2012 College Football Top 25: Predicting Each Team's Offensive and Defensive MVP
The college football offseason has been littered with "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" moments, scandal, trials and drama.
Coaches have left for greener pastures and larger contracts, players have transferred, and the world of college football continues to evolve.
In this list, you will find none of that off-the-field stuff—simply pure, unadulterated football.
B/R's top 25 are listed here, along with the player on each side of the ball that will prove to be most valuable for that team throughout the course of 2012.
For LSU fans that are just coming out of hibernation in honor of "The Honey Badger," you may want to talk to somebody before you suit up in your badger costume.
He's not on this list, but there are plenty of incredibly talented athletes on it that will be an integral part to their squad's success.
25. Florida Gators
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Defense: Shariff Floyd, DE
This defense is loaded with playmakers, and it all starts up front with Floyd and friends
The Florida defensive line is one of the deepest and most talented in the nation, and Floyd will stand out again this season.
Floyd's ability to knife through blocks and make the big play in the backfield is only going to get better in 2012, and his speed makes him a disruption every time the ball is snapped.
On a defense that returns 11 starters and tons of depth, Floyd has the opportunity to stand out in a big way.
Offense: Caleb Sturgis, K
The Gators offense was just south of pathetic in 2011, finding it difficult to move the ball on the ground or through the air.
The one bright spot for the team was Sturgis.
He made 22 of 26 attempts last season, and two of his four misses were from 50-plus yards.
While the offense certainly can't get any worse this season, Sturgis will still be the most reliable scorer on the team.
24. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Defense: Manti Te'o, LB
The legend of Manti Te'o continues to grow.
His return to Notre Dame for this, his final season, is a huge boost for an already talented (albeit young) defense.
Te'o has the innate abilities to get to the football incredibly fast and read the opposing quarterback like a book.
His value as a leader of this team cannot be understated, and he will at least match his total of five sacks in 2011.
Offense: Cierre Wood, RB
With a quarterback position that remains up in the air, Wood is going to be an extremely important cog in the machine that will be Brian Kelly's offense in 2012.
Expect Gray's touches to go up, and with it, his production.
23. Boise State Broncos
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Defense: J.C. Percy, LB
Percy did not start in 2011, but he was a key contributor when he did get time on the field.
The Broncos are only returning two starters to this unit, but guys like Percy, with some experience under their belt, will have to step up and make an impact if this team is going to succeed.
Percy is the only returning member of the defense to record 31 or more tackles last season.
Offense: D.J. Harper, RB
The NCAA's record holder for the most wins by a quarterback, Kellen Moore, is not around anymore to drive the bus, and the Broncos are returning only five starters on offense.
Harper will be key to BSU's success, as he will garner the majority of the carries for Chris Petersen's squad.
Expect Harper to be the lynchpin of this offense as it adjusts and develops with the new personnel.
22. Oklahoma State Cowboys
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Defense: Brodrick Brown, CB
Brown does not get nearly the amount of press he deserves.
The man covered some of the most talented receivers in the nation last season and did a solid job of it.
Expect him to quietly contend for All-American honors in 2012.
Offense: Joseph Randle, RB
Kicker Quinn Sharp is definitely one of the most versatile players in the nation and will be extremely productive for the Cowboys.
That said, with a freshman quarterback learning the ropes, Randle is going to be the catalyst for the offense.
His 2011 numbers—208 carries, 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns—were very good, but they were often overshadowed by the ridiculous numbers put up by the passing game.
This season, Randle will enjoy more of the limelight, and his production will show it.
21. Ohio State Buckeyes
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Defense: John Simon, DE
Simon has played both tackle and end for the Buckeyes and is projected to play end again this season.
He's a relentless pass-rusher with a high motor that absolutely terrorizes opposing backfields.
This defense is supremely talented, but clearly, the key to its success will be pressure along the line.
