College Football 2011: Players You Need to Know Before the World Finds Out
Every year as the college football season begins analysts and fans across the country toss out the names of future superstars and prospects on the rise. They make sure that everybody knows who the top players are at all positions or who the likely award winners will be. When September rolls around, even the most casual of fans can tell you who the best receiver in the country is, or who will replace Mark Ingram as the first running back drafted. I'm sure that this year, 90 percent of the country can tell you that Andrew Luck is one of the best QB prospects to play the game in over a decade.
But those aren't the only names to know. Every year there are players that come out of nowhere, through a new dedication to work ethic or an opportunity brought on by injury, and show that they too are names that should be on everybody's lips. For every Trent Richardson, there is a LaMichael James who bursts onto the scene with no warning.
Now, I'm giving you one. These players are the under the radar names most likely to be on the tip of everybody's tongue come winter (in no particular order).
David Wilson, RB Virginia Tech
It certainly makes it easy for a player to gain more time on the field when BOTH of the guys ahead of him are suddenly gone. With Ryan Williams and Darren Evans bolting for the NFL, the Hokies RB job falls to Wilson alone.
With 619 yards on 113 carries last season (5.5 ypc) and another 234 yards receiving, Wilson has already proved that he can get it done. Then he went out and lit up Virginia Tech training camp, tearing through the defense in the first three scrimmages.
Fast and strong, Wilson is in for a huge year. Don't believe me? Check out the highlights:
Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
It's hard to say somebody is going to break out when they've already thrown for over 6,000 yards and 40 TDs, but the injury bug has bit Griffin before his early opportunities to truly break out on the national stage.
Playing at Baylor doesn't help get you noticed, but his numbers last season have certainly piqued people's interest. A personal favorite for a couple of years, Griffin threw for 3,500 yards and 22 TDs and rushed for a additional 635 yards and 8 TDs.
With all the national spotlight shined on guys like Cam Newton, Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez, Griffin has been lost in the shuffle of dual-threat QBs.
EJ Manuel, QB Florida State
Manuel has seen the field sporadically in his college career, backing up oft-injured Christian Ponder. Showing impressive athleticism and great size, (6'5" 245) Manuel has shown flashes despite inconsistencies that can be expected from such infrequent play.
Completing 70 percent of his passes in relief last season, he led the Seminoles to an impressive bowl win over South Carolina, going 11-15 for 84 yards and a TD and rushing for an additional 46 yards. With Florida State returning most of their offensive playmakers, this should be an offense that will put up a lot of points and give Manuel plenty of chances to shine and show that he is fully acclimated.
Montee Ball, RB Wisconsin
Wisconsin likes to run the football. That is something that even a casual college football fan can tell you. They consistently produce stud offensive lineman and their running backs routinely see crater-sized holes upon taking the hand-off. With John Clay gone, the Badgers backfield will be a two-headed monster. While many people assume that James White will take over feature-back duties, I look for Montee Ball to emerge as the true star.
5'11" 210 pounds, Ball has impressive lower body strength to match his burst through the line. It's hard for somebody to build on 996 yards and 18 TDs, but with Russell Wilson putting pressure on opposing secondaries, I look for Ball to put up some other-wordly numbers this season and vault himself into Heisman consideration.
Mohamed Sanu, WR Rutgers
It's been hard for many people to get noticed in the post-Ray Rice era at Rutgers, but Sanu is likely going to break that trend. After putting up 639 yards receiving, 346 yards rushing and 8 total TDs in his freshman campaign, he suffered through some injuries that hampered his productivity. Now finally healthy, Sanu looks to get back on track.
At 6'2" 210 pounds, Sanu has great burst and run after the catch ability, but he is also strong in the air and has impressive body control. As Rutgers looks to improve in the Big East, they're going to call Sanu's name a lot, so you'll have plenty of chances to familiarize yourself with it.
Bruce Irvin, DE West Virginia
It's not often that a guy who is second in the nation in sacks flies under the radar. But such is the case for Irvin, who was only used in passing situations by the Mountaineers last season. He recorded 21 total tackles, 14 of which were sacks, placing him third on West Virginia's single season record list.
Now a senior, Irvin has improved his overall game enough to be a three down defender on the outside. With his burst and closing ability, it wouldn't be a surprise to see his sack numbers increase yet again and for his name be among the top pass rushers in the nation heading into the draft.
Roy Finch, RB Oklahoma
Another new starting RB on a dynamic offense, Finch is in for a huge season. With opposing defenses focusing so much on stopping Landry Jones, Finch should have plenty of room to run as DeMarco Murray did before him.
