The 100 Best College Football Players of 2012
Yes, the list that all of you have been waiting for!
Everybody loves to talk about whom the top players in the game are and which conferences they belong to.
Some may have their own personal criteria in terms of production or team importance, but the players that I have ranked are based on whom I would want on my team right now.
I give some love to a few linemen, a pair of kickers and even a punter. However, quarterback, at the end of the day, is vital (despite the past three BCS winners breaking in new starters)—although the importance of defensive linemen and defensive backs is growing by the minute.
Taking a look at the best of the best, here are your top 100 players for the 2012 college football season.
No. 100 Brad Wing, LSU Punter
Despite not winning the Ray Guy Award, Wing was arguably the best punter in the country as a redshirt freshman.
Entering his sophomore season and coming off a No. 11 ranking in average yards per punt (44.37), Wing is one of those special punters that can change the game (he can punt the ball with either foot).
In LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory, Wing booted a punt 73 yards, which ultimately pinned Alabama back, even though it was the Tigers that were originally backed up near their own goal line.
Voted as an AP All-SEC first-teamer (second by coaches), he was also voted a first-team All-American (AP, CBSSports.com, FoxSportsNext.com, SI.com) and freshman All-American (CBSsports.com, Sporting News).
No. 99 Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan Running Back
This Michigan back can tote the rock and break off tackles with such ease.
It surely helps that Denard Robinson holds the attention of every opposing defense, but this stud ran for more than 1,000 yards and had 10 TDs in his sophomore campaign.
Entering his junior season, look for a breakout season as his offensive line will only be better, despite the loss of David Molk (a Rimington Trophy winner).
Toussaint is the perfect back for Michigan’s offense, but his ability to bust out for long runs and to simply move the chains should lead to even greater success. Look for 1,600 total yards, 15 TDs.
No. 98 Dee Milliner, Alabama Cornerback
One season ago, the entire nation had to stay away from Dre Kirkpatrick as he became one of the better corners in the country.
Milliner had nine pass breakups and 12 deflections to go along with his three interceptions. Primed and ready to finally burst onto the national scene, Milliner should live up to the expectations thanks to solid size, ball skills and athleticism.
Oh yeah, the Crimson Tide are absolutely loaded with playmakers once again in the secondary, so there will be plenty of opportunities to shine even brighter than before.
No. 97 Dustin Hopkins, Florida State Kicker
The golden foot of Hopkins has been great to follow for the past two seasons, but he did not have quite the season he had envisioned from one year ago. Missing five kicks (22-of-27) was tough for one of the most talented kickers in the entire country, but most of the kicks were from 40 yards and out (three were missed from 40-plus).
Plus, Hopkins has one of the strongest legs in the nation (seventh-most touchbacks with 29) as he still holds the record for the longest field goal made in ACC walk-off history (55-yarder over Clemson on Nov. 13, 2010).
No. 96 Tavarres King, Georgia Wide Receiver
Georgia’s leading receiver from a season ago in terms of yards (705), touchdowns (eight) and receptions (47) is ready for one final All-SEC caliber of a season.
King is a special player because he can kick into high gear. He looks as if he is gliding on the gridiron and then you blink and he is in the end zone after torching you for a deep pass.
King has the ability to beat you deep, and with Aaron Murray threading the needle he may reach double-digit touchdowns with ease in 2012.
No. 95 Braxston Cave, Notre Dame Center
The Notre Dame offensive line took a tumble when starting center Cave went down with a broken foot.
Notre Dame’s offense was largely inconsistent because of all the red-zone woes. Cave was not around for the final three regular-season games and he was dearly missed against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Having your senior leaders is always the key, and Cave must stay healthy for whoever ends up starting under center.
At 6'3", 304 pounds, Cave ranks among the best centers in college football and he will have a vital role in Notre Dame’s aspirations of reaching a BCS bowl.
No. 94 Jelani Jenkins, Florida Linebacker
These Gators should be a lot of fun to watch on defense in the fall because they have the athletes once again to track you down.
They even a few big hitters that can light you up, which could bring back some memories for Gator nation.
If they can stay healthy up front (they lost Ronald Powell for part of the season), the linebackers will be licking their chops. Jenkins has all the tools needed to become the next stud at Florida, and the kid is just a junior.
No. 93 Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State Safety
When Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes went out with injuries during the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, Joyner single-handedly carried the secondary against Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert (Mike Harris helped, too).
Joyner is one of the biggest hitters in all of college football and has tremendous awareness and quickness for a safety. Besides lighting you up, he covers a lot of ground in run support for a little guy (5’8”, 193) and is one of the instrumental leaders for one of the best defenses in the nation.
No. 92 Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas Linebacker
This Razorback burst onto the scene a season ago since he was a junior college transfer, but he made an immediate impact. Arkansas has always needed a few more stars on the defensive side of the ball, and Highsmith is just that.
Now entering his senior season, we may be looking at one of the better linebackers in the SEC. A bully of a linebacker, Highsmith should easily top his 12.5 tackle for losses thanks to a non-stop motor that has become relentless.
No. 91 Johnny Adams, Michigan State Cornerback
Registering three picks, four sacks and four tackles for a loss doesn't do justice for the active corner that Adams has become.
Having started 28 games and playing in 42, Adams is coming off a first-eam All-Big Ten selection (coaches).
Adams has a talented defense around him, but he is a jet with the way he can fly to the ball and receivers. Look for improved numbers ,although opposing teams should stay away at all costs.
No. 90 Emory Blake, Auburn Wide Receiver
Once known just as the son of former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake, Emory is starting to make a name for himself in the SEC.
Becoming the Auburn Tigers' go-to guy in the passing game should come with a ton of success playing in the SEC, but Blake has the athleticism, size and speed you look for in a star receiver.
We saw him make some players a season ago, but the passing game was often inconsistent. This upcoming season should feature a much more stable and balances offense, which should result in more production.
No. 89 John White IV, Utah Running Back
Nicknamed the “Wolfman” for the tattoo and obsession he has with wolves, White IV is one hell of a back for the Utes.
He showed his talents against Georgia Tech where he ran for 115 yards on 26 carries and the game-winning touchdown.
