2011 College Football Preview: Top 25 Most Important Players on The Top 25 Teams

Matt BernsteinContributor IFebruary 8, 2011

2011 College Football Preview: Top 25 Most Important Players on The Top 25 Teams

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    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11:  Cam Newton, quarterback of the Auburn University Tigers, poses with the 2010 Heisman Memorial Trophy Award on December 11, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Now that the Super Bowl is over, football-crazed fans who can't get enough can start looking forward to the college football season, with spring practices just around the corner in April.

    Cam Newton has declared for the NFL Draft, so there is sure to be a new Heisman winner.

    Here are the top 25 players from the projected top 25 teams in college football. 

25. Tulsa WR/KR Damaris Johnson

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    NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 04:  Damaris Johnson #3 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes runs past Charles Harris #21 of the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome on September 4, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Damaris Johnson of Tulsa is the all-time NCAA record holder for kickoff return yards, and he has another year left of eligibility to add to his total. Extremely quick with the ability to find the holes, Johnson is the most dangerous return man in all of college football. 

24. Texas QB Garrett Gilbert

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert #7 calls a play during the first half against Texas A&M at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    If Texas wants to succeed in the Big 12 this season, it will all rest on the strength of quarterback Garrett Gilbert's arm.

    Taking over for Colt McCoy in 2010, Gilbert did not have a great season, throwing 17 interceptions.

    Gilbert must take greater command of the offense and work his way through the Big 12 conference schedule if the Longhorns want to return to the top of the conference this season.

23. Arizona State QB Steven Threet

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    TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  Quarterback Steven Threet #14 of the Arizona State Sun Devils throws a pass against the Stanford Cardinal at Sun Devil Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    After transferring from Michigan and sitting out the 2009 season, Threet had a decent 2010 campaign, completing 61 percent of his passes. His touchdown to interception ratio, however, was not great (18-16). 

    Look for Arizona State to compete for the Pac-10 championship this year, but only if Threet makes better decisions with his throws.

22. Florida RB Jeffery Demps

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Jeffery Demps #2 of the Florida Gators against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Jeffery Demps, the experienced senior running back, is the most important player for the Gators this season. After running for seven touchdowns in each of his first two seasons in Gainesville, Demps saw a decline in his production, rushing for only 551 yards and three touchdowns.

    Demps, along with QB John Brantley, will be essential to the Gators' success in the upcoming SEC season.

21. Missouri DEs Jacquies Smith

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    COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 23: DeMarco Murray #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by Jacquies Smith #3 of the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    All-Big 12 defensive end Jacquies Smith, gives the Missouri Tigers the most dangerous returning pass rusher in the conference this season. With Aldon Smith headed for the pros, look for the Jacquies Smith to dominate Big 12 offensive tackles in the upcoming season.

    He is vital to the success of the Tigers, who are looking to overcome the loss of QB Blaine Gabbert to the NFL Draft. 

20. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 13: Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish brings down Terrance Cain #7 of the Utah Utes at Notre Dame Stadium on November 13, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Utah 28-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Im
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The former top defensive recruit in the country, Manti Te'o has been the core of the Fighting Irish defense for two years.

    While the ND offense is pretty strong, its defense has multiple question marks. Look for Te'o to control the defense and take over as the vocal and emotional leader of the team.   

19. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks for an open receiver against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners beat the Cornhuskers 23-20. (Photo by
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    As Nebraska departs the Big 12 conference for the Big 10 at the start of this season, look for them to try to make an impact on their new conference immediately. In order for them to do so, quarterback Taylor Martinez must step up and be the leader of this team.

    A little erratic during his freshman season, Martinez definitely showed that he has the ability to lead this Cornhuskers team to victory. He must keep his emotions in check, however, if he wants to succeed.

18. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Jayron Hosley #20 of the Virginai Tech Hokies intercepts a pass in the second quarter against Ryan Whalen #8 of the Stanford Cardinal during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida.
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    The strongest part of Frank Beamer's teams in the past has been his defense, and this year's defensive unit will be centered around All-American cornerback Jayron Hosley.

    In Beamer's blitzing defense, having a strong cornerback like Hosley makes the blitz that much more dangerous. Look for Hosley to have his second consecutive All-American season next season.

17. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore

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    ATLANTA - DECEMBER 04:  Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the 2010 SEC Championship against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    That picture look at all familiar? Kinda' looks like the Heisman pose a little (it may be a stretch, but you get the point). Lattimore broke onto the scene with an unbelievable freshman campaign, finishing with 1,197 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.

    Lattimore is on the list of preseason Heisman favorites, and the Gamecocks' success this season depends on how well he runs. 

16. Mississippi State QB Chris Relf

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Chris Relf #36 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs passes against the Michigan Wolverines during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    Chris Relf is an exceptional quarterback for Dan Mullen's offense. He performed superbly in the bowl game against Michigan, leading the Bulldogs to a huge victory.

    He is very fundamentally sound and understands the inner workings of the game.

    As Mullen has the Bulldogs on the upswing, look for Relf to provide veteran leadership to this team as they try and break their way into the elite of the SEC.

15. Arkansas RB Knile Davis

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Knile Davis #7 of the Arkansas Razorbacks runs the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Im
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    With quarterback Ryan Mallett headed to the NFL early, look for Davis to step up and lead Bobby Petrino's offense, which has extremely high hopes for the upcoming season.

    Davis is one of the biggest reasons why Arkansas had a late season surge last year, and he finished with 1,322 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Look for him to build on these numbers with another year of experience under his belt.

