Predicting College Football's 10 Best in Every Class for 2012
Clemson's Sammy Watkins was a breakout star in his first year with the Tigers.
You could make an argument that he was the most exciting player on the field all season.
So who will be next year's Sammy Watkins? Could it be Dorial Green-Beckham?
Now think about every class, and who will be the stars from each one?
One thing is for sure, Watkins is definitely a lock for the sophomore class.
These guys haven't even played a down of college football, but if you look at potential there's some talented players entering next season.
Predicting success with this group is a challenge as some of these guys may not play much in their first season.
Keith Marshall, RB
Keith Marshall is one of the nation's top running back prospects and he has committed to Georgia.
Now the Bulldogs return Isaiah Crowell in the backfield, but considering Crowell missed time for injuries and a suspension, Marshall could see more time on the field than anyone expects.
The five-star product grew up a Georgia fan, and will add to the depth in the backfield.
Arik Armstead, OL
The blue chip offensive and defensive lineman has not committed to a program yet, but the California native may get a big push from USC and UCLA to stay close to home.
It takes a lot for a lineman to crack the starting line up in their first season, but Armstead's athletic ability may make it tough to keep him off the field.
Trey Williams, RB
Trey Williams is only 5'8", but he runs a 4.37 40 and he could make an immediate impact at Texas A&M.
He'll also fit in nicely with Kevin Sumlin's spread offense.
Gunner Kiel, QB
Gunner Kiel is considered the top quarterback prospect by most recruiting services.
If he had stuck with his initial commitment to Indiana, he probably would have started in 2012.
Now it will be interesting to see where he winds up in the fall.
It appears he may be leaning toward Notre Dame.
Adolphus Washington, DE
The 6'4", 260-pound defensive end committed to Ohio State around the same time Urban Meyer was being rumored as the next coach.
However, Washington has been a lifelong fan of the Buckeyes so Meyer had little influence over his decision.
Ohio State's defense let it down a little this fall, so Washington may get a chance to earn some playing time.
John Theus, OL
Here was have another top player planning to play for Mark Richt at Georgia next year.
Just more proof why Georgia was smart to stick with Richt.
Georgia's offensive line allowed quarterback Aaron Murray to get hit way too much this season.
A standout like John Theus should at least add depth to the line.
Quay Evans, DT
Quay Evans is considered the top defensive tackle prospect in this year's recruiting class.
He appears to be heading to Mississippi State and with his size and talent, it would not be a surprise to see Evans have a huge impact in 2012.
Johnathan Gray, RB
Texas already has Malcolm Brown at running back, as well as a few other talented runners.
But with Johnathan Gray possibly in the mix, Mack Brown may have to give this speedy back a serious look in 2012.
Ronald Darby, CB
Notre Dame should be getting a blazing corner, who could make an impact on special teams as well.
Ronald Darby is exactly what you would want in a shutdown corner, especially when you look at his confidence.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR
Dorial Green-Beckham is often compared to former Alabama standout receiver Julio Jones.
While the star receiver has not committed to anyone yet, don't be surprised if he doesn't wind up at either Alabama or Auburn.
This group is made up of those who played as true freshmen, and others who played as red-shirt freshmen.
It's a small difference, but one that needs to be clarified.
We're still talking 18-to-20-year olds.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Ohio State's Braxton Miller played more than anyone initially expected, but he was called on to lead the offense when it became evident that Joe Bauserman couldn't complete a pass.
Miller gained some valuable experience and will grown into a superstar under the tutelage of Urban Meyer.
While the Buckeyes limped to a 6-6 season, it was easy to see they have an athletic specimen in Miller.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
There wasn't a more exciting freshman this season than Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
When he touches the ball you better be watching because he just may pull off something spectacular.
Watkins has been named to virtually every All-America team, and deservedly so.
He finished the season with 78 catches for 1,159 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He also made a name for himself returning kicks.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Giovani Bernard had a breakout season, but it sort of went under the radar outside of the ACC.
Bernard rushed for 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Tar Heels 7-5.
With Larry Fedora coming to Chapel Hill, N.C., to coach the Tar Heels, Bernard should excel in his spread offense.
Jadevon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There wasn't a higher-profile recruit last season than Jadevon Clowney, and the South Carolina prep star didn't disappoint.