White IV is short in stature (5’8”, 186 pounds) but bounces off tackles and often gives more punishments than receiving them.
No. 88 Nigel Malone, Kansas State Cornerback
Tied for third in the nation in interceptions (seven), Malone should be one of the first names mentioned for your underrated squad.
Kansas State’s squad is loaded with a bunch of unknowns due to their lack of national exposure (blitzed by OU, fell short of OK St, knocked off BU).
Malone headlines a defense alongside linebacker Arthur Brown, but the overall speed and instincts from this cornerback are worthy of having on this list.
No. 87 Desmond Trufant, Washington Cornerback
Having an older brother play both college and NFL (Marcus) is always helpful, but Desmond is making a name for himself like any true competitor would want.
Trufant will be a senior this upcoming season and he is coming off a Pac-12 honorable mention, but he is looking for a significant upgrade in production.
Trufant is easily the leader of this Huskies defense, having started the last 29 games.
No. 86 Star Lotulelei, Utah Defensive Lineman
This Utes defensive tackle has breakout star written all over him, but only because it was his first season last year.
The former junior college transfer is a wide body (6’1”, 310) that can plug up the line and take on two linemen without much effort.
Second on the team in tackle for losses (nine), his numbers will only increase in 2012 with seven returnees back on defense.
No. 85 Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas Wide Receiver
Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams are all gone, but Hamilton is back and he still has Tyler Wilson at his disposal.
Hamilton is a tremendous deep threat that can take the top off the defense with freakish athletic skills that not many receivers possess in the country.
Posting a 15.9 yard-per-carry average, Hamilton should go bonkers in the Razorbacks offense despite drawing more concern from opposing defenses.
No. 84 Denicos Allen, Michigan State Linebacker
Talk about a speedy linebacker that will lay the smackdown; Pat Narduzzi’s defense lays the lumber in part because of this stud.
Allen was second on the team in tackles (83), first in sacks (11) and first in tackle for losses (18.5).
Keep a close eye on No. 28 because not only did he play for one of the better defenses in the Big Ten last season, but the Spartans have the makings of becoming one of the elite defenses in all of college football for this upcoming season.
No. 83 Nico Johnson, Alabama Linebacker
Barely among the top two or three linebackers on the squad last season, Johnson may end up turning into the three or four best linebackers in all of the SEC.
Having started 15 games already, Johnson has seen a boatload of time on the field for the Tide and he brings a ton of the swagger with him.
Johnson registered for only 47 tackles and 6.5 tackle for losses, but expect those numbers to drastically increase as one of the true anchors on defense.
No. 82 Greg Reid, Florida State Cornerback/Punt Returner
Reid has been known as one of the most electrifying players in all of college football, but some have given him unreachable expectations. Give the kid a break since he is a star in his own right, but his size (5’8”, 185 pound) has not been a liability for the Seminoles.
In fact, the electricity and speed he has brought on defense and special teams has been one of the reasons why this defense is finally back to becoming one of the best in the country.
Teaming up with Xavier Rhodes and a talented secondary should only allow Reid to stand out even more.
No. 81 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington Tight End
The best pass-catching tight end in the nation has a chance to shine with Keith Price spinning it to him.
Just a freshman a season ago, he will burst on like nobody’s business in 2012. He makes my All-Man Crush Team, but mainly because he is an albatross for defensive coordinators to find a way to cover.
A great athlete who played on the basketball team, ASJ could be a future All-American if he can put it all together at such a young age.
No. 80 A.J. Johnson, Tennessee Linebacker
The Volunteers' biggest weakness arguably was their lack of defensive pressure as they totaled just 16 sacks.
Johnson was second on the team in tackles (80), but he did lead the team in recovered fumbles (two) and has the making of garnering some national attention with nine returnees back on defense for the Vols.
No. 79 Braxton Miller, Ohio State Quarterback
Originally listing Henry Josey from Missouri at No. 79, the injury bug is still lingering form his great running back.
Suffering from a torn MCL, ACL and patellar tendon is something you never wish upon even your worst of enemies and Josey has since been expected to go under surgery again.
The agility and cutting ability of Josey was apparent in the Big 12 last season (nine TDs and 1,168 yards), but it is now become tougher to assume on whether or not he will return on time.
One of the first guys I had on and off the list was Braxton Miller of the Buckeyes. Ohio State is due for a solid first year season under Urban Meyer and Miller will be expected to do a lot.
His accuracy still has ways to go, but for an incoming sophomore he does not look too shabby at all. If you are wondering about the spike in ranking upgrades from just out of the Top 100 to now at No. 79, Miller plays the quarterback position.
This is where you can often look like the Big Ten Player of the Year and at times like a scrub. Miller will be looking more like the former in 2012.
No. 78 Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma Offensive Lineman
This upcoming junior is among the best lineman in the nation, and his ability to protect Landry Jones in the pocket may lead to an eventual Big 12 title and BCS appearance.
Ikard was as good as it got as a freshman two seasons ago, but he was no slouch as a sophomore either.
He earned All-Big 12 first-team honors (AP and coaches), but unlike some linemen, Ikard was able to remain a star despite having to move to different positions.
Ben Habern is a legit starting center, but he was injured last season and Ikard had to move over from guard to center for seven games.
No. 77 Devin Taylor, South Carolina Defensive End
Alongside Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor gives South Carolina one of the most feared and dominant pass-rushing combinations in all of college football.
The two combined are beasts (Taylor is 6’7"!) and they cannot both be double-teamed for an entire game, so it is a "pick your poison" against the Gamecocks front wall.
Taylor has a great wingspan and can bat down passes at the line of scrimmage in his sleep, but he may soon be known for his ability to absolutely harass offensive tackles with the development of Clowney.
As a junior last season Taylor had 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, but those numbers will improve despite the loss of Melvin Ingram (mainly because he is gone).
No. 76 Kenny Vaccaro, Texas Safety
One could argue that Oklahoma has an entire secondary capable of deserving some mentions on this list, but I am looking at the Longhorns defense to be sensational in 2012.
Vaccaro was third on the team in tackles, but he is a bona fide safety that can do it all. Whether he is asked to come up and lay a lick or drop back in coverage (10 pass deflections, eight break-ups), Vaccaro means a lot to this young and vastly improving defense.
