College football is a forward-thinking operation, and though we're merely days removed from the national championship, which saw Florida State best Auburn 34-31, it's time to take an early look at what the picture may look like at the start of the 2014 season.
Seniors are graduating and moving on, and an astounding number of players have declared for the NFL draft, despite having a year or two left of eligibility at the college level. Those losses are, for the most part, expected this time of year.
For fans, the real fun comes in looking forward to who might make an impact next season. While there are always surprises throughout spring and fall practice, true followers of the game already have an idea about who's going to shine brightest next fall when the tailgate supplies are pulled out of the garage and the fans warm up their vocal chords.
We're taking a look at the best returning player on every team in an automatically-qualifying BCS conference so you have something to look forward to despite the regular season being more than 200 days off. Part of the challenge is weighing potential versus future talent, as well as comparing different positions, which is similar to comparing apples and oranges. How does an offensive linemen stack up against a wide receiver or a tight end against a punter?
After careful consideration, here is the best returning player on every team in an AQ BCS conference.
Note: BYU and Notre Dame are included despite not having a conference affiliation. In addition, several key players have yet to declare for the NFL draft. In those instances, we're using our best judgment on whether to include them, and we'll provide updates and make changes if necessary.
All stats via CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.