5'8" 180 pounds, Finch has incredible lower body strength that allows him to break any tackles that he doesn't avoid beforehand. Despite missing 5 games with an ankle fracture last year he showed true explosiveness, leaving you to wonder what he could do with a full healthy year.
Jacob Fahrenkrug, C Florida State
Rodney Hudson is gone, but the Florida State offense is set for a major production increase this year. With most of their playmakers back and solid prospects along the line including Andrew Datko, Fahrenkrug is about to be a known name on a top offense.
The 6'3" 315 pound center was the top JUCO prospect in the country before signing with Florida State. A former 400 pound self-described "couch potato," Fahrenkrug has a tremendous work ethic and has found his competitive fire in football. He's strong at the point of attack and plays with a mean streak.
A dominant lineman on an explosive offense is always a name to know.
Mike Glennon, QB NC State
Many people were shocked when former NC State QB Russell Wilson was allowed to transfer to Wisconsin. One of the top QB prospects in the country, Wilson was a real asset for the Wolfpack. But the coaches knew something that most of the nation didn't: Mike Glennon is for real.
After being the No. 3 ranked QB in his HS class, Glennon spent his entire career behind Wilson. 6'6" 230 pounds, Glennon has tremendous size, a smooth delivery and a strong arm. Although he's only 33 for 52 in his college career, Glennon has already earned the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
For some guys, all they need is an opportunity.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
DeAndre Hopkins was a big time recruit for Clemson before the 2010 season. A 6'2" 195 pound receiver, Hopkins showed immediately that he could be an asset. With 51 catches for 626 yards and 4 TDs as a true freshman, Hopkins is on the verge of exploding during his sophomore season.
With the promise surrounding Tahj Boyd starting at QB for the Tigers and the hiring of offensive coordinator Chad Morris (who installed a dynamic offense at Tulsa), Hopkins' numbers figure to improve drastically.
Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
The Tar Heels have produced a lot of well known defenders over the last couple of seasons. Some, like Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn, have become famous for off-field exploits. Others like Da'Norris Searcy and Kendric Burney have proved that the Heels have some serious talent on the field as well. Paige-Moss is another one in that line.
In 2010, he finished with 49 tackles, 13.5 TFLs and seven sacks. Ten of those tackles for a loss came at the end of the season, showing that he was just getting started.
Normally those numbers would put anybody in the middle of media attention, but with so many talented playmakers on that defense, like probable top five pick Quinton Coples, Paige-Moss tends to get lost in the shuffle. That won't happen for long.
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
Everybody who watches college football knows how dynamic Oregon's offense is. They put up record-breaking numbers en route to the national championship game. Even though many of the top targets have moved on the scheme and pace figure to stay the same, meaning the numbers will stay the same, somebody else just needs to fill the void.
Enter Josh Huff. The lone true freshman on last years offense, Huff was second on the team with 1,086 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns. Most of his damage was done in the return game last year, but with a 4.6 40, a 31.5 inch vertical leap and a bench press of over 300 pounds, Huff has the strength and speed to be a real playmaker on the Ducks wide open offense.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
A one-time basketball recruit, the 6'8" Osweiler was a back-up for much of last season on a rapidly improving Sun Devils offense. Not appearing in many games during his college career, Osweiler has really impressed in training camp.
During the last scrimmage, he went 10-15 for 137 yards and a TD. He showed great poise, a strong arm and great leadership of the offense. With Arizona State on the precipice of becoming a real contender in the Pac-12, Osweiler could make a big splash by taking the reins of a high-octane offense.
John Simon, DT, Ohio State
Ohio State is another team in turmoil that is known for its tenacious defense. Playing with a real mean streak, the Buckeyes generally have a couple of players that really stand out during the course of the season. With Cameron Heyward gone, that spotlight on the defensive line is up for grabs.
Many people in Ohio think that Simon is the next in line. Known as a "freak" by some local media outlets, the 6'2" 270-pound Simon has been written up in fitness magazines as one of the top ten strongest players in the nation. He benches 450, squats 700, has a 30 inch vertical, runs a 4.8 40 and is known as the hardest worker on the Buckeye team. Now that he has his opportunity, it's not likely that he'll let it slip.
Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
Claiborne saw a lot of action last season with teams shying away from Patrick Peterson. Although he had five INTs, six passes defended and 37 tackles, nobody knew his name with Peterson on the other side.
He's likely to see less action this season with Peterson gone, but he's a talented playmaker and has a chance to be a star with the spotlight now looking for another person to shine on.