Note: Quandre Diggs is a guy that will make this list with ease next season.
No. 75 Stedman Bailey, West Virginia Wide Receiver
Tavon Austin and obviously Geno Smith take the cake in terms of the publicity, but Bailey would arguably be a superstar on any other offense.
Bailey has a ton of quickness in him, and the amount of touchdowns (12, which led the team) and yards (1,279 led the team) clearly showed it. But wait—the best number is his yards per catch at a staggering 17.8.
No. 74 Taylor Lewan, Michigan Offensive Tackle
This incoming junior was a horse and then some during his sophomore season and he was a bit unnoticed.
He is an accomplish offensive tackle and he is the perfect mammoth size (6'"8, 324) to draw a ton of prasie and hype for the next level.
If the Wolverines improve at running the ball, Lewan should be the first name mentioned.
No. 73 Micah Hyde, Iowa Cornerback/Safety
Hyde is one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten and his ability to pluck a ball in the air and take it to the house makes him an easy choice to make this top-100 list.
Sure, he on occasion allows a big play or two, but he is also making a ton of huge plays.
Hyde has great ball skills (11 pass deflections, eight break-ups) playing both corner and safety thus far in his career at Iowa, but quarterbacks better not test this stud or else they will pay the price.
No. 72 John Boyett, Oregon Safety
Boyett is essentially a linebacker playing safety as he is ferocious as it gets back there, and he is often used as an addition guy in the box.
Boyett led the team in tackles (108) and has been a consistent producer since his freshman season (started 10 games as frosh). He led the team in tackling as a freshman and has had as good of a nose for the ball as any defensive player in the Pac-12.
Making consistent plays always helps, but he really does make the tough plays look so easy whether it be to lay a hat on a hat or drop back deep in coverage to break up a vertical route.
Boyett makes up for his lack of size (5’10”, 202 pounds) as a fundamental machine.
No. 71 Bjoern Werner, Florida State Defensive End
This German bulldozer cannot be blocked at times as he gained more recognition last season despite playing with a preseason All-American in Brandon Jenkins.
Florida State is back and then some defensively, but Werner might be the most underrated reason why. Great teams are built from the inside-out, but nothing gets you back to the top faster than coming after and demolishing the opposing offensive line.
Werner is athletic enough to make you look silly (see Oklahoma, Clemson) and he also has the pure determination to beat you up.
No. 70 Jake Matthews, Texas A&M Offensive Lineman
The Aggies will feature one of the better lines on the planet next season with their two mammoth tackles in Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel.
Matthews has the family bloodlines but helped the Aggies allow just 9 sacks for the entire season. Despite heading over to the SEC, look for A&M to hold its own up front thanks to one of the better young prospects in the entire country for his respected position.
Note: I could have chosen A&M's own Sean Porter or a pair of Cyclone linebackers in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott who combined for over 200 tackles!
No. 69 Kenjon Barner, Oregon Running Back
I could only keep Kenjon Barner off this lit so long before the guy needs to get his dues. Backing up LaMichael James has not been easy, but the next star Ducks back alongside De'Anthony Thomas should dazzle us once again in 2012.
Career Stats: 304 carries for 1,856 yards and 20 TD, 25 total
No. 68 Dion Jordan, Oregon Defensive End
The tall and lanky Jordan (6’7”, 241) is a mismatch for most tackles because of his ability to leap (33.5") well above offensive tackles.
Jordan can slither his way in between linemen with ease and he often disrupts opposing backfields because he can chase down nearly anybody he goes up against.
No. 67 John Simon, Ohio State Defensive End
Simon led a talented Buckeyes defense in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (16), and you can bank on the production increasing with Urban Meyer leading the way (Luke Fickell/Everett Whithers DC).
Still, Simon is capable of accomplishing a lot in his senior season thanks to his relentless ability to get into the backfield.
Note: Johnathan Hankins is a guy that could have made this list, but Simon and his versatility has been a bit more productive.
No. 66 Marqise Lee, USC Wide Receiver
Is there any argument that Marqise Lee is the second-best No. 2 receiver in the country?
Lee is a stud for Matt Barkley and the Trojans passing offense, but what makes him so special is his ability to get separation and burst past the secondary.
The Trojans' No. 2 target will see a ton of passes thrown his way since their offense should be clicking on all cylinders against a Pac-12 conference that is prone to getting into shootouts.
No. 65 Josh Boyce, TCU Wide Receiver
Boyce had an ankle injury during the spring, but he will be more than healthy enough to go bonkers in 2012.
Casey Pachall is one of the premier signal-callers in the Big 12 and he has the capability of making the Horned Frogs offense nearly unstoppable. Main reason why?
Mr. Boyce and his huge mitts will be hauling in home run after home run.
No. 64 Dion Bailey, USC Linebacker
Bailey made the Trojans defense worthy of watching because it flew around the ball like some of Pete Carroll’s best squads (so much versatility).
Bailey notched 81 tackles in his freshman season (second on team) and he also had two picks, tackles for loss and sacks.
Alongside Hayes Pullard, USC’s linebackers should play like they mean business in 2012.
No. 63 Corey Lemonier, Auburn Defensive Lineman
Auburn has your typical defensive line for SEC dominance standards: just absolutely loaded with talent. The Tigers have freaks backing up freaks that love nothing more than to wreak havoc.
They say it is vital to own the battle in the trenches, but we have learned that would be an understatement because it is often life and death.
Lemonier can get skinny when need be, but he prefers to use his great combination of power and speed off the edge to just book the tackle that is attempting to block him.
No. 62 Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech Quarterback
Logan Thomas is one of the bigger quarterbacks you will ever see, but he still has ways to go in terms of becoming an elite signal-caller. Some suspect he will turn the corner, whereas others have more realistic expectations.
Thomas is a load to bring down, (6’6”, 262 pounds) but is tough to game plan against since he improved throughout the season throwing the ball downfield (19 TD, 10 INT).
At the end of the day he is a bulldozer (think Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, who missed the cut) that is impossible to stop towards the goal line and should only get better threading the needle.
No. 61 Mike Taylor, Wisconsin Linebacker
Taylor is the definition of Wisconsin football as he puts a hat on a hat better than most linebackers you will watch all season.
