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

Matt BernsteinContributor IJune 14, 2016

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

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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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.

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