Predicting Every Power-5 College Football Team's MVP for 2014 Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

Predicting Every Power-5 College Football Team's MVP for 2014 Season

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    Football is a team sport, but like most others it's defined by its individual stars. College football is no different, and with training camps about to begin for the 2014 season, it's time to start identifying who to look out for on the field this fall.

    The superstars will be everywhere, with the best teams having far more standouts than you'd think possible. But there's one thing every team will have: an MVP, that one player who can make or break the season based on what he is (or is not) able to do.

    The MVP doesn't have to be the best player on the roster, just the one who is most important to overall success. We've made our picks for who will win MVP honors for every power-conference team, as well as BYU and Notre Dame, choosing these players based on what is expected of them in 2014 and how much those performances will mean to their individual teams.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Amari Cooper, Jr., WR

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 202 lbs

    With so many great running backs to choose from, Alabama will be a dominant force on the ground in 2014. But with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and others each likely to run well and pick up lots of yards, they'll cancel each other out in the MVP race.

    Amari Cooper will shine alone on the outside, putting together a season that will not only rank among the tops in the country, but high on the Crimson Tide's all-time best. Marc Torrence of 247Sports believes Cooper is in line for an historic year after beefing up in the offseason: "That size and physicality could give him yet another advantage over defenders, as if his speed and elusiveness weren’t enough."

    Cooper had a masterful freshman year, with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, but in 2013 his impact was lessened due to a nagging foot injury. Look for him to be the guy who takes whichever quarterback Nick Saban picks and makes into a superstar, as the wideout will be part of a much more prolific passing game than in years past.

    The school record for receiving yards in a season (1,133, set by Julio Jones in 2010) is in serious jeopardy.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Jared Tevis, Sr., S

    Height, Weight: 5'10", 195 lbs

    Arizona's offensive situation is still unsettled heading into the preseason, with whom Rich Rodriguez will go with at quarterback and running back yet to be determined. Wide receiver won't be a problem, with unlimited options that will make determining a true No. 1 at that spot hard to predict.

    What won't be a mystery is that having dependable defensive players will be necessary for moving past the eight-win plateau of the past two seasons, and that search begins and ends with Jared Tevis.

    A former walk-on who earned a scholarship after spending a year as a redshirt and another as a special teams fixture, Tevis is the "bandit" in the middle of the Wildcats' 4-2-5 defensive alignment that puts an emphasis on speed and field vision.

    Tevis has registered 165 tackles in the past two years, along with three interceptions and seven forced fumbles. Last year he also upped the ante with four tackles for loss and a sack, showing his ability to contribute all over.

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Taylor Kelly, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 211 lbs

    It will take a lot for Taylor Kelly to earn first-team all-Pac-12 honors at quarterback this season, but not because of his ability. If not for the fact he's one of 10 passers in the conference returning as a starter in 2014, he'd be a shoo-in for the recognition.

    Kelly has been starting since his sophomore year in 2012, and in those two years he's morphed from just a dropback passer to a viable dual-threat option, who last season ran for nine touchdowns in addition to the 28 he threw, while recording more than 3,600 passing yards.

    He'll be aided once again by a standout receiver in Jaelen Strong, but without dependable pass-catching back Marion Grice a lot more will fall to Kelly to come through.

    Even with all the great names at quarterback in the Pac-12, including Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, Kelly told reporters at Pac-12 media days last week that he sees himself "at the top" of that list. If he leads Arizona State to a second straight division title, that may prove to be true.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Brandon Allen, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 216 lbs

    Arkansas is going to have one of the best running games in the country, the product of having two players (Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams) on the early Doak Walker watch list. The Razorbacks should also have an improved defense in 2014, with notables like Bijhon Jackson and Trey Flowers leading the way.

    But where the biggest leap will be seen from the 2013 product to now will be at quarterback, where Brandon Allen is primed for a huge season now that he's had time to get comfortable being in charge. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes for just 1,552 yards last season, and while he's not going to be a 4,000-yard passer in Arkansas' offense he should be much better.

    He's got the firm backing of coach Bret Bielema, who raved at SEC media days that Allen has "gotten stronger mentally" and "had one of the best off-seasons anyone can ever have."

    The running backs and defense will pace Arkansas' attempt at resurgence, but it will be Allen's play that ultimately dictates whether that can happen.

