Talented receivers dot the landscape
In 2003, NCAA football records were set for average passing yards, yards per play and total offense per game.
Quarterbacks completed more passes, and at a higher percentage, than ever before.
Fifty-six teams scored at least 50 points in a game last season.
Offensive numbers have been on the rise during the last several years as more teams seek to attack through the air.
Even Nebraska, the last holdout of smash-mouth football, is installing a West Coast offense this year under new coach Bill Callahan.
This is not your grandfather's college football.
Offensive numbers are soaring partly due to the explosion of big and fast receivers who can dominate smaller defensive backs. The new trend is to look for mismatches and exploit them repeatedly.
College football is loaded with those type of receivers in 2004. Here are our picks for the nation's best.
Pac-10: Geoff McArthur, California
The up-and-coming Bears have won 15 games in the last two seasons by adding explosive players such as McArthur to the lineup. He caught 85 passes for 1,504 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and is the nation's leading returning receiver in total yards and yards per game. Not convinced? Ask Big 12 champion Kansas State, which McArthur torched for eight catches and 169 yards in a game last season.
SEC: Fred Gibson, Georgia
If healthy, the tall, rangy and quick Gibson he might be the nation’s most explosive receiver and a certain first-round NFL Draft pick next spring. His numbers have dropped since an astounding freshman season, but this could be the year he puts it all together. Physically, there might be none better.
ACC: Craphonso Thorpe, Florida State
Before breaking a leg last Nov. 15 against N.C. State, Thorpe surprised critics, emerging as FSU’s top outside threat and perhaps the best in the ACC, recording 51 catches and 11 touchdowns. The former ACC sprint champion reportedly has returned to complete health this summer. Thorpe, already an impressive combination of size (6-foot-2) and blazing speed, is nearing 200 pounds after being listed at 177 a year ago.
Big Ten: Braylon Edwards, Michigan
Edwards was nearly benched in 2003 for dropping too many passes, not playing with consistency and being perceived as immature. Yet by season’s end, he had caught 85 passes for 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns and enters 2004 on nearly every preseason All-America list. He is also on pace to own most of Michigan’s all-time receiving records before he leaves.
Big 12: Mark Clayton, Oklahoma
While Sooner quarterback Jason White was winning the Heisman Trophy last season, Clayton was on the receiving end of many of those passes, recording 83 catches for 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns, all school records. He's our pick as the nation's best receiver.
Big East: Chris Henry, West Virginia
Quarterback Rasheed Marshall gets most of the credit for success of the Mountaineers' explosive offense, but the tall (6-foot-4) and rangy Henry has quietly become one of the nation's top receivers. He is a big play waiting to happen and hung 209 yards on Syracuse last season on just six receptions.
Top 10 receivers, regardless of conference
5. Santonio Holmes, Ohio State
8. Nehemiah Glover, Texas Tech
9. Taylor Stubblefield, Purdue
10. J.R. Russell, Louisville