Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Mike James isn't exactly a pushover and might remain the technical starting running back for Miami the rest of the year, but it's no secret that Johnson is the main attraction on the Hurricanes roster. He received dazzling reviews throughout the summer, and the freshman wasted no time carrying over his dominance to the regular season, torching a legitimate Boston College defense for 135 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries Saturday. This is one case where the talent of a player overrides role concerns - Johnson should probably be owned in any remotely deep format just in case he gets double-digit touches per game.
James Wilder, RB, Florida State
Wilder is in a timeshare with Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and Lonnie Pryor, but he's more athletically talented than any of them and is worth a speculative add in ACC leagues in case he tunes up the mental aspects of his game and earns a feature role with the Seminoles. He ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against Murray State on Saturday, and if he ever proves to be reliable to Florida State coaches, he could take over because he has the most upside in the Seminoles backfield.
Jarred Salubi, RB, Baylor
Although Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk had all the offseason hype, Sunday's game against SMU showed that it was actually Salubi who earned the top running-back role for Baylor for 2012. Seastrunk's definite talent advantage could force Baylor coaches to abandon veteran loyalty to Salubi as the games become more competitive, but for now Salubi needs to be owned in all formats due to his prominent role in one of the nation's best offenses. He ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries Sunday, and he would have had more if SMU hadn't been so easily disposed.
Joe Bergeron, RB, Texas
Malcolm Brown was a much bigger recruit than the bruising Bergeron, but it looks like Bergeron might have a slight lead in the competition between the two talented runners. Bergeron ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against Wyoming on Saturday, all of which led the team. The Longhorns are all about defense and running the ball this year, so Bergeron should continue to see a good workload. There's enough room for Brown, too, as he ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Wyoming.
Jeremy Wright, RB, Louisville
Dominique Brown was considered the general favorite to start at running back for Louisville in 2012 after holding on to that role most of last year, but it was Wright who emerged as the top runner for the Cardinals in Week 1, torching Kentucky for 105 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries Sunday, adding two catches for 21 yards. Brown missed the game with a leg injury but is expected to play this week against Missouri State. Still, Wright proved his worth and Louisville's pro-style offense is clearly committed to the run, so Wright should continue to get carries if he plays anywhere near as well as he did in Week 1.
Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB, Syracuse
Jerome Smith was generally considered the top Syracuse runner entering this year due to his experience advantage over the competition, but Saturday's game against Northwestern gave Syracuse reason to consider whether Gulley's superior talent should dictate who stands atop the depth chart. Gulley caught seven passes for 46 yards while running for 50 yards and a touchdown on seven carries compared to Smith's total of 34 yards on 10 carries.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Rex Burkhead suffered a sprained MCL against Southern Mississippi on Saturday, so the top Cornhusker back is questionable at best for this week's game against UCLA. Abdullah did well when he replaced Burkhead against the Golden Eagles on Saturday, running for 81 yards on 15 carries while adding 39 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan
Gallon is only a deep-league consideration due to Michigan's unpredictable passing game, but he could be worth a close look in those scenarios as he seems to be emerging as Michigan's clear top receiver. He caught four passes for 107 yards against Alabama on Saturday, and he was the team's best receiver besides Junior Hemingway last year, catching 31 passes for 453 yards and three scores. With Hemingway gone after catching 34 passes for 699 yards and four scores last year, Gallon's role should increase.
Taylor McHargue, QB, Rice
UCLA doesn't exactly have a tough defense, and McHargue needs to be kept on a short least by fantasy owners given his poor 2011 season, but he deserves credit for his big numbers in Week 1. He completed 17-of-28 passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while running for 95 yards and another touchdown. Rushing yardage is a big deal in college fantasy football because the NCAA subtracts yardage for sacks, so McHargue will be relevant in all formats if he continues to play like this.
Der'rikk Thompson, WR, SMU
Darius Johnson is still SMU's top receiver, but the school has typically shown an ability to provide more than one productive wideout. Thompson is looking like the best candidate to emerge as the top target other than Johnson. He led the Mustangs with 88 yards and a touchdown on five receptions against Baylor on Sunday, a showing that gives reason to believe he'll keep building on last year's promising 30-catch, 411-yard season in which he scored three times.
Kaneakua Friel, TE, BYU
Marcus Mathews and Austin Holt were believed to be the top BYU tight ends entering this year, but those two were basically invisible against Washington State on Thursday, while Friel came out of nowhere to be BYU's top receiver, snagging six passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It could very easily be a fluke, but with impact tight ends so hard to find, Friel should be owned in all leagues until he cools. We don't want to say he's the next Dennis Pitta, but he couldn't have been much more encouraging Thursday.
Beau Blankenship, RB, Ohio
Blankenship previously had to split carries with Ryan Boykin and was thus considered a MAC-only option for the most part, but he was surprisingly given a workhorse role against Penn State in Week 1 and came through with a big game. He should be owned in all formats and could emerge as the top MAC runner after rushing for 109 yards on 31 carries while adding 72 yards on seven receptions.