Auburn Tigers

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    Nick Marshall, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 210 lbs

    There were many standout players who helped make Auburn's surprise run to the national championship game in 2013 a reality. For the Tigers to make a return trip to the final after this season, it will depend on how far Nick Marshall has come as a quarterback.

    The former Georgia defensive back, given a career makeover as a quarterback in junior college, Marshall helped pilot Auburn's prolific spread offense last year as mostly a ball-carrier and game manager. A focus on becoming more of a complete quarterback with better passing skills will pay off huge dividends this fall for the Tigers, who will continue to run effectively but become an even more dangerous team with the ability to throw effectively.

    Marshall threw for 1,976 yards and ran for 1,068 while accounting for 26 touchdowns in 2013. All three figures are apt to go up this season.

Baylor Bears

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    Bryce Petty, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 230 lbs

    Baylor's high-flying offense is predicated on speed and elusiveness from the running backs and wide receivers, who all move with such swiftness and silkiness that the level of finesse is a thing of beauty to watch. Bryce Petty is the engine that makes the motor purr, though, as he showed throughout 2013 and will do so again this fall.

    Petty spent two seasons patiently backing up other quarterbacks—first Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in 2011 and then Nick Florence in 2012—and once he was given the keys to the Bears' attack, he operated the machine as well (if not better) than the previous pilots.

    Last year, Petty threw for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions, while also adding 14 rushing touchdowns by showing off sneaky quickness in the red zone.

    Baylor's offensive weapons are a mix of holdovers and newcomers, but they're all brought together by Petty and his ability to manage such a fine-tuned attack.

Boston College Eagles

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    Tyler Murphy, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 213 lbs

    Boston College is starting over on offense this season after losing nearly all of its production from a good 2013 team. Having a veteran quarterback like Tyler Murphy step into a spot that would otherwise go to an untested player will help ease the rebuilding process.

    Murphy started six games as Florida's quarterback last year, throwing for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns. He transferred to Boston College in the spring, and as a graduate transfer was able to play right away, which was a godsend for the Eagles after Chase Rettig graduated along with 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams and top receiver Alex Amidon.

    Murphy will have free reign to do what he wants with BC, and while the Eagles may not get back to seven wins this season, it won't be because of how their quarterback plays.

BYU Cougars

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    Taysom Hill, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 221 lbs

    The BYU record books are loaded with big names who had huge careers at the college level, including some that went on to be big-time players in the NFL. The list includes Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Steve Young, and it may soon require placing Taysom Hill among those luminaries.

    Though still developing as a passer, Hill has already shown his ability to run effectively in one season as a full-time starter. In 2013 Hill ran for 1,344 yards, the third-largest single-season total in school history and far and away the Cougars' team mark for a quarterback. Hill averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns, and in a blowout win over Texas last season, set the school mark for rushing yards in a game with 259.

    Hill also threw for 2,938 yards with 19 TD a year ago, but had 14 interceptions and only completed 53.9 percent of his throws. Improved accuracy this fall (while remaining a great runner) could set him apart from past BYU quarterbacks and help get the Cougars a shot at the College Football Playoff.

California Golden Bears

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    Khalfani Muhammad, So., RB/KR

    Height, Weight: 5'7", 170 lbs

    There will be few guys on the field smaller than Khalfani Muhammad this season. But since there won't be many that are anywhere near as fast as California's speedster, size won't really matter much.

    As a true freshman in 2013, Muhammad showed off his wheels mostly as a kick returner, gaining more than 1,000 yards on kickoffs as California gave up a lot of scores. He also wound up as the Golden Bears' top running back with 445 yards, but that came with a healthy 6.0 yards-per-carry average.

    With great footwork and good hands, Muhammad will become much more involved in Cal's offense this season, leading him to put up great numbers that will solidify his role as the team's MVP.

Clemson Tigers

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    Vic Beasley, Sr., DE

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 235 lbs

    At the size he is now, Vic Beasley does not project as a defensive end in the NFL. But at the college level, and considering how dominant he's been at that level, Beasley can play wherever he wants.

    Beasley is the nation's top returning pass-rusher, and though his future is at linebacker, for now he's roaming the edge of Clemson's defensive line and (along with three other returners on that line) will be the driving force for the Tigers' push to get into the College Football Playoff.