14. Wisconsin RBs James White and Montee Ball

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 20:  James White #20 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks for running room while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Wisconson won the game 48-28.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Ge
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Although RB John Clay will most likely be playing in the NFL this season, the Badgers offense does not drop off a lot. James White and Montee Ball combined for 2,048 yards last season and will pace the Badgers offense this season as Wisconsin looks to win the Big Ten outright. 

13. TCU LB Tank Carder

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers is sacked by linebacker Tank Carder #43 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Gett
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Linebacker Tank Carder was named the Defensive Player of the Game in this year's Rose Bowl. He made an extremely athletic play, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage on a two-point conversion attempt by Wisconsin.

    Returning for his senior season, Carder looks to anchor the Horned Frogs defense as they look to make their way back to the BCS, despite losing many key players.

12. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans passes the ball during the Capitol One Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Although the Spartans have a lot of holes to fill due to graduation, one constant on the team is quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins will provide the Spartans with veteran leadership as the head of the offense and will look to build on the success that he had last season leading the team to the Capital One Bowl, where they unfortunately took a big beating from Alabama.

11. Auburn RB Michael Dyer

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Michael Dyer #5 of the Auburn Tigers tries to avoid the tackle of the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    With Cam Newton moving to the next level after his record-breaking 2010 Heisman season, the Tigers will now heavily rely on BCS Championship Game hero Michael Dyer to pick up the rushing slack. 

    Dyer's remarkable run in the Championship Game helped the Tigers defeat the Oregon Ducks, and he will look to build upon the success of his freshman year to keep the Tigers at the top of the SEC. 

10. Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback E.J. Manuel #3 of the Florida State Seminoles scrambles against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    The Seminoles took a big hit after losing Christian Ponder under center. However, Manuel is more than adequately prepared to take over. He filled in pretty well when Ponder went down with an injury, winning games when called upon. If Florida State wants to represent the ACC in the BCS this year, it will be up to Manuel to lead the offense to success.

9. Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Jeff Fuller #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies makes a catch over Patrick Peterson #7 of the Louisiana State University Tigers during the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on January 7, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Gra
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    While it may be a surprise to see Texas A&M this high in the rankings, they will absolutely compete for the Big 12 Championship this upcoming season. A big reason for that will be Jeff Fuller, the outstanding All-Conference wide receiver.

    Fuller finished last season with 72 receptions, 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns. Look for him to try to improve these stats as the Aggies look to win the Big 12. 

8. Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon

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    STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys warms up before the college football game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Boone Pickens Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  The Cowboys defe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Blackmon had an unbelievable sophomore season, winning the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and the Biletnikoff Award, awarded to the best receiver in the country.

    He exploded with 111 catches, 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore and will most likely improve these stats, as he looked NFL ready in only his second collegiate season. 

7. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to hand the ball of to Dan Herron #1 against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    While he is suspended for the first four games of this season after receiving benefits as a college athlete, Pryor's impact will be felt once he returns from suspension.

    Pryor has had a great impact on the Big 10 for the past three seasons, after he spurned Michigan and went with Coach Tressell to Ohio State. He is an unbelievable talent, and his presence on the field (as well as his absence in the beginning of the season) will have the biggest impact on the Buckeye's season.

6. Boise State QB Kellen Moore

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos warms up before playing against the Utah Utes in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium December 22, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State Won 26-3.  (Photo by Et
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    After their title hopes went down the drain with a heartbreaking loss to Nevada, Kellen Moore and the Boise State Broncos will try to make another run at the BCS Championship Game this season.

    Moore is one of the leading Heisman candidates this season and has a great shot at winning, depending on the success of the Broncos. He is an unbelievable talent and is extremely experienced under center.

5. Stanford QB Andrew Luck

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he threw a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Virginai Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miam
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    While he was projected to be the first overall draft pick to the Carolina Panthers this year, quarterback Andrew Luck decided that he would return to college for one more season (unlike his coach, Jim Harbaugh, now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers). 

    Luck is the top candidate for the Heisman trophy this season, with NFL ready skills and a strong and accurate arm. Stanford hopes to make it to the BCS title game riding Luck's arm all the way there.

4. Oregon RB LaMichael James

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  LaMichael James #21 of the Oregon Ducks runs down field against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald M
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    James had an unbelievable season for the Ducks, as they came up just short in the BCS Championship Game. He rushed for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore and was the runner-up to Cam Newton in the Heisman race. 

    There are many reports about Oregon being the number one ranked team in the nation, thanks in large part to James at tailback. 

3. LSU CB Morris Claiborne

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 06:  Darius Hanks #15 of the Alabama Crimson Tide avoids a tackle by Morris Claiborne #17 of the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty I
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    As Patrick Peterson heads to the NFL this season, look for Claiborne to take his place as the lead cornerback of the team. He led to SEC with 11 passes defensed last season and will look to lead the Tigers to the top of the SEC as they are in the running to make it to the 2011 BCS Championship Game.

2. Alabama RB Trent Richardson

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Julio Jones #8 and Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after Jones' touchdown against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Im
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Despite Mark Ingram departing for the NFL, the Crimson Tide will not drop off very much in the rushing department, as Richardson is a powerful runner poised to lead the Tide back to the title game. 

    On only 112 carries, Richardson rushed for 700 yards and six touchdowns. As a full-time back this upcoming season, Richardson will have a ton of success running through the SEC.

1. Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Travis Lewis #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts at the end of the game against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ro
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Lewis, a finalist for the Butkus award last season, is the cornerstone of the Sooners defense. He finished with 109 total tackles, and had 14 double-digit tackle games this past season.

    As the Sooners look for the the BCS Championship, Lewis and the Sooners defense will look to pave the way there.