Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Heading into the 2006 season, optimism is running rampant on many a college campus. The offensive stars in college football are priming for a run at the coveted Heisman Trophy, while some also have their sights set on a national title game in Glendale, Arizona. Here is a list of the headliners coming into the season, with a few relative unknowns who could become household names as the season comes to a close.
A BAKER'S DOZEN:
1. Brady Quinn (QB, Notre Dame) - The poster-child for the Heisman Trophy heading into the 2006 campaign, Quinn has all the tools to run away from the pack this year. Most importantly, he has Charlie Weis once again providing the kind of guidance that will make it almost impossible for the senior signal- caller to fail. In year-one under Weis, Quinn set all kinds of Notre Dame passing records. Those numbers could actually get better this year with a huge offensive line and plenty of weapons at his disposal.
2. Adrian Peterson (RB, Oklahoma) - As a freshman, Peterson finished second in the Heisman voting with a remarkable 1,925-yard season. Last year, with no passing game and an underachieving offensive line, Peterson was reduced to a mere mortal. If Coach Stoops can solve those problems in 2006, Peterson may once again put his name atop the list of most dangerous offensive threats in the game.
Brady Quinn is the poster-child for the Heisman Trophy heading into the 2006 campaign.
3. Marshawn Lynch (RB, California) - The best tailback in the country not named Adrian Peterson. This Golden Bear is the complete package, with the ability to run through or around the opposition. He averaged almost six and a half yards per carry in 2005, racking up 1,246 yards and 10 TDs. He abused BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, with 194 yards and three scores, earning MVP honors and setting up a highly anticipated 2006 season.
4. Troy Smith (QB, Ohio State) - This Buckeye QB has all the talent in the world, but will need to focus on the task at hand to maximize that potential. He did so in last year's Fiesta Bowl and completely outshined Notre Dame's Brady Quinn in terms of production (342 yards and two TDs). This year, the duel threat in Columbus will need to have a Vince Young type of growth spurt (in terms of commanding an offense), to compensate for a defense that simply can't be as good as last year's group.
5. Michael Bush (RB, Louisville) - Certainly the most productive big back in the country, this Louisville Cardinal will own several Louisville career rushing records when it is all said and done. The 6-3, 250-pounder led the nation in scoring a year ago (14.4 ppg) and finished the year with a whopping 24 scores, while piling up 1,143 yards, on 5.6 yards per carry. With the kind of juggernaut offense that Bobby Petrino has in place, Bush may just match his phenomenal 2005 campaign.
6. Pat White (QB, West Virginia) - The team from Morgantown definitely has a shot at a national title this season no matter what anyone says about the Big East and lack of competition therein. White has emerged as one of the top duel threats in the country, completing 57 percent of his passes a year ago, while rushing for nearly 1,000 yards on 7.3 yards per carry. With a dangerous back (further down this list) sharing the workload and a solid offensive gameplan in place, White will flourish and probably increase his numbers both on the ground and through the air this season.
7. Chris Leak (QB, Florida) - In his first season under Urban Meyer, Leak was ultra-productive, completing nearly 63 percent of his passes, for 2,639 yards, with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Florida may just be the team to beat in the SEC this year and if that is the case, Leak is poised for a huge 2006 season.
8. Brian Brohm (QB, Louisville) - Louisville's signal-caller is the prototypic gun-slinger the NFL covets. At 6-4, 225, Brohm looks the part, but that isn't where it ends. Last season, he averaged nearly 300 yards passing per game, completing 68.8 percent of his attempts, with 19 TDs and just five picks. This is an offense ready to erupt and with a Heisman-quality tailback keeping defenses honest, Brohm should put up huge numbers in 2006.
9. Dwayne Jarrett (WR, USC) - The best player in the country has come from the Trojan roster the last couple of seasons and this year may be more of the same. Jarrett is an imposing figure on the outside, with decent speed and great size (6-5, 210). A favorite of Matt Leinart's passes the last two years, Jarrett caught 91 balls, for 1,274 yards and 16 TDs in 2005. Despite a new quarterback in place, look for Jarrett to once again dominate downfield.