He led the team in tackles with 150, but he also had nine tackles for loss and a pair of sacks and interceptions.
Flying to the ball with solid quickness is one thing, but Taylor really just keeps making plays thanks to killer instincts and awareness all over the field with his great discipline.
No. 60 Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State Cornerback
Alongside Broderick Brown, the Pokes have quite the defensive back duo in Stillwater for 2012.
The Big 12 is loaded with high-octane passing attacks, and Oklahoma State may not be quite as potent offensively as it was last season. So, it will need the defense to continue to go bonkers in the turnover category if it expects to have any chance of winning the Big 12 title.
The overall quickness and explosiveness from Gilbert make him a strong candidate to breakout this season.
No. 59 Tajh Boyd, Clemson Quarterback
Boyd made some defenses look like swish cheese (FSU), whereas he made others look like the 1985 Bears defense (WV, NC State). Boyd is looking for that consistency that will make him an All-American caliber of a quarterback, and having Sammy Watkins for his sophomore season should help.
Boyd’s accuracy and pocket awareness surely needs to improve, but he can spin it when given time.
Clemson had nagging injuries (most argue talent issues) up front one season ago, so things were never patched up as the season wore on. With better health and a few improved adjustments made by Boyd, Clemson’s passing offense has the makings of becoming elite next season.
No. 58 Kevin Reddick, North Carolina Linebacker
The second-leading tackler on the team last season (71), Reddick also had six tackles for loss.
At 6’3”, 240 pounds, Reddick is quite the athlete being able to drop back in coverage like an extra safety in the game. UNC will be counting on this quick, fierce senior to become more of a vocal leader in and out of the huddle.
Also, the ACC will always be loaded with future first-rounders and Reddick may carry on that tradition next season.
No. 57 Ryan Swope, Texas A&M Wide Receiver
This deep threat can haul in passes better than arguably any receiver that isn’t named Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods.
The offense the Aggies had last season with Ryan Tannehill throwing rockets was fun to watch, but will Jameill Showers be the answer at quarterback this season?
Kevin Sumlin has not named a starting quarterback yet, and unfortunately that will have an effect on the production of Swope. Still, he is a threat to beat you deep several times a game and the Aggies hope they will see him with reservations for six often and early in the SEC.
No. 56 Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas Defensive Lineman
Jeffcoat led the Longhorns with an absurd 21 tackles for loss, but he also led the team in sacks (eight). Jeffcoat can go off on your backfield because he is one of those incredibly talented and rangy defenders that is next to impossible to block.
Whether you double or have a tackle and a chip blocker, Jeffcoat can still harass your quarterback.
He could always get stronger, but he has some room to grow in his 6’5” frame, which means he may bring the pain to a lot of elite passers in the Big 12.
No. 55 Giovani Bernard, North Carolina Running Back
As a freshman, Bernard became one of the more explosive and complete backs in the ACC. He hauled in 45 passes for 362 yards and a touchdown for an offensive production of more than 1,500 yards.
Bernard is capable and proven in terms of breaking off the long run. His power-speed ability to gash the defense all over the field makes him a horse that has become the Tar Heels' bell cow runner.
No. 54 Keenan Allen, California Wide Receiver
Having your half-brother as the quarterback (Zach Maynard) certainly helps, but Allen would produce for any team out there. He is a playmaking machine, but the Bears offensive line and overall production fell off the map towards the end of the season.
Allen had 98 receptions on the season along with six TDs, but he had only a single touchdown in Cal’s final six games.
Allen has solid speed, but his tremendous athleticism and body control allows him to go up in traffic and come away with nearly anything thrown his way.
No. 53 Zach Ertz, Stanford Tight End
Stanford is starting to produce a few NFL tight ends and Ertz should be in lined to become the next one.
Ertz missed four games with a knee injury, but he came back and finished the season on a strong note.
A huge target (6’6”, 249 pounds) with great hands and quick feet, Ertz will become a red-zone monster alongside Levine Toilolo (6’8”, 263 pounds).
No. 52 Sylvester Williams, North Carolina Defensive Tackle
Quinton Coples came in as one of the better defensive lineman in all of the country last season, but Williams was able to put some solid numbers.
Williams is a beast up front physically and he will need to be the anchor of a Tar Heels defense that has so many starters gone.
No. 51 Alec Ogletree, Georgia Linebacker
Georgia has a loaded group of linebackers led by Jarvis Jones, but Ogletree does not get nearly enough credit.
Ogletree missed six games last season with a broken foot and is expected to be suspended a few games for this season after violating team rules.
Still, he notched 7.5 tackle for losses and three sacks along the way and is an athletic freak that can completely disrupt your offense.
Ogletree and Georgia’s defense could be summed up best with one word: speed.
No. 50 James Franklin, Missouri Quarterback
Still resting from an injury he suffered early in the offseason (shoulder), Franklin cannot wait to show his talents in the SEC.
Franklin can move extremely well in the pocket and he is prone to gashing your defense.
At 6’2”, 225 pounds, Franklin was accustomed to taking some licks without any issues, but going up against the SEC competition will be a different story.
Look for Franklin to dramatically improve in the passing game (struggled mightily out of the gates last year) with T.J. Moe and Dorial Green-Beckham as his primary receivers.
No. 49 Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Wide Receiver
Tyler Bray’s health often dictates the production form Rogers, but either way this kid is playmaker.
An acrobatic receiver at 6”3, 215 pounds, Rogers can bury you on the deep ball thanks to a bevy of receiving skills. Whether you throw him a fade down towards the end zone or going across the middle, Rogers is developing his game that may allow him to shine among the best in the country.
No. 48 Kawann Short, Purdue Defensive Lineman
Arguably the best defensive tackle heading into the 2012 season, Short had a monster junior season.
Totaling 6.5 sacks was impressive, but his 17 tackle for losses showed how explosive he is for a 305-pounder.
The Boilermakers are not expected to become contenders in the Big Ten, but Short may lead this squad to an upset or two with his ability to dominate in the trenches.
No. 47 A.J. McCarron, Alabama Quarterback
Remember when some fans did not want McCarron as the starting quarterback exactly one season ago?
