College Football Players on the Hot Seat in Week 1

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2012

College Football Players on the Hot Seat in Week 1

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    There's always a lot of talk each season about college football coaches on the hot seat.

    But what about players?

    We often forget that it's the guys in pads and helmets that have to go out there and actually perform to ensure that “W.”

    With the 2012 college football season finally upon us, let's look at the players who might be feeling a little extra pressure to dazzle in Week 1—or else risk disappointing thousands and possibly even finding someone else's name ahead of their own on next week's depth chart.

E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

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    Once again, Florida State seems to find itself near the top of the college football world.

    The Seminoles start the 2012 season as the No. 7 team in the land, and they are clearly the top ACC program with a chance to challenge the SEC dominance this year.

    But will the 'Noles be able to do the unthinkable, especially when you consider how high everyone was on FSU last season and the eventual result?

    It's hard to blame any one person for Florida State's collapse last season, as injuries took their toll on the team. Florida State eventually finished 9-4, edging out Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.

    But staying healthy is part of the game, right?

    Florida State may be the deepest its been in recent memory, and we might even go so far as to call the Seminoles SEC-esque in that regard this year. But depth only gets you so far. E.J. Manuel will have to get the team the rest of the way.

    Florida State will face FCS Murray State in Week 1, the first of two FCS opponents in the first two weeks (sad, we know).

    Manuel will be expected to absolutely pick apart the Racers in what is sure to be an abbreviated appearance, and his success or failure against a mediocre FCS opponent (7-4 in 2011) will tell us very quickly where FSU's chances stand at capturing its first ACC title since 2005.

Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan

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    It now looks as if Fitz Toussaint will suit up against the Crimson Tide on Saturday despite his DUI arrest and subsequent suspension by head coach Brady Hoke.

    There are bound to be ongoing consequences for Toussaint at Michigan, but it doesn't look like missing football games is going to be part of them.

    Toussaint is easily the best ball-carrier for the Wolverines not named Denard Robinson, and taking him off the field could guarantee an already likely Crimson Tide victory.

    Because the coaches will be scrutinizing Toussaint both on and off the field, there's a lot of downside for him if he can't find a way to contribute against Alabama on Saturday.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

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    After last season's disappointment, there's a lot of pressure on the Oklahoma Sooners to perform in 2012.

    And the undisputed on-field leader of the Sooners—Landry Jones—will be held chiefly responsible for the success or failure.

    The Big 12 is home to some of the best quarterbacks in the nation and, interestingly, some of the worst defenses. Jones will have every opportunity to exploit that defensive softness this season, and his numbers should be somewhere in the upper stratosphere.

    In order for Jones to do that, however, he'll need to cut down on his interceptions. Last season, he had an impressive 29 touchdown passes with a 63.2 percent completion rating. The Sooners gained an average of 7.9 yards every time he attempted a pass, and he finished the season just shy of 4,500 passing yards. He also threw 15 interceptions, including several memorable miscues in a home loss to Texas Tech.

    In 2012, he'll need far fewer than 15 interceptions, and losing to teams like Texas Tech is a definite no-no.

    There's little chance a Heisman candidate like Jones will find himself benched during the course of 2012, but he's definitely feeling the heat when it comes to the possibility of a BCS berth for the Sooners this season, to say nothing of his legacy at OU.

Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

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    It's not often Michigan gets a chance to shock the world, but that's exactly what will happen if the Wolverines can find a way to beat Alabama on Saturday night.

    The Crimson Tide are a heavy favorite, so it's hard to think that Michigan could be persuaded to start anyone other than Denard Robinson in Week 2 against Air Force, regardless of how Week 1 turns out.

    Unless, of course, the Wolverines can't start Robinson.

    Of all the pressures Michigan will be facing on Saturday, none will be greater than protecting its invaluable quarterback. The entire Michigan game plan is built around Robinson, and he's shown the effects of big hit after big hit before.

    And there's no team in the nation that hits bigger than Alabama.

    With Robinson expected to do the lion's share of ground work on Saturday, that means he'll be subjected to punishing hits. He'll need to find a way to minimize his exposure to those frighteningly athletic Crimson Tide defenders, or he'll risk putting his team at a distinct disadvantage after Week 1 has come and gone.

    Winning the game would be great for Robinson and the Wolverines. But this time around, the positives of trying to win don't outweigh the negatives of having Denard go down to injury.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU

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    OK, so filling the shoes of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson isn't exactly a herculean task; it's clear now that the only piece missing from the 2011 LSU Tigers' championship run was consistent quality play from the quarterback position.

    That being said, throngs of Tigers fans are looking to Mettenberger to be that missing piece. If he is, you can bet that LSU will remain unbeaten for much (if not all) of 2012. The Tigers will be very comfortable in their consistent top-five rankings.

    If Mettenberger falters, however, the SEC race suddenly becomes a very steep hill.

