College Football: 5 Role Players Who Will Become Stars in 2012
In the ever-shifting, constantly replenishing world of college football, fans across the country must come to terms with the constant loss of stars and leaders who quickly endear themselves to football-faithful across the nation.
However, with loss comes opportunity, college football's renewing nature providing the chance for new young talent to move into the foreground and become the elite of their sport. 2012 looks to be no different, with a deep pool of youthful personnel that appear ready to ascend to the premier of the NCAA in the coming season. We here at Bleacher Report have done our best to assemble the players which we believe ready to rise to this elite level.
In the palpable optimism of spring practices, the five players listed have emerged as the next potential stars of their teams and conferences. A varied group from the nation's best conferences, these five appear poised to become household names in 2012.
Charlie Moore: WR, Oklahoma State
Photo: Sue Ogrocki / AP
While the majority of recent attention in Stillwater has been paid to the much-hyped successor of Brandon Weeden at the quarterback position, the Cowboys may have quietly discovered their next star in a growing tradition of excellent wideouts this spring.
WR Charlie Moore's emergence during spring practices might not have grabbed headlines like true freshman QB Wes Lunt's snagging of the starting spot, but his performance during the spring game certainly caught coaches' and fans' eyes. The junior wideout had nine grabs for 243 yards and three touchdowns during the Cowboys' spring scrimmages, 129 yards and two scores more than Moore had in all of 2011 (114 yds, one TD last season).
Moore's unexpected development is a welcome site for coach Mike Gundy and OK State, who must replace departed star Justin Blackmon (the fifth pick in this year's NFL draft) and several other losses in the receiving corp.
Moore's coming-out party during the spring should give Cowboys fans reason to be excited in 2012. When combined with promising sophomore wideout Josh Stewart and the highly-touted Lunt under center, Oklahoma State appears ready to continue its recent tradition of potent passing attacks, with Moore being the centerpiece.
Adrian Hubbard: LB, Alabama
A bit of an inevitability at this point, Alabama looks to once again have a future star occupying the outside of its linebacking unit.
LB Adrian Hubbard's dominating performance during 'Bama's spring game positioned him as the next member of the Tide's defense to gain acclaim and notoriety. The red-shirt sophomore posted an eye-catching stat line, amassing seven tackles, including four tackles for loss and three sacks against the Alabama's A-team offense.
Hubbard has the unenviable task of replacing first-team All-American and second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw at the Jack LB position but should be helped by an experienced and dangerous defensive line able to free up Hubbard in the backfield.
Despite Alabama's significant loss of talent on the defense from last year, its bevy of talent and depth should make their transition into 2012 a rather smooth one. Hubbard is an example of this and should become a breakout star amongst other fresh faces on Saban's unit.
Kenjon Barner: RB, Oregon
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While it may be a bit of stretch to consider Kenjon Barner a "role player" in his time so far in Eugene, this year will stand to be his first under the spotlight for the Ducks, and if Barner's previous performance is any indication, he should thrive underneath it.
As Oregon prepares for life post-LaMichael, it should have an easier time adjusting with a talent such as Barner to replace him in the backfield. Considered by some to be the best backup back in the country in 2011, Barner managed to garner serious attention in his complementary role, rushing for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2011 season, including a 31-carry, 171-yard performance against Arizona State.
Despite this being Barner's first year as a starter, he will be the experienced portion of the Ducks' new backfield and will likely be expected to carry a heavy offensive load considering Oregon's rather green QB options.
While durability could still be an issue, Barner looks to have all the tools and pieces in place to have a tremendous season in 2012 and should make full use of his first year as the premier back for the Ducks.
Ryan Shazier: LB, Ohio State
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After a strong freshman season that saw him emerge as one of the Buckeyes' top defenders by the end of the year, LB Ryan Shazier should become one of the Big Ten's dominant defenders in 2012.
A highly sought-after recruit, Shazier justified his hype early, appearing in 13 games during his freshman season and contributing in increasing fashion, culminating in a 15-tackle game against Penn State in Week 12. Shazier finished as the sixth-best tackler for Ohio State last season and only looks to have improved, having an impressive spring session that he finished by leading the Buckeyes in tackles in their spring game.
Shazier will be helped by a strong defensive line anchored by John Simon and Johnathan Hancock, who will likely keep pressure off of the sophomore linebacker and allow him freedom to make plays.
Urban Meyer's first year at the Horseshoe will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the coming season. If Shazier can position himself as a standout for the Buckeyes early, he could ride this increased media attention into national stardom in 2012.
DeAndre Hopkins: WR, Clemson
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A rising talent in what some are calling the "nation's best" receiving corps, Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins appears ready for the national spotlight after a breakout spring.
Hopkins quietly put up solid numbers (978 yards, five TDs) under the shadow of teammate Sammy Watkins standout freshman campaign, but should share more of the attention this season after a tremendous spring. The junior wideout recorded seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' spring game, stellar stats that become far more impressive considering he caught five of them for 100 yards within the first quarter.
Hopkins was the MVP of spring practices, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, who believed the receiver's progress can be partly contributed to his full-time commitment to football after being a multi-sport athlete in his first few years with the program.
From early impressions, Hopkins and Watkins should anchor one of the most dangerous position groups in the country this season. With Watkins receiving the majority of press and opposing coaches' attention in the coming season, the stage should be set for Hopkins to emerge as a star for the Tigers.