10. Ted Ginn Jr. (WR, Ohio State) - Perhaps the fastest player in the college ranks, this Ohio State Buckeye had to play second-fiddle to first-round draft choice Santonio Holmes last year, but Ginn still caught 51 balls, for just over 800 yards and four scores. He also scored TDs on a punt return and kickoff return as is regarded as the top return man in the game. Now that he is the top target in the passing game, look for big things from him.
11. Steve Slaton (RB, West Virginia) - A bit of an unknown to start last season, Slaton poured it on down the stretch, finishing the year with 1,128 yards rushing (5.5 ypc) and 17 TDs. The Big East Rookie of the Year in 2005, Slaton isn't the biggest back in the world (5-10, 190), but plays much bigger, with plenty of wiggle and speed to make something out of nothing.
12. Sam Keller (QB, Arizona State) - He played in just eight games last season due to injury, but still completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 2,165 yards and 20 TDs. The only thing that could prevent a healthy Keller from putting up monster numbers in 2006, is the emergence of Rudy Carpenter last season, who took over for Keller and ran the offense to near perfection.
13. Drew Stanton (QB, Michigan State) - One of the best quarterbacks in the country based on statistics, this Spartan completed 66.7 percent of his passes in 2005, for 3,077 yards and 22 TDs. However, the knock on Stanton is his inability to win a big game. The 6-3, 222-pounder won't really get his full credit until he leads his team to victory over either the Buckeyes or Wolverines.
ON THE VERGE OF SUPER STARDOM:
Garrett Wolfe (RB, Northern Illinois) - Could very well be the best tailback in the country that no one has heard of. Wolfe dominated the MAC last season, rumbling for 1,580 yards (6.5 ypc) and 16 TDs for Northern Illinois. At just 5-7, 177 pounds, he doesn't look the part of a workhorse back. However, he got 242 carries a year ago and will certainly be fed the ball more this time around. The 2,000-yard plateau is not out of the realm of possibility.
Kenny Irons (RB, Auburn) - He had the unenviable task of replacing a pair of All-Americans (Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams) in the backfield and did a tremendous job, averaging just over five yards per carry, while churning out 1,293 yards and 13 TDs. The First-Team All-SEC tailback has his sights set on All-American honors in 2006 and with talent both under center and on the outside at Auburn, Irons may just reach that lofty goal.
Tyrell Sutton (RB, Northwestern) - Just a freshman a year ago, the 5-9, 190- pound Sutton burst on the scene, averaging almost six yards per carry, while piling up accolades like National Freshman of the Year, All-American honors and Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Sutton rushed for 1,474 yards on 250 carries, while scoring 16 TDs. A duel threat, Sutton added 44 receptions, for 396 yards and two more scores.
James Davis (RB, Clemson) - This is the tailback that could blossom in 2006. He rushed for 879 yards a year ago with nine TDs as a freshman, but Tommy Bowden is going to increase his touches this season and the extra workload could have him vying for ACC Player of the Year honors. The 5-11, 210 pound youngster has the kind of body to handle the extra work and could put Clemson in the thick of the hunt in the ACC.
Calvin Johnson (WR, Georgia Tech) - NFL-prototype receiver, at 6-4, 235 pounds. Johnson has proven himself to be the top wideout in the ACC, despite inconsistency under center. Last year, Johnson caught 54 balls, for 888 yards and six TDs. He can dominate inside the 20 and has the ability to turn any catch into a long score.
Steve Breaston (WR, Michigan) - The 6-1, 180-pound Breaston has lived in the shadow of Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant for a couple of years now, but now will be the focus of the Michigan passing attack in 2006. With a strong-armed QB and a potent rushing attack, Breaston has the potential for a magnificent season in Ann Arbor.