Simon's ability to wreak havoc nearly any time he wishes will be the spark that keeps this Ohio State defense rolling all season long.
Offense: Braxton Miller, QB
It may seem rather obvious to pick the quarterback, but in this case, Miller is a pretty obvious choice.
Last season, he matured in front of our eyes, and as a dual threat, he has the potential to be the best OSU quarterback in the past decade.
His abilities to extend plays and make the deep throw are excellent and will be key to this team's success.
Miller's progression in the offseason will lead to improved touchdown numbers and a similar touchdown-to-interception ratio as he had in 2011 (13/4).
20. Stanford Cardinal
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Defense: Ben Gardner, DE
The Cardinal linebackers are one of the most talented groups to take the field in the past decade.
Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and friends are going to be the dynamic unit that leads the defense.
Gardner gets the nod because the success of the defense is predicated upon whether or not the line can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
He finished last season with 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss and will see those numbers go up in 2012.
Offense: Stepfan Taylor, RB
The departure of Andrew Luck does not mean the end of football for the Cardinal.
There is still plenty in the cupboards for head coach David Shaw.
Taylor is one of only three players in school history with two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
He also needs only 1,264 yards to set the school record for most career rushing yards.
He's a punishing back, and with Josh Nunes taking over at quarterback, he is going to get plenty of carries.
19. Texas Longhorns
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Defense: Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat, DE
Yes, these two guys are going to be a nightmare for opposing offenses all season long.
The two combined for 14.5 sacks in 2011 and have the potential to hit the 20-sack mark between them this season.
The combined threat of their speed of the edge is enough to disrupt almost any game plan, and each of them are very difficult to block, much less prevent from hitting ball-carriers at will.
Offense: Mason Walters, OL
David Ash earned the starting nod at quarterback from Mack Brown, and whether he holds onto that position or not remains to be seen.
The Longhorns have a stable of talented young running backs, but the three of them splitting carries is going to limit their opportunities to have an impact.
That said, the offensive line is going to be key to success, whether in the passing game or rushing attack.
If guys like Walters step up along the offensive line, the 'Horns offense will be serviceable.
If not, it's going to be a very long season.
18. Kansas State Wildcats
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Defense: Nigel Malone, CB
Malone earned his All-Conference honors last season, making plays against some of the best receivers and quarterbacks in the country, including two interceptions off of Oklahoma's Heisman hopeful, Landry Jones.
The Wildcats defense was solid last season, and the performance of Malone in big games had much to do with it.
He's going to get thrown at plenty again this season, as the Big 12 is still loaded with plenty of high-flying offenses and will make plenty of big-time plays against said offenses.
Offense: Collin Klein, QB
It's time we faced the facts and gave Collin Klein some credit.
The man finished last season with 27 rushing touchdowns, tied for the NCAA record by a quarterback.
He finished last season with 40 total touchdowns, and his combination of size and strength call to mind a fella by the name of Tebow.
With another offseason under his belt, his reads when throwing the ball are going to be better, and we may see a season with 20-plus rushing touchdowns and 20-plus passing touchdowns from Klein.
17. Virginia Tech Hokies
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Defense: Kyle Fuller, CB
In a defense loaded with experience, Fuller is sure to be a stud.
His 14.5 tackles for loss led the team last year, and he demonstrated versatility, playing nickel/whip linebacker spot and corner last year.
He only logged two interceptions and nine passes defended in 2011, but with more consistent time at corner, those numbers will go up in 2012.
Offense: Logan Thomas, QB
Thomas is extremely underrated.
His size and strength alone give him an edge over would-be tacklers, and he is deceptively mobile for a man standing at 6'6" and 260 pounds.
Last season's numbers were solid, as he racked up over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air.
With new running backs to break in, the offense will lean heavily on Thomas to produce, leading to bigger numbers than last season.
