The start of the college football season is now only four months away and it is time to look ahead and talk about who the 50 best college football players of 2013 will be.
A lot of the best talent in the country from a season ago is returning. That could make for a very interesting season in 2013. With Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel returning along with plenty of other talented quarterbacks, offense will be easy to come by this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney leads a group of talented players that could even be in Heisman contention.
No question that there is some true talent across the nation.
But who will hold the top spot? Here are the 50 most talented players heading into the 2013 college football season.
*All stats are according to ESPN.com
Here are a few players who just missed the top 50, but are still among the elite players in the country.
Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
Not many people have heard much about Smallwood, but the Huskies linebacker finished the 2012 season with 120 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Cardinal have had plenty of talented offensive linemen over the years and the latest is guard David Yankey. Quarterback Kevin Hogan will rely on him heavily this season.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Not many players in the country put up better stats than Carr did a season ago. He totaled 4,104 yards with 37 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Very few freshmen wide receivers had the success of Evans. He was the go-to guy for Manziel, catching 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.
Adam Muema: RB, San Diego State
Muema had one of the best seasons of any running back in the country in 2012, totaling 1,458 yards with 16 touchdowns.
Starting off the list is Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan.
He has been a force on the defensive side of the ball for the Wolverines the past few seasons and is now one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten.
Ryan had some of his biggest games during the most important contests of the year. He finished with 10 tackles and a sack against rival Michigan State and nine tackles to go along with half a sack against Ohio State.
Look for Ryan to have another huge season in 2013 if he can get back on the field after an ACL injury.
Antonio Andrews put up astronomical numbers a season ago for the Hilltoppers. He rushed for 1,684 yards with 11 touchdowns on 304 carries.
He also proved to be a threat out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns.
His 5.5 yards a carry are something to take notice of and if he was starring for a big time program, he would likely be a household name.
Even so, he might be known across the country after the 2013 season.
TCU cornerback Jason Verrett is one of the most complete cornerbacks in the country.
Even though defenses do not like to throw the ball his way, he still finished the 2012 season with 15 passes defensed despite not playing in the first game of the season. Verrett also had six interceptions, including one he took 16 yards to the house.
There is a ton of talent returning on the defensive side of the ball for the Horned Frogs, perhaps none more important than Verrett.
Northwestern came on strong last season and part of the reason for the success of the team was the play of running back Venric Mark.
Mark rushed for 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns on 226 carries. That was good for an average of six yards a carry. Pretty impressive for the defensive-minded Big Ten.
He also caught 20 passes out of the backfield for the Wildcats.
With a lot of pieces returning on offense next year, it could be an even better season in Evanston for the Wildcats and head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is nothing short of explosive and even playing way out West, he began to gain some notoriety by the end of the season.
During the 2012 campaign, Keeton passed for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading the Aggies to an 11-2 season. Along with that 11-2 season came a 41-15 victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Toledo.
In addition to his arm, Keeton is also a huge threat with his legs. Last year he rushed for 619 yards and eight touchdowns on 129 carries.
Look for even better numbers in 2013 from Keeton, even with a new head coach.
The Alabama roster is filled with talent at all classes and one of the freshmen who emerged last season was wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. With the exception of the LSU game, he caught at least one ball in every contest.
His combination of size and speed make this 6'1", 198-pound stud one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country heading into the 2013 season.
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron has more than enough talent to work with and Cooper will be one of the biggest playmakers on the Crimson Tide roster in 2013.
Even though Taylor Martinez does turn the ball over, as evidenced by his 12 interceptions last season, the Nebraska quarterback is as valuable to his team as nearly any player in the country.
Last season Martinez passed for 2,871 yards with 23 touchdowns. He was also a threat on the ground rushing for 1,019 yards with 10 touchdowns on 195 carries.
While running back Rex Burkhead is no longer around, there is still enough talent remaining around Martinez for the Cornhuskers to contend for the Big Ten title.
Look for a solid senior season from the leader of the Nebraska offense.
Even though Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard suffered a broken finger during spring practice, that does not take away from the fact that he is the one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
He has already been a two-time All-Big 12 selection and with 37 career starts, he is one of the most experienced players on the entire roster.