    Last season Beasley had 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Both of those figures were third best in FBS in 2013, while he was 10th in forced fumbles with four knockaways.

    Though he projected as a high draft pick had he left school after his junior year, Beasley told reporters at ACC media days his decision to return was one of individual and team pride, saying: "I wanted to leave a legacy, like breaking the sack record, and setting high goals for the guys who are coming in behind me, because those guys are the future."

    With 21 career sacks, he's seven behind the Clemson all-time record of 28 set by Gaines Adams from 2003-2006.


Colorado Buffaloes

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    Addison Gillam, So., LB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 225 lbs

    A starter from the opening snap of his college career, Addison Gillam was all over the field on defense in 2013 as a true freshman, recording 119 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and one interception. He was the first Colorado freshman to lead the team in tackles in school history and was the most dependable part of a defensive unit that showed improvement from the year before.

    For the Buffaloes to keep getting better, it will start on the defensive side. That means Gillam will be a part of it, and he's likely going to top his freshman numbers.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Jamison Crowder, Sr., WR/PR

    Height, Weight: 5'9", 175 lbs

    Duke's breakout season in 2013 turned a lot of attention to a program that hadn't deserved much recognition for a long time. But within the Blue Devils' ranks was a player who's been contributing solidly since his freshman year and now heads into his final season in line to be the most prolific wide receiver in ACC history.

    Jamison Crowder has 198 receptions for 2,597 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career. He is 85 catches behind former Duke wideout Conner Vernon for the conference reception record, and with another 1,153 yards he'll also pass Vernon's all-time ACC mark. Crowder had an ACC-record 108 catches for 1,360 yards last season, so both tallies are very doable.

    But Crowder won't just contribute as a receiver for Duke, as he hasn't been a one-dimensional piece throughout his career. He was a kick-return specialist as a freshman, and for the past two years has been the Devils' primary punt returner, averaging 16.0 yards per return with two touchdowns in 2013.

Florida Gators

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    Jeff Driskel, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 237 lbs

    If not for a broken leg suffered midway through the 2013 season, Jeff Driskel could have been the answer for what severely ailed Florida's offense. Now with a new offensive coordinator (Kurt Roper) to work with, Driskel will show what he's truly capable of this fall and get the Gators back above .500 after a very bad year.

    Driskel was 42-of-63 for 477 yards in the three starts he made before the leg injury, showing a lot of promise for a young passer. He had already looked better than in his freshman year, when he averaged only 137 yards per game but had shown early flashes of the mobility that he'll use to keep plays alive.

Florida State Seminoles

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    Jameis Winston, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 230 lbs

    When you have the reigning Heisman trophy winner on the roster, and he's part of a small group of returners trying to defend a school's first national championship in 14 years, is there really any doubt who Florida State's MVP will be this season?

    Jameis Winston is the most important piece of the quest for a second straight title, but with his expectations raised exponentially from 2013, he'll have to be that much better.

    Winston set the bar high for first-year college quarterbacks, throwing for 4,057 yards along with an ACC-record 40 touchdowns in leading FSU to a 14-0 record as a redshirt freshman. He's got mostly new weapons to work with this fall, but based on what he's done already he should have a good chance to better those numbers.

    Even if he doesn't, facing a much tougher slate of opponents this season will bring out Winston's true value to the Seminoles.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Hutson Mason, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 202 lbs

    It seemed like Hutson Mason was considered the heir apparent to Aaron Murray forever, though in actuality it was a little more than two-and-a-half seasons. But when the mantle was passed down to Mason far earlier than expected in 2013, the career backup showed why he's been looked at with such promise for so long.

    Murray's college career ended prematurely during the first half of a November win at Kentucky, when he suffered a knee injury. Mason was thrown into competition mostly cold, but was 13-of-19 for 189 yards with a passing touchdown and a rushing score. He then started the Bulldogs' final two games, going 1-1 and throwing for a combined 619 yards in those games.

    This season, Mason will be the one player who has the most impact on Georgia's season. Todd Gurley and the running backs will work as a group to do their part, and the Bulldogs defense will attempt to make positive strides, but in the end it will be up to the patient Mason to pace the year's success.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Justin Thomas, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 5'11", 185 lbs

    The triple-option run attack that Georgia Tech uses needs a quarterback who can operate all facets of the complicated offense. Justin Thomas looks to be a perfect fit for the system and will get the Yellow Jackets back on track after an uneven 2013.

