Trojan playmakers, Crimson Tide big uglies, Bayou B engals defenders and a pair of Fighting Irishmen who bypassed the NFL to return to school are among college football's best and brightest
This is an article from the Aug. 20, 2012 issue
QB, SR., USC
Early Heisman favorite threw for 3,528 yards, 39 TDs and only seven INTs in 2011.
RB, SR., WISCONSIN
2011 Heisman finalist was last year's top rusher, with 1,923 yards and 33 scores.
RB, JR., SOUTH CAROLINA
A knee injury cost him half of 2011, but the workhorse is ready to be a star again.
WR, JR., USC
Barkley's favorite target should build on stellar 2011: 111 catches, 1,292 yards, 15 TDs.
WR, SOPH., CLEMSON
Two-game suspension will make it tough to top last year's 82 catches and 1,219 yards.
TE, SR., NOTRE DAME
The Irish's top returning receiver (63 catches, 803 yards) will be key for budding unit.
T, SR., WISCONSIN
Two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention made the Outland Trophy preseason watch list.
G, SR., NORTH CAROLINA
The veteran (35 starts) is a preseason Outland and Lombardi Award candidate.
C, SR., ALABAMA
Reigning Outland winner and versatile star will again anchor 'Bama's line.
G, SR., ALABAMA
Two-time national champ has started every game since his sophomore year.
T, JR., TEXAS A&M
The 6'6", 310-pound All--Big 12 force should hold up against the SEC's elite D-lines.
K, SR., OKLAHOMA STATE
Made 88% of field goals (with a long of 46) while also excelling as a punter.
P, SOPH., LSU
Average of 44.4 yards with long of 73 as a freshman made the Aussie an instant star.
DE, SOPH., SOUTH CAROLINA
SEC's top freshman had eight sacks and will now lead the Gamecocks' D.
DT, SR., PURDUE
All--Big Ten choice (54 tackles and 6½ sacks) captains the Boilermakers' defense.
DT, SR., UTAH
Pac-12's offensive linemen voted him the conference's best D-line player.
DE, JR., LSU
Returning All-America had nine sacks on a D that ranked second nationally in 2011.
LB, JR., GEORGIA
All-America and Butkus Award finalist tied for second in nation with 13½ sacks in '11.
LB, SR., NOTRE DAME
A steady force, he unexpectedly returned after dazzling with 128 tackles as a junior.
LB, SR., STANFORD
All--Pac-12 LB returns after recording 8½ sacks and five forced fumbles last year.
CB, SR., MISSISSIPPI STATE
Vet is second in Bulldogs history with 12 picks, three of which he returned for TDs.
CB, JR., NORTH CAROLINA STATE
All-America set school and ACC records with 13 INTs in 2011, second most in FBS history.
S, SR., USC
Thorpe Award and Lott Impact Trophy candidate had 67 tackles and three picks in '11.
S, JR., LSU
Big-play producer tied for team lead in tackles while creating four turnovers.
KR, SOPH., KANSAS STATE
Speedy receiver burst onto scene as a true freshman, averaging 35.2 yards per return.
ALL-PURPOSE, SOPH., OREGON
Explosive playmaker had an impact as a back, receiver and return man as a freshman.