With a new quarterback under center and plenty of skill position players that have not seen much action, Ikard will be a very important piece for the Sooners in 2013.
Even though he averaged 6.7 yards a carry in limited action as a freshman, nobody expected Bishop Sankey to have the season he did in 2012 for the Washington Huskies.
Sankey carried the ball 289 times for 1,439 yards with 16 touchdowns, while averaging five yards a carry.
He went over 100 yards seven times during the season and was a workhorse for the Huskies throughout the year.
It will be hard to improve on the numbers from last year, but Sankey has the talent to put together a similar season in 2013.
Christian Jones is one of the talented players returning from a dominant Seminole defense in 2012.
The linebacker struggled during the beginning of the season, but came on strong at the end of the year, including a 10-tackle performance in the Orange Bowl. He also had nine tackles in three of the last four regular-season games.
Jones put together his best game of the year in a loss at North Carolina State, finishing with 14 tackles in the 17-16 Seminole defeat.
Look for the 6'4", 232-pound Jones to have a huge 2013 season and be one of the best linebackers in the country.
If not for freshmen Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota, the nation might have been mesmerized by the performance of freshman quarterback Brett Hundley of UCLA.
The 6'3", 223-pound signal-caller passed for 3,745 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Like the other quarterbacks previously mentioned, he is also a threat with his feet. In 2012, Hundley rushed for 355 yards and nine touchdowns on 160 attempts.
With star running back Johnathan Franklin having moved on, the onus will be on Hundley to carry an even bigger burden.
If he can continue to improve, he could be a Heisman contender as early as 2014.
Louis Nix III decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior season and that is certainly good news for head coach Brian Kelly and his staff.
He was the anchor last season on one of the best defenses in the country, as the Fighting Irish only allowed 12.8 points a game, good for second in the country.
The 6'3", 326-pound Nix is a space-eater along the interior of the defense line and made it very difficult for teams to run the football against Notre Dame. If he can have the same results as he did a season ago, he will likely be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
BYU received excellent news when its two best players decided to come back for their senior seasons.
Wide receiver Cody Hoffman and linebacker Kyle Van Noy will be two of the top players in the country at their positions in 2013.
Last season Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has improved steadily each season in the program and even though he only averaged 12.5 yards a reception, his 100 catches are hard to argue with.
Expect similar numbers in 2013 from Hoffman.
Even though Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch struggled in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, that does not take away from the magical season he had.
The Huskies quarterback was the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. He passed for 3,138 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 1,815 yards with 19 touchdowns on 294 carries.
No player in the country had the ball in his hands more than Lynch, and he is as important to his team as nearly any player in the nation is to his respective team.
While his numbers would not be as good if he were playing in a BCS conference, there is no doubt that Lynch is still one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr decided to come back for his senior season and upon his return, he instantly became one of the top linebackers in the nation.
Last season Barr totaled 69 tackles, but did a lot of his damage in the backfield. Few linebackers in the country could get to the quarterback quite like Barr. He totaled 13.5 sacks in only 12 games. There were only three games all season in which he did not record a sack.
If he puts up numbers like those in 2013, he will be the top linebacker in the Pac-12 and a potential All-American in the process
What helps Duke Johnson climb so high on the list is the fact that he is one of the best special teams players in the country.
Throw in the fact that he will be the go-to guy on offense in 2013 and Johnson cracks the top 35.
Last year as a freshman, he rushed for 947 yards with 10 touchdowns on only 139 carries. That was good for an average of 6.8 yards a carry. Johnson has the talent to be an All-American on special teams as early as this season.
Look for a huge year from Johnson and the rest of his Miami teammates in 2013.
Joining Christian Jones on the Florida State defense is talented safety Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner also decided to come back for his senior season and the slightly undersized 5'8", 195-pound defensive back will be a key cog on the Seminoles defense.
He broke up five passes last season and took his lone interception back 33 yards. The former high school defensive player of the year is likely going to be moving to cornerback.
While it will be a new position to learn, he has the skills to adapt immediately and be one of the best cornerbacks in the country in 2013.
Allen Robinson had a breakout year at Penn State in 2012. He caught 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns, including two games with 10 catches.
