One of the beauties of college football is that every year a crop of superstars coming from different backgrounds with different futures dominate the Saturday spotlight in the fall.
Players like Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore and LaMichael James have been mainstays the past few years and were near the top of most Heisman voters' lists to start 2011.
There are also a separate group of players who become huge stories every year. They are players who overcome odds or take a non-traditional path to glory.
Players like Case Keenum and Robert Griffin III may not have been on the radar of casual college football fans in August, but come January, anyone who watched more than 15 minutes of college football this year likely knew their stories.
Now that the bowls are over and college players are making plans with agents, the stars of 2011 can start preparing for life as an NFL draft prospect.
While some college stars project to the top of the draft, others have little idea where they could be chosen.
Here's a look at where some of the top names from the 2011 college football season could land in April's NFL draft.
We'll start with the only obvious choice first.
There's no speculation about a possible trade, no rumors of the Colts weighing Luck against Robert Griffin III and no speculation about going after another position.
The only questions will be whether the Colts inexplicably take the entire 10 minutes they're allotted to draft Luck and how fast Quan Cosby will have to give up his No. 12 jersey for the future of the franchise.
Andrew Luck to the Colts is as elementary as it gets. After that, the NFL draft can go off on any number of tangents.
At the center of the early draft uncertainty will be 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Of the Top Eight teams selecting, I would classify the Redskins, Browns and Dolphins as being desperate for a franchise quarterback.
If they want Griffin, they will likely have to find a trade partner.
The Rams are in a tricky spot as they could use help at multiple positions and would benefit greatly if they were able to secure a nice bounty for their pick. However, after Rodger Saffold regressed terribly this year, it will be hard to pass on offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
The obvious choice for a trade partner is the Vikings.
Minnesota needs help in a number of areas, and they can get an elite player whether they choose at No. 3 or No. 6. If they could add more picks along the way, the better off they will be. If Minnesota does decide to trade, they will likely set off a bidding war between the three teams mentioned above.
I see the Redskins as the likely candidate to come out on top in that war.
The Dolphins were happy with Matt Moore as he finished out the 2011 season playing well in garbage time. While Miami fans would like some excitement in South Beach as they start anew again, the sensible move would be to pick in quantity this year.
While the Browns do have Mike Holmgren on the prowl for a franchise quarterback, Snyder and Redskins GM Bruce Allen are much more likely to pay whatever price necessary to nab Griffin.
They love the big name as much as any team and will most likely succeed in their pursuit.
History shows that drafting a quarterback is a crapshoot no matter where he is selected. The Browns are much better served using their three high draft choices on players who can be viable starters immediately than packaging them to take a chance on Griffin.
That will end up being the clinching point that makes Griffin a Redskin in 2012.
The case of Trent Richardson will provide a good test to see just how many general managers picking in the Top 15 of the draft pander to reporters with their version of "coach speak."
When asked of their draft plans, most GMs like to trot out the canned answer, "we'll draft the best player on the board, no matter what position."
More often than not, that statement is a total crock.
Talent-wise, Richardson rates as high as fourth overall behind Luck, Griffin and Kalil. The wrinkle lies in the fact that none of the teams picking in the Top 10 have a real burning need for a running back.
Richardson's fate lies in whether a team makes a trade up for him, or if a general manager sticks to his word and takes the best available player on the board. This year the latter will happen, and the Panthers will take Richardson in somewhat of a surprise move.
With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on the roster, the Panthers have no real need for Richardson, but the idea of a Cam Newton/Trent Richardson combination in the Panthers backfield might be too good to pass up.
In the NFL, running backs get old faster than any position on the field. Williams has already had his share of injuries, and Stewart has never broken through as an elite back.
Like quarterbacks, first-round running backs generally seem to be hit or miss. But if Richardson turns out to be the hit that many are projecting him to be and the Panthers don't take him, they will rue the day they passed on that Newton/Richardson backfield, whether it's an immediate need or not.
If the Panthers are ok with missing an elite talent because it wasn't a need, ask the Arizona Cardinals what they think about passing up on Adrian Peterson because they didn't really need a running back that year.
As anyone who follows the NFL draft knows, making a name for yourself in college football doesn't translate into being picked high in the draft, but it should get you a shot.
Case Keenum just wants that shot.
After being granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, Keenum led the University of Houston to a dream season. They won all 12 of their regular season games, but fell in the Conference USA title game.
He finished 2011 with 5631 yards, 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
So why isn't Keenum being mentioned right along side Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III?
Most scouting reports agree that Keenum's insane statistics were more a product of Houston's pass-happy system. Failures by Colt Brennan, Timmy Chang, Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury (quarterbacks who all were saddled with the same "system quarterback" label) in the NFL will not do Keenum any favors in helping his draft stock either.
One team who could take a shot on Keenum is the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles are in great shape in the 2012 draft with an NFL-high 10 picks in hand. While the Eagles do have their needs, they aren't in a situation where they need a roster-wide infusion of youth through the draft.
