Tomorrow’s All-Americans Today
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The rules for this team: all players are second or third-year guys -- no incoming freshmen or JUCOs -- set to start for the first time this year, or otherwise to contribute heavily after a redshirt year or a season (or two) as a backup. No one on the team was feted with awards or freshman all-America notices, and none has more than five career starts; many have none. Because they weren’t instant impact beasts, you won’t find many of these guys near the top of the preseason position lists, but you should expect to be well-acquainted with all of them by this time next year.
If your team’s budding star was left off, it’s probably because we know too much about him already. And what’s the fun in that?
QB: Nate Costa Oregon
The easy pick might be Tyrod Taylor, one of the few young, new starters we’ve actually seen a bit of, but Taylor -- like Kevin Riley at Cal -- is not assured of beating out an entrenched veteran. Costa is not assured of his job, either, with Sun Bowl hero Justin Roper vying for the spot, but given the handwringing and "if only" laments by Duck partisans who wonder if the team might have avoided collapse with Costa in the lineup (he was out for the year with an ACL tear) after Dennis Dixon went down at Arizona, he must be the favorite. Costa definitely has the size (6-1, 220), and allegedly has the athleticism to run the entire Duck offense in a way the more pocket-bound Roper (or, say, Brady Leaf) can’t. He’ll follow a solid string of successful quarterbacks at Oregon (Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kellen Clemens, Dennis Dixon) and, for a third year guy, has too much remaining talent around him to hide behind any claim of "rebuilding."
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Honorable Mention: Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), Kodi Burns (Auburn), Jevan Snead (Ole Miss), Steven Threet (Michigan), Josh Nesbitt (Georgia Tech), Kevin Riley (California)
With Dwyer, get used to hanging on for dear life.
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RB: Jonathan Dwyer Georgia Tech
Most places, especially in the ACC, Dwyer would be ineligible for this list because he would have moved right into a starting role as a true freshman; at Georgia Tech, he was stuck behind workhorse Tashard Choice, didn’t start a game and only logged 82 carries. But he was impressive on those runs (5.3 per carry) and will get many, many more opportunities in Paul Johnson’s offense, wherein Dwyer is projected as a "B-Back," or fullback, which takes a huge share of the snaps right up the gut; if Johnson’s lumbering fullbacks at Navy could consistently average five yards on straight-ahead option dives, as they did each of the last four years, Dwyer will be a frequent terror on the second level.
RB: Jahvid Best California
Best was about as hyped but touched the ball even less than Dwyer as a true freshman -- just 28 carries before he was hurt in the tenth game -- but like Dwyer, he made the most of his chances, ripping off a 34-yarder in his first game, against Tennessee, and a 64-yard touchdown against Colorado State the next week, good for a 7.6 average. Marshawn Lynch did about the same off the bench as a freshman, as did Justin Forsett after him, and both went on to boffo seasons as the full-time starter; Best is a track guy and, unless he’s hurt again, a lock to become Jeff Tedford’s seventh straight 1,000-yard back in seven years.
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Honorable Mention: Chris Rainey (Florida), Greg Little (North Carolina), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Caleb King (Georgia)
WR: Deonte Thompson Florida
There was no reason to burn Thompson’s redshirt with the absurdity of receiving depth bestowed upon the Tebow Child, but Deonte was widely regarded as one of the six or eight best incoming receivers in the country last year, and allegedly measures in the upper reaches of the Harvin/Rainey Scale, speed-wise. The transfer talk is apparently behind him, and many soft, fluffy, perfectly-placed, satin-seamed touchdown balls to the front.
WR: Ronald Johnson Southern Cal
RoJo was about as high profile as a cornerback recruit can be, but his freshman contribution was limited to seven mostly short, unexciting catches and most of the kick-returning duties. But he took two of those -- one against Stanford, for a touchdown, and later at Arizona State -- for 47 and 33 yards. SC needs more consistency from its receivers, and Johnson is the best bet to emerge as the reliable deep threat in a group of mostly bigger, possession-type guys.
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Honorable Mention: Terrance Toliver (LSU), Damien Williams (Southern Cal), LaTerryal Savoy (Michigan)
Johnson: If all else fails, at least he’s got a nice fan site.
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TE: Andrew Szczerba Penn State
It’s way too far out to mean anything, especially among a group of players who haven’t played a snap, but Szczerba is the early favorite among tight ends in the 2012 Draft, and he received unanimously rave reviews for hauling in five passes in the Blue-White game. With trouble magnet Andrew Quarless in front of him, Szczerba is always just one DUI or impromptu club brawl away from his big break.
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Honorable Mention: Aaron Hernandez (Florida), Zach Pianalto (North Carolina)
OT: Blake DeChristopher Virginia Tech
Redshirted last year, but moves into the Hokies’ right tackle spot with the scouts’ full attention.
OT: Kyle Hix Texas
Teammate Tray Allen may have a brighter future in the long-term, but he’s still projected behind Hix on this fall’s depth chart. Hix played in every game as a true freshman and pulled his first start in the Holiday Bowl, which, considering the competition, also happened to be the Horns’ best offensive effort of the year.
OG: Bryan Bulaga Iowa
‘Scuse me while I whip out a PS# -- for Bulaga, it was PS#5 among incoming linemen last year (sixth by Rivals), and he wound up starting the last five games on the Hawkeyes’ train wreck of a line. He didn’t singlehandedly right a foundering ship (Jake Christensen was sacked 19 times in those five games), but it set a groundwork for the expected sophomore leap.
OG: Joseph Barksdale LSU
Hyped defensive tackle recruit earned plenty of time at guard as a true freshman -- no small feat on the Tigers’ line -- and looks like he’s going to settle in at right tackle for the next three years.
C: Kris O’Dowd Southern Cal
A top-rated, five-star guard, who immediately moved into the lineup as a stopgap when senior Matt Spanos went down at midseason. His three starts qualify him as one of the old men of this year’s line, since only one other lineman (guard Jeff Byers, who could have made this list three years in a row beginning in 2005) has more.
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Honorable Mention: Butch Lewis (Southern Cal), J’Marcus Webb (Arizona, nee Texas), John Moffitt (Wisconsin), Orlando Franklin (Miami)