16. Nebraska Cornhuskers
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Defense: Daimion Stafford, S
Stafford seemed to disappear in the noise about the stars on the Huskers defense in 2011, but he wound up leading the team's defensive backs with 80 tackles, as well as leading the squad with 10 passes defended.
This year's edition of the team, while not featuring as many stars, is solid all around, and Stafford's nose for the ball will lead to an increased number of tackles, as well as excellent coverage plays in 2012.
Offense: Rex Burkhead, RB
The team's offensive success lies squarely on the shoulders of Burkhead, and the man even has a long shot at a Heisman nod.
Burkhead is a strong runner with the strength to blow up tacklers and force the issue in the middle of the field.
When quarterback Taylor Martinez is struggling—which he does on a regular basis—Burkhead will see his carries increase, and with them his yards and touchdowns.
A 1,500-yard rushing season is not out of the question for Burkhead, especially with Martinez at the helm.
15. TCU Horned Frogs
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Defense: Stansly Maponga, DE
Maponga is a beast.
He finished 2011 with five forced fumbles and nine sacks.
With linebacker Tanner Brock gone and Gary Patterson's defense needing somebody to step up, Maponga has the chance to be the difference maker in the Frogs' first season in the Big 12.
Offense: Josh Boyce, WR
Boyce is three touchdowns away from setting the TCU all-time receiving mark and will likely surpass that mark very early in the year.
While Casey Pachall's play at quarterback may be key to the Frogs' year, without Boyce, Pachall does not have many legitimate deep threats, and none with the speed of Boyce.
With Pachall under center for his second season as a starter, Boyce will hit the double-digit touchdown mark before the end of the year.
14. Clemson Tigers
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Defense: Rashard Hall, SS
Because in new defensive coordinator Brent Venables' defense, he will flourish and be a difference maker at his strong safety position.
If he doesn't improve on his tackle numbers this season, the Tigers are going to struggle to slow down offenses, a la Orange Bowl 2012.
The defense has holes all over it, but Hall showed flashes of solid play last season and definitely has the potential to be a star of this defense.
Offense: Andre Ellington, RB
The general public overlooked Ellington on a regular basis last season by virtue of the stellar passing game.
If he duplicates his 2011 numbers this season, he will be hard to ignore again.
He finished last season with 11 touchdowns and over 1,200 total yards. He demonstrated his speed on a 68-yard touchdown scamper in said Orange Bowl and this solid performance against Virginia Tech.
Toss in the threat of a touchdown every time he touches the ball in the return game, and it's easy to see why he earned a spot on this list.
13. Michigan State Spartans
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Defense: Johnny Adams, CB
State's defense is littered with talented defenders.
None more so than Adams.
He is in line for All-American honors with another solid season, as he has already earned All-Big Ten honors twice in his collegiate career and posted extremely solid career numbers thus far.
Offense: Le'Veon Bell, RB
Kirk Cousins and the team's leading wide receivers are all gone, and Mark Dantonio needs to come up with a way to replace that production.
Bell provides that alternative.
Fellow back Edwin Baker is gone, and Bell will be the featured back for the first time in his career.
This, along with the offense's likely focus on the running game, means he could be a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2012.
12. Wisconsin Badgers
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Defense: Chris Borland/Mike Taylor, LB
Taylor and Borland were Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference in tackles last season, with Taylor notching 150 and Borland registering 143 of his own.
The tandem is extremely talented, and with guys returning from injury in the secondary and a defensive line that is less than dominating, they will anchor the defense once again.
Offense: Montee Ball, RB
There is really no other option for the Badgers. Ball may be the most valuable player in the nation.
It's difficult to see him duplicating last season's touchdown numbers—which tied Barry Sanders' single-season record—but he is still one of the top backs in the nation.
Ball has currently scored in 20 straight games and has the talent to continue that streak for the rest of his collegiate career, as long as he fully recovers from the attack he suffered pre-camp.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers
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Defense: Darwin Cook, SS
Cook finished second on the team in tackles in 2011, and with WVU's switch from the 3-3-5 to a 3-4 defense, he will have plenty of opportunity to build on his success.
