NCAA Football's 10 Best Quarterbacks, Running Backs and Wide Receivers of 2012
If you name Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson as the best players in college football, then you need to read this.
This year in college football there are star players ready to make a name for themselves and others who are hoping to build on the reputation they started in the past few years. Consider this not only your guide to the best offensive players in the country, but the top Heisman Trophy candidates as well. These players will become the big men on campus, the household names, the future stars of the NFL.
So, get your notebooks out and write these names down so you can keep an eye out for these players once college football comes around.
QB, Matt Barkley, USC
Projected stats: 3,605 passing yards, 38 TDs, 8 INTs
Barkley would have been mentioned with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as potential first overall picks in the NFL draft had he not decided to return to USC for his senior season. With one of the best offensive lines in the country in front of him and two of my top 10 receivers, Barkley will be in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, potentially as the favorite to win it.
QB, Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Projected stats: 3,798 yards, 35 TDs, 12 INTs, 5 rushing TDs
Boyd made a name for himself last year coming out of nowhere and leading the Tigers to an ACC championship. He's got three receivers returning, including All-American Sammy Watkins, so don't expect much of a drop off in his stats this year.
QB, Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Projected stats: 4,478 passing yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs
Landry Jones returns to Oklahoma for his senior season trying to prove to NFL scouts that he has what it takes to be a quarterback at the next level. He needs to make better decisions with the football (15 INTs last year), and I expect him to. Jones is on a mission to win a National Championship and prove doubters wrong; never underestimate somebody who is out to prove something.
QB, Collin Klein, Kansas State
Projected stats: 2,215 passing yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs, 1,087 rushing yards, 22 TDs
A dual threat quarterback, Klein ran for 27 touchdowns last year and threw for 13 more to lead the Wildcats to a 10-win season. Klein should improve his passing accuracy this season which will make him even more of a threat. If he does this, he could join the likes of Tim Tebow and Cam Newton as players to throw and run for 20 touchdowns in one season, and he could be a dark horse Heisman candidate.
QB, Aaron Murray, Georgia
Projected stats: 3,227 passing yards, 34 TDs, 9 INTs
Murray leads a very talented Georgia team this season and could end up being a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft if he elects to enter after this year. Murray's favorite target, Orson Charles, is now in the NFL, but the Bulldogs have some talented receivers including the team's leading returning player in yards, Tavarres King.
QB, Denard Robinson, Michigan
Projected stats: 2,335 passing yards, 20 TDs, 12 INTs, 1,282 rushing yards, 16 TDs
Shoelace is the most lethal weapon in college football; anything can happen when the ball is in his hand. Robinson is an improved passer, and when the pocket breaks down he can get to the outside and get a first down (and more) with his legs. Robinson should be joining Barkley as a Heisman finalist this season.
QB, Geno Smith, West Virginia
Projected stats: 4,552 passing yards, 35 TDs, 8 INTs
Smith didn't get as much attention as he deserved last season; that will change this year. Dana Holgorsen's offense allows quarterbacks to thrive, and I expect Smith to have a big year and finally get the attention he deserves. The return of Tavon Austin gives Smith a playmaking target who will rack up the yards after catch which, fair or not, will inflate Smith's stats.
QB, Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
Projected stats: 3,252 passing yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs, 694 rushing yards, 13 TDs
Keep an eye out this year for the only non-BCS conference player on my list. Tettleton put up big numbers last year for a 10-win Ohio team who will likely reach that many wins again this year. His top receiver is gone, but against the MAC defenses, he'll put up big numbers anyway.
QB, Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Projected stats: 3,309 passing yards, 22 TDs, 10 INTs, 471 rushing yards, 12 TDs
Yet another duel threat, Thomas will roll through the ACC this year. He has three senior receivers to throw to and, like Denard Robinson, has the ability to take off and run if nobody is open.
QB, Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Projected stats: 3,488 passing yards, 25 TDs, 6 INTs
Wilson is the best quarterback in the SEC. At 6'3", 220 lbs, he is the prototypical NFL quarterback. He's got a strong arm, but can have some trouble this year going up against the SEC defenses without his best receivers who are now in the NFL.
RB, Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Projected stats: 1,792 rushing yards, 30 TDs
Ball put up ridiculous numbers last year (1,923 yards, 33 TDs) and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. A powerful runner with breakaway speed, Ball should be back in New York as a Heisman finalist yet again.
RB, Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Projected stats: 1,764 rushing yards, 17 TDs
Barner ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns last year as the team's second string running back. He has explosive speed in the high-powered Oregon offense, so expect a monster year from Barner who is now the go to guy for the Ducks.
