Best and Worst Starter on Every College Football Top 25 Team
We are only four weeks deep into the college football season, but have seen enough to begin pointing fingers. Certain players have stepped up in a big way for their teams, while other players are simply not doing enough and are beginning to become a burden.
Usually, the best player on the football team is either the leader of the squad or somebody who produces play after play and helps the team win games. The worst starter on the club may have had high expectations and isn't producing enough or is simply struggling at his position regardless of what many expected of him.
With the season only a month old, here are the best and worst starters for each Top 25 team of the 2012 college football season.
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Best: Wide receiver, Terrance Williams
Williams is a speedy receiver, with great size and is about as sure-handed as they come. Even though quarterback Robert Griffin III is no longer with the program, the senior wide receiver is averaging 20 yards a catch and has scored four touchdowns on 17 receptions. He has 10 plays of over 15 yards and is quickly making a name for himself as one of the top receivers in the game.
Worst: Offensive lineman, Troy Baker
Baker is a huge lineman at 6'6", 300 pounds and has the ability to play multiple positions along the offense line. However, he is still raw in pass protection and needs to work on sustaining the block once he makes initial contact at the line of scrimmage.
24. Boise State
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Best: Running back, D.J. Harper
With quarterback Kellen Moore no longer around, Boise State is relying heavily on Harper to lead this offense. Despite being a non-factor in the season opener against Michigan State, the senior has rushed for over 100 yards the last two games and has scored four touchdowns. Harper has produced 10 first downs for this offense and has broken off four runs of over 20 yards.
Worst: Quarterback, Joe Southwick
Southwick is still struggling to find himself as a first-year starting quarterback for the Broncos. The passing game is ranked 92nd in the country, and the junior single-caller has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns. This offense is a mess when the running game does not get going.
Best: Linebacker, Khaseem Greene
Greene is simply a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. He makes plays all over the field and can do a little bit of everything for this Rutgers defense. Despite missing majority of offseason drills with a broken leg, the senior has racked up 41 tackles, four tackles for loss, broke up two passes and has two sacks in four games.
Worst: Kicker, Kyle Federico
Federico was big in the Rutgers victory over South Florida, making three field goals, but he has also missed four field goals, including two last week in the game against Arkansas. As for kickoffs, Rutgers is ranked seventh in the Big East in average, and one of his 11 kicks went out of bounds.
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Best: Quarterback, Taylor Martinez
I would have never thought that Martinez would become a better quarterback when running back Rex Burkhead would miss playing time. The quarterback, who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat last season, is now completing 70 percent of his passes and has scored 11 touchdowns in four games. It will be fun to see if he can keep this up as the Cornhuskers approach the heart of the Big Ten schedule.
Worst: Kicker, Brett Maher
Maher received a bunch of preseason awards, but he isn't living up to any of the hype early on. The senior placekicker has missed one kick in three of the first four games and is only averaging 40 yards on 12 punt attempts.
21. Mississippi State
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Best: Cornerback, Johnthan Banks
Banks has quickly gained the attention of NFL scouts everywhere, as this guy covers a ton of ground on the football field. He is excellent in help stopping the run, has good size and length to cover the biggest of receivers, and has great ball skills. Already in four games, the senior defensive back has three interceptions.
Worst: Kicker, Devon Bell
The freshman kicker missed his first three kicks of his career. And although he is 4-4 in his last two games, he also missed an extra point in Week 3.
20. Michigan State
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Best: Running back, Le'Veon Bell
We know the defense is spectacular, but the offense was a huge question mark heading into the season. Bell has really taken his game to another level, as he has rushed for 610 yards in the first four games. Because of his workhorse attitude, Michigan State looks like it could actually become the favorite to win this year’s Big Ten title.
Worst: Quarterback, Andrew Maxwell
There is a reason Bell has carried the ball over 100 times in the first four games, and that's because the passing game is horrible. Maxwell misses open receivers on a consistent basis, is completing only 56 percent of his passes and has thrown three interceptions along with three touchdowns. When the junior isn't carrying the rock, this offense stalls and struggles to move the football.
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Best: Quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater may be one of the more underrated players in the country. He is one of the main reasons Louisville is where it is at, as he is completing 73 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns. The sophomore quarterback has produced eight plays of over 25 yards and is quickly rising on most Heisman watch lists.
Worst: Running back, Dominique Brown
Brown is listed as the starting running back, but has yet to even step onto the football field due to offseason knee surgery. He remains questionable each week, and the Cardinals could certainly use him to add to this offense that already has a playmaker in Bridgewater. The junior running back averaged less than four yards a carry last season but did score five touchdowns. He needs to get back on the football field fast.
18. Oregon State
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Best: Cornerback, Jordan Poyer
Poyer is a terrific cover corner who usually locks down any receiver that is in front of him. He has six interceptions since 2009 and has quickly become a key player for this Beavers defense. In the first two games, the defensive ball hawk has not been able to get his hands on the football because quarterbacks tend to avoid throwing his way.
