With less than two months until the kickoff of the 2012 college football season, we figured now was as good of a time as any to name our college football swag list.
We really only have two criteria for making this list; first, be a current (2012) college football player, and two, have a ton of swag.
If you're looking for your favorite “nice guy” college football player, you probably won't find him here. This list isn't going to include the humble, gracious types.
Here, we'll list those players who rise above the rest of the nation, playing not only with great skill, but with an abundance of passion, confidence, and, yes, even arrogance and cockiness.
Here's our 2012 list of current college football players with the most swag.
We'll get started with Michigan State's William Gholston.
We all know that MSU has historically had difficultly ridding itself of the long shadow cast from Ann Arbor.
We also know that the Spartans have handed Michgian four straight losses over the past four seasons, giving us all a glimpse of what happens when your little brother grows up.
So it's only natural that Michigan State, at times, doesn't quite act the role of the winner.
That was evident during last season's showdown when Spartan defensive end William Gholston was flagged not once, but twice for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Following MSU's 28-14 victory over U-M, the Big Ten suspended Gholston for one game.
Michigan State also came down hard on Gholston, with athletic director Mark Hollis saying, “This act does not reflect the culture and values of Spartan Football and Michigan State University.”
Still, groin punches and suspensions aside, Gholston had 16 tackles for loss last season, good enough for seventh in the Big Ten. If the Spartans hope to repeat their Legends Division championship from last season, Gholston—and the seven other returning defensive starters—will need to continue to make big impacts on the field.
Geno Smith is apparently very familiar with swag.
He has even used it in interviews, and knows it's not something you can get from boosters, fans, coaches, or bowl committees.
“You can't buy swag,” Smith was quoted as saying in the Times West Virginian. “We have a lot of it on the field, from the coaches to the staff to the players.”
But with a good head on his shoulders, Smith is ever-mindful of the pitfalls that come with too much swag (think University of Miami).
Smith then struggled to actually define swag.
“Swag is just... um... In football, it's confidence. It's not being showboats or dressing up funny, it's just confidence.”
We'll take Smith, the returning senior quarterback for the Mountaineers, at his word. If that's the way he and the Mountaineers want to define swag, then there's plenty of it around Morgantown, especially after putting up a bowl-record 70 points on ACC champs Clemson in last season's Orange Bowl.
As WVU moves onto the Big 12 this season, we'll see pretty quickly just how far that swag extends. Are the Mountaineers really ready to play with the biggest of the big boys every week?
Or will the Mountaineer swag disappear with the inevitable adversity a conference realignment brings?
Keep your eyes on Smith this fall. His performance—on and off the field—will be a great predictor of how the 2012 season will unfold for West Virginia.
Folks in Georgia are pretty excited about the future of the Bulldogs football program.
Just a year removed from holding Mark Richt's feet to the fire, the Bulldog nation seems to think that 2012 is going to be their year.
And they may not be wrong.
With all of the talent Georgia has returning this season, you can bet that the defending SEC-East champions are the odds-on favorite to return to the conference title game.
One part of the UGA resurgence is standout linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Jones is returning for his senior season, and he's never been shy about voicing his opinion on how good the Bulldogs are.
In fact, prior to the 2011 SEC Championship Game, Jones even went so far as to say that Georgia's defense was every bit as good as LSU's, and maybe even better.
Pretty bold, considering LSU was a consensus No. 1 team, the only major undefeated program in the nation, and was heavily favored against UGA in the SEC title game.
“We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play,” Jones said. “We love playing football. We're aggressive. We play just as well as [LSU].”
Georgia may have come up short against LSU, but don't think that confidence won't carry over to 2012. With nine defensive starters returning, you can bet that this season's Georgia team may be every bit as good as LSU—and in case you need reminding, Jarvis Jones and company will be happy to give you a reminder.
Ohio State has been through a rough 18-or-so months.
From the Tattoogate scandal to the forced resignation of Jim Tressel to the suspension and eventual flight from campus of Terelle Pryor, the Ohio State football program has been through a year of hell.
Is it any wonder the Buckeyes finished 6-7 (3-5) last season?
Ohio State will be facing a USC-esque season of sanctions in 2012, which will end without a championship, without a bowl, and without much recognition.
But that won't stop Ohio State from being Ohio State.
With 19 combined starters returning this season, expect the Bucks to relish their task of spoiling the seasons of their Big Ten opponents.
An unlikely leader has stepped forward in Columbus in Braxton Miller.
At first, he seemed utterly unprepared for the starting role at one of the biggest football schools in the nation. But before long, his shaky presence in the pocket transformed into the type of scarlet and gray swag we've come to expect.
