As the 2012 season approaches, players around the nation know that this could be the year that not only makes or breaks their college careers but also their potential NFL careers.
On one hand, some players have made the difficult choice to pass up on the NFL and come back for their senior seasons. Other players are coming off outstanding 2011 campaigns and want to make sure they repeat that performance.
Regardless of the situation, here is a look at 50 college football players that have a lot on the line in the upcoming 2012 season.
As a freshman, Teddy Bridgewater was able to help lead Louisville to a share of the Big East title. Now that West Virginia is out of the conference, it is Louisville's for the taking.
If Bridgewater has a sophomore slump, it could not only affect him personally, but also cause the program to miss out on a golden opportunity.
When it comes to defensive line play, Sharrif Floyd can be extremely effective when defending both the run and the pass. Despite missing three games in 2011, Floyd was still extremely effective and a big piece of the Gators defense.
If Floyd can play week in and week out and continue to collapse the pocket the way he was able to in 2011, then he will be punching a ticket to the NFL.
In his first season as the full time back at South Carolina, Marcus Lattimore shined bright and was one of the best backs in the nation. But then last year, Lattimore's season was cut short with a severe knee injury.
With the 2012 season coming up, Lattimore is a player that many scouts and teams will be watching. People will be interested to see how he has recovered and if he can regain his form from 2010.
Jarvis Jones was a complete monster last year. As a sophomore, Jones was able to rack up 13.5 sacks for Georgia and was one of the main reasons the Bulldogs were able to get things turned around.
As Jones enters his junior season, he has set the bar high for himself—and if he hopes to cash in at the NFL level, he must rise up and go above and beyond what he did in 2011.
Tajh Boyd will be entering his second season as the starter at Clemson and while the entire team has a ton to lose, Boyd needs to help right the ship and keep the Tigers on task all season long.
Last year Clemson got off to a great start, but faltered in the second half of the season. This year, Boyd needs to become a true leader and show that Clemson can finish.
Not many players have the kind of impact that Sammy Watkins had as a freshman but as he enters his sophomore season, Watkins is starting it on a down note.
During the offseason, Watkins was charged with possession when he was found on campus with marijuana. While it may not seem that serious to some, Watkins needs to make sure he doesn't have this become a trend and ruin his career.
Another receiver that is not doing himself any favors is Oregon wideout Josh Huff. Huff had a great 2010 season, but a spring injury limited his impact in 2011.
With plenty of time to heal, Huff began the offseason with a DUI that has yet to be resolved. If Huff does not get this matter cleared up, then he may be seeing his career suffer through some stormy waters.
Tyrann Mathieu had an amazing season in 2011, and the only thing that could have really made it any better would have been a national title. Throughout much of the season, Mathieu would continually make big play after big play and was even invited to the Heisman ceremony.
In 2012, Mathieu must continue to play at the level fans and scouts have become accustomed to, and make sure his NFL stock does not dip.
Collin Klein and the Kansas State Wildcats stunned a lot of people with a breakout season in 2011. As the 2012 season approaches, many of the starters return, including Klein at quarterback.
While Klein is a good quarterback and fits the system at Kansas State well, he must make sure that in his final season at Kansas State he is able to prove that he can translate to the pro game.
Kawann Short is entering his senior season this year and is looking to make one last impression on the Big 10 before moving on.
Short is a big bodied defensive tackle that makes running on the Boilermakers very difficult. Staying healthy and having a repeat performance of 2011 should be the goal for Short in 2012.
Star Lotulelei is a huge force and helps make the Utah defense hold strong. Coming into the 2012 season, Lotulelei is one of the top prospects at his position, and is in his final season with the Utes.
After a disappointing end to last year, Lotulelei needs to help lead this defense to a better season as they enter their second year in the Pac-12.
With one season remaining at Notre Dame, Manti Te'o has a lot to gain, but also a lot to lose in 2012.
At the end of last year, Te'o had the talent to go pro but decided to return. If he can manage to play up to last year's standards, then the linebacker will be just fine—but as is the case with most seniors, he cannot see a dip in his play.
Barrett Jones has been an anchor on the Alabama offensive line, and was one of the main pieces that helped the Tide close the 2011 season with a national title.
As Jones enters his senior season, the offensive lineman must continue to show the consistency that is needed at the next level, which also happens to be a team led by Nick Saban.
During the offseason this year, Dion Jordan has seen his stock continue to rise based on his size and athleticism.
Jordan has incredible size and speed, and has shown the versatility to rush off the end or drop into coverage. His skills have drawn comparisons to Terrell Suggs, and if he can have a season like that then Jordan will be a first round pick without question.
As the 2011 season went on, Barkevious Mingo got stronger and stronger and truly came into form on the LSU defense. As he heads into the 2012 season, Mingo and the rest of the LSU defense will be needing to live up to the high standards that they left themselves from last year.
Margus Hunt had a great 2011 season and really got some people's attention with his performance against Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl.