Winning a BCS National Championship automatically puts you on this list, but McCarron really turned the corner towards the end of the season.
Not the most talented quarterback in the country, McCarron has the poise, pocket presence, awareness and accuracy to go a long way at Alabama.
No. 46 William Gholston, Michigan State Defensive Lineman
Known for grabbing and twisting the facemask of Denard Robinson, Gholston is a dude you do not want to mess with.
He has a burst of quickness that is tough to match while keeping him out of the backfield, but Gholston can move so well that he is not limited in what he can give to the Sparty defense.
With so many solid producers on that side of the ball, Gholston’s ability to step out will go a long way in becoming one of the better defensive players in the Big Ten.
No. 45 Collin Klein, Kansas State Quarterback
Was there a player more important to his team, especially from an underrated aspect?
Most were unaware of how good the Wildcats were a season ago (as well as Klein's 27 rush TD's which tied FBS record), and despite losing to Arkansas in decisive fashion, Bill Snyder has a lot to be proud of.
It starts with Klein, who is among the best dual-threat signal-callers in all of college football. He accounted for 235 yards of offense per game, which is a boatload of yards per game when you realize the passing offense was among the worst in the country (108th, 151 YPG).
No. 44 Stepfan Taylor, Stanford Running Back
Having Andrew Luck as your quarterback as well as running behind David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin surely helped Taylor, but this kid can flat-out scoot.
Totaling 28 TDs and more than 2,800 yards (more than 460 carries!) the past two seasons is quite the load, but Taylor has proved he is a star in his own right.
No. 43 Kenny Stills, Oklahoma Wide Receiver
This Boomer Sooner has been a joy to watch haul in huge catches from Landry Jones, but with Ryan Broyles now gone it is officially Stills’ turn to shine.
Jaz Reynolds, Trey Metoyer and Trey Franks are reliable targets as well, but Stills has hauled in 61 receptions for consecutive seasons and has totaled a productive 13 TDs thus far in his career.
The next step should be on the way and nothing is more exciting for Oklahoma faithful than having Landry Jones return for his senior season.
No. 42 D.J. Fluker, Alabama Offensive Tackle
Alabama has the best offensive line in the nation heading into the 2012 season, and part of that is because of Fluker.
Arguably the finest right tackle in the country thanks to Barrett Jones coming back for his senior season, Fluker is a big body that can bulldoze and open up wide holes for all of the backs that the Tide have.
No. 41 Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma Safety
Playing as a linebacker a season ago, Jefferson has moved back to safety for a talented Sooners defense.
The back seven is loaded and Jefferson ranks as the best of the bunch. Jefferson should be known as the full package because he has it all.
Laying the wood with a ton of quickness, look for potentially an All-American season from this Sooner.
No. 40 Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame Tight End
Despite Michael Floyd now gone, Eifert is ready to officially burst onto the national scene.
As an All-American last season (WCFF, Scout.com), Eifert torched opposing teams while most concentrating on Floyd, but now he can expect some bracket coverage over the top.
Although he had just five TDs, Eifert was the go-to guy on third downs because of his sure hands and precise route running.
Regardless of who throws to this All-American the most, look for improved numbers across the board.
No. 39 Alex Hurst, LSU Offensive Tackle
This senior tackle is one of the bigger and imposing linemen in all of the country (6’6”, 340-pounds).
There is no doubt LSU loves to run the ball and Hurst is the best of the bunch. Spencer Ware was not even looked at as a top-five runner in the SEC last season, but he was touted as one because of this line.
The overall strength LSU's line is magnificent, and Hurst clearly is the anchor that keeps things together.
No. 38 Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State Cornerback
One of the more talented defensive backs in the country, Brown had five picks and 15 pass break-ups.
The athletic freak isn’t all that tall (5’8”), yet he was a second-team All-American (Sports Illustrated) and first-team All-Big 12 player for both the AP and coaches.
A corner with fluid hips and ball-hawking skills are hard to come by, and Brown nearly has it all.
No. 37 Tyler Bray, Tennessee Quarterback
Most quarterbacks love to be in pass-happy offenses, and Bray is in just that at Tennessee.
The main issue has been able to stay healthy because without him the Vols are just a mediocre to below-average SEC squad.
Bray can make nearly all the throws with a rocket arm and his clutch gene is starting to pick up, which is exactly what Tennessee needs for 2012.
Lastly, if you are looking for a potential first-round draft pick next season, this could be the guy to catch you by surprise (and become a top-10 pick).
No. 36 Barkevious Mingo, LSU Defensive Lineman
Known as KeKe, this Bayou Bengal is a terror wherever he lines up.
Mainly as a defensive end, Mingo is a stat-sheet stuffer that has already proved to be one of the better lineman in America.
That term (stat-sheet stuffer) is normally used in basketball, but Mingo can pick up a ton of tackles (46), sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (15) due to his impressive quick first step.
No. 35 Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State Cornerback
The Bulldogs defense had a few playmakers all over the field, and surprisingly it was the offense that was disappointing.
Banks is an aggressive corner that can fly into the opposing backfield thanks to his athleticism and tremendous instincts. Seemingly with eyes in the back of his head, Banks should carry the tradition of the SEC having some of the best defensive backs in the country.
No. 34 Casey Pachall, TCU Quarterback
Slowly stepping his game up throughout the year, Pachall has positioned himself into becoming a serious dark horse for the Heisman.
The Horned Frogs will be new to the Big 12, but their talent level fits right in because the quarterback filled with tattoos can flat-out sling the pigskin.
Leading a fun offense to watch with a boatload of backs and receivers, Pachall should emerge as a household name next fall.
No. 33 Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State Running Back
Had Montee Ball not broken Barry Sanders’ record for most total touchdowns (39) in one season, Randle would have been given a lot more credit.
Randle was a touchdown machine for the Pokes, accounting for 26 touchdowns.
Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden were given all the hype last season and deservedly so, but Randle is electric every opportunity he gets. Great at stopping on the dime and being able to reach full speed with ease, Oklahoma State’s running back will be the go-to guy in 2012.
No. 32 C.J. Mosley, Alabama Linebacker
Alabama just lost two star linebackers and Jerrell Harris, who was a solid backup. Yet, here the Tide are entering the 2012 season as one of the more talented corps in the country.
