We're almost there. Just about time to put up or shut up.
For the first time in a while, there won't be any Heisman Trophy winners on the field to start the 2011 season. That means that we're going to need a new group of talented players to fawn over during the course of the season.
And there will be plenty of talented superstars out there on which the media and various fan bases can gush.
But there are a number of admittedly talented players out there who will be branded by the media as “the next [insert great player name here],” or the “spark needed to turn the program around.”
It's hard enough for an 18-23 year old to carry such a burden, but it's doubly difficult when the player in question doesn't quite have the skill level the national media genius of the week thinks he does.
Here are 11 players who will trot onto the field in 2011 with the weight of their respective programs on their questionably capable shoulders.
It's not often you'll see a true freshman take the reigns of a major program like USC. Of course, this isn't your grandfather's USC.
Matt Barkely came out of high school as the nation's top overall prospect, and when USC came a-callin', Barkley was on his way to LA. His true freshman season in 2009 wasn't exactly a disaster, but it was not quite the performance to which Trojan fans had become accustomed. His sophomore year was an improvement, but he's definitely not living up to the hype that surrounded him prior to his first start.
He, of course, will also be hampered by USC's lack of scholarship available. USC just doesn't have the ability to surround him with the best of the best right now, and another season of playing for nothing more than pride could also relegate Barkley (and the rest of the Trojans) to a footnote after the 2011 season.
Luckily, Barkley will have one season remaining when USC again becomes postseason eligible. His legacy at USC may very well ride on 2012, given the fact that it will be USC's only chance to make a quality bowl game during the Barkley era.
Poor Denard Robinson. It seems as if the Maize and Blue have placed the weight of their massive program squarely on his shoulders.
Denard Robinson finished the 2010 season with the third-most rushing yards in the FBS—1,702. He also added 14 rushing touchdowns. And since he is a quarterback, or at least is supposed to be a quarterback, Robinson added in 2,570 passing yards and 18 touchdowns through the air.
Robinson was the first quarterback in FBS history to rush and throw for over 1,500 yards in a single season. So why is he on this list? Why isn't he a lock for the Heisman?
As good as Robinson seemed to be last season, he wasn't good enough to propel Michigan to anything better than a 7-6 season, and Robinson is also very injury prone. Of course, when a slender quarterback carries the ball 30 times a game, that's bound to happen.
In all honesty, Robinson isn't, or at least shouldn't be a quarterback. He could be explosive as a catch and run threat, or just out of the backfield. But since he has the ability to throw the ball fairly accurately (he did have 11 interceptions to his 18 touchdowns last season), and the fact that he's the most talented player Michigan currently has, you might as well put him in the most prominent position.
With traditional “Michigan Man” Brady Hoke now in charge, will U-M revert to the tried and true Michigan offense, or will Robinson still be called upon to carry the offensive load for the Wolverines?
Along with the hype that has surrounded Florida State this season, there has been a ton of hype surrounding someone almost no one has ever heard of: EJ Manuel.
The hype has apparently worked thus far for Florida State, and they find themselves starting the season firmly in the Top 10. Of course, that means there is a lot of pressure on the Seminoles to perform this season, and EJ Manuel is the field general. The hopes of FSU may live and die in his hands.
To date, Manuel's only starting experience has been due to injuries to someone higher on the depth chart. Still, he's shown some signs of becoming a very good ACC quarterback. But we've yet to see anything that would justify his being branded as a superstar.
Perhaps his inclusion on this list is less about EJ Manuel and more about the success of the Florida State hype machine.
Taylor Martinez will be the starting quarterback for Nebraska, without question. Unlike many of the quarterbacks on this list, Martinez doesn't seem to be threatened by one or more players looking to take over as starter. Martinez is the guy for head coach Bo Pelini, and there's nothing happening in Lincoln that would have anyone believe otherwise.
The problem with hitching your wagon to Martinez's horse is that Martinez could continue his shaky performances that plagued him down the stretch last season.
Nebraska was beaten by a pretty bad Texas team last season, in part due to the underwhelming performance by Martinez.
Lingering injuries kept his performance lackluster throughout the latter third of the season, and the season ended with a resounding thud as Nebraska couldn't manage to get past Washington in the Holiday Bowl—the same Washington team that Nebraska had pummeled earlier in the year.
If Martinez can eliminate some of the bad performances from his repertoire, the Cornhuskers will be very successful this season. If he can't, well, the 'Huskers will find the Big Ten a very difficult place to be without a high quality quarterback.
Jordan Jefferson returns to LSU this fall, but like many quarterbacks on this list, his starting job isn't exactly locked up.
LSU surprised a number of people last year with an impressive 12-2 season capped off by a convincing win in the Cotton Bowl against a very good Texas A&M team. This season, LSU is expected to do very well right from the opening kickoff, so the only surprise would be not performing well.
But when you look at LSU's success from 2010, Jordan Jefferson wasn't the headliner for the Bayou Bengals. In fact, the Tigers' starter may find his job in jeopardy even before the beginning of the season. LSU has several quality alternatives to Jefferson, including JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger.
