-American since 1987 (Wendell Davis). Originally a wide receiver, he made 33 tackles and two interceptions his senior season. Consider Javier Arenas the nickel-back. Honorable mention: Darren Anderson (Toledo), Javier Arenas (Alabama), Amp Campbell (Michigan State), Simeon Castille (Alabama), Travis Daniels (LSU), Chevis Johnson (LSU), Marquis Johnson (Alabama), Renaldo Hill (Michigan State).

S: LaRon Landry (LSU) and Rashad Johnson (Alabama) _ The No. 6-overall draft pick in 2007, Landry was a four-year starter with 48 consecutive starts who broke up 40 passes and made 12 interceptions. Johnson went from being a walk-on running back to All-American and two-year team captain. He made 89 tackles, deflected 11 passes and made five interceptions including two returned for touchdowns his senior year. Honorable mention: Mark Barron (Alabama), Norman LeJeune (LSU), Aric Morris (Michigan State), Creg Steltz (LSU).

Special teams

RS: Javier Arenas (Alabama): With 1,752 yards Arenas finished just 10 short of setting the NCAA record for career punt-return yards, while both his total return yards (kicks and punts) of 3,918 and eight touchdowns also ranked second all-time. He received the 2009 Punt Returner Trophy from the College Football Performance Awards. Honorable mention: Domanick Davis (LSU), Sklyer Green (LSU), Herb Haygood (Michigan State), Derrick Mason (Michigan State).

K: Leigh Tiffin (Alabama): Although Michigan State's Paul Edinger was also an All-American and a sixth-round draft pick, Tiffin set numerous Alabama career and single-season records and is the Crimson Tide's all-time scoring leader. Honorable mention: John Corbello (LSU), Paul Edinger (Michigan State).

P: Craig Jarrett (Michigan State): Jarrett is the only punter under Saban to earn first-team all-conference honors when he was named All-Big Ten in 1999 after being a second-team selection the year before. The four-year starter was only considered honorable mention his senior season but selected in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL draft. Honorable mention: Donnie Jones (LSU).


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