    Thomas averaged 7.1 yards per carry in relief duty as a redshirt freshman, and with Vad Lee transferring from the program in January, it allowed Thomas to get an early start on running the option during spring practice.

    His reads are strong on whom to hand off to, or whether to take it himself, and though he didn't get many chances to throw (completing nine of 17 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in 2013) he's got the arm needed to air it out when needed.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Wes Lunt, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 225 lbs

    The start of Wes Lunt's college career looked very bright, with him earning the start in Oklahoma State's first three games in 2012 before injuries and ineffectiveness slowed him down. Lunt transferred to Illinois and sat out last season, but with the Fighting Illini needing a proven leader at the position, he'll win the job in fall camp and take off from there.

    The Illinois offense is quarterback-oriented, and Lunt has the big arm to get the job done. He threw for 1,106 yards and completed 61.8 percent of his passes at OK State, and with a solid pass-catching running back in Josh Ferguson to work with, he could get Illinois back into a bowl game after two miserable seasons.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    Tevin Coleman, Jr., RB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 210 lbs

    At the very least, Indiana will be exciting to watch on offense again this year. You can look all over the field to find athletic players, but for the best of the best look no further than Tevin Coleman, who in many games will be the best player out there.

    Last season Coleman was electric in rushing for 958 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Throw in 19 receptions for 193 yards and some kick returns, and Coleman was a huge part of an offense that was pretty darn good.

    Coleman will be asked to do even more this season, with Indiana losing four of its top-five receiving options. He'll no doubt surpass 1,000 rushing yards but also become more active in the passing game, driving linebackers and other defenders crazy as he heads out on pass patterns with a head of steam.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Brandon Scherff, Sr., OT

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 320 lbs

    When it comes to describing Iowa football, flashy isn't an adjective that tends to get used. The Hawkeyes are usually one of the most blue-collar teams in the country, so it's fitting that their MVP this season will be an offensive lineman.

    But not just any beefy blocker. Left tackle Brandon Scherff is so well regarded by pro scouts, he's a strong candidate to not just be the first offensive lineman taken in the 2015 draft but possibly the No. 1 overall pick, according to's Mike Huguenin: "His strength is legendary in the Iowa weight room. Last summer, Iowa put a video on YouTube of a Scherff weightlifting session in which he hang-cleans 410 pounds three times."

    Scherff upped that performance to 443 pounds this past offseason, but he's more than just a big, strong guy. He's also a big reason Iowa's quarterbacks were only sacked 15 times last season, and why Jake Rudock has a chance to have a big year since he knows his blind side will be properly covered.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Quenton Bundrage, Jr., WR

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 191 lbs

    There wasn't much to be happy about with Iowa State's offense in 2013, other than the promise showed by Quenton Bundrage as an emerging No. 1 receiver. That metamorphosis will be completed this year under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, as Bundrage will rank among the top wideouts in the conference.

    Last year Bundrage led the Cyclones with 48 receptions, 676 yards and nine touchdowns and was targeted nearly as much by any two other ISU players. He'll again be the main option, and should be in line for a 1,000-yard season along with several multiple-touchdown games like the three he had in 2013.

Kansas Jayhawks

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    Taylor Cox, Sr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'11', 212 lbs

    The offensive situation at Kansas is very muddied heading into the 2014 season, with a lack of experience and production making it very likely that the Jayhawks will finish at or near the bottom in the Big 12 yet again. But one player who is coming back from injury looks ready to finally break through and contribute in his final days with the program.

    Taylor Cox ran for 464 yards with three touchdowns in 2012 as a junior, and was in line to have more involvement last season. But hamstring and groin injuries suffered early in 2013 knocked him out for the year, earning him a medical redshirt along with a seat on the sidelines.

    He's at full strength heading into camp, and with the Jayhawks losing 1,100-yard back James Sims to graduation and prized incoming recruit Traevohn Wrench to a junior college because of academics, there's no better time than now for Cox to shine.

Kansas State Wildcats

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    Tyler Lockett, Sr., WR/KR

    Height, Weight: 5'11", 175 lbs

    By the time he's done, Tyler Lockett may own every receiving and return record in school history. But even without the numbers to back it up, Lockett is without a doubt the most important player on Kansas State because of the attention he draws away from others.