Nick Saban recruits with the best of them, and guys who have been waiting for the limelight always seem to step up and go off on everybody.
Mosley would be one of your leading candidates to play like an All-American in 2012.
No. 31 Rex Burkhead, Nebraska Running Back
Arguably the least explosive star running back, Burkhead is the perfect player to watch. He is a true grinder and can do it all for your team. Blocking, catching the ball out of backfield or toting the rock, Burkhead is one of the most complete backs in the country.
Besides becoming a star in the Big Ten last season, he could take his Huskers to new heights next season by becoming a top-five back in the nation.
No. 30 Tavon Austin, West Virginia Wide Receiver
West Virginia and Austin just scored again!
West Virginia’s offense clicked on all cylinders against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and it makes you think on whether or not it will be stopped in the Big 12.
Geno Smith is unstoppable when he finds his groove, and Austin is guy he finds whenever he is in trouble. Austin is impossible to stop when he is in the slot because he is too quick for a nickelback.
His scooting ability is impressive and he always seems to catch the ball in stride with more on his mind than just a first down.
Truly one of the elite all-purpose players in America, Austin should crack some preseason and postseason All-American teams.
No. 29 Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin Offensive Tackle
The Badgers offensive line always ranks among the best units in America with its ability to absolutely gash the opposition.
The offense has been quite the force under Bret Bielema, but mammoth tackles (6’6”, 322) that can move so well like Wagner are the obvious reasons why so much success is achievable.
No. 28 Knile Davis, Arkansas Running Back
Sitting out the entire 2011 season due to an ankle injury, Davis is ready to get off to an excellent start in 2012.
This might be a tad high on the list, but he was among the top running backs in the nation two seasons ago, and he did not even get respectable carries until the fifth game. He finished up with 204 carries for 1,322 yards (13 TD) and has the potential to increase all of those staggering numbers in such a talented and wide open Razorbacks offense.
His burst of next-level speed is fun to watch and he can bounce off tacklers with such ease that he can only get better as elite player in college football (assuming no injury setbacks).
No. 27 T.J. McDonald, USC Safety
Lay the wood much?
McDonald can light you up like a Christmas tree if you are not wary or careful. This stud safety not only puts the boom down, but he can also pluck a few passes as well (three INTs).
McDonald plays like a linebacker and will be getting some help from several Trojan defensive backs that can really stand out. USC's back seven should be one of the best in the country next season and the star safety will have a large say.
No. 26 Alex Okafor, Texas Defensive End
Who is going to block Jackson Jeffcoat and Okafar next season?
I understand the Longhorns' offense has a long way to go if they expect to reach a BCS title (let alone a BCS bowl), but they look like serious Big 12 contenders heading into the summer.
Okafor (6’4”, 260) had 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks, which are solid numbers, but he is set to go bananas on all of the elite quarterbacks the Big 12 has (Landry, Geno, Pachall, Klein, Doege).
No. 25 Keith Price, Washington Quarterback
“KP1“went off in the Alamo Bowl and nearly upset the Robert Griffin III-led Baylor Bears. Price will be a junior, which is a scary thought.
Throwing for 33 TDs and more than 3,000 yards makes the sky the limit for the 2012 season. The receivers should be improved and we know his tight end ranks among the best in the game.
Price needs to stay healthy, as he was often dinged up a season ago, but he should reap the benefits heading into his second season as the starter.
No. 24 Marquess Wilson, Washington State Wide Receiver
Who is the most underrated star on this entire list?
Wilson may literally put up video game numbers under Mike Leach in his pass-happy offense that seemingly throws up half a hundred points a few times every season.
Leach's team may not be as good as Texas Tech's Graham Harrell-Michael Crabtree duo, but it should have a legit chance of appearing in a bowl game.
Wilson is just a junior and isn’t the biggest guy alive (6’4”, 183 pounds), but he has tremendous athleticism and has the mitts to go up and take any ball away from defenders.
His speed could get a tad better, but he is a reception machine that hauls in anything thrown his way. Expect big things (100 receptions, 1,600 yards, 20 TD) from this Biletnikoff front-runner in 2012.
No. 23 Eric Reid, LSU Safety
The game-winning play for the Bayou Bengals in their dramatic 9-6 victory over Alabama was Reid’s theft against tight end Michael Williams.
People for the rest of their lives may argue about that play, although Alabama did not win when it really counted.
Still, give Reid major props because he is blazing heavy hitter that can do it all.
Les Miles recruits his defensive players better than anybody out there other than Saban, arguably, but the defensive backs are never ending. Every season there is a new corner and safety that just come out of nowhere.
Before you know it they are being selected in the first round of the NFL draft and Reid might just be the next Bayou Bengal to do such.
No. 22 Robert Lester, Alabama Safety
Lester has 10 interceptions in the past two seasons, and with several high-profile names gone he has the chance to be the first guy mentioned.
Alabama’s defense from an overall depth and talent perspective could perhaps surpass last season’s squad (that cannot be possible, right?), but Lester will need to perform like an All-American.
A true ball-hawking safety is always on the prowl of leaping and rising above everybody for an easy interception.
Not known or asked to come up in the box much, Lester will play center field most of the time and just make it look effortless.
Sometimes I wonder if he could fair catch a pass and still come down with it, but either way the guy will be one of the elite defensive backs in the SEC.
No. 21 Xavier Rhodes, Florida State Cornerback
Rhodes is a rangy corner that can single-handedly disrupt your passing game. He is a great athlete with fluid hips that has the talent to hang with any receiver in the country.
FSU would love if he stays healthy for an entire season since the depth is a tad thin in experience, but alongside Greg Reid some will argue that there is not a better secondary in the nation (Joyner, Reid, Rhodes).
Rhodes will need to have a banner redshirt junior season to lift the 'Noles into that elite defensive category, but his ball skills and tackling ability are second to none.
No. 20 Aaron Murray, Georgia Quarterback
Matthew Stafford had a ton of hype heading into his junior season since the Bulldogs were ranked as the No. 1 preseason team in the nation. However, while Georgia may only be fourth or fifth when the end of August rolls along, Murray could accomplish more before he leaves.