After only catching three passes for 29 yards as a freshman in 2011, it did not appear Robinson would have anywhere near the year he ended up having.
With a new quarterback throwing him the ball, Robinson will have to adapt once again.
He should have no problem putting up similar numbers this coming season for the Nittany Lions.
Very few linebackers in the country put up the numbers A.J. Johnson did last season for Tennessee. After missing the first game of the season and only recording five tackles in the second, Johnson did not have a game with less than 11 tackles the rest of the year.
He finished the season with 129 tackles and a sack along with one pass defensed.
Even though Tennessee struggled mightily last season, its sophomore linebacker was one bright spot on the season.
He will be an All-American contender in 2013.
San Jose State had a wealth of success last season and one reason for that was the play of quarterback David Fales.
He passed for 4,193 yards with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading the Spartans to a 11-2 season.
The junior college transfer will be entering his senior season in 2013 and even though he is not well known, the 6'3", 220-pound quarterback is one of the best in the nation at his position.
By the end of the 2013 season, Fales might just be a household name.
TCU defensive end Devonte Fields burst onto the scene last year as a true freshman and he joins cornerback Jason Verrett to form one of the most intriguing one-two punches in the country on defense.
Last season Fields recorded 10 sacks and four passes defensed. Those numbers could get even better in 2013 with a year to develop in the TCU program.
TCU returns plenty of talent on defense and if players like Fields can continue to develop, there is no telling just how good this unit could be.
Vanderbilt had a huge 2012 season and the emergence of wide receiver Jordan Matthews was one of the reasons for the success of the offense.
The wide receiver caught 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns. He has shown steady improvement in each of his three seasons with the program and has developed into one of the top receivers in the country.
He will have a new quarterback throwing him the football, but that will not matter, because this guy is very talented.
Dri Archer is one of the most explosive players in college football. His decision to come back for his senior season will greatly benefit the Golden Flashes in 2013.
Last year as a junior, he carried the ball 159 times for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns. That average of nine yards a carry is certainly something to take notice of. In addition to the rushing yards, he also caught 39 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns.
There is no doubt that Archer is as good as it gets in the MAC and one of the best running backs in the country.
Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the best at his position in the country coming back this season.
Last year he caught 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns.
What he has that a lot of teams want is size. At 6'6", 266 pounds, he is one of the biggest tight ends in the country.
There are a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball for the Huskies and it could be a huge year for that unit in 2013.
Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a remarkable freshman campaign despite the fact that the Terrapins went through five quarterbacks.
Diggs caught 54 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns.
Diggs might be the most talented receiver in the country by 2014 and could be a Heisman contender by this time next year.
Look for him to easily go over the 1,000-yard mark and put together a season that will earn him All-ACC honors.
Few defensive players in the country have a higher motor at getting to the quarterback than Scott Crichton of Oregon State.
Last season the sophomore defensive end recorded nine sacks and three passes defensed.
This year he enters the season as one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Look for another huge year from Crichton with the possibility of improving on his numbers from a season ago.
No doubt he will be the most talented player on the Oregon State roster in 2013.
Aaron Murray is a guy who has seemingly been in college forever. The 2013 campaign will be his final season for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Last year he passed for 3,893 yards with 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has passed for over 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons and has gone over 10,000 yards already for his career. With the way he is trending, there is a great chance he could go over 4,000 yards in 2013.
Murray has plenty of weapons around him on offense and Georgia will be a threat for the SEC title one again.
If he could avoid turning the ball over in big games, he would be much higher on the list.
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk might just be one of the two or three most explosive players in the nation.
He came on strong at the end of last season, going over 135 yards in each of the final four games of the year, while averaging over seven yards a carry in each game. He finished the year with 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns on only 131 carries. Seastrunk also had a touchdown through the air with 107 yards on nine receptions.
There is no doubt that he will get more carries this season and that could translate to a huge year for the Baylor Bears.
Look for this guy to easily eclipse 1,500 yards and possibly more in 2013.
Few players in college football are more accomplished than Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. He has been a part of three national championship teams and will be looking to make it four in 2013.
Last year McCarron nearly went the entire season without throwing a pick. He finished the year with 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions, while passing for 2,933 yards.