    As a wide receiver, Lockett will get every team's best cornerback this season—and probably a safety underneath. This will enable the Wildcats' other offensive weapons to get open and create a more diverse attack, though Lockett will no doubt still get his catches.

    Last year he was pretty much unguardable at the end of the year, finishing with 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Lockett has also averaged 31.1 yards per kickoff return for his career, with four TD. He not only stretches the field while on offense, he helps give that offense great field position to start out.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Alvin Dupree, Sr., DE

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 264 lbs

    The future is looking brighter for Kentucky football, with Mark Stoops hauling in impressive recruiting classes that should bolster the Wildcats' talent pool over the next few years. But this season, as was the case a year ago, the most valuable player on the team comes from the holdovers, in the form of Alvin Dupree.

    The undersized defensive lineman was by far Kentucky's best pass-rusher last season, finishing with seven sacks among his 9.5 tackles for loss. While the Wildcats as a team still struggled to stop opponents, Dupree held his own against some of the best linemen in the country and wreaked havoc in SEC backfields.

    For Kentucky to compete it will need to improve all over the field, but at least it knows that Dupree brings consistency and maximum effort from his defensive end position.

LSU Tigers

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    Leonard Fournette, Fr., RB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 224 lbs

    Whether he lives up to the massive hype and star-studded comparisons is still uncertain, but we do know this much about Leonard Fournette: He's going to have a major impact on what LSU does during his true freshman season.

    The top overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, Fournette enrolled at LSU in early June and is not guaranteed a starting spot with the Tigers. Despite losing many great players to graduation and NFL early entry last season, LSU isn't devoid of experience at running back. But those who are back from 2013 don't have the pedigree of Fournette.

    Look for this freshman phenom to make an instant splash during LSU's opener Aug. 30 against Wisconsin in Houston, then really tear it up during a four-game homestand at Tiger Stadium against a quartet of overmatched opponents. By the time October comes around, he could be high on most Heisman prediction charts.

Louisville Cardinals

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    Will Gardner, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 226 lbs

    For the third straight year, the MVP on Louisville will be a quarterback, but the reasons for why Teddy Bridgewater was, and why Will Gardner will be, are very different.

    While Bridgewater was far and away the best player on the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013, in Gardner's case he's getting put into the position of being the best because of his coach. Bobby Petrino is a quarterback guru, and with him in charge of the program, Gardner will step up and have a monster season like those Petrino previously coached at Louisville and Arkansas.

    Given the keys to the Cardinals offense, Gardner will be the next great Petrino-coached passer and help Louisville make a seamless transition into the ACC.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Stefon Diggs, Jr., WR

    Height, Weight: 6'0", 190 lbs

    After a massive freshman season, Stefon Diggs was on pace to shatter what he did that first year before the freak-injury bug that swarmed Maryland got to him in 2013. Diggs broke his leg, missing the final six games of the season.

    Even with the injury, Diggs had still put up good numbers, averaging better than 17 yards per catch on 34 receptions. As a freshman he had nearly 1,900 all-purpose yards, but he's most deadly as a receiver.

    Diggs is back at full strength for the Terrapins' move to the Big Ten this season, and if he can avoid another significant injury, he should return to the form that we saw two years ago.

Miami Hurricanes

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    Duke Johnson, Jr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'9", 206 lbs

    Duke Johnson wasn't named Miami's team MVP in 2013, but that might have been because he only participated in eight of the Hurricanes' 13 games. Yet it was his absence from those final five contests that showed just how valuable he was, as Miami went from a 7-0 start to a 9-4 finish and resembled a shell of its offensive self after he was injured.

    Johnson ran for 920 yards and six touchdowns last year before breaking his ankle in the loss at Florida State. That's after he gained 947 yards as a true freshman in 2012. Expected to be at full strength despite missing most of spring practice, Johnson's talent will help take the pressure off a quarterback position that's a huge source of uncertainty for Miami this year.

    Given a full season to produce, look for Johnson to seriously challenge Willis McGahee's school record of 1,753 yards rushing set in 2002.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Jabrill Peppers, Fr., DB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 202 lbs

    We've only listed the position Jabrill Peppers has on his school's online bio, but it's very unlikely this multi-talented freshman is only going to play in Michigan's secondary this season. As the top-rated athlete and No. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, per 247Sports, Peppers was a standout cornerback and wide receiver in high school who also won state track titles as a sprinter.

