Not Dropping the Ball: Ranking USC and the 10 Best Receiving Corps for 2011
The USC Trojans are poised to dominate in the passing game due to an influx of supremely talented wide receivers.
The passing game has been good, not great, in the last two years, but not enough to compare to the offenses of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.
Finally the Trojans have the pass-catchers required to recapture former dominance.
They could very well have the best receiving corps in college football in 2011, but some others are comparable.
Here is a look at the top 10 receiving groups in the land.
10. Indiana Hoosiers
Seniors Tandon Doss (pictured) and Damarlo Belcher return to the Big Ten's best passing team, which ranked an impressive 14th overall.
The Hoosiers break the mold of the smash mouth, grinding tendency of Big Ten offenses, maybe to their own detriment; the Hoosiers finished last in the conference at 1-7 as the only team that doesn't emphasize the run game.
This does not take away from an impressive receiving corps. Quarterback Ben Chappell is gone, but Doss, Belcher and sophomore Duwyce Wilson should thrive as they did in 2010.
9. SMU Mustangs
Front man Aldrick Robinson has left the Mustangs, but senior Cole Beasley, who led SMU with 87 catches, will easily fill his shoes.
Darius Johnson (pictured) was second on the team in catches as a sophomore and is ready to increase his sizable role in tandem with Beasley and dual-threat QB Kyle Padron.
Bradley Haynes, a senior, and Hayden Greenbauer, a redshirt freshman, will help fill the field when the nation's 21st-ranked passing game spreads out.
This offense featured a lot of young players, including Padron, and could hit its stride with bigger pass numbers this season.
8. North Carolina State Wolfpack
The 'Pack is losing three of its top four receivers to graduation off the 18th-best passing attack, but should be just fine moving forward.
Four-star receiver Hakeem Flowers is coming in to offset some of the loss, but the nature of this passing game is to spread it around: no wideout caught more than 60 passes last season and seven caught at least 27. This means that senior QB Russell Wilson, who threw it 527 times last year, did not depend too much on anyone, and that he's just as likely to find a new receiver than to throw to a familiar one.
Sophomore running back Mustafa Greene caught 30 passes as a freshman, and the role of this promising running back should increase in the passing game. Senior George Bryan should lead this horde of pass catchers in the nation's most balanced pass attack.
7. Missouri Tigers
The biggest loss to this offense is future NFL star quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The success of Missouri's air attack is largely credited to him. The cupboard is far from dry at WR, though.
Each of the Tigers' top four receivers from last year return to Columbia. Marcus Lucas and Bud Sasser of the 2010 class will step on the field for the first time and contribute immediately in the fall. They join top WR T.J. Moe, a junior, and seniors Michael Egnew, Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp to form a formidable attack.
Sophomore QB James Franklin will be integral to the success of 2010's 33rd-ranked pass attack. If he fits Gary Pinkel's system, I predict that this unit will be among the nation's best.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
A trio of seniors, Joe Adams (pictured), Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, return to anchor an elite group of receivers.
Junior Cobi Hamilton figures to be deeply involved in the offensive plans. He was fourth in catches last year and tied for the team lead in TD catches.
This team is another that spreads the ball very evenly; no receiver caught more than 50 balls, and none of the top four caught less than 32. Five receivers caught four Ryan Mallett TD passes or more, and none caught more than six.
The distribution of touches should offset the dip that Mallett's absence dictates. This unit would be in the top five if Mallett were returning.
5. Baylor Bears
This Big 12 outfit will be a nightmare to defend. Last year's offense finished 19th in the nation in passing, and not one key contributor was an upperclassman.
The Bears return their top five receivers, none of whom caught more than 78 passes or less than 42. Kendall Wright, the star of the group, is the only senior in the bunch, which means that junior QB Robert Griffin will have at least two more years to develop with his receivers.
Three-star recruit Johnathan Lee could come in and contribute right away, and will certainly be useful for depth should anyone above him get injured.
Baylor doesn't get a whole lot of attention in the Big 12 because of the celebrated offenses of Oklahoma, OSU, Texas and Texas Tech, but they'll be among the best in that group next year.
