In a world where raw speed becomes more important with each passing year, the fastest guys in the land have significant impact on the game of college football.
Speed is recruited, celebrated and ultimately rewarded at every level of football, which makes something as simple as an athlete’s time in the 40-yard dash a crucial kernel of data.
The following slideshow ranks the 25 speediest returners for the 2012 season of college football and, in doing so, pinpoints potential impact players in the glorious campaign that lies ahead.
The individual times utilized in this presentation come via the excellent NFLDraftScout.com, which is careful to identify athletes' “best verifiable 40 time"—with the emphasis being on the word “verifiable.”
The consistent application of this specific calculation in our listing is important, as it provides an equitable way of first determining and then ranking the fastest 25 guys in college football.
Tre Boston is a 6’1”, 190-pound junior safety for the Tar Heels with a verifiable 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds.
In his two-year stint at Carolina, he’s racked up four picks, 102 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Boston’s lowest 40 time (not verified) is listed at 4.32, while his highest 40 is 4.56, putting him in a tie with the No. 24 finisher on our list and just a notch behind No. 23.
The speedy Curtis McNeal may be a breakout star for USC as a senior in 2012 after coming off a junior campaign that included a 1,005-yard rushing performance.
McNeal’s lowest verifiable time in the 40-yard dash is 4.43 seconds. Like Tre Boston from UNC, his lowest unconfirmed time is 4.32 and his highest is 4.56.
Coming off of a year missed due to injury, Arkansas’ Knile Davis looks to make up for lost time during the 2012 season.
Davis bolted for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010 and has a confirmed 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds, making him one of the speediest and most productive backs in the FBS ranks.
Davis’ lowest yet unproven time of 4.32 seconds and highest of 4.54 give him the edge among the trio of athletes listed with confirmed marks of 4.43.
One of the speedy leaders of a defense that ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring and No. 11 versus the pass in 2011, Johnny Adams is a key cog in the machine that has kept the Spartans pumping out wins over the last two seasons.
Adams owns a confirmed 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash and zipped along for 141 yards and one score on three interceptions last season as a junior.
The first of three Longhorns on our list, Sheroid Evans only participated in four games as a freshman in 2011 but has the type of breakout speed to be assured of playing time in the seasons ahead.
Evans has an authenticated 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds, and his unconfirmed high mark of 4.56 puts him just a notch below the large group of other collegiate grid men at the official 4.42 mark.
Another fast youngster with the potential to have a breakout year in 2012, Miami’s Phillip Dorsett has a corroborated 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds.
Dorsett only recorded 14 receptions and one score as a freshman in 2011, but he has the type of rare athletic ability to become a huge impact player in Al Golden’s quest to return the Hurricanes to dominance.
In 2012, DeAndrew White is one of the primary reasons why Crimson Tide fans can realistically anticipate their team to improve on its No. 106 national rank in pass offense from a year ago.
White caught just 14 balls for 151 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, but his super speedy 4.42-second time in the 40-yard dash makes the sky literally the limit for the kid from Houston.
The No. 6 rusher for the Wildcats in 2011, incoming junior Raymond Sanders boasts a super-fast verified time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
With more playing time up for grabs in the rushing rotation at Kentucky in 2012, look for the speedy Sanders to improve on his output of 144 yards on the ground and 86 yards in kickoff returns.
2012 looks to finally be the season that the 5’10”, 190-pound LaDarius Perkins will take his well-earned seat at the head of the running back table at Mississippi State.
And this is no small thing for an offense that ranked No. 38 nationally in rushing yards in 2011 and only No. 94 in passing yardage.
Perkins, an incoming junior, has a verified time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash, making him one of the swiftest backs in all of the FBS.
It will be intriguing to see how the Aggies' No. 18 nationally ranked passing offense from a year ago fares in their new home of the not-so-pass-happy Big 12.
The No. 3 receiver from Texas A&M’s 2011 product was the very quick Uzoma Nwachukwu, an incoming junior from Allen, Texas, who posted a confirmed 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Nwachukwu is one of the many speedsters on our list whose name can be found among the preseason major awards lists.
It’s amazing how going 7-6 in a major conference can have the effect of overshadowing an outstanding individual performance.
This is precisely the case of Cal's Isi Sofele, who racked up 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011 on his way to leading the Golden Bears in rushing.
Sofele owns a speedy 4.42-second 40-yard dash time and could simply explode in the 2012 season.
Even though Jaamal Berry has apparently left Ohio State for good after a suspension due to assault charges from last fall, he’s still one of the fastest guys in college football.
Berry, a product of Pinecrest, Fla., posted a verified 4.42-second 40-yard dash time and also has an unconfirmed low of 4.32 as part of his impressive resume.
It’s still unknown whether or not Berry will transfer for the 2012 season, but wherever he lands, he’ll continue to be one speedy customer.
When you think of Rutgers, breakneck speed might not be your first thought, but the Scarlet Knights have the No. 13 fastest guy in the FBS on their roster in 2012.
WR Miles Shuler only participated minimally as a freshman in 2011, but his verified time of 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash makes you believe he’s a guy worth watching over the next couple of years at Rutgers.