    He's also managed to transform his already impressive body into a sculpted specimen in just a few weeks in Ann Arbor, preparing himself for what very well could be a busy first year of college ball playing all over the field.

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke has already acknowledged to Bonnie Bernstein of (h/t Big Ten Network's Sean Merriman) that his new offensive coordinator, former Alabama assistant Doug Nussmeier, "wants to see him play tailback," and the chance that Peppers could be a part of the punt- and kick-return game is also strong.

    With so many possible roles in his immediate future, even if Peppers only excels in one area, he's apt to be a key element in whatever the Wolverines accomplish in 2014.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Connor Cook, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 219 lbs

    Coaches always want their players to show improvement over the course of the season, to be playing their best football at the end. That's what Connor Cook did in textbook fashion in 2013, which will make it hard for him to repeat that feat this year since he's probably just going to look really good all season long.

    Cook finished the year with 2,755 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, but it was his performances down the stretch that make his overall numbers less important. In the Big Ten championship win over Ohio State, Cook had three TD passes and 304 yards, then in the Rose Bowl victory against Stanford, he topped that by tossing two TD and throwing for a career-best 322 yards.

    MSU is a contender for not only another Big Ten title, but also a spot in the College Football Playoff, and though its defense gets a lot of credit (and deservedly so), it will be the offense that determines success in 2014. Cook is the main piece of that unit, and he'll show his worth in each and every game.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Mitch Leidner, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 237 lbs

    It's been a few years since Minnesota has named a quarterback and stuck with him, but if there's a guy who's going to hold on to the job, it will be Mitch Leidner. After stealing it away from Philip Nelson in 2013, Leidner is poised to have a big season as the full-time guy.

    Leidner is a run-first quarterback who also has good passing skills, as he showed when he threw for a career-high 205 yards and two TD in the Golden Gophers' bowl win over Syracuse.

    Those scores helped end a lengthy TD drought for the Gophers and, combined with his running ability (he had 407 yards and seven scores on the ground), he'll be a challenge to defend.

Missouri Tigers

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    Maty Mauk, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'0", 200 lbs

    Though he'd gotten a few snaps before that, Maty Mauk's true debut as a freshman came at the helm of an undefeated team that was one of the nation's top surprises in 2013. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of injured quarterback James Franklin, establishing himself as Missouri's future.

    Mauk tossed 11 touchdowns and ran for another in his backup and relief action a year ago, but in 2014 the Tigers offense is his to operate. He's without the standout receivers from the previous season, but Mauk will still put up great numbers and once again have Mizzou in the running for another SEC East title.

    According to Sporting News' Matt Hayes, Mauk thinks he can be for the Tigers what Johnny Manziel was to Texas A&M. "I feel like I could do similar things," Mauk said, referring to turning nothing into something and always having a penchant for the big play.

Mississippi Rebels

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    Bo Wallace, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 217 lbs

    As the most experienced quarterback in the SEC, Bo Wallace has a lot of expectations riding on him entering his final season. But the veteran passer has managed to make the grade before, and will pilot Ole Miss to another solid year thanks to his great decision making.

    In 2013 Wallace threw for 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns, and his total offense tally of 3,701 set the school record. He also broke the single-season completions record and was accurate on nearly 65 percent of his throws.

    Wallace has stepped up in big games, earning MVP honors in bowl victories at the end of each of the last two seasons. He'll look to add a third such honor after this year, and with continued improvement, that could be in a much more prestigious bowl game.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Dak Prescott, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 235 lbs

    The dual-threat quarterback is here to stay in the SEC, and Dak Prescott is at the forefront of this movement. He showed this at numerous times last season, even forging his name in Mississippi State lore with a heroic return to the field in the must-win Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.

    Prescott started seven games in a platoon with Tyler Russell in 2013, but he was by far the more effective of the two because of his ability to run and throw well. For the year, he threw for 1,940 yards and 10 while setting the Bulldog single-reason quarterback rushing record with 829 yards and 13 TD.

