The 10 Best Seniors in College Football

Ian BergCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2012

The 10 Best Seniors in College Football

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    College football teams across the country will begin fall practice with the intent to play for a national title this coming season. One of the most important components of a national title-winning squad is leadership. 

    Senior leadership is the key to big wins and consistent success. These 10 seniors are leaders and the best talent that college football has to offer in 2012. 

    The college football landscape is littered with talent, but this year’s senior class has a unique set of standout players that will make major impacts on their teams and likely help their programs contend for championships. 

    As fall camps start rolling, these are names that should stay on the radar throughout the season.

Matt Barkley: QB, USC Trojans

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    Matt Barkley is the best quarterback in the country heading into the 2012 season. Barkley has led a Trojans team since his true freshman season.

    Barkley has been consistent for the Trojans in his career, having his best year to date in 2011 when he finished with 3,528 total passing yards, 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also notched a 69.1 completion percentage.

    At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Barkley was able to finish No. 6 in the Heisman Trophy voting and in the final voting for every major quarterback award in college football.

    This season, Barkley has the most experience of any quarterback in the college game and is surrounded by a star-studded cast of playmakers.

    Expect Barkley to be a Heisman finalist by year's end.

Montee Ball: RB, Wisconsin Badgers

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    Montee Ball became a household name last season—for good reason. Ball burst onto the scene with the Wisconsin offense that had the country in awe for the first half of the season. 

    Ball was a strong contender for the Heisman Trophy, finishing the season with 1,923 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns—tying the all-time record set by Barry Sanders. 

    This season, Ball is the front-runner for the Doak Walker and Maxwell awards and will be pushing Matt Barkley for the Heisman Trophy.

    It may be easy to point to Russell Wilson and his skill set as what made Ball that much better, but Ball will show this season that he is a tough runner that deserves the accolades he is receiving.

    Ball rushed for 391 yards as a true freshman, 996 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore and then had his monster junior season with Russell Wilson. Sure, Wilson drew attention, but Ball was an elite back before Wilson transferred.

    This could be a 2,000-yard rushing season for Ball. He will be the best back in the country. 

Manti Te’o: LB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Manti Te’o has gone about his business at Notre Dame like a linebacker boss. This guy knows how to play, and despite early criticism, Te’o is one of the best linebackers in the country this fall.

    Te’o has led Notre Dame in tackles two seasons in a row and led in tackles for loss in 2011, finishing with 13.5. He has been in the top five tacklers since his freshman season.

    Notre Dame will face a tough schedule this fall—likely its toughest in recent years—and leadership on defense will be a major factor when the Fighting Irish take on Michigan early and Oklahoma on the road.

    This should be the season that Te’o solidifies his name as one of the best linebackers in Fighting Irish history. 

Barrett Jones: C, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Barrett Jones will make a shift along the offensive line for Alabama this season, taking on the center position for the first time in his career.

    Jones is one of the most flexible linemen in the country, winning the Outland Trophy as a junior from the guard position last season. Jones has been a starter at guard for the Crimson Tide since his 2009 redshirt freshman season.

    The move to center was made this season out of necessity more than anything, as the Alabama offensive line had a host of talent but no one that was able to take the reins in the middle. 

    The benefit that Jones brings is experience and intelligence.

    Jones was a first-team academic All-American in 2011 and is an accounting major. Jones has the leadership factor that the Tide are looking for as well.

    His transition should be smooth, keeping him in contention for the Outland and possibly the Remington Trophy. 

Alex Okafor: DE, Texas Longhorns

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    Alex Okafor is the complete package at defensive end for the Longhorns. Despite the struggles that have landed in Austin lately, Okafor has been a consistent contributor for the Texas team.

    Okafor is a blazer, running a 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or less. He has been on the field since his freshman season, playing in 39 consecutive game since his arrival at Texas.

    The Longhorns will be looking to build defensive steam early, and most of it will come from Okafor. 

    For Texas to have a successful season, Okafor needs to step into a leadership role and improve on his already impressive numbers. Alongside Jackson Jeffcoat, Okafor gives Texas one of the best defensive end tandems in the country.

John Jenkins: NT, Georgia Bulldogs

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    John Jenkins is heading into the 2012 season as one of the best nose tackles in the country. The Georgia Bulldogs have built a dangerous defense heading into this year, and it will be anchored by gap-swallower John Jenkins.

    The Bulldogs snagged Jenkins out of JUCO Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College—Jenkins originally hails from Meriden, Conn. 

    Jenkins played in all 14 games a year ago but only started in seven. He was still able to register 28 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Jenkins will be the starter this season and will be looking to have a breakout year. 

    Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee rates Jenkins as the No. 76 best player in the Southeastern Conference heading into the 2012 season.

Chase Thomas: LB, Stanford Cardinal

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    Chase Thomas may not wow the stat-sheet onlookers with total tackles, but when you look at how often this guy plays in the opposing backfield, ears perk up. 

    Last season, Thomas finished with 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks—both team-leading totals. Did I mention that it is the second season in a row that Thomas has led Stanford in those categories?

    Thomas finished the season fifth on the team in total tackles—52—but his impact in the backfield is where he is most dangerous. Thomas will continue to be a leader for the Stanford defense, facing his most important role this coming season. 

    This will be a year in which Thomas will be looked to as the guy to take charge of the Cardinal defense. He should handle the role well.

T.J. McDonald: S, USC Trojans

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    T.J. McDonald has started two seasons in a row for the Trojans and is one of many elite safeties that has passed through the program in the past few seasons.

    McDonald was an All-American selection in 2011 after a stellar season in Los Angeles. 

    This year, the Trojans are expected to contend for a national title—despite scholarship limitations set at 75—and McDonald is one of the reasons that USC is receiving such high praise. 

    McDonald snagged three interceptions last season and finished third on the team with 67 tackles. He missed the Colorado game due to injury but was otherwise scary good from the safety position, finishing as a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award. 

    This could be USC’s year. For that to happen, McDonald will have to take a major leadership role this fall. 

Denard Robinson: QB, Michigan Wolverines

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    Love him or hate him, you simply can’t deny Denard Robinson's talent.

    As a rising senior, Robinson is in the best position ever in his career. The Michigan Wolverines are at an all-time high since the departure of Lloyd Carr, and they have a senior leader at quarterback. 

    Robinson has thrown for 38 touchdowns in the past two seasons and passed for over 4,600 yards—reaching 2,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.

    The ground game is also on fire thanks to Robinson. He has added 2,800 yards on the ground in the past two seasons as well as 30 rushing touchdowns. 

    As an offensive weapon, Robinson is in a league of his own. If he stays healthy this season, he will be a Heisman Trophy favorite with his electricity and tenacious running style. 

Jamie Collins: DE, Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    Jamie Collins has played three different defensive positions since arriving at Southern Miss. He started his career as a defensive back, shifted to outside linebacker and played the bandit defensive end position last season in the Golden Eagles 4-2-5 defense. 

    As a junior from the bandit position, Collins earned 98 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also managed to snag one interception. 

    Prior to this season, Collins was named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list as well as the Bednarik Trophy watch list. Collins will see time as a hybrid defender—at times attacking from the three-point stance, while other times, he will be a floating outside linebacker. 

    Collins will be one of the most dangerous defenders in the 2012 season.