Leighton Settle, RB, Northern Illinois
Akeem Daniels was singled out as the top Northern Illinois running back all offseason, with Settle declared the backup. Yet for no apparent reason Daniels was given just a single carry against Iowa in Week 1, while Settle received 10. Settle's 33 yards didn't mean much in immediate fantasy terms, but if he holds on to the starting runner role for Northern Illinois he'll eventually post nice numbers, as most defenses the Huskies see won't be as good as the one in Iowa.
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Fresno State players and coaches constantly hyped Adams all offseason, but it was never easy to tell whether the lightly recruited wideout was all that they said he was. After Week 1, however, it looks like Adams might be the freak Fresno State promised. He was the top Fresno State wideout against Weber State, catching seven passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns - all three of which led the team. He needs to be owned in MWC leagues and is a justifiable pickup in all formats, though the returns of Isaiah Burse (academics) and Josh Harper (hamstring) will impact his targets.
Cody Getz, RB, Air Force
Air Force running backs rarely post good touchdown numbers, so Saturday's game against Idaho State might have been a fluke, but Getz is a justifiable pickup in all formats after putting up 218 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. It's not often that a player produces like that and then disappears, so Getz is a player to gamble on if you need running back help.
C.J. Anderson, RB, California
When California coaches said Anderson was a threat to steal the starting running back role from Isi Sofele, it generally wasn't taken seriously. While Anderson emerged as a nice backup and goal-line runner in 2011, Sofele ran for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry last year, and that doesn't seem like a formula you mess with. But California messed with it in Week 1, giving Anderson 14 carries compared to just five for Sofele. Anderson should probably be owned in most formats until that workload split changes.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
The Oregon State offense might be a bit rusty after the postponement of its Week 1 warmup game against Nicholls State, but there's still plenty of reason to hope for a strong debut from the Beavers as they take on Wisconsin in Week 2. Mannion should attempt nearly 40 passes per game this year, and he has a strong group of receivers in wideouts Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks and Obum Gwacham, as well as a good running back duo in Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew. Not only are the Badgers traveling far west for this matchup in Corvallis, but they're coming off a relatively embarrassing Week 1 game in which they allowed 21 points and 265 passing yards to Northern Iowa.
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Onterio McCalebb was the most reliable Auburn running back entering 2012, but after Week 1 it looks like Mason might be the Tigers runner to own in fantasy leagues. McCalebb's reliability comes at the expense of his upside - he's unchallenged as the team's outside speed rusher, but his skill set at that position necessarily deprives him of the size and strength needed to run between the tackles. Nearly 30 pounds heavier than McCalebb, Mason appears to be Auburn's best choice to handle that inside running. He totaled 106 yards on 14 carries against Clemson on Saturday, both of which led the team.
Brandon Mitchell, WR, Arkansas
Javontee Herndon is a threat to emerge as the top Arkansas receiver behind Cobi Hamilton, but it looks like Mitchell might be the best bet. If he does, he becomes relevant in all formats since quarterback Tyler Wilson will throw for plenty of yards and touchdowns this year. Mitchell led the Razorbacks with 122 yards on four catches against Jacksonville State on Saturday, and this follows a summer that saw Mitchell regularly receive praise for his practice performances.
Josh Jarboe, WR, Arkansas State
Taylor Stockemer looked like the top Arkansas State receiver entering this season, but it looks like Jarboe might emerge as that player instead. It wouldn't be terribly surprising if he did - he is a former top recruit who originally enrolled at Oklahoma, so the talent is certainly there. He gave further reason to hope for a big 2012 by catching 13 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown against Oregon on Saturday.
Jake Medlock, QB, Florida International
Florida International is typically about the run game, but Medlock had a big game as a passer against Duke on Saturday, completing 27-of-45 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns, adding 19 yards on the ground. Medlock is normally even better as a rusher - he ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries as a backup last year - so if he maintains his production as a passer he should become a factor in all formats. Given the Sun Belt's easy schedule, that's a very real possibility, if not a probability.
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Andrew Manley was very productive as a passer last year, and Franklin is New Mexico State's top receiver for 2012. For those two reasons, good things were expected from Franklin as he took on Sacramento State in the season opener. There probably isn't anyone out there, though, who quite expected Franklin to go off to the extent that he did. He caught eight passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, making him a must-own in all leagues.
Joe Hill, RB, Utah State
Robert Turbin and Michael Smith were the top two Utah State running backs in 2011, combining for 28 touchdowns on the ground. Kerwynn Williams also was in that backfield, running for 542 yards and three scores. Williams' strong 2011 season made him the default starter for 2012, but it wasn't clear who was going to play that second running-back role. If Week 1 is any indication, it will be Hill, who burned Southern Utah for 116 yards and three touchdowns.