Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Top 25 Players: #13-#12

Back to the list today, where Frank Helps You Think It All Out tries to draw a distinction between four years of great play versus a year of astounding achievement.

13. Matt Forté, RB (2004-2007)

As the ominous portent Hurricane Ivan receded in 2004, an unreal buzz was being generated by observers at Tulane fall camp, as Matt Forté was being introduced to the sideline intelligentsia. Faced with replacing two truly outstanding offensive players, Mewelde Moore and JP Losman, the news of spectacular talent was very welcome indeed.

Forté had "forte" (216 yards, three TDs versus Army his freshman year)- but took a long route to putting it together. There were surely a lot of excuses available to this impact young player- an indifferent receiver in a passing offense, nagging injuries, actual injuries, a coach who thought the road to five TDs was achieved better through Lester Ricard- and Matt Forté most assuredly hit them all. He spent three years unable to take consistent playing time away from people like Jovon Jackson.

As long as Lester Ricard was pitching at Tulane, Forté never seemed to fit in- an afterthought in an offense predicated on scoring via lots of passing. A problematic receiver (985 career receiving yards), he came off the field when Tulane played from behind, and on third down too. His occasional two-three game on-field disappearances did not engender confidence. He just wasn’t guaranteed to get going, make numbers.

But his senior year, completely devoid of quarterback talent, Toledo turned the offense over to Forté. The o-line wasn’t bad, Matt got healthy- and he simply went bonkers.

The numbers were of both national importance (2nd leading rushing average nationally) and historic (eleventh 2000+ yard rusher in major football history). He scored like a zillion touchdowns (an astounding 23 TDs actually). It was a monumental season- simply difficult to stop listing superlatives: two 300+ rushing games, five 200+ yard games, 1st team all C-USA, Senior Bowl MVP, third team all-American, etc.

Forté is hard to figure, to place on this list. It is not a question of mixing in a great season, but a truly classic one. His other three seasons were 600-ish rushing campaigns, not much in number crazy C-USA- blending some occasional amazing performances, then more than a few true headshakers sprinkled in.

At the end of 2007, Forté was still a slightly suspect pro prospect, until he was just great in all the pro-activities surrounding the Senior Bowl. Drafted in the second round by Chicago, he has been a solid NFL franchise back.

12. Mike Staid S (1991-1994)

If Matt Forté was a first-order enigma at Tulane, Mike Staid was an elite college safety now and forever: 45 games at Tulane in his era, 45 starts, all super. He led the team in tackles all four years he patrolled the defensive backfield- the only Green Wave football player ever to achieve that. The best player of the Teevens era, Mike is probably the second best “pure” college player on this list. By that, he was never a serious pro prospect- just was not the requisite physical specimen. But only that one other player, still to come, contributed at as high a level consistently for four years.

The teams he played for were oh-so-bad (one win in both 1991, 1994, two wins in 1992) as the Tulane regional independent experiment was dying fast under the inept Buddy Teevens. But the schedule was still littered by major I-A teams and players and the Wave defense was frequently overwhelmed. Staid functioned as a sort of linebacker. Prior to the C-USA passing explosion, most teams were still rushing oriented- and Tulane needed all hands on deck to stop the run. And Mike slummed in the second level, cleaning up the problem that was Tulane’s front seven- which gave him LB tackling totals as a safety.

Burnell Dent (Packers 1986-1992) is the leading tackler all-time at Tulane. Mike is second with 481, eleven behind. Another 39 tackles separates him from third place and Frank Robinson (CFL, 1981-1990). Those totals are off the charts for a safety (for example, the nice all C-USA safety Joey Dawson has less that 200 career tackles). Staid left Tulane with the most tackles for a defensive back ever in NCAA history! (ed. note: who broke Staid’s record?)

And it wasn’t like he was cheating. Tulane couldn’t defend the pass either- and he had to run with guys. So he could pass defend too- three picks in both 1991 and 1992.

Even on a terrible team, he would leap out at you as a guy who belonged out there. National accolades rolled in- 1994 first team National Independent; 1992 and 1993 first team all-South Independent- particularly impressive given the bad teams and the fact he was, again, not a pro prospect.

But Mike Staid is ultimately about first principles: tackling is the single most important collective defensive skill- get to the ball carrier and get him down- and Staid was best at that on this list.