Cook's heady plays, such as his 99-yard fumble return in the Orange Bowl, earn him the nod here for a defense implementing a new system with limited experience.
Offense: Tavon Austin, WR/KR
Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards last season, so while the easy pick would be quarterback Geno Smith, he gets the nod.
In his second season under Dana Holgorsen, Austin's explosive speed and playmaking ability will be displayed regularly for Mountaineer fans—much to the detriment of the opposition's defensive strategies.
Austin has an outside shot at the Heisman, especially with Smith at the helm of this explosive offense.
10. Michigan Wolverines
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Defense: Kenny Demens, LB
Demens finished last season as an All-Conference honorable mention and the Wolverines' leading tackler.
On a defense that needs some continuity and solid leadership from its experienced starters, Demens can provide plenty of both, along with a high level of production.
Offense: Denard Robinson, QB
You may be sick of hearing about "Shoelace," but there is no denying that the man is incredibly talented.
In his second season under Al Borges, Robinson will flourish and have a huge season reminiscent of his 2010 campaign.
With the help of a solid running game and experienced receivers, Robinson will finally live up to the Heisman hype and finish the season as a finalist.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
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Defense: Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Clowney lived up to his billing last season, bringing an incredibly athletic game to an already intimidating defensive line.
With Melvin Ingram gone to play on Sundays, Clowney will step up and make some noise in his place in 2012.
I pity the lineman that must line up across from this guy and try to block him; he's a freak of nature.
Offense: Marcus Lattimore, RB
In spite of missing much of last season due to injury, Lattimore is in good shape to make a run at the Heisman.
This South Carolina team is just short of something special and will have another very good season for Steve Spurrier.
Lattimore's strength and ability to hit the correct gaps in the offensive line are superb, and I expect something close to 1,500 yards from him this season.
8. Arkansas Razorbacks
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Defense: Alonzo Highsmith, LB
Highsmith was Mr. Everything for the Razorbacks last season, and he seems prepared to leave his mark again this season.
He led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and 80 total tackles, a fumble return for a touchdown, an interception and a forced fumble.
He will anchor a defense that needs to improve if the Hogs wish to compete for the SEC title.
Offense: Knile Davis, RB
Davis led the SEC in rushing in 2010 before going down just prior to last season with injury.
He's a quick, strong back who runs with authority and garners every last yard he can by refusing to go down easily.
With a balanced attack, Tyler Wilson and the passing game will open the middle of the field for him. Davis will have another monster season.
7. Florida State Seminoles
Defense: Brandon Jenkins, DE
Know who has the most career sacks of any active player heading into 2012?
He has also accumulated 36.5 tackles for loss in his career and is primed to build on those numbers in 2012.
Coupled with Bjoern Werner at the other end, Jenkins will cause all kinds of trouble for opposing offenses.
Offense: E.J. Manuel, QB
Manuel's early-season expectations developed into solid production last season in his first as starting quarterback at FSU.
He is currently the team's leader in completion percentage, with his 66.1 mark sitting atop the FSU record books.
He's accurate and mobile and has a strong arm.
The offense is experienced and will put up huge numbers with Manuel at the helm.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
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Defense: Jarvis Jones, LB
Jarvis Jones is going to play well enough to more than earn All-American honors.
He finished fifth in the country last season and led the SEC in sacks, and he anchors a stout Bulldogs defense.
Jones is a menace, physically imposing his will on blockers and constantly flying to the ball.
While others in the SEC and across the country seem to get more press, Jones is still one of the best defenders around.
Offense: Aaron Murray, QB
Murray has one problem this season: His offensive line is not exactly stellar.
Even so, he's so talented and is going to put up very big numbers regardless.
He put up 35 touchdowns last season and amassed over 3,100 yards through the air.