Murray is just a junior and his arm strength is not quite as absurd as Stafford’s was, but the guy is savvy while standing back in the pocket. The starting UGA signal-caller is not concerned about living up to the hype as he is more so concentrated in finding a way to get Georgia back in the Atlanta Georgia Dome.
The superstar talent is written all over Murray, and with improved accuracy (it will come in time) Georgia might not lose in the near future.
No. 19 Brandon Jenkins, Florida State Defensive End
Most realize the Seminoles are finally back on defense because this guy has helped lead the way with defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
Jenkins is a tackles-for-loss (36.5 career) and sacks (21.5 career) machine. One of the premier athletes in America, Jenkins can come off the edge and fly right back into a play even if it is across or up the field.
Defensive linemen can only go so far with skills if they do not have a nose for the ball, but Jenkins really is the whole package. The only thing holding him back for becoming the best lineman in FSU history, per se, is his relentless ability to bulldoze defenders.
The pass-rusher isn’t a typical defensive end for the NFL at 260 pounds, but he will sure as hell become a stud outside linebacker.
For the time being, he will enjoy the end of his career in Tallahassee as he hopes to lead the Seminoles back to the promise land.
No. 18 Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Defensive End
The top prospect in all of high school a year ago, Clowney had a solid freshman campaign.
Twelve tackles for loss and eight sacks are numbers some starters could not post as junior or seniors, but Clowney is determined to make a name for himself during the next two seasons.
An athletic freak to the fullest extent (6’6”, 256 pounds), Clowney is primed to become an All-American right now. Some scouts want him to pick up a few more moves and to build some bulk, but the Gamecock is still a young pup growing by the minute.
If you had to build a defensive line, I am not sure I would take anybody in America over this superstar.
No. 17 Sam Montgomery, LSU Defensive End
If you dare to roam around in the backfield, Montgomery will chase you down as if he is your worst nightmare.
Montgomery is a premier defensive end college football fans should enjoy this upcoming season. Outside of shedding linemen, the ability to track down your starting quarterback and running back is eye-popping.
Montgomery is the full package as he can take over a game on any given play. His nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss are absurd since he will likely improve upon those numbers since every LSU lineman is loaded with talent.
No. 16 David Amerson, North Carolina State Cornerback
There are several underrated guys on this list and if Amerson did not have such a spectacular sophomore season he would make my underrated list.
Maybe he is not a household name quite yet, but he did lead the nation in picks (13) by five.
North Carolina State’s defense gained the second most turnovers in the nation (39), and arguably the best defensive back in the nation heading into 2012 deserves his due.
Being able to cover so much with his 6’3” frame is a major asset in the Pack secondary, but he is a finisher that has a sensational ability to read and leap to the ball.
No. 15 De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon Running Back
“I Love My Ducks!”
The “Black Mamba” should carry on the legacy that Oregon Duck runners have had the last few seasons. LaMichael James was electric as it got, but Thomas may be even better.
He dazzled us at the Rose Bowl and his talents should allow him to put up video game numbers in 2012.
The saying goes “Bo Knows Tecmo,” but in reality Thomas may take that to a whole new level in the near future with his eye-popping home run explosions.
No. 14 Geno Smith, West Virginia Quarterback
Is there another signal-caller with more momentum heading into the 2012 season than Smith?
The West Virginia superstar is poised beyond his years, but everything about his game has really improved. Heading off to the Big 12 should be exhilarating to see, but throwing for 55 TDs and only 14 INTs in the past two seasons makes him a strong Heisman candidate.
This is a team game, however, so will his Mountaineers be able to knock off the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU?
No. 13 Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina Running Back
Had it not been for a tough knee injury, Lattimore would be right on the heels of Montee Ball for the top spot at not only running back but for all players in the country.
When he puts that foot in the dirt and makes a quick cut, no single defender is going to track him down from behind. Gang tackling is your only hope, but what makes Lattimore so talented is his ability to pick up blitzes and catch darts out of the backfield (he could play some receiver he is so talented).
Lattimore is a future NFL beast if he can avoid some bad luck, but he is only going to get better in time.
Sure, that is a scary thought, but running backs can only last so long these days so make sure you pay close attention to his special talents.
No. 12 Landry Jones, Oklahoma Quarterback
Having a live arm as a starting quarterback for a national powerhouse is a must, but Jones has a rocket of an arm that keeps on ticking.
The superstar Sooner quarterback will be without Ryan Broyles, but the weapons surrounding Jones should only help improve his numbers from a season ago.
Avoiding the key interceptions is something we need to see the Heisman contender improve upon because his Oklahoma squad may never lose if the gunslinger is on target and, dare I say, improves.
No. 11 Jarvis Jones, Georgia Linebacker
The former USC Trojan linebacker burst onto the scene with Georgia last season thanks to annihilating quarterbacks left and right. Coming off the edge, there may not be a better pass-rusher in the country.
He is an athletic mismatch that cannot be slowed down or stopped. Doubling or chipping him would be a smart idea, but even that is a struggle.
Plus, his Bulldogs are loaded on defense (especially linebacker), which will only allow him to wreak even more havoc. Jones has the capability of becoming a star at the next level, although he will settle for another banner collegiate season that ends up being a BCS trip.
No. 10 Sammy Watkins, Clemson Wide Receiver
Watkins became the best freshman in the country last season with his ability to bring back kicks to the house, which went along with his All-American skills at receiver. Watkins looked like a man playing among boys as a freshman and as a sophomore he will only get stronger, faster and smarter (teams will scheme their entire game plan around him).
The Clemson superstar is electric with or without the ball in his hands, but Tajh Boyd always finds him when the Tigers need a big play. Hauling in 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 TD is ridiculous, but those numbers should only increase in 2012.
Watkins has the prime-time teams (and games) to shine brightly, and it starts in the opener against Auburn at the Atlanta Georgia Dome, which should be a highly anticipated ACC-SEC showdown.
No. 9 Tyrann Mathieu, LSU Cornerback
The “Honey Badger” was without a shadow of a doubt the most productive defensive player in the country last season thanks to his ability to bring back punts.
Mathieu is a fine corner despite struggling a tad in the BCS title, but it showed he is human after all. The instincts of this Bayou Bengal are the best on the planet as he does what a honey badger normally does: He takes what he wants.