RB, Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Projected stats: 1,285 rushing yards, 14 TDs
Bernard is a work horse for the Tar Heels, and behind a veteran offensive line he should have another big year and make the All-ACC first team.
RB, Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
Projected stats: 1,355 rushing yards, 16 TDs
Burkhead is a big, strong, powerful runner who punishes defenders who try to bring him down. If the Cornhuskers have the ball on the goal line, forget it; Burkhead will score.
RB, Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
Projected stats: 1,479 rushing yards, 15 TDs
Graham had 958 yards and 9 TDs last season before tearing his ACL in Week eight. If he can return healthy from surgery he's going to have a big year and maybe earn a spot on the All-American Team.
RB, Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Projected stats: 1,397 rushing yards, 18 TDs
Lattimore is another player whose season ended prematurely due to injury last year. If healthy, he could be the best back in the country and carry the Gamecocks to the SEC title game.
RB, Zach Line, SMU
Projected stats: 1,472 rushing yards, 20 TDs
Line is a lot like Rex Burkhead. He won't blow by you, but he will run over you. Line found the endzone 17 times last year despite missing the last few games of the season with a foot injury. If he's healthy, he'll get at least 20 touchdowns.
RB, Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Projected stats: 1,410 rushing yards, 24 TDs
Randle ran for 24 touchdowns last year on a team that was 2nd in the nation in passing yards. He will be asked to handle more of the load this year with an inexperienced quarterback, and he will thrive.
RB, Robbie Rouse, Fresno State
Projected stats: 1,518 rushing yards, 15 TDs
Rouse quietly ran for over 1,500 yards last year and he'll get there again this year if he can stay healthy. A veteran offensive line paves the way for Rouse against weak defenses in the Mountain West.
RB, Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Projected stats: 1,335 rushing yards, 14 TDs
Andrew Luck got the attention last year for Stanford, but it was Stepfan Taylor who set up the passing game. Taylor will be expected to do the same this year with an inexperienced quarterback.
WR, Keenan Allen, California
Projected stats: 1,339 receiving yards, 9 TDs
Allen was an All-Pac 12 performer last year, and this year he will be the focal point for opposing defenses. Cal needs other receivers to step up and take some of the pressure away from Allen in order for him to repeat last year's success.
WR, Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Projected stats: 1,202 receiving yards, 9 TDs
Austin showed in last year's Orange Bowl just how explosive he can be. He's a YAC machine and has a great quarterback getting him the ball, so expect another big year from him.
WR, Nick Harwell, Miami (OH)
Projected stats: 1,418 receiving yards, 10 TDs
Harwell has explosive speed and is a nightmare for opposing defenses. Quarterback Zac Dysert loves getting him the ball and he should have around 100 receptions this year.
WR, Marqise Lee, USC
Projected stats: 1,167 receiving yards, 10 TDs
The second best receiver on his own team, Lee has All-American potential. With Robert Woods on the other side getting the opponent's best man defender, Lee is able to get open and make big plays for the Trojans.
WR, Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
Projected stats: 1,347 receiving yards, 12 TDs
Stills is now the number one option for quarterback Landry Jones and will make big plays this year for the Sooners. Stills had 786 yards in 2010 and 849 last year, and now that he's number one on the depth chart, expect over 1,000 yards.
WR, Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Projected stats: 1,188 receiving yards, 10 TDs
If the Aggies new quarterback can throw the ball as well as Ryan Tannehill, Swope should put up numbers similar to the 1,207 yards and 11 TDs he had last year. It's also beneficial for Swope to have fellow receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu taking some of the attention away.
WR, Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Projected stats: 1,228 receiving yards, 11 TDs
Watkins broke out last year as a freshman, and now as a sophomore don't expect much of a drop off. Tajh Boyd is back throwing the football and opposing defenses still won't have an answer to this explosive receiver.
WR, Terrance Williams, Baylor
Projected stats: 1,197 receiving yards, 11 TDs
Williams had 957 receiving yards last year as the number two target for quarterback Robert Griffin III. Kendall Wright has gone to the NFL which now makes Williams the go to receiver for the Bears.
WR, Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Projected stats: 1,410 receiving yards, 14 TDs
Wilson had over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons at Washington State, and his junior year should make it three in a row. New coach Mike Leach loves throwing the football, so Wilson should have a big year.
WR, Robert Woods, USC
Projected stats: 1,277 receiving yards, 15 TDs
Woods set the single season Pac-12 record for receptions with 111 last year and could see around 100 more this year. Woods and Marqise Lee will benefit from having each other. And it doesn't hurt having Matt Barkley throwing him the football.