Winning a bowl game, breaking a school record, scoring the winning touchdown, the big rivalry game…
All of these events can amount to an amazing year for any college football player.
But at the end of the day, most of these young men—whether they go to a large or small school—have dreams of playing in the NFL.
Indeed, everyone has heard of “the sophomore slump.” Your freshman year was amazing, but your sophomore year was a letdown.
This cliché phrase, however, is not true for everyone.
In fact, some of today’s most recognizable college and professional football stars have seen the best moments of their careers during their second year.
Junior year, though, is truly the year to shine. This is especially true for college football players, as it is reported that about 500 players make it to the NFL each year—that’s about a 2% chance of getting drafted.
These 10 players, regardless of their performance in the 2010 season, are looking to shine as juniors in hopes of being atop the draft board come spring 2012.
This Texas native overcame a bit of a hurdle at the beginning of the 2010 season to become the country’s leading rusher with 1,682 yards. Although he scored two touchdowns in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game against the Auburn Tigers, the Ducks unfortunately lost.
While his team ended up finishing the season third in the AP poll, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and won the Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back). James, who also runs track for Oregon, is clearly a driven and versatile athlete.
Many would love to have a sophomore season similar to James’, but 2011 will be the season he puts himself into talk of being a top 10 draft pick.
Following star quarterback Sam Bradford is no easy task, but Jones undoubtedly filled his shoes.
With a QB rating of 146.31, he threw for almost 5,000 yards, 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Although Bradford’s sophomore year numbers were slightly better, Jones was able to lead the Sooners to a bowl victory.
Coach Bob Stoops has the ability to make star players legendary, and losing two games a season just does not cut it for him anymore.
Look for Jones to be the best quarterback in the Big 12 and make a run for Heisman.
As a freshman quarterback in 2008 (he redshirted in 2009, allowing him 3 more years of eligibility), Robert Griffin won multiple freshman awards while throwing over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 2010, the Bears dropped to a 7-5 record, losing in the Texas Bowl to Illinois. However, Griffin threw for over 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns.
He clearly has an arm and is talented, as Rivals.com ranked him the fourth best dual-threat quarterback in the country. He was also a top-ranked hurdler and sprinter.
Yes, the Big 12 may be full of talented quarterbacks, but Griffin will have a breakout season and not only make a name for himself, but the Baylor Bears as well.
This number one high school prospect in 2009 joined a football team with a lengthy list of legendary quarterbacks—think Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Mark Sanchez.
In both 2009 and 2010, he had consistently stellar seasons: a passer rating of over 130.0, over 15 touchdowns, and over 2,700 yards. Although he helped lead the Trojans to a bowl game victory in 2009, they were banned from postseason competition.
USC has no problem producing star quarterbacks and Barkley will be no exception. He has potential and is surrounded by those who can make him reach that potential.
He may find trouble in the Pac-10 this season, but will still perform at a high caliber.
Although the Eagles finished 7-5 with a loss to Nevada in the Hunger Bowl, Kuechly shined at linebacker.
He helped their defense finish 19th in the country in points against (average of 19.5). In 2010, he had a total of 325 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions, and two fumbles forced.
Kuechly is an All-American who could be considered one of the country’s best linebackers. Whether or not he has an amazing 2011 season, he will definitely go down in Boston College defensive history.
This Miami native has been compared to fellow Hurricane Warren Sapp. The Canes defense—known as a force to be reckoned with—finished 21st overall in the country and third in pass defense. At over 300 lbs, this defensive tackle had 12 tackles for a loss, leading the team.
Many may not recognize Forston’s name, and the Hurricanes may have had a lackluster season, but with a new and talented head coach, there is renewed hope for the usually dominant program.
Although Randle only had three touchdowns as a wide receiver in 2010, he did average over 15 yards per catch.
Coming out of high school in Louisiana, he was not only the country’s number one wide receiver prospect, the number two prospect overall.
With the departure of senior Terrence Toliver, Randle will become the new main target for senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson. In addition, head coach Les Miles, who has been with the Tigers since 2005, clearly has the ability to coach great players.
The SEC might be the hardest conference to play in, but Randle has the potential be one of the standout wide receivers in 2011.
The Buckeyes are a powerhouse team, not only on defense, but on offense as well.
Despite missing three games in the middle of the season, Stoneburner gave us a snapshot of his talent. He will now be the number one tight end on the OSU depth chart, and a definite target for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
This 6’5” 245-pound player was a four-star recruit who will have to step up and help lead an offense that will be missing its known stars at the beginning of the season. This team struggled in 2010 at the receiver position, so it can be assumed Stoneburner will step in.
Can he be the next John Frank for the Buckeyes?
This 300-pound player has been highly regarded as one of the best offensive tackles in the game. He was a highly regarded four-star recruit who then became the first Gator freshman to start at left tackle since 1992.
Although the Gators finished 2010 a disappointing 8-5, they are still extremely talented and their 2011 recruiting class ranks 12th, according to ESPN.com.
Look for Nixon to help lead the Gator’s offense back to its normal powerhouse status.
Following in the footsteps of a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy, but Richardson showed the country that it is very possible.
In the 2010 National Championship Game, he contributed over 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as he helped lead the Crimson Tide to victory.
Now that Mark Ingram has left for the NFL, look for his 2010 numbers (700 rushing yards and six touchdowns) to pale in comparison to those of 2011.