Worst: Wide receiver, Kevin Cummings
Cummings is the starting slot receiver who is in his first season as a starter. In his first couple of games, he has produced two catches for 12 yards. However, he does have great size at 6'1" and could develop into a better player with more experience in a successful passing offense.
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Best: Wide receiver, Sammy Watkins
Watkins was suspended for the first two games of the season, but is still one of the more explosive players in the country. He averaged 15 yards per reception last season and looks to play an even bigger role in the offense this year. In two games this season, the sophomore receiver has 10 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Worst: Defensive end, Corey Crawford
Crawford is a former 4-star recruit who was expected to make a big impact on this Tigers defensive line. In the first four games, the sophomore has 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. With all of the hype surrounding the 2010 recruit, it is about time he begins to step up for a struggling defensive front.
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Best: Quarterback, Landry Jones
Say what you want about the senior quarterback, but nearly every college in the country would love to have somebody like Jones calling the shots. He has gotten off to a terrible start, but has still thrown for over 13,000 yards and 98 touchdowns in his career. With many question marks surrounding this team, the Sooners will turn to their leader to bail them out.
Worst: Tight end, Geneo Grissom
We heard nothing but great things about Grissom in camp, but he has yet to produce anything on the football field. He got himself suspended for the season opener, but has recently been back in action and has yet to do anything productive. The former defensive player must contribute and start helping his team out in a big way.
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Best: Quarterback, Casey Pachall
Pachall is not only the best player on this TCU team, he should be considered one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the country. Right now, the junior quarterback is completing 76 percent of his passes for 841 yards and eight touchdowns. He has produced nine plays of over 25 yards and will lead this Horned Frogs team to a successful season in the Big 12.
Worst: Offensive lineman, Aviante Collins
Collins is a true freshman that is starting on the offensive line for the Horned Frogs. He has a massive frame at 6'5", 300 pounds, but still needs to improve his footwork and pad leverage. Collins will develop into a solid lineman, but he isn't quite there yet with only a couple of games under his belt.
14. Ohio State
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Best: Defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins
You can make a case for quarterback Braxton Miller, but it is Hankins who anchors this defense. He is a monster of a man in the middle of the defensive line and makes things easier for everybody else around him. He is athletic, is capable of generating a solid pass rush and usually requires double teams from offensive linemen. He will likely be the first Big Ten player taken in next year’s NFL draft.
Worst: Offensive lineman, Reid Fragel
Fragel was a tight end before earning a spot on the offensive line at the right tackle position. He is still undersized for the position and needs more experience before he can be completely comfortable with the switch of positions. This week’s matchup against Michigan State will tell just how far he has come along.
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Best: Quarterback, Matt Barkley
Many may feel different about Barkley than they did before the season started, but he should still be considered one of the elite players in all of college football. He has terrific vision of the field, is a great leader and does a good job of going through his progressions. This season may have shown some weaknesses to his game, but this Trojans team still goes as far as he takes them.
Worst: Defensive end, Wes Horton
The defense of USC has been criticized for a lack of a consistent pass rush. Horton is the leader on the line, but has yet to produce and help this unit on a consistent basis. He just picked up his first sack of the season last week and will have to build on that moving forward.
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Best: Defensive end, Jackson Jeffcoat
Jeffcoat has an unfair amount of athleticism coming off the edge, which will make him a great pass-rusher in the NFL for some lucky team. He has a great burst coming off the ball and is more than capable of being physical with ball carriers as well. He has picked up two sacks and a forced fumble in the first four games.
Worst: Kicker, Nick Jordan
Jordan is only a freshman, but his performance really makes you appreciate a good field-goal kicker. Through the first four games, Jordan has only made three of seven attempts and has also missed an extra point. Special teams have to improve for this Texas team, as the Longhorns are quickly entering the brutal part of their schedule.
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Best: Running back, Mike Gillislee
When Florida was searching for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, Gillislee stepped up in a big way. He is averaging close to six yards a carry and has produced five plays of over 20 yards. With an inconsistent passing game, the senior running back has been a breath of fresh air for this Gators offense.
Worst: Offensive lineman, Chaz Green
You could really put any offensive lineman from this Florida unit in this category, as the Gators have allowed 12 sacks in the first four games. Green is an athletic big man, but is still inconsistent in pass protection and doesn't play as aggressive as he should.
10. Notre Dame
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Best: Linebacker, Manti Te’o
If Te'o didn't do it last season, he has surely guaranteed himself a spot in the first round of the NFL draft this season. The linebacker is just one of those players that make plays all over the field, as he has three interceptions, a fumble recovery and 36 tackles in just four games. There aren't many defensive players that are better than Notre Dame's leader.
Worst: Cornerback, KeiVarae Russell
Due to many injuries, Russell will spend his true freshman season as a starter on the defensive side of the ball. He has the size and the quickness to develop into a solid corner, but he is still a first-year starter at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see how he performs against some of the better quarterbacks on Notre Dames schedule.
9. West Virginia
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Best: Quarterback, Geno Smith
If the season was to end today, Smith would probably end up winning the Heisman Trophy. The senior quarterback is completing 81 percent of his passes, has yet to throw an interception and has produced 13 total touchdowns. His NFL draft stock is also improving, as many may consider him over Matt Barkley if he keeps this performance up.
