Actual college football games are taking place this week!
And while National Signing Day 2012 seems like ages ago, thousands of freshmen (and redshirt freshman) will take their first steps onto the hallowed grounds of stadiums all over the nation this weekend. Most won't even dress for the varsity squad this season and many won't ever play. But a select few uber-recruits will have the chance to make an immediate impact on the college football landscape.
This week, teams around the nation will move from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.
We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.
Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.
Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was expected to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft but made a surprising decision to return back to South Bend for one more year. Te'o is one of college football's top players and should lead a tough Notre Dame rush defense. Not far behind Te'o is Georgia's Jarvis Jones. The USC transfer was an impact player for the Bulldogs last season, recording 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. After Jones, some of the top returning linebackers include Stanford's Shayne Skov and Penn State's Gerald Hodges.
Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial to claiming college football's national championship. The SEC has claimed six consecutive national titles, so it should come as no surprise this conference has some of the top defensive linemen. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is in for a monster sophomore season, while LSU's Sam Montgomery will make a run at first-team All-American honors. The SEC is represented in the defensive tackles, as four of the top 10 reside from the conference.
Anyone who follows college football knows the Alabama vs. Michigan opener will be one of the most important games of the college football season, encompassing Alabama’s bid to repeat as national champion, Denard Robinson’s Heisman Trophy campaign and more.
Playing on the offensive line is one of the least glamorous positions on the field. However, the players in the trenches are some of the most important, as the offense can't move the ball with a line that struggles to block. The 2012 college football season has plenty of talented linemen ready to challenge for All-American honors, led by Alabama's Barrett Jones. The senior is switching from left tackle to center but is expected to have another standout year.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 are two of college football's top conferences for offense, so it's no surprise that eight of the top 10 receivers hail from those two leagues. USC's Robert Woods is coming off a stellar sophomore season and can only get better in 2012, especially if he is 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games of the year but will be one of college football's top receivers by the end of 2012.
The tight end position has been lacking in recent years, but there's a good crop of players ready to emerge in 2012. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert ranks as Athlon's No. 1 tight end for this season, while Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins will only get better after a solid freshman campaign in 2011. Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz are two players who should easily surpass last year's totals, while non-BCS standouts Jack Doyle, Ryan Otten and Gavin Escobar should not be overlooked.