The 6'6", 245-pound defensive end had six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss as the Gamecocks went 10-2.
He began his career with seven tackles against East Carolina in the opener.
Expectations will be even higher next season, and there is no reason to believe Clowney won't deliver.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater was a great catch for Louisville coach Charlie Strong, as he was originally committed to Miami.
Bridgewater was expected to be Will Stein's back-up all season, but when it became clear the Cardinals weren't going anywhere with Stein it was time for Bridgewater to take over.
He struggled early, but as the season played out he started to shine.
Louisville's entire team should be better in 2012 and that will start with Bridgewater.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia
Isaiah Crowell was the top offensive freshman in the SEC this fall, but he missed time because of injuries and suspension.
He rushed for 847 yards and would have likely reached 1,000 if not for missing playing time.
An offseason of workouts and maturing will make Crowell an even bigger impact performer next season.
Brad Wing, P, LSU
That's right, a punter.
Brad Wing is a difference maker for LSU.
He flips the field position and he was the best punter in the nation as a freshman.
So he's one of the best in the nation and he deserves a spot in the top 10 sophomores.
Tevin McDonald, DB, UCLA
Instead of following other family members to USC, Tevin McDonald chose another path.
The 6'0", 195-pounder is a solid cover man and a big hitter.
Not much went well for the Bruins this season, but McDonald should be the foundation for what new coach Jim Mora Jr. hopes to build.
AJ Cann, OL, South Carolina
The behemoth AJ Cann has the potential to be a future All-American, and he will anchor the offensive line the next two seasons.
With Marcus Lattimore scheduled to be back in the fall, Cann will be the Gamecocks top lineman.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
While Robert Woods got most of the headlines, along with quarterback Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee was putting together one fine season.
He had 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lee and Woods should make a talented duo again in 2012.
Next year's junior class is loaded with talent, and narrowing it down to 10 is not easy.
It's fair to say many of these players won't be back for their senior season as the lure of millions from the NFL will be too much.
So you better enjoy watching these guys play next season.
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones is actually a draft-eligible sophomore, but the Georgia linebacker has said he plans to return for at least one more season in Athens.
That's great news for Mark Richt, who should have a top 10 team next year.
Jones transferred from USC to Georgia and was moved to outside linebacker before the 2011 season. He responded with 13.5 sacks.
He has appeared on almost every All-American squad since the regular season ended.
Next season he will likely draw more attention from opposing offenses, but he will still be a force.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Robert Woods caught everyone's attention with 17-reception, 177-yard performance in USC's opener against Minnesota.
His production continued all season as he reached 111 catches, 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The All-American receiver would benefit from Matt Barkley returning for his final season, but that's pretty unlikely.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Expectations were high for Aaron Murray this season, and the talented quarterback delivered for Georgia.
He led the Bulldogs to a 10-3 season and a spot in the SEC championship game.
Next year, he will be asked to win an SEC title.
Georgia returns a ton of talent next, but none more important than Murray.
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Tyrann Mathieu earned a reputation as a ferocious player this season, and he backs it up on almost every play.
He was a Heisman finalist and is easily one of the best defensive players in the country.
Mathieu adds another dimension to his game as a return specialist.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
On a defense loaded with star players, Sam Montgomery was considered a leader on the unit.
The 6'4", 245-pounder is a physical freak and he wreaked havoc on quarterbacks and running backs all season.
He had nine sacks and 13 tackles for a loss in 2011.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State
The elusive Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns this season in earning first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors for a second straight year.
Hillman is easily the best running back at San Diego State since Marshall Faulk, and if you haven't seen him play yet make sure to tune into the New Orleans Bowl at 9 p.m., Dec. 17.
If Hillman has another huge season in 2012 it will probably be his last with the Aztecs.
David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
David Amerson had a breakout season, which culminated with the Jack Tatum Award.
He led the nation with 11 interceptions, including one return for a touchdown.
Don't be shocked if Amerson's numbers drop in 2012 as quarterbacks stop throwing his way, but that won't mean he isn't a top corner.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
Most West Virginia fans would expect to see the speedy Tavon Austin in this spot.
