The author of two widely acclaimed books and a longtime Las Vegas sports radio personality, Arne K. Lang has written extensively on college football. He is the former Sports Information Coordinator for the Stardust Race and Sports Book and his annual Spreadbeater Team recognizes players whose efforts were instrumental in getting their teams over the hump when the fate of a bet hung in the balance. From the beginning, eligibility was restricted to players on "winning" teams, defined as teams that finished with a winning record against the closing pointspread.
Instead of including players whose muffs and mental mistakes contributed to bad beats. this mythical team accentuates the positive, an approach more concordant with the holiday season. In the first of two installments, here is the defensive unit. The numbers in parentheses are the team’s record against the betting line:
Defensive end Jerry Hughes, Texas Christian, Jr. (8-3 against the spread)
No defensive lineman created more havoc than Hughes, a former high school running back. He led the nation in sacks and finished second nationally in forced fumbles and lost yardage accruing from tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Nose tackle Peria Jerry, Mississippi, Sr. (8-3)
Despite missing two games because of a torn meniscus, Jerry had 17 tackles for lost yardage — a high number for an interior player. Eight of the 17 came in the final month when the Ole Miss defense limited the opposition to two touchdowns. The Rebels advance to the Cotton Bowl on a 4-0 straight up/against the spread run.
Defensive end Brian Orakpo, Texas, Sr. (9-3)
Orakpo was the consensus Big 12 defensive player of the year, an honor he likely locked up in mid-October with a stellar performance against Oklahoma. He sat out the second half of the Texas Tech game with a knee injury and the following week's game Baylor. Strike those two games from the season and the Longhorns are an undefeated team with a 9-1 pointspread ledger.
Linebacker Rod Muckelroy, Texas, Jr.
Outgained by scruffy Texas El Paso — a 27-point underdog — Texas scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and defeated the Miners, 42-13. Muckelroy secured the victory with forced a fumble that he returned 26 yards for a touchdown. He had 106 tackles, tops on his team.
Linebacker Joe Pawelek, Baylor, Jr. (8-3)
Pawelek had at least seven tackles in every game and finished with 128, the most by a Baylor player since 1989. His six interceptions tied for the national lead by a linebacker. Against Nebraska, Pawelek recovered a fumble that aborted a fourth-quarter drive by the Cornhuskers at the two-yard line. A 13-point underdog, Baylor covered the spread despite losing, 32-20.
Linebacker Navorro Bowman, Penn State, Soph. (8-3)
The Penn State linebacking corps took a big hit when Sean Lee suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring drills. But Bowman, a third-year sophomore, stepped in and led the team in tackles. In the 13-6 nail-biting victory at Ohio State, Bowman had 10 tackles and a momentum-turning fumble recovery.
Linebacker Mark Herzlich, Boston College, Jr. (7-5)
Herzlich ranked among the national leaders in solo tackles, led the team in pass break-ups and had 136 yards in interception and fumble returns. The Eagles would not have defeated Wake Forest without Herzlich’s two interceptions, the second of which he returned for a touchdown. A slight underdog, Boston College prevailed, 24-21.
Defensive back D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt, Jr. (7-5)
After starting 5-0 SU/ATS, the Commodores were pressed to achieve bowl eligibility. The elusive sixth win came in an upset of Kentucky, a game in which Moore scored touchdowns on the first two grabs of his career and set up another touchdown with an interception. An outstanding special teams player and a standout in the secondary, Moore appears to have a bright future at the next level.
Defensive back Jorrick Calvin, Troy, Jr. (7-3-1)
A first-year juco transfer who moved seamlessly into the starting lineup, Calvin’s play cushioned the departure of Leodis McKelvin. Against North Texas, he had 11 tackles, intercepted a pass in the end zone and scored on a 94-yard kickoff return. The Trojans, a 24-point favorite, defeated the Mean Green by 28 points.
Defensive back Sean Baker, Ball State, Fr. (8-3-1)
It didn’t take Baker long to put his name in the Ball State record book. In only his third game, he tied a team record with three interceptions and scored on a fumble return against Akron. Baker had three more interceptions during the season and led the team in tackles.
Defensive back Cooper Taylor, Georgia Tech, Fr. (8-2)
Taylor forged his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman and finished second on the team in tackles. His most noteworthy tackle was a bone-jarring hit that denied Florida State a game-winning touchdown. The ball popped loose and was recovered for a touchback. Earlier against the Seminoles — a game the Jackets covered by a "hook" — Taylor set up a touchdown with an interception return.