December 3, 2007

Five reasons why Crabtree should win it

We all knew Texas Tech freshman wide receiver Michael Crabtree was going to be good. But this good, this fast?

Crabtree is a finalist for the 2007 Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the top receiver in division one college football. He is the first freshman finalist in the 14-year history of the award. Crabtree's competition for the award is Jordy Nelson of Kansas State and Mario Manningham of the University of Michigan.

Can Crabtree actually accomplish the unthinkable and be named the best receiver not playing on Sundays? He can, and he better. Below are five reasons why.

Crabtree has had not only the best season statistically of any receiver in 2007, he has put up some of the greatest single-season numbers in the history of college football. The freshman from Dallas has latched onto 125 passes for 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns. Those are nation-leading statistics in each category. Jordy Nelson has 122 receptions for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Mario Manningham has 67 catches for 1,096 yards and 11 TDs. Nelson and Manningham have certainly put up excellent numbers, but frankly they pale in comparison to what Crabtree has done.

I am hardly a disinterested observer, of course, but if I were to say that Crabtree is the most exciting player in college football, nobody would laugh. Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Florida's Tim Tebow certainly set the turf aflame with their gridiron pyrotechnics, but for my money neither is as breathtaking with ball in hand as Crabtree. Crabtree does not need to run flies, fades and deep posts to make your heart go into fibrillation. With Crabtree, a five yard drag pattern or a bubble screen to the middle of the field are surefire highlight material. Suffice it to say that Crabtree creates his most spectacular firework displays after he catches the football.

When it comes to running with the football after the catch, there is not a receiver in the land who even comes close to Crabtree. And that is what sets him apart. Crabtree has an unerring sense of where to go with the ball when it's in his hands. There is no hesitation and no wasted motion whatsoever. Crabtree catches the ball and instantaneously runs to daylight making perfect cuts when necessary without losing any speed. Defensive backs who pause for a nanosecond are lost as Crabtree blows by them like a torpedo homing in on a submarine. It is truly an awesome thing to behold.

No offense to Tech running backs Aaron Crawford, Kobey Lewis and Shannon Woods, but for all intents and purposes Mike Crabtree got his catches, yards and touchdowns without the aid of a serious running threat from the Red Raider offense. The same can hardly be said for Jordy Nelson and Mario Manningham. Nelson's Kansas State teammate James Johnson rushed for 1,106 yards. Manningham benefited from Heisman candidate Mike Hart who plowed for 1,232 clicks. Tech's leading rusher? Shannon Woods with 439 yards. In other words, the defense knew the pass was coming and they had a pretty good idea it was heading toward Crabtree, but they still couldn't stop it.

Mike Crabtree's staggering numbers did not come exclusively at the expense of powderpuffs on the schedule. Nor did Crabtree disappear against the heavyweights. In the battles against the three toughest teams (Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma) Tech faced in 2007, Crabtree caught 31 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are comparable to what he did against weaker opponents and closely mirror his averages for the entire season. Jordy Nelson caught 30 balls for 347 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas, Missouri and Texas, while Mario Manningham brought down only 22 aerials for 260 yards and three TDs against Oregon, Illinois and Ohio State. Crabtree wins again.

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