But Stedman Bailey is Geno Smith's go-to guy, and he made some of the biggest catches of the season for the Mountaineers.
He grabbed 67 passes for 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns.
WVU spreads the ball around a lot, so Bailey may never get to 100 receptions in a season.
Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn
Michael Dyer was a top recruit coming out of high school and he's been a steady contributor for Auburn the past two years.
He was recently suspended for undisclosed reasons, but we all know he'll be reinstated before next season.
The tough-running Dyer totaled 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and was easily one of the most-consistent performers for Auburn.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Entering the season, Clemson wasn't sure if Tajh Boyd was ever going to be consistent enough to be a star quarterback.
Wow, did he show everyone how good he is.
Boyd guided the Tigers to an ACC championship and their first appearance in the Orange Bowl since 1982.
He also threw for 3,578 yards and 31 touchdowns.
It's dangerous trying to pick the senior class because it's not 100 percent clear which juniors will declare for the NFL and which ones will return.
For example, Andrew Luck and LaMichael James will not make the list because everyone assumes those two will head off to the NFL.
It's also hard to predict if players like Arkansas running back Knile Davis will return to form. If he does, then Davis is a top 10 performer.
So if you don't see your guy, it may be because I'm assuming he's turning pro. There could be some on this list that decide to leave, but that's the risk of doing this.
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Denard Robinson remains one of the game's most exciting players, and if he improves his throwing accuracy the Michigan quarterback could win the Heisman in 2012.
Watching him gash through defenses with his feet is like watching an artist at work.
Robinson has grown up over the past few years and getting to see him play one final season for the Wolverines should be special.
Enjoy Michigan, enjoy what you have.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
When Manti Te'o announced he would return for his final season in South Bend, you could almost hear a collective sigh by all Irish fans.
Of course, Brian Kelly was also pumped about the news.
Te'o has lived up to they hype coming out of high school and he is a defensive leader for the Irish.
You have to imagine he'd like to lead Notre Dame to a BCS bowl game in 2012.
Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State's defense doesn't frighten many opponents, but corner Brodrick Brown has become a shutdown corner for the Cowboys.
Brown had five interceptions and was named to almost every All-American team this season.
There's a chance he might declare for the NFL, but we'll roll the dice that he returns in 2012.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Chris Polk may also decide to bolt for the NFL, but he could really use one more year in Seattle.
He's close to surpassing Napoleon Kaufman's 4,106 career rushing yards, which is tops for Washington.
Polk has rushed for 3,902 yards as Washington prepares for Baylor and the Alamo Bowl.
Eric Page, WR, Toledo
Eric Page is not only Toledo's best receiver, he's also one of the nation's most dangerous special teams players.
When defenses prepare to play the Rockets they have to game plan for Page.
He's a small receiver, but his speed and toughness make him something special.
Omoregie Uzzi, OL, Georgia Tech
Omoregie Uzzi was a star on Georgia Tech's offensive line as the Yellow Jackets rolled up some huge rushing performances this season.
He's physical and athletic, but Uzzi could really use one more year of seasoning before heading off to the NFL.
If he will return for one more season under Paul Johnson, Uzzi could be a lock for the first round.
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
At the beginning of the season there may not have been a person outside of Manhattan, Kan., who had ever heard of Collin Klein.
But his meteoric rise from unknown to the star quarterback who led Kansas State to a 10-2 regular season has made him more of a household name.
At 6'5", Klein is a big and imposing quarterback who loves to run it as much as he throws it.
He currently has 1,745 passing yards and 1,099 rushing yards.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Tyler Wilson helped Bobby Petrino and everyone else involved with the Arkansas football program forget how tough the loss of Ryan Mallett could have been.
Wilson is accurate, tough and is a good leader.
He will likely enter 2012 as one of a handful Heisman favorites.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Knile Davis missed all of 2011 because of an ankle injury he suffered in the preseason.
But Davis is expected to be back at 100 percent come fall, and the tough and speedy back has proven in the past that he's a force to be reckoned with.
He will also help alleviate the pressure off of quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith had a breakout season in Dana Holgorsen's offense as he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and led the Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl.
Imagine how much better he'll be next year when he understands the offense much better.
It also helps that he has all of his receivers and running backs returning in 2012.