It's time to prepare for the college football season. With that, we bring you some players that we're high on, and some who may not prove as valuable in 2012.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – After a rough start to his freshman campaign, which included splitting time with Joe Bauserman, Miller seized the starting quarterback role with three 100-yard rushing outputs in his last four regular-season games for the Buckeyes. Miller matured as a passer as the season wore on too, completing 14-of-25 passes for 235 yards and two scores at Michigan, while going 18-of-23 for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Gator Bowl. With coach Urban Meyer stepping into the fold, Miller should be the focal point of the OSU offense in what should be a Tim Tebow-like attack. Expect big numbers from Miller in 2012.
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee – Bray had a torrid start to his sophomore campaign, posting a 14:2 TD:INT ratio through the first four games of the 2011 season and passing for 1,328 yards over that span. However, a thumb injury sidelined him for five contests, and Bray was subpar in his final two contests of the season. He should be healthy for 2012 and have two of the nation's better wideouts at his disposal in Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. With that type of talent surrounding him, Bray could even be a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas – Davis missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, and the Razorbacks focused on the passing game as a result. With a bevy of wideouts graduating or heading pro, expect Arkansas to get back to the ground-and-pound with Davis. The bruising 6-foot-1, 226, back averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his last season in 2010 en route to 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. This included 100-yard outbursts against defenses like LSU and South Carolina. Don't forget about Davis come draft day.
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh – Graham was among the best backs in the land last season before tearing his ACL on Oct. 26 against Connecticut. It remains to be seen whether Graham will be fully healthy come Pitt's first contest, but the 5-9, 195-pounder has the potential to be an extremely productive back once again. He rushed for 958 yards and nine touchdowns in just eight games before the injury. Graham has also proven capable of catching passes out of the backfield, with 30 receptions over that span in 2011 as well. All in all, Graham could be worth the risk, even if he is working his way back to health during the first couple of games of the season.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina – Lattimore is another injury risk/reward running back. He for 818 yards and 10 scores in seven games last year before suffering an ACL injury. An absolute beast as a freshman, Lattimore should continue to grow as an all-purpose back, as long as he proves healthy when the season begins for coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.
D.J. Harper, RB, Boise State – Stud back Doug Martin is gone, and so is quarterback Kellen Moore. Harper has torn his ACL twice in his collegiate career, but he was healthy for the entire 2011 campaign. He posted a career-high 115 carries for 557 yards and nine touchdowns last year, despite playing second-fiddle to the aforementioned Martin. With the prolific passing attack likely a thing of the past, expect the Broncos to rely more heavily on the running game. Harper should be the chief beneficiary in this change of philosophy.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia – Crowell started his college career with a bang, producing three 100-yard outputs in his first five contests. He sputtered from there, though, battling injuries and maturity issues in compiling just one 100-yard contest in Georgia's last nine games. Crowell should be healthy heading into the 2012 campaign, and Georgia coaches have praised his newfound work ethic and attitude adjustment. Ken Malcome had a strong spring, and the entry of five-star recruit Keith Marshall may complicate matters as well. Nevertheless, Crowell should rise to the top and lead the Bulldogs' running game.
Randy "Duke" Johnson, RB, Miami – Mr. Football in the state of Florida for 2011, Johnson is a dynamic rusher with dazzling moves in the open field and a nose for the end zone. 1,000-yard back Lamar Miller took his talents to the Miami Dolphins, leaving a void in the Hurricanes backfield. Expect Johnson to eventually fill that slot, as incumbent Mike James is not a workhorse, and backup Eduardo Clements spent time at cornerback last season. Johnson is simply too talented to keep off the field, and coach Al Golden will come to this realization sooner rather than later.
Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M – The only question for the Texas A&M wide receivers is who will throw them the ball come opening day. Nwachukwu will start opposite Ryan Swope, who surpassed 1,000 yards in 2011 with Ryan Tannehill under center. Tannehill is gone, but former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin has taken over the reins of the Aggies offense, and with him an even higher octane spread attack. Nwachukwu has been decent, if unspectacular, for Texas A&M throughout his first three years at College Station. He appears poised for a breakout season with a new offense and Jeff Fuller in the NFL.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State – Cooks tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with three in 2011, and should now benefit from the rapport developed with Sean Mannion. The departure of the versatile James Rodgers to the NFL should also help his cause, as will the added attention to Markus Wheaton on the opposite side. Wheaton caught 73 balls for 986 yards last season. However, Wheaton found the end zone just once in 2011, giving a wideout like the slippery Cooks a chance to make explosive plays in finding the promised land.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech – Due to his size, Thomas has been compared to Cam Newton. However, Thomas is not the passer nor runner that Newton was in college. In his first full year as starter, Thomas passed for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns, but he also tossed 10 interceptions and completed less than 60 percent of his passes. On the ground, he scored 11 touchdowns and totaled 469 yards, but he averaged just 3.1 yards per rush. Thomas also lost nearly all of his skill players to the NFL, from running back David Wilson to wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. All of the pressure will be on Thomas's broad shoulders this season, and it might prove difficult to develop a rapport with a new cast of characters right off the bat.
