Commentary

Dual-threat players among toughest for opponents to prepare for

Originally Published: October 23, 2007
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

In anticipation for Saturday's big Ohio State-Penn State game (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), this week's list is about the toughest players to prepare for.

1. Tim Tebow, Florida, QB: At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Tebow's toughness as a running quarterback is unmatched. He is a mortal lock to get 4 yards every time the Gators need it -- whether it's on a quarterback draw or quarterback lead. (One of Tebow's more impressive stats is that he has had at least a 12-yard run in every game this season. For a quarterback, that's startling.) Tebow has enough speed, but it's his patience and strength as he patters his feet, waiting for a crease before he bulls into a hole. What's giving opponents sleepless nights, however, is his development as a passer. Florida loves to draw up safeties and linebackers with run fakes and then work over the top. It helps that the Gators have so much speed at receiver to exploit all of the soft spots.

[+] EnlargeJames Hardy
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIndiana's James Hardy poses matchup problems for every opponent.

2. James Hardy, Indiana, WR: The former basketball player is a mismatch for anyone. Just ask Penn State's Justin King, a very talented CB, who was beaten all over the field by the 6-7 Hardy. His numbers against PSU: 14 catches, 142 yards and two touchdowns.

3. Glenn Dorsey, LSU, DT: In talking to dozens of folks in the SEC, Dorsey is described as the most complete D-lineman to come through the league in years. Teams have to know where he is at all times and are forced to slide protections and keep backs ready for him. Over the weekend, Dorsey was a victim of one of the worst cheap shots of the season when he got high-lowed by two Auburn Tigers offensive linemen.

4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas, RB: The Hogs have been very creative in the ways they've exploited McFadden's skills, both as a runner and receiver. He has blazing speed and so much more power than most speed backs, making him a guy who is equally dangerous running wide and inside the tackles. The most impressive thing is, unlike most of the offensive guys on this list, McFadden doesn't have a passing game threat to keep defenses honest. At least he hasn't this season, without WR Marcus Monk.

5. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, LB: Despite being a junior, Laurinaitis has the savvy to seemingly always be in position to make the big play for OSU. He rarely takes any false steps. Laurinaitis shows up in coverage or as a blitzer more than any other linebacker in the country.

6. Percy Harvin, Florida, WR: He is one of the most explosive players in college football, and the Gators are very crafty in the ways they get him the ball -- whether it's on a handoff or screens. Harvin, along with DeSean Jackson, is one of the top two game-breakers in the country. Opponents have to have multiple tacklers in position every time he is an option because any one-on-one tackling situation is a heartbeat away from a huge momentum-turning play.

7. DeSean Jackson, Cal, WR-PR: This is the ultimate "shake" guy. Opposing teams have tried everything to contain him. Zones seem to be the best answer, although even then it's a wash. Jackson is so dangerous as a returner that your best bet, one coach explained this summer, was to simply kick the ball out of bounds and "not play with fire."

8. Patrick White, West Virginia, QB: The pre-eminent read-option king of college football, White is a master at taking the slightest weakness or hesitation and gashing a defense and turning it into a track meet. South Florida has been the only team to really contain the Mountaineers, and that was because of some good, old-fashioned option defensive principles and a lot of team speed and confidence.

9. Chase Daniel, Missouri, QB: Physically, he may not look like a prototype, but he is a nightmare for opposing coaches because he is such a master at the spread option. Daniel is smart, patient and extremely accurate. Teams have a very hard time getting shots on him because he is so adept at spying his targeted mismatch before the snap and unloading before the defense can react. He also has just enough agility to burn you with the run.

10. Sedrick Ellis, USC, NT: The powerful Trojan doesn't get enough credit for being such a disruptive force inside. He's almost impossible to single-block because of his strength and agility.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.