Don't count Jefferson out yet, though. He's an athletic guy who just hasn't played up to his potential. But with a few youngsters nipping at his heels this fall, he won't have much wiggle room to prove he deserves the starting role.
A 6'2”, 250-pound linebacker from USC, Chris Galippo has been highlighted as a bright spot on the probation-burdened Trojans.
A California native, Galippo has been the subject of quite a lot of hype, ever since he was a standout high school star. But since arriving at USC, Galippo hasn't really lived up to the lofty expectations that the USC fan base would have us believe.
Although he missed three games last season, Galippo was only able to make 29 tackles. That's fewer than three per game. If those numbers don't improve in 2011—his senior season—he may end up being a bona fide college bust.
When he was on the receiving end of passes from Ryan Mallett, Greg Childs seemed to be a budding wide out star in the college football ranks.
But going forward, Childs may not be able to produce the way he, or his teammates, would like him to.
As Mallett's favorite target in 2010, Childs was able to climb the SEC ranks, and became one of the top players at his position in the conference. Mallett is gone now, and Childs will have to adjust to the Razorbacks' new signal caller, Tyler Wilson.
If Wilson and Childs can establish a good on-field relationship, then Childs does have a decent chance for success. But if the hype surrounding Wilson is even slightly off, Greg Childs will find his stats somewhat lacking in 2011.
And enough with the “Childs, please!” exclamations already.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier recently reinstated fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia to the Gamecocks football team. He had been suspended after attending an SEC-mandated leadership seminar while intoxicated and disrupted the seminar numerous times before being asked to leave.
Even more stupefying is the fact that this was Garcia's fifth suspension since arriving at South Carolina. Why he was ever allowed back on the team is pretty stupefying in and of itself.
Of course, Spurrier passed the buck as much as possible with Garcia's latest slip up—bringing in the athletic administration, and even the university president—so that Spurrier himself could pass off the responsibility. There are many coaches around the nation who would have dismissed Garcia after his third, or even fourth suspension.
But, Spurrier folded like a wet noodle, allowed the fifth suspension to pass, and welcomed Garcia back with open arms.
Of course, the fact that SC is a bit thin on the quarterback depth chart probably had something to do with the decision.
As lofty as South Carolina's expectations are this season after capturing the program's first ever SEC-East title in 2010, Garcia struggled down the stretch last year, and was completely embarrassed in the 2010 SEC Championship Game against Auburn. His three interceptions against Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl didn't help matters, either.
Garcia could go either way this year. He could continue to struggle, and there would arise a real quarterback controversy in Columbia, or he could begin the year as a solid quarterback. If South Carolina is in the hunt for a repeat SEC-East title come November, Garcia could be the man or the goat, depending on the results.
Yes, Darron Thomas had a great 2010 season, and he was a big part of guiding the Ducks to the 2011 BCS Championship Game.
He threw just nine interceptions last year compared to 30 touchdowns while amassing 2,881 yards. While not anywhere near the best quarterback performance of the season, Thomas gets a lot more than his fair share of attention by the national media (although that tends to happen when a BCS runner up returns their starting quarterback). Thomas also has to face the prospect that he'll be lining up behind an inexperienced offensive line in 2011, and more importantly, he'll be missing his two go-to receivers from 2010 in DJ Davis and Jeff Maehl.
With Heisman finalist and FBS leading rusher LaMichael James returning for the Ducks, expect Chip Kelly to call a few more running plays this season.
With a decent pile of chips stacked against him, Thomas will have a hard time living up to the Heisman candidate expectations.
In some respects, you have to feel bad for John Brantley.
After all, can anyone remember who followed The Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show?”
Entering his senior season, Brantley will do everything he can to exorcise the ghost of Tim Tebow that seems to hang over The Swamp every time Brantley has the ball in his hands. His 2010 performance was sadly lacking (2,061 passing yards, only nine touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions), and combined with a lackluster spring, Brantley has found two would-be Florida starters breathing down his neck (Jordan Reed and Trey Burton).
Brantley hasn't handled the pressure well thus far, and believe it or not, there will be even more pressure for him to perform well this season.
What is there left to say about Jacory Harris?
The hype surrounding Harris at the beginning of the 2010 season was almost hard to believe. Wasn't he supposed to win the Heisman? In hindsight, it's completely hard to believe. Rather than developing into the defense-shredding superstar that we were all led to believe he would become, Harris took 15 giant steps backwards over the course of the 2010 season—15 big interceptions compared to 14 touchdowns in the year (and only 1,793 passing yards).
As a result, Miami head coach Randy Shannon got sacked, and Shannon's replacement isn't attached to Harris. If he wants to keep his starting gig, Harris will need to prove to head coach Al Golden that he's still the best man for the job.
It probably helps that an expected transfer from Michigan, Tate Forcier, isn't going to attend Miami this season after all.
Still, don't expect any Heisman talk to surround Harris this season.