Add another tip of the cap to Western Kentucky senior running back Bobby Rainey’s collection prior to this season.
Rainey – a Sun Belt preseason first-teamer, as well as a member of both the Maxwell and Doak Walker watch lists – was rated recently as the Sun Belt’s best player, in a top 25 list compiled by AthlonSports.com.
Here’s the top five – according to Athlon:
Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the college football season with a look at the top 25 players for 2011 in the Sun Belt.
Several factors worked into the criteria for developing the 25-player list:
Previous production was weighed, but a heavy emphasis was placed on what we expect will happen in 2011.
In addition to just how good we think a player is, we weighed what impact he will have on his team’s success?
Positional importance – although running backs always produce the stats, we gave linemen a bump in our rankings to show how valuable they are to the team.
Pro potential – how highly-regarded is the player by NFL Draft standards?
1. Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky (SR)
2010 Stats: 1,649 yards, 15 TDs, 29 rec., 230 yds.
Rainey finished third in the nation in rushing, coming in at more than 137 yards per game. He had seven two-TD games, one of them a 45-carry, 256-yard explosion in a narrow loss to Middle Tennessee State. His 340 carries led the nation, but rather than wear down, Rainey topped 150 yards in each of the season’s last four games. Rainey is the only Sun Belt player on the Maxwell Award’s preseason watch list, which may be the one factor that puts him ahead of Lance Dunbar.
2. Lance Dunbar, RB, North Texas (SR)
2010 Stats: 1,553 yards, 13 TDs, 28 rec., 332 yds., 3 TDs
Dunbar doesn’t get much credit on the national level, but he’s posted some impressive numbers the last two years in Denton. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and finished just behind Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey for the conference rushing title last year. Dunbar performed well against BCS competition last season, rushing for 117 yards against Clemson and gashing Kansas State’s for 270 yards and three scores. Dunbar may not rank as our No. 1 player for 2011 – but he’s not far behind Rainey.
3. T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU (SR)
2010 Stats: 59 rec., 848 yards, 5 TDs, 282 rush yds., 4 rush TDs, 2 kickoff return TDs
Hilton is an all-purpose weapon, one that FIU coach Mario Cristobal is far from shy about deploying. As a junior, Hilton finished eighth in the nation in all-purpose yardage and 12th in kickoff return average. He was just as dangerous from scrimmage, posting 233 total yards against Troy. 158 of those, plus two touchdowns, came on the ground. He begins the season on the Biletnikoff Award watch list, the only Sun Belt receiver honored.
4. Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy (JR)
2010 Stats: 76 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 1 FF
After redshirting in 2009, Massaquoi emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s top players last season. He wrecked havoc in opposing backfields all year, leading the conference in sacks and tackles for a loss. The junior is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Sun Belt selection and could contend for All-American honors with another big season. He’s also on the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Award, an amazing accomplishment for any defensive player, let alone one from the Belt. Barring injury, Massaquoi should be the Sun Belt’s top defensive player.
5. Ladarius Green, TE, UL Lafayette (SR)
2010 Stats: 44 rec., 794 yds., 7 TDs
Despite missing two games due to injury, Green led all tight ends in college football with 794 receiving yards and an average of 79.4 yards per game. The senior ranks seventh in school history in career receiving yards and is tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns. Green has produced against BCS competition as well, catching four passes for 87 yards and a score against Georgia and five balls for 68 yards against Nebraska in 2009. The senior is an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and even with a new offensive coordinator, will remain the focal point of the passing attack.
To see the entire top 25 – including WKU offensive tackle Wes Jeffries at No. 20 – CLICK HERE