Worst: Linebacker, Shaq Petteway
Petteway is playing more of a hybrid role on the defensive side of the ball to allow the sophomore to make more plays this season. The problem is that he has not made many, as he only has 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss through the first three games. Freshman Isaiah Bruce, on the other hand, is turning into a star.
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Best: Linebacker, Chase Thomas
Thomas would have been a high draft pick in last year’s draft, but decided to return for his senior season. He is a great pass-rusher, is reliable in pass coverage and always seems to end up making the big play for the Cardinal. The senior linebacker has produced 16 tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack through the first three games.
Worst: Quarterback, Josh Nunes
If it wasn't for a great defense and solid offensive line, Stanford would not be considered a Top 10 team and would have at least one loss on the season. Nunes has a long way to go before we can consider him a reliable quarterback, as he is barely completing 50 percent of his passes and makes terrible decisions with the ball.
7. Kansas State
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Best: Quarterback, Collin Klein
Klein has gone from a nobody to a potential Heisman candidate in just two seasons. Through four games, the senior quarterback is completing 70 percent of his passes, has rushed for 289 yards and has scored 10 total touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the more exciting players in all of college football to watch.
Worst: Offensive lineman, Cody Whitehair
The offensive line as a whole for Kansas State has had to deal with injury issues early on. Whitehair is a red-shirt freshman who has the potential to be a solid offensive lineman, but still struggles in pass protection at times and has problems with quicker defenders.
6. South Carolina
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Best: Defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney had a huge freshman season in 2011 and is off to an even faster start this season. Through the first four games, the sophomore defensive player has 17 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He is a big part of this South Carolina defense and one of the reasons many are giving them a shot to win the SEC. He will be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Worst: Safety, Brison Williams
Williams has been a headache for head coach Steve Spurrier in the past and isn't the greatest tackler on the football field. Already in his sophomore season, he has missed numerous tackles that have resulted in big plays for the other team. Although his interception and sack in the first few games shows he does have some big-play ability.
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Best: Linebacker, Jarvis Jones
Jones really made a gigantic impact last season and has quickly shown that it was no fluke. In the first three games, the outside linebacker has racked up 4.5 sacks, 24 tackles and has forced three fumbles. A case can be made that he is the best player in all of college football, and he will certainly be key to the Bulldogs' title chances.
Worst: Tight end, Arthur Lynch
Georgia has an offense that has produced over 47 points per contest, and while there are plenty of footballs to go around, Lynch has not caught many. In an offense that used the tight end position so much last season, Lynch has been a huge disappointment. After four games, the junior has just three receptions for 73 yards.
4. Florida State
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Best: Quarterback, E.J. Manuel
The best starter for Florida State was defensive end Brandon Jenkins before he suffered a season-ending injury. While the defense of the Seminoles has many great players, the offense really goes as far as its senior quarterback takes it. Right now, Manuel is having the best season of his career, completing 73 of his passes and throwing eight touchdowns.
Worst: Left tackle, Cameron Erving
The offensive line has improved from a year ago, but still has a ways to go before Florida State fans can feel completely comfortable. Erving was a defensive player last season and is now playing the most important part on the offensive line. He is extremely athletic, which has helped him early on, but is still raw at the position change. It will be interesting to see how he fares against an actual pass-rusher.
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Best: Defensive end, Sam Montgomery
There aren't many defensive linemen in the country that get off the ball as quick as Montgomery does. He led the Tigers in sacks last season and keeps the opposing offensive line up all night before the game. The junior should be considered one of the best defensive players in the entire country and will be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft.
Worst: Cornerback, Jalen Mills
Due to injuries and Tyrann Mathieu being dismissed from the team, freshman Jalen Mills has been thrown into the starting rotation. He has great ball skills and instincts on the football field, but is still a young player who is expected to learn on the fly. He was flagged for two penalties on the same play last week against Auburn.
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Best: Running back, De'Anthony Thomas
Simply put, there is no player in the country that is even close to Thomas when it comes to explosiveness. He is averaging over 11 yards a carry, has five plays of over 25 yards and has scored seven total touchdowns. If you need a big play, the sophomore running back is your man, and there isn't one player on the field that will be able to keep up.
Worst: Wide receiver, Daryle Hawkins
Hawkins was supposed to be that experienced receiver that took a big step forward in 2012. Instead, he only has seven receptions in the first four games for 83 yards. He is currently sixth on the roster in receiving yards and has yet to provide Oregon with a real receiving threat.
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Best: Center, Barrett Jones
Not sure there is a better lineman in all of college football than Jones. He is currently playing his third position on the offensive line for the Crimson Tide and is doing a wonderful job as usual. He won the Outland Trophy last season, and it would not be surprising if he did the same thing again this year. Very smart player who has a future in the NFL once this season is over with.
Worst: Kicker, Cade Foster
Foster missed seven field goals last season and has already missed two this year. The good thing is that Alabama does have another experienced kicker in Jeremy Shelley, who is a perfect 3-3 so far this season.