The Crimson Tide run a more conservative offense and that is part of the reason McCarron will not put up the numbers a lot of other guys will.
With that being said, there are few guys any head coach would rather have under center than McCarron.
When it comes to cover corners, Ohio State's Bradley Roby might just be the best in the country.
Last season he picked off two passes, one of which he took to the house. He also finished the season with 16 passes defensed.
Roby was a second-team All-American last season and has the talent to be even better in 2013.
There is little doubt that opposing defenses will not be looking to throw his way this coming year, as he is the latest of the talented cornerbacks Ohio State has produced.
Clemson had a plethora of skill position players last season and along with quarterback Tajh Boyd, the best returning player is wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Watkins missed three games last year and despite not really getting going until midway through the season, he still finished the year with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns.
That is certainly not the season he was expecting after catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards as a true freshman in 2011.
Expect numbers similar to those of his freshman year in 2013.
Oregon will once again have a very explosive offense in 2013. Paving the way will be sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Last year he won the starting job from Bryan Bennett and never looked back.
Mariota passed for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He is also a threat to run as he carried the ball 106 times for 752 yards and seven scores.
There are plenty of playmakers around him, particularly in the backfield, so look for those numbers to go up during his sophomore campaign.
When it comes to potential, no defensive tackle in the country has more upside than Will Sutton of Arizona State.
Sutton is not as large as a lot of other defensive tackles, but at 6'2", 271 pounds he has the versatility to rush from the end and get to the quarterback.
Last year he totaled 13 sacks, which is a huge number from the defensive tackle position. He also had four passes defensed.
The senior is the likely favorite to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is the next of the very talented quarterbacks found throughout college football.
Last year he passed for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. There are few quarterbacks who are tougher in the pocket. Boyd is not afraid to stand in there and take a hit.
Boyd can also do a little bit with his feet. He rushed for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns on 186 carries last year.
He will need to get help from the running back position as Andre Ellington has moved on.
Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt had a breakout season in 2012 and could be in for an even better 2013.
Last year he totaled 12 sacks on the season and spent a good part of the season in the backfield of opponents.
The return of mammoth defensive tackle Louis Nix will certainly improve his chances and give him an opportunity to put up huge numbers once again.
He will once again anchor a Notre Dame defense that is filled with talent all over the field.
The ceiling of Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon might be as high as any player in the country. He has a chance to explode this year.
Serving as a backup to Eddie Lacy in 2012, Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 175 carries. An average of 6.3 yards a carry is something special for a freshman running back in the SEC.
He will likely get closer to 250 carries this season and if that happens, this guy could be in the Heisman conversation by the end of the year.
Only problem for Yeldon is there is a lot of talent waiting behind him if he slips up at all. That is not likely to happen, however.
Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat did not quite live up to his potential last season as he finished the year on the sidelines with an injury.
When he was on the field during the first six games of the season, he was one of the best defensive players in the country. Jeffcoat totaled four sacks and two passes defensed during that time.
The junior decided to return for his senior season and if he can live up to his potential, this guy is almost certain to be a first-team All-American selection.
If that happens, maybe the Longhorns will finally live up to their potential in 2013.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller excelled in his first season in the Urban Meyer system and was in Heisman contention the entire year.
That will likely be the case again as his numbers should continue to improve in 2013.
Last year he passed for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was even more dominant on the ground, rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on 227 carries.
The wide receiver group continues to grow and mature, meaning Miller will have improved targets in 2013.
Look for a big increase in his passing numbers and possibly a slight decline in his rushing yards.
There are explosive players and then there is De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon. The running back is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and should get more carries in 2013 than he has in the past. If he can stay healthy, that will be a good thing for the Ducks.
Last year Thomas carried the ball 92 times for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging 7.6 yards a carry.
He is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, bringing in 45 receptions for 445 yards and five touchdowns.
Thomas can also beat teams with his kick return skills as he returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in 2012. Look for more of that next season.
Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier is a tackling machine. That was on full display all of last season and will likely be once again in 2013.
Shazier finished the year with 116 tackles, five sacks and eight passes defensed.
He was one of the best players on a very talented defense, and now with the entire defensive line having to be replaced, Shazier along with cornerback Bradley Roby will be relied on heavily.