With Tavarres King on the receiving end of his passes, Murray is bound to have another massive season.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
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Defense: Demontre Hurst, CB
Hurst's interception return for a touchdown helped put the nail in the coffin of rival Texas last season, and his penchant for knocking passes out of the air is a huge plus.
He finished last season with 11 passes broken up, and when the Sooners defense was executing well, he was a key part of that success.
While there are still questions about the defense as a unit, Hurst is one of the guys that provides a position of strength for the Sooners.
Offense: Dominique Whaley, RB
Landry Jones and the passing game get all the press, but Whaley's return to form from injury will be the real reason this team hangs around the top of the BCS rankings late into the season.
Whaley accumulated 627 yards and nine touchdowns last season before missing half of the season with injury. If healthy, he will post monster numbers this season.
4. Oregon Ducks
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Defense: John Boyett, FS
Boyett is the unquestioned leader of this defense as a four-year starter.
Last season, he led the Ducks with 108 tackles and was clearly the best player on a defense that is not loaded with playmakers.
His play in run support and coverage is excellent, and he makes the correct reads more often than not.
He will again lead the team in tackles and be the catalyst for this defense.
Offense: Kenjon Barner, RB
The heir apparent to LaMichael James, Barner has all kinds of talent, both in the rushing game and the passing game.
He has elite-level speed and the moves to match.
He approached the 1,000-yard mark last season as Chip Kelly's "option 1A," and as the featured back, Barner will easily eclipse the 1,200-yard mark.
3. LSU Tigers
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Defense: Sam Montgomery, DE
With the departure of Morris Claiborne to the NFL and the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu, the Tigers are in trouble at the corner position.
How does a defense mask issues in the secondary?
With an excellent pass rush.
Last season, he registered nine sacks and demonstrated the ability to play end as well as anybody in the nation. His elite level of play in 2012 will help mask some of the inexperience the Tigers have in coverage.
Offense: Russell Shepard, WR
Shepard is set for a breakout season as long as quarterback Zach Mettenberger proves capable of getting the ball where it needs to go during game play.
He is explosive and extremely fast, with the ability to make big plays after the catch and leave defenders wondering what just happened.
His somewhat underwhelming numbers in 2011 will increase this season as he helps this offense explode.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
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Defense: Robert Lester, FS
Lester picked off opposing quarterbacks eight times in 2010.
In 2011, quarterbacks learned to stay away from him, so that number dropped to only two, with five passes defended and 39 tackles.
This defense is talented, no doubt, and Nick Saban's defenses have surrendered few points during his tenure at 'Bama.
But they are young this season, and the leadership a guy like Lester will provide is invaluable.
Offense: A.J. McCarron
The offensive line will be one of the best in the country, so the argument could be made here for Barrett Jones, and I would have to concede.
However, if the Tide are going to be successful on offense, McCarron is going to have to continue the momentum he built in the BCS title game against LSU.
He shredded one of the best pass defenses in the nation for 284 yards and was efficient throughout the game.
With a defense that is not going to be quite as dominant as it was last season, McCarron will have to continue to lead the offense without a Heisman candidate toting the rock in his backfield.
1. USC Trojans
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Defense: Hayes Pullard, LB
Pullard became the first freshman in 58 seasons to lead the Trojans in tackles, with 81.
He also forced two fumbles and scored four sacks over the course of last season.
Accompanied by fellow sophomore 'backer Dion Bailey, Pullard is primed for a huge season in 2012.
Offense: Matt Barkley, QB
There is no player more vital to this offense than Barkley.
Silas Redd's transfer to the Trojans means that Curtis McNeal is not alone in the running game.
Robert Woods and Marqise Lee provide Barkley with extremely talented targets, and having two running backs with the potential to gain over 1,000 yards on the season really opens up the passing game.
If Barkley goes down, the Trojans' dreams of winning the conference will go up in smoke. With Barkley, the BCS title game is a very real possibility.