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Justin Blackmon, the nation's top receiver in 2010, is returning for his senior season in Stillwater. That alone is enough to vault the Cowboys this high.
Blackmon isn't all this unit has going for it, though. Freshman Joseph Randle stood out last season in a reserve role, while Josh Cooper, the team's second receiver, brings experience as a senior.
This team ranked fifth in receptions and third in receiving yards per game, and with star QB Brandon Weeden returning, the 'Boys should sling it just as much in 2011.
3. Arizona Wildcats
This Pac-12 contender returns seven of its top eight receivers from 2010, including Juron Criner of the 1,233 yards and 11 TD catches.
Gunslinger QB Nick Foles is also back to replicate last season's top 10 passing attack.
Criner, the 6'4", 210-pound senior, will garner most of the defensive attention, which should allow the Davids, Roberts and Douglas, to run wild in the secondary.
Junior Terrence Miller has a promising year ahead of him, and running back Keola Antolin will contribute in the passing game as well.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
No. 8 WR recruit Trey Metoyer joins superstar senior Ryan Broyles and sophomores Kenny Stills and Trey Franks in Oklahoma's pass-happy offense.
The nation's third-ranked pass attack returns QB Landry Jones and loses RB DeMarco Murray. This tells me that Bob Stoops will call for the shotgun early and often to get in the end zone instead of messing around with the run.
Broyles' junior season was truly exceptional. He amassed 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 TDs. Stills and Franks will see their roles increase after both having stellar freshman seasons.
1. USC Trojans
Can you tell that I'm giddy to talk about this group?
Lane Kiffin has been stockpiling top recruits at WR for the last two years, and we're about to see what they can all do.
Last year's No. 1 Robert Woods, was USC's best receiver as a freshman. He surprisingly won the job opposite Ronald Johnson in the fall and then outperformed all Trojans in the passing game.
Last year's No. 4, Markeith Ambles, did not figure in games as he practiced and improved to get ready for this year.
Last year's No. 9, Kyle Prater, missed the season with a foot injury that he's still making his way back from. I am the most excited to see this 6'5" Mike Williams/Dwayne Jarrett type hit the field and start immediately.
This year's No. 1, George Farmer, is the best of any named so far. Woods and Farmer were teammates at Serra High in Gardena, and Woods was actually a throw-in that Lane Kiffin took just to lock up Farmer. Every coach in the country wanted the 6'2" receiver, who runs a 4.38 and reminds many scouts of Michael Crabtree. He will line up in the slot and burn slower DBs with his blazing speed. He will be the biggest beneficiary of having Woods and Prater each drawing a double team on the outside.
That worked out beautifully for the Trojans, who have an embarrassment of riches in the passing game. If all the elite freshmen and sophomores weren't enough to take up all the snaps, senior Brandon Carswell and junior De'Von Flournoy expect to compete for time as well.
Add it all up, and you have the best receiving group in the country. There's so much depth that Lane Kiffin might have to implement some four receiver and five-wide sets that don't fit his scheme, just to get these guys on the field.
Matt Barkley led a passing game that ranked just 41st last year, but is excited at the heights he can command the Trojans offense to this season, with the ridiculous talent at his disposal.
The possibilities are endless for this offense, and the scenarios that Kiffin can dream up with his personnel are pretty creative.
What About 2012?
The crop of receivers in 2012 will have significant impact on the teams they join in the coming year. Where each prospect chooses to sign will great affect the power structures of the top college programs in the next few years.
Here is an early look at the top receivers to watch in the fall of 2011:
Dorial Green-Beckham (pictured), Hillcrest, Illinois
Shaq Roland, Lexington, South Carolina
Cayleb Jones, committed to Texas
Leonte Carroo, Ramsey, New Jersey
Dominique Wheeler, Crockett, Texas
Jordan Payton, committed to USC
Durron Neal, St. Louis, Missouri
Chris Black, Jacksonville, Florida
Avery Johnson, committed to LSU
Thomas Johnson, committed to Texas