Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the college football season with a look at the top 40 players for 2011 in the Pac-12.
Several factors worked into the criteria for developing the 40 players:
Previous production was weighed, but a heavy emphasis was placed on what we expect will happen in 2011.
In addition to just how good we think a player is, we weighed what impact he will have on his team’s success?
Positional importance – although running backs always produce the stats, we gave linemen a bump in our rankings to show how valuable they are to the team.
Pro potential – how highly-regarded is the player by NFL Draft standards?
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (JR)
2010 stats: 3,338 yards, 32 TD, 8 INT, 453 rush yards, 3 TD
Luck was the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-10 a season ago with a 170.16 QB rating – good for third nationally. He led the team to its first BCS Bowl victory when he ripped apart the ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies 40-12 in the Orange Bowl. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Basically, the only thing Luck could have done better in 2010 was tackle LaMichael James, who rushed for 257 yards in the Cardinal’s only loss of the season. Luck was slated to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft had he decided to come out last spring. But the best amateur football player in the nation is returning to Palo Alto to complete some unfinished business.
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (JR)
2010 stats: 1,731 yds., 21 TDs, 17 rec., 208 yds., 3 TDs
James solidified his place as one of the top players in college football last year, finishing third in Heisman voting and setting an Oregon single-season record with 1,731 rushing yards. He collected numerous accolades last season, which included the Doak Walker Award (college football’s top running back) and first-team All-American and All-Pac-10 honors. James is not the biggest running back in college football, but he was a workhorse for Oregon, posting eight games of at least 25 carries. He rushed for a season-high 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-31 win over Stanford. James was held under 100 yards only twice – at California and in the national title game against Auburn.
3. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (JR)
2010 stats: 111 rec., 1,782 yds., 20 TDs
Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered passing attack transformed Blackmon from a relative unknown to one of the top players in college football last year. Blackmon caught at least one touchdown and went over 100 receiving yards in every game last year. He led the nation with 20 touchdown catches, which also ranked seventh in NCAA history. Also, Blackmon led all receivers with 148.5 receiving yards a game and posted six games of at least 10 receptions. Blackmon was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, finished fifth in Heisman voting and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football last season.
4. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 3,845 yds., 35 TDs, 6 INTs
Moore has compiled an impressive resume in his three years at Boise State. He has thrown for 10,867 yards and 99 scores, while tossing only 19 interceptions. Moore owns a 68.2 career completion percentage and enters 2011 as college football’s career leader in passing efficiency (166.7). He finished fourth in Heisman voting and earned first-team All-WAC honors last year. Moore has one more shot to lead Boise State to a national title appearance, but lost his top two receivers from last year in Titus Young and Austin Pettis. The season opener against Georgia will be a key contest for Moore’s Heisman hopes, as well as Boise State’s chances to play for a championship.
5. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska (SR)
2010 stats: 70 tackles, 17 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 10 QBH, 1 FF
Even without Ndamukong Suh by his side, Crick remained one of college football’s top defensive tackles last year. He has started 28 consecutive games, while collecting 32 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks in his career. Crick has earned first-team all-conference honors in each of the last two years and was a semifinalist for the 2010 Lombardi Award. He was a key reason why Nebraska ranked 11th in total defense and allowed only 17.4 points per game last season.
6. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (SR)
2010 stats: 131 rec., 1,622 yds., 14 TDs
Broyles returns for his senior year in Norman after a record-setting 2010 campaign. He set nine Oklahoma school records, which included most receptions in a season and career, career touchdown receptions, receptions in a game and career receiving yards. Broyles led all receivers in college football with 131 catches and tied for fourth nationally with 14 touchdown receptions. He was also a Biletnikoff finalist and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last season.
7.Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor (JR)
2010 Stats: 3,501 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT, 635 rush yards, 8 TDs
There may not be a more valuable player to his team than Robert Griffin III. RG3 finished the season sixth nationally in total offense (318.15 ypg) and led the Bears to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. It was the first non-losing season in conference play for Baylor since 1995, and Griffin helped the Bears beat in-state rival Texas for the first time in 14 years.
8. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (JR)
2010 stats: 4,718 yds., 38 TDs, 12 INTs
There were some doubts about whether or not Jones could lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title entering last season. However, Jones answered the critics with a solid 2010 season and has Oklahoma on the verge of making a run at the national title. After throwing 14 picks on 449 attempts in 2009, Jones cut his interceptions to 12 on 617 attempts last season. Jones struggled on the road as a freshman, but tossed four touchdowns and threw for 468 yards at Oklahoma State and sliced Nebraska’s secondary for 342 yards in the Big 12 title game.
9. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (SR)
2010 Stats: 4,277 yards, 34 TD, 13 INTs
Weeden blossomed into a star in his first year as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State. He quickly developed a deadly rapport with star wideout Justin Blackmon, leading the Pokes to the its first 11-win season in school history. The 11-2 record was the best in Stillwater since the Barry Sanders days of 1988.
10. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina (JR)
2010 stats: 88 rec., 1,517 yds., 9 TDs
Jeffery has emerged as one of the nation’s best receivers over the last two seasons. He posted a solid freshman year, catching 46 passes for 763 yards and six scores. He followed that up with a monster sophomore effort, leading the SEC in receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,517). Jeffery’s 88 catches tied for 13th nationally. He posted eight 100-yard games last year, including 127 against Alabama and 130 against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. At 6-foot-4, Jeffery has the size and athletic ability to be a handful for any defensive back.
11. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (SO)
2010 stats: 1,197 yards, 17 TD, 29 rec., 412 yards, 2 TD
Few running backs have ever impacted the game as a true freshman like Lattimore did in 2010. He literally carried South Carolina to victory over Georgia (37 attempts), Alabama (23), Tennessee (29) and Florida (40), while leading the Gamecocks to a SEC East title for the first time in school history. He was the unanimous choice for National Freshman of the Year.
12. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (JR)
2010 stats: 2,570 yds., 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 1,702 rush yds., 14 TDs
It’s a safe bet Robinson will be one of the most-watched players in the Big Ten this year. Michigan is shifting from a spread attack to a pro-style offense under new coordinator Al Borges. Although Robinson is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, Borges and new coach Brady Hoke wants to keep him on the field all year. Robinson missed snaps due to injuries in 10 of Michigan’s 13 contests, which is something the Wolverines cannot afford in 2011. Robinson was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in Heisman voting last season. He also became the first player in NCAA history to post at least 2,500 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a single year.
13. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (JR)
2010 stats: 700 yds., 6 TDs, 23 rec., 266 yds., 4 TDs
Richardson has spent the last two years as a backup to Mark Ingram, but he’s tallied 257 carries during that span. With Ingram suiting up for the New Orleans Saints, Richardson will takeover as Alabama’s No. 1 back. Over the last two years, Richardson has posted 1,451 yards and 14 scores. He also has 39 receptions for 392 yards and four scores. One of Richardson’s best performances came in the national title game against Texas, rushing for 109 yards and two scores.
14. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (JR)
After a freshman All-American season in 2009, Jones garnered first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American honors in 2010. In his second season at right guard, he helped lead the No. 22 ranked offense in the nation at 444.15 yards per game. He has started 25 games at right guard, but could be moved around the line this year. Jones also helped quarterback Greg McElroy post the fourth-most efficient season in the nation (168.98).
15. Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU (SR)
Reynolds enters his senior year as one of the NFL Draft's top tackle prospects. He has started every game in his BYU career and was a first-team All-Mountain West selection last year. Reynolds is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2011 and will anchor one of the nation's top 10 offensive lines.
16. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (SR)
2010 stats: 79 rec., 1,025 yds., 12 TDs
If Floyd can stay healthy and avoid off-the-field issues, he should finish 2011 as one of the top receivers in the nation. The senior is an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and will have a chance to improve upon last season's totals. Floyd is a top NFL Draft prospect and figures to be targeted heavily by quarterback Dayne Crist.
17. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame (JR)
2010 stats: 133 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
The Irish defense played well in the final four games of last season, allowing only 39 points during that stretch. Te'o has started 23 games in his career, while registering 196 total stops, two sacks and one forced fumble. Te'o is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2011 and should be one of the driving forces behind a much-improved Notre Dame defense.
18. Nate Potter, OT, Boise State (SR)
Potter enters 2011 as one of the top linemen in the nation. The senior is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American. Potter started 13 games at left tackle and earned first-team All-WAC honors last season. He also garnered first-team honors in 2009, after starting the final eight games of the year. Potter is the unquestioned leader for Boise State’s offensive line, which is one of the top units in college football. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Potter has the size and talent to be one of the first linemen selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.