Many are questioning how much he will miss Mo Claiborne in the secondary, but guys like Tharold Simon and Eric Reid should make up for what will be lost.
Whether he is coming on a blitz, disguising, or ripping up receivers/backs in the flats, the “Honey Badger” is a special player that ranks among the elite in college football.
No. 8 Robert Woods, USC Wide Receiver
Keyshawn Johnson had the Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) record for receptions in a season at 102. However, Woods has since broken it.
The Trojan hauled in 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs, but it does not do justice when realizing he was just a sophomore. The superstar can draw as much separation from the defensive back as he pleases, and his ability to haul in passes makes it look so effortless.
Woods is coming off an All-American season and he is primed to not only have another huge season, but he is ready to lead the Trojans back to national prominence.
No. 7 Bacarri Rambo, Georgia Safety
Having your All-American safety suspended for the first four games is not easy to overcome, but Rambo will still make an impact when he comes back.
Rambo was an AP first-team All-American a season ago, and his return gives Georgia one of its best chances ever to win another SEC title. The defense is locked and loaded despite some key early-game suspensions, but Rambo can cover a ridiculous amount of ground when the ball is in mid-air.
Rambo was second with eight interceptions, but he really can do it all for a Georgia defense that was ranked fifth in the nation one season ago.
No. 6 Denard Robinson, Michigan Quarterback
Michigan quarterbacks get a lot of hype to begin with, but Denard Robinson is worth every penny when realizing how vital he is to this Wolverines offense.
“Shoelace” is the best dual-threat out there as he can escape pressure and go from about to get sacked to creating a highlight-reel play.
His accuracy and arm strength have always been a bit of a concern since he takes on so much contact, and his frame is not capable of taking on mammoth hits every game. We have seen him mature and develop into becoming a better pocket passer, but he still has ways to go in terms of becoming that next level passer.
Special athletes and special players always come through in the clutch, and that really is the next step for Robinson.
He led Michigan to a fantastic 11-2 record last year, but winning the Big Ten and reaching Pasadena is the clear-cut goal in the final collegiate season of Robinson.
No. 5 Manti Te’o, Notre Dame Linebacker
Arguably the best defensive player in the entire nation for the 2012 college football season, Te’o has trimmed down some of his weight and has added even more explosiveness to his big game ability.
The linebacker is like a jet when chasing down skill players, but his smarts are arguably his best asset. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco allows him to do so much because he is capable of taking it all in as an incoming senior.
Te’o has not missed a game yet as he has started in all but two of Notre Dame’s last 38 games (22-16). Notre Dame has not been a national factor during Te'o's stay in South Bend, but he is looking to change that before he heads off to the NFL.
The front seven of the Irish should be darn good even with the recent transfer of Aaron Lynch, but the schedule is daunting.
Most look at it as games where the Irish should get exposed, but Te’o and the squad should look at the USC, Oklahoma, Michigan and Michigan State games as opportunities to make the doubters eat crow.
The strength, explosion and personnel awareness should make No. 5 an easy choice as a 2012 All-American.
No. 4 Tyler Wilson, Arkansas Quarterback
Completing 31 of 41 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns in your spring game is not bad for your confidence.
Wilson has never been lacking it, but that virtuoso performance was needed with everything the program has gone through in the past two weeks.
Wilson remains the top signal-caller in the SEC heading into the 2012 season and he is right there with anybody in the entire nation. The guy is an absolute gamer and he is in the perfect offense under offensive coordinator Paul Petrino.
His pinpoint accuracy was shown in the first game he ever stepped in (replaced Mallet vs. Auburn and went off), but he has grown up and become an SEC killer.
Will he be able to become a giant killer and finally dethrone Alabama and LSU?
Despite losing a few weapons out wide, he returns Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton and running back Knile Davis. Those three alone are gamebreakers, and it is up to Wilson to make them look like superstars.
No. 3 Barrett Jones, Alabama Offensive Lineman
Most will argue there is not a better teammate in America to have, but Jones is coming off an Outland Trophy and his decision to come back for his senior season was sensational.
Not only is it great for college football, but the Alabama faithful believe they have as good of a chance to get back to the BCS title (and win it) as any team in the nation.
Jones is the best lineman (it is not even close right now) out there because of his versatility (can play any position) and willingness to put everything aside for the sake of his teammates.
A true leader, the Outland winner never misses assignments and can be counted on during every crucial moment on and off the field for the Tide.
No. 2 Montee Ball, Wisconsin Running Back
Ball put on clinic after clinic in the 2011 season for Wisconsin. The Badgers have a NFL-sized offensive line, but Ball can simply do it all.
Breaking the record of Barry Sanders did not seem like a reachable goal, but Ball did just that accounting for 39 total TDs (not accounting for his 1 pass TD).
Ball bounces to the outside when necessary and he runs inside as good as any back in America.
His daylight speed is vastly underrated and Paul Chryst (now Pitt HC) was able to use him as a constant blocker and pass-catcher to help out Russell Wilson. There were no weaknesses in his game shown.
It will, however, be a challenge in 2012 with the Badgers coming off consecutive Big Ten championships along with a new quarterback under center. Wisconsin will have the bulls-eye on its back and nobody may have it bigger than Mr. Ball.
Still, it will not matter too much because Ball has proved he is the best of the best and that he will overcome any challenges thrown his way.
No. 1 Matt Barkley, USC Quarterback
As soon as Barkley held his press conference to decide that he would come back for his senior season, Trojan nation rejoiced and all prognosticators filled the quarterback in as their No. 1 choice for the Heisman and much more (All-American, best overall player, BCS title run, top draft pick, etc).
Whether we are talking about his future game or his current game, Barkley is the biggest and best superstar in college football. Maybe he will not grade out as well as Andrew Luck, but he can accomplish so much more with the team he has coming back for the 2012 season.
A loaded offense filled with playmakers all over the field, opposing defenses will have to pick their poison when attempting to slow down a passing offense that was 15th in the nation averaging 294 yards per game last season.
Everybody is back at the skill positions, which means "mission impossible" in trying to defend Barkley’s potent offense.
Big 12- 16
Big Ten- 13
Notre Dame- 3
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