Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy—these are names everyone already knows.
Then there are those few players who some may have heard of. They may have even earned All-Conference status, but now they are about to become the biggest players of 2009.
These are college football's new superstars. Get used to hearing their names.
Charles Scott—RB, Louisiana State
As far as running backs in the SEC are concerned, 2008 belonged to Knowshon Moreno. Some may be surprised to learn that Moreno's SEC-leading 18 touchdowns in 2008 were matched by LSU's Charles Scott.
Scott's 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns didn’t receive much in the way of national attention, partly because his team struggled in key games and partly because of a lack of production late in the year.
Still, folks in Baton Rouge took notice, and SEC defenses should be on high alert. With a strong offensive line returning and what should be an improved passing game, Scott should be in the hunt for 20 touchdowns and well over the 1,200 rushing yards he accumulated last season.
Thaddeus Gibson—DE, Ohio State
The Ohio State defense is loaded with very good, very sound players—players that will make the routine plays but won't come up with too much flash. The exception is Thaddeus Gibson, a defensive end in the mold of former Buckeye superstar Vernon Gholston.
Gibson, who led the team in sacks last season, is built like an outside linebacker and will likely play there in the pros, but he's tough enough to handle himself well on the end and quick enough to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Gibson could be dominant this year on a line that is good and deep enough to take the pressure off. He could be the star of one of the nation's best defensive lines.
Kendall Hunter—RB, Oklahoma State
Kendall Hunter quietly wracked up 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns last season coming off a 696-yard, four-touchdown freshman campaign. Those numbers are good enough to make Hunter third on the list of the nation’s leading returning rushers.
Ahead of Hunter on that list are Cal's Jahvid Best, who must prove he can stay healthy all season, and Ball State's MiQuale Lewis, who will have a hard time repeating last season's success with the departure of so many key pieces of the Cardinal offense, including four starters off the line.
Oklahoma State has all the key parts back on offense, including most of the starters on the line, meaning Hunter should get past the 1,500-yard mark again and be in the hunt for the Doak Walker Award from the start.
Sergio Kindle—DE/LB, Texas
When a linebacker only makes 45 tackles in a season and is still on the short list for all the All-America teams, then that linebacker must be pretty special.
Kindle is very special. Late in the year when Texas' superstar pass rusher Brian Orakpo went down, Kindle took over on the end and finished with 12.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Now consider that Orakpo compiled 11.5 sacks on the season, and you can see just how special Kindle is.
This season Kindle is expected to spend most of his time as a pure pass rushing end, where he should blow up and get the press Orakpo received last year. He could move back to linebacker from time to time, but for the most part he’ll be a terror in the backfield and could become one of the nation’s sack leaders.
Case Keenum—QB, Houston
As far as the rest of the country was concerned, Colt McCoy and Graham Harrell were the only quarterbacks from the state of Texas worth knowing about in 2008. But lurking just below the large shadow of McCoy and Harrell was Houston signal caller Case Keenum.
Keenum threw for 5,020 yards and 44 scores in 2008, finishing second in the nation in passing behind Harrell. While he only threw for 252 yards in the Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force, he threw for 360 yards or more in the other 12 games last season and threw for over 400 yards five times, including the final three games of the season.
Keenum will get a chance to make a name for himself early with September shootouts against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.