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:
Quarterback Russell Wilson, N.C. State, Fr. (9-2 against the spread)
It was the year of the quarterback, most notably in the Big 12. But hardly anyone outside the Atlantic Coast Conference noticed Wilson, who guided the Wolfpack to seven straight covers, including four outright upsets to close the season. Interception-free during this 7-0 ATS surge, Wilson’s story was more remarkable considering that he was carted off the field with a head injury in his first start and later missed a game because of a shoulder ailment.
Running back James Case, Rice, Soph. (8-4)
The Owls label Casey a utility back, rather than a tight end, and who are we to dissent? Second in the nation in receptions with 104, Casey was also his team’s third-leading rusher and chief punt returner. Did we mention that both of his pass completions resulted in touchdowns? This 24-year-old former White Sox farmhand was one busy fellow.
Running back Jeffrey Demps, Florida, Fr. (11-1)
Demps caught our eye in his second game when he blocked a Miami punt, good for a safety. The play loomed large in the scheme of things as the Gators, favored by 22.5 points, triumphed, 26-3. Demps also created a stir at Arkansas, scoring the final touchdown on a 48-yard run as Florida rallied with three scores in the fourth quarter for a 38-7 victory, covering the 26.5 spread.
Receiver Kenny Britt, Rutgers, Jr. (8-3)
The Scarlet Knights covered the spot in their last eight games, an astounding turnaround after a dreadful start. Britt was at his best in those games, catching 60 passes for 990 yards. He finished second in the nation in receiving yards per game.
Receiver Cortez Gent, Florida Atlantic, Jr. (6-5-1)
Gent had a terrific game vs. Alabama Birmingham, but saved his signature moments for the most bizarre game of the regular season. In a comeback that boggled the imagination, the Owls, a 5-point favorite, overcame a 14-point deficit twice in the final seven minutes of regulation vs. Florida International. Gent ignited the first rally with a TD catch of a tipped ball and then had the winning TD reception in a 57-50 overtime victory.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma, Jr. (10-2)
A Mackey Award finalist, Gresham led the Sooners in touchdown catches and was a key component of a potent rushing attack. He was at his best in the regular-season finale at Stillwater as Oklahoma leapfrogged Texas in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Among his nine catches was a 73-yard TD reception on a tipped ball.
Tackle Ryan McKee, Southern Mississippi, Sr. (7-5)
The Golden Eagles averaged 76.4 offensive snaps a game, a figure topped by only five teams. By all accounts, McKee was on the field for every play. He gave up only one sack.
Tackle Russell Okung, Oklahoma State, Jr. (8-3)
A starter since his freshman season, Okung turned heads in last year’s Insight Bowl when he capsized NCAA sack leader Greg Middleton. The man entrusted with protecting Zac Robinson’s blind side performed with distinction as Robinson led the nation in yards per passing attempt.
Guard Justin Morsey, Tulsa, Sr. (7-5)
The Golden Hurricane led the nation in total offense in 2007 and would have likely earned that distinction again if not for a substandard showing vs. East Carolina in the Conference USA championship game. Morsey, the bedrock of the Tulsa offensive line, missed the title game because of a leg injury incurred the previous week.
Guard Austin Barrick, Georgia Tech, Soph. (8-2)
Barrick arrived at Georgia Tech as a tight end. A new management team eliminated his position, but he moved laterally into a different slot and started 11 games. In the upset of Georgia, Barrick was the ball-carrier on a clever tackle-eligible play that resulted in an 11-yard gain.
Center A.Q. Shipley, Penn State, Sr. (8-3)
The Rimington Award winner, Shipley anchored an offensive line that provided great protection for an inexperienced quarterback and had a 1,000-yard runner for the fourth straight season.
Kicker Louie Sakoda, Utah, Sr. (7-4)
Sakoda was named to this team for the second straight year. Fifth among active players in career punting yards, Sakoda has made 86.2% of his field goal attempts. This season he was 21 of 23, with misses coming from 48 and 54 yards.
Punter Swayze Waters, Alabama Birmingham, Sr. (6-5)
A combo kicker like Sakoda, Waters closed his career with a flourish, making five field goals in a 15-0 victory against Central Florida. As a punter, he averaged 43.6 yards a kick. And he didn’t shy from contact, as evident by six unassisted tackles.
Return specialist Javier Arenas, Alabama, Jr. (9-4)
A standout cornerback and the most productive punt returner in Crimson Tide history, Arenas set a team record with 153 yards in punt returns vs. Mississippi State. He broke the game open with an 80-yard return and the Tide rolled to a 32-7 victory as a 22-point favorite.
Coach Urban Meyer, Florida
In a previous life, Meyer was a prizefighter with a killer instinct. Randy Shannon and the Miami Hurricanes were already finished when Meyer launched his haymaker, trotting his field goal unit onto the field with 25 ticks on the clock and his team up, 23-3. The kick was good to the rapture of those that backed the Gators, who were favored by 22.5. Meyer’s two teams at Utah were a combined 20-4 ATS and his current squad enters the BCS title game with an 11-1 ATS mark.