In 2012, SMU appears to be a team on the rise, and if he can match the impact he had last year, the Mustangs will have a lot of success on the field—and Hunt could be set up for the next step in his career.
Johnthan Banks was a shutdown corner for Mississippi State last year, and is hoping to repeat the task in his final season this year.
During a stretch of six games, Banks had a pick in five of them, and started to separate himself from others at his position—but needs to make sure he is not viewed as a one-year wonder.
Alex Okafor is a big part of a excellent Texas defense. During his junior season, Okafor had seven sacks and totaled 45 tackles.
In 2012, Okafor's stock is rising, but his sack and tackle totals must do the same for him to take advantage of the opportunities that will be abound when he is done with college.
T.J. McDonald is certainly the strength of the USC defense and is going to be a huge part of the outcome of the Trojans' 2012 season.
With the depth chart thin at USC due to sanctions, McDonald must not only stay healthy for the sake of the team, but also play the same style of football he is used to—which could put him at risk for an injury.
After a disappointing season last year as a team, Chris Faulk is back for LSU—and will be key to them avenging the way last year ended.
Faulk is viewed as one of the top players at his position, and if he is able to have a repeat performance of last year, he will be picked up by a NFL team in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Another important player to LSU this coming season is defensive end Sam Montgomery. Despite missing a game last year, Montgomery was a disruptive force to other teams' passing attacks, as he managed to get nine sacks.
With another year under his belt, people will expect him to hit double digit sacks for 2012...and he needs to be ready to deliver.
Last year, Tyler Bray came out of the gates strong and looked to be putting together a great season before an injury derailed things. When Bray was out, the Vols fell apart and out of contention.
While Bray certainly has the skills to be a great quarterback, he has to show he can not only repeat his level of play, but also that he can stay healthy for the entire season in the SEC.
During the 2011 season, William Gholston was one of the most difficult players in the conference for Big 10 opponents to block. As he heads into the 2012 season, Gholston must not only match but surpass the performance from last year, as many believe he is NFL ready this season.
Denard Robinson likely has an understanding that this must be the season that he shows the nation and scouts that he has the ability to play quarterback not only at the college level but also the NFL.
The past couple of years have seen Robinson dazzle us with his running ability, but he clearly has not developed an elite arm—and that could be what keeps him from playing quarterback in the pros.
In 2011, De'Anthony Thomas was a super freshman who made an immediate impact on the Pac-12 and the Oregon offense. Thomas was a threat in the run and pass game, and was also someone who could take it the distance on special teams.
With LaMichael James gone this year, both Thomas and Kenjon Barner will receive more attention, and it will quickly become clear if Thomas is for real or if his success was due in part to James.
Robert Woods is one of the most—if not the most—talented receivers in the nation. Woods has great speed, amazing size and the ability to make big plays in the passing game.
Right now Woods is viewed as a clear top 20 pick in the NFL draft, and likely the only thing that could cost him that chance is an injury. If Woods was to suffer an injury, it could end up being a huge setback that nobody would want to see.
Last year Keenan Allen was the main focus of the Cal offense, and not much will likely change in 2012. During the 2011 season, Allen pulled in 98 catches and had over 1300 receiving yards.
Allen is already being eyed up by the NFL, so if he is able to match or improve on last year's numbers then the wideout will be a first round lock—but a drop in production will certainly raise some questions.
Oh, the life of a running back: they take the most abuse, and tend to have shortened careers because of it. Last year, Montee Ball had an outstanding season, and many believed he was heading for the NFL.
Despite the predictions, Ball has returned and put a lot on the line. This will be another season and more wear on his body, which ultimately could lead to issues for the remainder of his career.
Damontre Moore has a serious motor, and coming off the end for Texas A&M is something that Aggie fans love to watch.
Last year, Moore was able to get nine sacks—and as we enter the 2012 season, he is being mentioned in the first round of the NFL draft. With that kind of pressure, Moore knows that there is plenty to lose if he does not produce, especially when given the chance to prove himself against SEC talent.
In a potential year in which the corner position could be deep, every player thinking about coming out needs to have their best season in 2012.
Johnny Adams is part of a Michigan State defense that is expected to be fairly dominant. Adams must find a way to improve on last year's performance, because he will be compared to players like Xavier Rhodes, David Amerson and more.
Last year, Mike Glennon proved he could do more than stand in for Russell Wilson—he could do just as well as he did. In 2011, Glennon threw for 31 touchdowns and certainly helped NC State fans forget about Wilson.
In his final year, Glennon has to prove he can do it again, and lead NC State to a strong finish.
Terrance Williams will need to use 2012 as a proving ground for his success in college. Many will look at the past couple of years and remember that he had Robert Griffin III throwing him the ball, but what will stand out most is what he does without him.
If Williams is able to continue to put up similar numbers in 2012, he should be a lock for the first round of the NFL draft.
When Mike Leach was announced as the new head coach at Washington State, players like Marquess Wilson should have been rejoicing.