It should be no surprise to see Michigan superstar Denard Robinson on our list, and even the biggest hater of the Blue and Maize should be impressed with a quarterback sporting a confirmed 4.39-second 40-yard dash time.
Though it’s doubtful that Robinson will play QB in the NFL, he’s got an unverified low time of 4.3 seconds, which is wholly mind-blowing, regardless of what position he eventually takes on the field at the next level.
One of the swiftest defenders in all the land, Branden Smith’s 2011 junior season resume reads like a dream sequence from football Fantasy Island.
The Georgia CB racked up 100 yards and one touchdown as a rusher, 70 yards on punt returns and 39 yards of receiving. He had 131 yards on kickoff returns, two picks that spawned 62 return yards, registered 24 tackles and broke up one pass.
And the cherry on the top for the Bulldogs is that Smith has posted a verified 4.39-second time in the 40-yard dash and a seriously fast 4.28 uncertified low.
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner will be one of the most intriguing storylines of 2012.
Can Barner cash in on his opportunity to finally come out of the Ducks’ wings and be a team leader in his senior season?
Barner’s confirmed 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds is second only at Oregon (by a mere 10th of a point) to teammate De’Anthony Thomas.
Ironically, Barner’s listed low (not verified) is 4.28 vs. Thomas’ 4.29.
The heir apparent to Oregon’s speedy rushing legacy, the young De’Anthony Thomas comes complete with a verified 4.38-second 40-yard dash time.
It’s no surprise that this guy is a top-10 dude in speed, as he’s likely to be in the top 10 in a myriad of other categories, including future Heisman voting and perhaps the 2015 NFL draft.
According to our calculations, Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb is the second-fastest guy in the SEC.
Yes, the incoming senior running back from Fort Meade, Fla., has posted a confirmed 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash and equals Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas’ unconfirmed low of 4.29.
What sets the two backs apart is the unverified high time in the 40, which our source lists as 4.52 for Thomas and only 4.49 for McCalebb.
Perhaps the most well-known name at the top of our list, the Mountaineers' Tavon Austin owns a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 4.28 unconfirmed low and a “better than most of the country” high of 4.5.
Austin enters his senior season after racking up 1,186 yards as a receiver, 268 yards off punt returns, 182 rushing yards and 938 yards via kickoff returns as a junior.
Add in the fact that Austin will be a Mountaineer in the second year of the wide-open Holgorsen era in Morgantown, and “suddenly speed meets scheme” for what could be a scary good outcome.
Really, it’s amazing to see a guy from Boise State this high up on our list, but Dallas Burroughs is the real deal.
Burroughs caught a mere nine passes for 175 yards and one score as a freshman in 2011, but this is a guy who touts a verified 4.38-second 40-yard dash time and an all-time blazing low of 4.28.
Burroughs will have to live through what should be Boise State’s leanest year in a decade in 2012, but his world-class speed should be on the national radar when he’s an upperclassman in 2013 and 2014.
The second of the three speedy Longhorns on our list, 23-year-old senior D.J. Monroe has played most of his career at Texas as a running back but is making a switch to wide receiver for the 2012 season.
This may be a good use of Monroe’s flat-out scary speed that is confirmed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, especially given that Texas ranked No. 21 nationally in rushing offense last season and only No. 86 in passing yards.
The fastest guy on our list from the SEC, Andre Debose’s 432 receiving yards as a sophomore provides the perfect cover for a possibly thundering junior campaign in 2012.
Debose’s breakneck speed is illustrated by his verified 4.38-second mark in the 40-yard dash and is further boosted via his blazing 4.26 unconfirmed low.
Digging further into the stats, the speedy Debose also racked up 495 yards in kickoff returns last season and is absolutely a guy to watch over the next two years.
Skye Dawson was TCU's No. 2 receiver last season as a junior and has the type of speed to make him an NFL draft-climber for 2013.
Dawson, who hails from Mesquite, Texas, is one of two guys on our list with a confirmed 40-yard dash speed of 4.37 seconds and finishes outside of the No. 2 spot by virtue of having an unverified low time of 4.28 versus the 4.26 clocked by the athlete listed ahead of him.
Yet another lightning-fast youngster on our list, Ohio State’s Corey "Philly" Brown is flat-out explosive.
Brown’s confirmed time of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash, combined with an unverified low listing of 4.26, makes him the second-fastest returner in the FBS.
With only 14 catches for 205 yards and one score as a freshman, Brown’s climb up the charts as he continues his career at Ohio State could be nothing less than meteoric.
The fastest returning guy in college football in 2012 is world-class speedster Marquise Goodwin from Texas.
Goodwin clocked a mind-blowing verified time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash and also has an unconfirmed low of 4.24—both numbers are the best in the biz.
As if the super-swift accolades weren’t enough, Goodwin is an incoming senior for the Longhorns who is also the first college athlete since 1960 to win both the NCAA and U.S. Olympic trial titles for the long jump in the same year.
Where is Goodwin headed next? Well, his preseason practice with the Horns will be delayed so he can fly to London to compete in the Summer Games in the long jump.