They can take a chance on a quarterback who could end up as their third-stringer, and it won't effect their haul of players one bit. Keenum is generally thought to be a sixth-round talent at best, a round where the Eagles will be picking three times.
There's no reason they can't take a flier on the NCAA's all-time passing leader.
With any number of teams vying to get into the very top of the draft for a chance at Robert Griffin III, it's tough to project where the other top players will land.
At just 6'1", 210 pounds, he is not a beast and with a 40-yard dash time hovering around 4.5, he isn't a burner. But watch him play a football game and he dominates.
Blackmon is a candidate to fall as his numbers won't jump off the page at the combines, but his sublime talent should keep him in the Top Five.
He will surely be considered strongly by the Rams, but once they come to the conclusion that Sam Bradford can't complete passes while laying on the ground, they will select Matt Kalil.
After that happens, Blackmon will land with the Vikings.
The Vikes will have their running game in place assuming Adrian Peterson comes back healthy, and they hope to have their quarterback of the future in Christian Ponder. They have their deep threat in Percy Harvin, which means Blackmon will fit in nicely doing what he does best—catching everything thrown his way.
Blackmon is a physical receiver who is not afraid to take a hit. He has shown a tremendous ability to catch balls in traffic and use his body to shield receivers.
He might not put up numbers like Calvin Johnson, but will prosper as a vital cog in what could be a good Vikings offense if Ponder could make progress in 2012.
Quick, who finished third behind Cam Newton and Andrew Luck in the 2010 Heisman Trophy voting?
James has had an incredible three-year run as Oregon's feature back and was one of the main reasons the Ducks were among the best programs in the country during that time. In his three seasons, he rushed for 1546, 1731 and 1805 yards respectively and had 53 rushing touchdowns over that time.
So what's keeping the speedster out of the top of the draft?
While James has been productive and has shown breakaway speed at times, his stature has most teams doubting that he can shoulder the load as an every-down back in the NFL. James could end up on just about any team who is looking for depth and speed at the running back position.
He is being projected anywhere from the middle of the second round to as late as the fifth. Despite his lack of size, he proved to be durable in racking up 771 rushing attempts and 51 receptions over his career.
If anyone wants to question James' toughness, one just needs to see the way he bounced back from a gruesome arm injury in 2011.
Of all the teams vying for James' services, he matches up with the Chicago Bears best for two reasons.
First, the status of the Bears backfield is in utter chaos. A disgruntled Matt Forte is currently a free agent who is coming off an injury and staring at the possibility of being slapped with a franchise tag.
The second reason James is a match for the Bears is that with two third-round picks, the Bears could afford to take a chance. James might be a risk, but if he is used correctly, he could end up being a dangerous weapon.
With two third-round picks, the Bears would be well-advised to pull the trigger on James and add some much-needed speed to their offense.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore didn't put up the gaudy statistics that Case Keenum did at Houston, but he did top him and every other quarterback in the country in one important stat over the past three seasons: winning percentage.
Moore rolled up an incredible 50-3 record as a starting quarterback for the Broncos and was often right in the discussion with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the best signal caller in the country.
But while Luck and Griffin will be going in the Top Five of the NFL draft, Moore might be considered lucky to just have his name called.
However, some team is likely to take a chance on the lefty signal caller who became the only quarterback in college football history to win 50 games when Boise State knocked off Arizona State in the Maaco Bowl in 2011.
Moore wouldn't project as a viable backup quarterback immediately, but a team willing to have him as their No. 3 with a chance to develop will realize that despite his deficiencies, Moore is worth a shot.
One team that matches up well with Kellen Moore is the Miami Dolphins.
While Matt Moore might not be the long-term answer in Miami, he certainly can hold the fort down for a year or two as the Dolphins hope to get back up to respectability. With Chad Henne likely departing in free agency, the Dolphins are surely in the market to add quarterback depth via the draft.
New coach Joe Philbin will also be a factor in the Dolphins' pursuit of Kellen Moore.
Philbin comes from the Mike McCarthy coaching tree, spending the past nine seasons as an offensive assistant coach on McCarthy's staff. McCarthy is known as one of the premiere quarterback developers in the NFL and even runs an intensive "quarterback school" in the offseason.
Philbin likely picked up a few pointers along the way.
If Kellen Moore is on the Dolphins' radar, they have a decision to make as to where they would pick him. They have the 10th pick in the fifth round, which might be a little high for Moore, and don't pick again until 27th in round six, by which time he could be gone.
If the Dolphins stand pat in the sixth round and Moore is available, expect them to grab the lefty. If they are sold on giving Moore a chance to develop, expect the Dolphins to trade down in the fifth to nab a much-needed extra pick with the hopes of still grabbing Moore when the time comes.Follow RC Cos on twitter @rccos14