With Leach as the head coach, the Cougars offense should be more explosive—and if Wilson can show he can grow with the offense and adapt to a new scheme, he will be a prime target for NFL squads.
Before the bowl game against Notre Dame, many would have guessed that after this season, Xavier Rhodes could have easily been a top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
With the injury, however, some doubt has been cast on his stock...despite it appearing to be a minor injury. Rhodes will have to prove early on that not only is he healthy, but that he is still the elite corner people saw throughout 2011.
David Amerson made a lot of quarterbacks pay for throwing his way during the 2011 season. Last year, Amerson led the nation with 13 picks...and is back for a season filled with expectations.
While Amerson will not likely match that number, he has to show that he can still shut down one side of the field and be the playmaker that people are expecting.
Oday Aboushi was part of a very surprising Virginia team last year. Aboushi is a tackle of incredible size and possesses the ability to keep his quarterback protected. With his size and skill, the NFL is almost a sure thing...unless Aboushi goes out and has an awful 2012 season.
Down at Alabama, Nick Saban has done a great job of moving pieces of his defensive puzzle in and out without missing a beat. After losing some secondary members to the draft, Robert Lester is set to shine in 2012.
For Lester, he would be part of a long line of defensive players to go pro from Alabama—but like all the others, Lester must stay healthy and prove he can lead this defense.
Kenny Vaccaro is another member of the secondary that hopes to have first round aspirations after the 2012 season is over. Vaccaro has done a great job at Texas, but he must have his best season to date in order to make sure that he is viewed as NFL-ready.
As a sophomore last year, Jackson Jeffcoat was a disruptive force on the line and is set to have a big year in 2012. During the 2011 season, Jeffcoat was able to rack up 7.5 sacks, and if he can show some growth from last year to this year, he could prove to be one of the best ends in the nation.
Johnathan Hankins is a massive defensive lineman that can make life miserable on the offensive line. With his speed and size, Hankins has all the makings of a first round pick, but still needs some work.
With the postseason ban that Ohio State is under, a strong season would show some mental toughness and put general managers at ease when thinking about drafting him.
Da'Rick Rogers has Tyler Bray back and the excuses are out the window. Last year Rogers pulled in nine touchdown grabs, but six of them came in the first four weeks with a healthy Rogers.
If Bray is able to stay healthy, both players have a chance to gain some recognition—but also run the risk of failing to find the chemistry the two had early in 2011.
Entering his final season at Miami, Ray-Ray Armstrong is another player that makes the talent at safety extremely deep this year. While the offense for Miami may be slowing down, Armstrong needs to lead this defense and help them compete in the ACC. Without a strong year from Armstrong, both the team and player will suffer.
Eight sacks coming off of the end last year was enough to gain Brandon Jenkins some attention. By going to Florida State, Jenkins plays against some top talent.
The good news about that is going into his senior year, Jenkins will have an opportunity to prove himself. The bad news is that if his numbers slip, so could his chance of being a high draft pick.
Towards the end of the season, Geno Smith and West Virginia were lighting up scoreboards around the nation. While that is all well and good in the Big East, Smith will be judged more by what he does this year in the Big 12.
If Smith is able to duplicate his success in his new conference then talk about him and the Heisman Trophy may become more and more common.
Tyler Wilson is back for his final year at Arkansas, and despite the change at head coach, the Razorbacks are hoping to compete for a national title.
The main risk for any senior quarterback is the risk of injury. Wilson would be a first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but must get through this season without suffering a major injury.
Going into the 2011 season, Arkansas felt good about their passing and rushing attacks—but a summer injury took Knile Davis out of action for the entire 2011 season.
With running backs, the shelf life is already short with the amount of punishment that they take; but for Davis, he needs to show he is back at full strength and can return to the back that fans saw in 2010.
Much like Matt Barkley, Landry Jones has the same risk. While his stock was not as high as Barkley's, the Sooners quarterback would have gotten drafted in the first round and stood to make a lot of money.
Instead, Jones is returning for his final season at Oklahoma and will be putting a lot on the line.
Coming into the 2012 season, Kenjon Barner is now the man at Oregon and is at the center of an offense that can put points up at will.
Over the past couple of years, many have come to believe that Barner was almost as good as LaMichael James, and this is the year that he can prove it. On the other hand, this could be the year were he is exposed as being strictly a backup.
In 2010, Michael Dyer stunned everyone with an outstanding freshman season. After the 2011 season, Dyer again stunned a lot of people by transferring to Arkansas State.
The move to the Red Wolves is something that a lot of people questioned, and if Dyer is unable to live up to lofty expectations then the move could end up being career suicide for him.
There may be no other player with more to lose this year than Matt Barkley. Barkley made the choice to return for his final season at USC after many believed he could have challenged to be a top three pick in the draft.
Barkley is hoping to lead the Trojans to a berth in the national title game, but does so at the risk of losing a ton of money should he sustain a serious injury.