Look for his numbers to be even better in 2013.
It came as a huge surprise to most that Taylor Lewan decided to come back to Michigan for his senior season, but as it stands, the offensive tackle will be one of the best linemen in the country.
Lewan has NFL size. The 6'8", 309-pound big man is tough to get around. His combination of size and athleticism makes him perfect for the next level.
Even though he would have likely been a high draft selection, Lewan is coming back to anchor a Michigan offensive line that will be very inexperienced at the other positions.
Even though C.J. Mosley was a first-team All-American in 2012, he decided to come back to Tuscaloosa for his senior season and he will once again be one of the top linebackers in the nation.
As a junior in 2012, he recorded 107 tackles to go along with four sacks, two picks and two passes defensed.
Alabama is filled with talent on the defensive side of the ball and the best of the bunch is this explosive linebacker.
Look for big things out of Mosley in 2012.
Todd Gurley was another explosive freshman who made a name for himself in 2012.
Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards on 222 carries with 17 touchdowns. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a freshman, particularly one playing in the SEC.
He totaled 100 or more yards in nine games and is certain to get as many or more touches this coming season.
Gurley is a powerful back who is not afraid to run through opposing defenders.
Where Gurley was especially tough last season was at home, as he struggled mightily in true road games.
Kyle Van Noy is an ultra-talented linebacker, and while he did not have the tackling numbers some other players did, he is as physically gifted as almost any player in the country.
Similar to C.J. Mosley, Van Noy decided to return for his senior season and should improve on his third-team All-American selection from a year ago.
Van Noy totaled 51 tackles a season ago, but he excelled at getting to the passer. He finished the year with 12 sacks, two interceptions and five passes defensed.
At 6'3" and 235 pounds, he has the size to be a pass-rusher from the defensive end position as well.
In a move that was probably more surprising than even that of Taylor Lewan, Jake Matthews of Texas A&M decided to return for his senior season.
In 2012, Matthews was a third-team All-American, but he had the potential to be a top-10 draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
He has the pedigree and the size for the NFL. Matthews is 6'5" and 305 pounds.
One player certainly happy he came back for his senior season is quarterback Johnny Manziel. Matthews will once again get a chance to protect the Heisman trophy winner.
Even though Teddy Bridgewater had an excellent sophomore season in 2012, he did not get the notoriety he deserved until his performance in the Sugar Bowl against Florida.
Bridgewater finished the season with 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Those numbers were a steady improvement from a year ago and he might have the best future at the next level of any collegiate quarterback.
Louisville will be playing in its final season in the Big East and the Cardinals will probably dominate the league leading to big numbers from Bridgewater.
Ka'Deem Carey was a straight workhorse last season. The sophomore rushed for 1,929 yards, leading the nation and becoming a first-team All-American.
He carried the ball 303 times and averaged 6.4 yards a carry while also totaling 23 touchdowns. Throw in 36 receptions for 303 yards and a touchdown and it is easy to see that Carey was a huge part of the Wildcats offense.
In 2013, that will likely be the case once again. Carey has a chance to get into the Heisman conversation this season if he can go over 2,000 yards and approach 25 touchdowns on the ground.
Marqise Lee is as talented a wide receiver as there is in the country and it showed last season with the numbers he put up.
Lee caught an astounding 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. That came a season after catching 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns during his freshman season.
There is very little doubt who the best wide receiver in the country is and even though Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing him the ball anymore, there is still too much talent for him to be slowed down too much.
With the exception of Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel, no player in the country has been more talked about than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney put together a solid sophomore season in 2012, finishing the year with 13 sacks along with 54 tackles and two passes defensed.
He can do a little bit of everything on the field and will likely spend a good part of this coming season in the backfield of opposing offenses.
The reigning Heisman trophy winner tops the list. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will try to become only the second player to win multiple Heisman trophies, and he will only be entering his sophomore season.
Last year as a freshman, he passed for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He also rushed for 1,409 yards and 21 touchdowns on 201 carries.
He is very fun to watch and it will be very interesting to see if he can duplicate the success he had last season against the talented defenses of the SEC.
Good luck trying to slow this guy down in 2013.