Miller, just a sophomore, is emerging as the future of Ohio State football. He's suffered through a losing season—a rarity in Columbus—and he'll suffer through the a sanction-laden 2012 season. But he's young enough to emerge on the other side, better for the experience.
And unlike Ohio State quarterbacks of the past, Miller seems to be settling into the role as team leader without allowing his mouth to do the talking.
His plain, matter-of-fact style with the media is a refreshing change for an Ohio State signal caller, and it's probably exactly what the program needs right now.
Miller may be a little young to be making a swag list, but take this as a sign of things to come; Miller could lead Ohio State through the dark tunnel into the bright lights of national glory as an upperclassman, and Ohio field will hear again the Buckeye... swag.
After winning another BCS title, the Crimson Tide nation is riding high.
But for how long?
Alabama is sure to be amongst the top-ranked teams when the preseason polls are released over the next six weeks, but Nick Saban's squad may be returning to the field with the fewest familiar faces of the nation's elite programs.
With just five defensive starters back, is there a “swag deficit” for the Tide in 2012?
Alabama fan website bamahammer.com believes there is, but has also found some good candidates to solve that particular issue.
Returning senior safety Robert Lester is a favorite to fill the huge swag shoes left vacant by the departure of Dre Kirkpatrick.
Bama fans are hoping some of that defensive backfield swag from Kirkpatrick has rubbed off on Lester.
He certainly has the skills to take over as the defensive leader of the team, and his quiet confidence seems to unnerve opponents as much as any boisterous player ever could.
Whether or not Alabama's swag as a team returns to previous levels remains to be seen. But if Lester has anything to say about it, the Tide will be incredibly stingy on defense again in 2012—and defense wins championships.
In order for a defensive player to even be considered for the Heisman Trophy requires quite a bit of swag.
To be named a finalist pushes the swag meter almost to its limit.
Now, wear a flashy, platinum suit to the trophy presentation, and you're created a whole new swag level by yourself.
Considering he's a guy who walks around with the nickname “Honey Badger,” you have to give Mathieu some mad props for his crazy-high swag-ness. While statistically not even close to the most dominant defensive player in the nation (tied for 70th in passes defended, and failing to make the top 100 in either interceptions or tackles), Mathieu has somehow emerged as the focal point of the LSU defense.
This only proves that a player doesn't need to be the biggest or the best player on the field to have swag, and you don't need to win a Heisman Trophy to spur your team on to victory.
Matt Barkley has always had a bit of an ego.
That probably is just par for the course when you're the quarterback at a place like USC.
USC football is a nation onto itself, and it's one of the most nationalistic of the bunch. That's probably why the sanctions have hurt so badly; someone actually told USC that they did something wrong, and took some trophies away.
How dare they!
But when Matt Barkley announced he'd be returning to USC for his 2012 senior season, it was cause for celebration. The Trojans are finally eligible to compete for a conference titile, not to mention earn a bowl bid this season.
And with Barkley calling the shots on the field, many believe that bowl invitation could come with a bouquet of roses.
USC has always walked that thin line between swag and swagger, and usually the Trojans come down on the side of unadulterated swagger.
But with the past two years perhaps tempering their outlook on football, it's entierly likely we'll see a new brand of Trojan this fall with Matt Barkley leading the self-confident (but not overly and annoyingly so) charge.
Then again, maybe not.
When EJ Manuel arrived on campus in Tallahassee, he quickly made the decision that he was going to make a difference at Florida State University.
There's a thin line between cocksure and cocky, confidence and overconfidence, swag and swagger, but it appears that EJ Manuel made a conscious decision to come down on the side of swag—not always an easy thing to do in the football-crazed state of Florida.
After his freshman orientation for football players in July, 2008, Manuel left the building to find FSU communications professor Mark Zeigler, who had just given the cautionary tale of Florida State football; an epic fall after years of success—from national titles to academic scandals, Heisman Trophies to prison cells.
To Zeigler's surprise, Manuel tracked him down to impart just a few reassuring words.
“Mr. Zeigler, I'm EJ Manuel, and I will never let you or the faculty down.”
For a fresh-faced, 18-year-old kid, that took a lot of guts.
What took even more was what happened over the next few years. Manuel, now a senior, is the heart and soul of the Florida State team. His successes are the team's successes, and he takes the team's faulures on his young shoulders.
He's not cocky, and he doesn't make headlines with what falls from his mouth or what shoes he wears. He just goes out on the field on Saturday and gives all he can for the crimson and gold.