    He'll have to do something absolutely atrocious to lose his starting spot, but he's definitely feeling the heat when it comes to the team's win-loss record and BCS championship hopes.

Starting Florida Quarterback

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    Anyone notice how the Florida depth chart was released with two starting quarterbacks listed?

    Will Muschamp is clearly still on the fence when it comes to picking either Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. That means that whoever gets the job will be under amazing pressure to perform at a very high level very quickly—because he knows he's very easily replaced.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

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    Coming off an injury is never easy, especially an injury like an ACL tear.

    But can Lattimore truly put that injury behind him?

    He's going to be the central piece in South Carolina's quest to return to the top of the SEC East this season, and they'll need Lattimore at 100 percent all year to be successful.

    This isn't so much a question of whether Steve Spurrier would ever entertain notions of replacing Lattimore (because he won't), but more of a mental issue for Lattimore. There will be a lot of personal pressure to perform for his team, and he'll have to let go of any fear of re-injuring that knee.

    Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a player has returned from a catastrophic injury with reservations and tentativeness. But in this case, it would derail any South Carolina SEC championship hopes.

William Gholston, LB, Michigan State

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    In one of only two meetings between a pair of Top 25 teams this weekend, Michigan State will host Boise State to kick off the 2012 season for both teams.

    The game in East Lansing will be an interesting one for both programs, as there are so many unanswered questions about both teams.

    We can now officially confirm that Kellen Moore has no eligibility remaining, and Boise State will alas be forced to play on without the winningest quarterback in FBS history.

    And it just so happens that Boise State's new signal-caller, Joe Southwick, will be facing an absolute terror of a defense in the Michigan State Spartans.

    Leading the MSU defenders is a guy who gives offensive coordinators fits: William Gholston.

    Gholston had 70 tackles last season, including 16 for loss and five sacks. He also added two pass deflections and a forced fumble to his stat sheet.

    Although MSU returns eight defensive starters from a 2011 squad that finished sixth in total defense in the FBS, Gholston is the central focus of its defensive scheme. He will make or break any effort against Boise State on Friday, and MSU will need him to do everything in his power to contain the feisty Broncos offense.

    Faltering early will destroy any remaining belief that MSU can hold off Michigan and Nebraska to repeat as Legends Division champions.

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

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    Ridiculously-designed and obnoxiously-large tattoos aside, this “Bama Boy” will need to do more than impress “Ma” and “Pops” this season.

    A.J. McCarron and the Tide are coming off an impressive dismantling of LSU in the BCS National Championship Game with a potential Week 1 pitfall against Michigan.

    McCarron and his Alabama brethren will be defending the honor of the SEC against a team that has a staggering 24-9-1 record against the conference that is “God's gift to college football.”

    In the first ever regular season meeting between the two programs, it seems as if everything is on Alabama's side. Sure, Michigan is quickly rebuilding its program after the disastrous Rich Rodriguez years, but the Big House wasn't built in a day, and Michigan's rebirth will take a little longer than a season or two.

    So why is McCarron on the hot seat for Week 1?

    It's entirely possible that Michigan will be a much better team than many in the SEC camp are willing to believe. Michigan has a number of offensive weapons that can give even the most stout of defenses all they can handle.

    If Michigan can pull off the upset against a two-touchdown favorite, not only will Alabama fans be completely apoplectic, but the entire SEC fanbase could be disillusioned.

    The heat on Mr. McCarron's backside here is all about maintaining the status quo in the world. After all, society would simply collapse if the SEC lost a marquee game to the Big Ten...

    No pressure, Alabama.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC

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    Matt Barkley has been the center of attention when it comes to the much-hyped USC Trojans this season.

    The Trojans are back from their NCAA-mandated bowl exile and begin 2012 as the No. 1 team in the nation.

    But we all know how painfully thin the USC talent pool seems to be this season, with lingering scholarship limits at least partly to blame.

    Matt Barkley will have a ton of pressure on him this season, and he's arguably the top Heisman contender in 2012. But this amazingly smart leader does have a few shortcomings.

    First, he's not the most athletic quarterback we'll see this season, even in the Pac-12.

    Secondly, we've yet to see the Trojans under Barkley when it really matters. There have been no championship games nor bowls for the Barkley-led Trojans, and the pressure to perform in those one-and-done games are beyond anything encountered in the regular season.

    And, oh yeah, there's been no decision on who would—or could—replace Matt Barkley if the unimaginable happens.

    We'll learn soon enough if Barkley and his USC Trojans are everything we've been led to believe, and we're just a couple of days away from the Week 1 visit from Hawai'i.

    Anything less than an absolute crushing of the Warriors will instantly open the way for talk of “disappointment” and “worry” when it comes to the 2012 prospects for both Barkley's Heisman run and the Trojans' championship hopes.