Nate Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois – Scheelhaase lost his top target in A.J. Jenkins to the NFL, and the Illini struggled to score points even with the tandem on the field in 2011. Scheelhaase completed 63.2 percent of his passes last season, but averaged just 7.3 yards per completion. He also posted a 13:8 TD:INT ratio. A dynamic runner, Scheelhaase's ground game helps his cause, as he rushed for 624 yards and six touchdowns. Nevertheless, with the focus squarely on him, Scheelhaase will have to deliver game in and game out while being the focal point of a bumbling offense in a mammoth Big Ten conference.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas – Wilson will have to make due without his top two receivers from 2011, as well as his coach Bobby Petrino following the scandal that rocked Razorback nation. With such turnover and turmoil, it is difficult to envision Wilson repeating his 2011 statistics, in which he passed for 3,638 yards while posting a 24:6 TD:INT ratio. As with Knile Davis, expect somewhat of a return to the ground game. That's not to say Wilson won't be effective, but his numbers just won't approach those from last season.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State – Most pundits are high on Manuel due to his size, arm strength and interception-less streak heading into 2012. Manuel, though, has been inconsistent with unreached potential. If you throw out his first two games from 2011, which came against cupcakes Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston-Southern, Manuel compiled a 12:6 TD:INT ratio while throwing for little more than 2,000 yards in 2011. While possessing plenty of athleticism, he didn't prove an extremely effective runner with just 151 yards on the ground last season. Granted, it was his first season as a true starter, so he deserves some slack. However, it remains to be seen whether Manuel can tap into those raw tools and make himself into a dominant quarterback.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford – Taylor has been an absolute beast the last two seasons for the Cardinal. He has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of those seasons while posting double-digit touchdowns. However, teams could not afford to stack the box against him with Andrew Luck at the helm of the Stanford offense. With the best NFL prospect in years now in the NFL, Taylor is going to see more eight- or nine-man fronts, which doesn't bode well. He's still a solid rusher, but he might not have quite as much success as fantasy owners expect.
Giovani Bernard, RB, UNC – A coaching change looms in North Carolina for 2012, with former Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora taking over the helm for the Tar Heels. Bernard had seven 100-yard games in 2011, but Fedora has used running backs-by-committee in the past at USM, casting some doubt over whether he will be comfortable riding one horse in Bernard. The 5-10, 205-pounder averaged 5.2 yards per rush en route to 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. Bernard could still be a stud, but be aware that the new coaching staff could have other plans on how to utilize him.
Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt – Stacy exploded in 2011 for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging a robust 5.9 yards per carry. However, this was largely due to the absence of Warren Norman, who missed all of 2011 due to injury. Norman is back for 2012, and a timeshare could loom for the Commodores. When healthy, it was Norman who received more carries than Stacy between 2009 and 2010. Monitor the situation, but this could be a frustrating platoon for fantasy owners in 2012.
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame – The move of wideout Theo Riddick into the backfield could spell trouble for Wood, who managed 1,102 yards rushing and nine touchdowns in 2011. Likewise, his stats trended downward after a hot start, as Wood failed to garner 100 yards rushing in each of the last eight games for the Irish. Coach Brian Kelly would love to show off a pass-happy offense as well, making Wood a risky pick as a featured back.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia – Bailey was poised for a breakout season in 2011, and he delivered in new coach Dana Holgersen's high-octane spread offense. Geno Smith returns at quarterback, as does Tavon Austin as a dynamic, all-purpose playmaker. So why the downgrade for Bailey? He is no longer a surprise. Teams will now gameplan to stop Bailey, instead of Tavon Austin as was done last season. Bailey still should have plenty of balls thrown his way, but a season of 72 grabs for 1,279 yards and 12 scores is likely not in the cards. Coupled with his expected draft position, he's not likely to
return the value fantasy owners are seeking.
Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State – Moore has been touted as the successor to Justin Blackmon, the next great wideout in a line of succession that includes Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant. However, the departure of Brandon Weeden to the NFL will be a huge change for the Cowboys, as true freshman Wes Lunt will start the opener for OSU. The Cowboys will not change schemes due to the introduction of a neophyte quarterback, but one must expect growing pains. At 6-1, 233, Moore is actually bigger than Blackmon and has been a deep threat in the offense. It will be interesting to see if Moore can handle the added attention, though.