    With the junior now taking over sole possession of the job, and putting more of an emphasis on passing to balance out his repertoire, there's no doubt Prescott is MSU's most valuable player in 2014.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Ameer Abdullah, Sr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'9", 195 lbs

    The nation's top returning rusher from 2013, and the most prolific active FBS player in terms of all-purpose yardage, Ameer Abdullah's senior year is in line to be his best if he can hold up to another season of copious amounts of carries. And if he does, his efforts should get Nebraska once again to at least nine victories.

    Abdullah ran for 1,690 yards, the fourth-best tally in Nebraska's storied rushing history, and the most in six years. With 4,914 all-purpose yards, no one else in the country has more than that as an active FBS player thanks to Abdullah's pass-catching skills and effort as a punt and kick returner.

    He's vying to be the first Cornhusker to ever rush for 1,000 yards in three different seasons, something that's very likely, considering he ran the ball 281 times last year and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry for his career.

    With suspect quarterback play and a lack of depth at receiver, Nebraska will once again live and die by the run. That will push Abdullah further up the school career rushing charts and cement his place as the team's MVP.

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Ryan Switzer, So., WR/PR

    Height, Weight: 5'10", 180 lbs

    The best punt returner in the nation is also primed to become a big weapon on offense, with Ryan Switzer likely start the year as North Carolina's No. 2 wide receiver, as it tries to replace the production lost by tight end Eric Ebron.

    By year's end, though, don't be surprised if Switzer's great hands and even greater moves (the ones that enabled him to tie an FBS record with five punt-return touchdowns last season, all during UNC's late surge to go from 1-5 to 7-6) translate into him becoming the Heels' best pass-catching option as well.

    Switzer knows he still has to get better as a receiver, which is where most of his offseason focus has been. But he told's David M. Hale he's ready for the challenge, saying: "I'm going to get the ball offensively, and that’s where I need to make my mark now."

    Expect another punt return TD or two as well, as Switzer is just three shy of the career FBS mark with at least two seasons of play left.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

36 of 66

    Jacoby Brissett, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 236 lbs

    Never getting a full shot at Florida, Jacoby Brissett hit the transfer wire after the 2012 season and was eagerly grabbed up by new North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren. Seeing the potential that Brissett had when he started twice as a true freshman, Doeren knew that in 2014 he'd have something special.

    Now that the wait is over for Brissett, he's at the helm of what could be the surprise team of the ACC.

    NC State was 3-9 last year and went winless in the conference but did so without a capable quarterback. Brissett gives the Wolfpack that element, and his size will make him a tough one to take down.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Venric Mark, Sr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'8", 175 lbs

    There was no one single factor that contributed more than others in how Northwestern went from a 10-win team in 2012 to one with five victories a year later. But not having Venric Mark at full strength certainly played a major factor.

    Mark ran for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, but an ankle injury limited him to three games and 97 yards in a medically redshirted 2013 season. Having him back will completely change the Wildcats offense, especially as transfer from a dual-quarterback system to one led by just Trevor Siemian.

    Mark will be the go-to back in the run game and should provide a nice outlet for Siemian in passing situations, leading to a season that will be a top contender for comeback player of the year.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Malik Zaire, Fr., QB

    Height, weight: 6'0", 208 lbs

    It was a young, unknown variable at quarterback that got Notre Dame into the national championship game two years ago. And if the Fighting Irish are going to make a serious run at the playoffs this season, they'll need to do so behind the play of a similar spark.

    Malik Zaire began declaring he would be Notre Dame's starter back in spring practice, but he still has to beat out Everett Golson for the job in training camp. Golson would appear to be the favorite, having piloted Notre Dame to the BCS title game in 2012, but Zaire has a certain flair that should work better for the Irish as they navigate a tough 2014 schedule.

    If Zaire gets the job, watch out. He could be the next redshirt freshman quarterback who becomes a national sensation and starts getting mentioned for all sorts of awards.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Braxton Miller, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 215 lbs

    Braxton Miller didn't come back for his senior year just to pad his stats and set records or to work on things for his pro career. He returned for one more season to finish what he couldn't get done in 2013 after piloting the Buckeyes to a second straight 12-0 regular season.

    A Big Ten title eluded Ohio State last year, as did a major bowl victory. Miller had one of the worst passing games of his career against Michigan State in the Big Ten final, then two costly interceptions against Clemson cost OSU the Orange Bowl. He's back to not only erase those painful memories, but also create new positive ones for him and his teammates.

    As Kyle Rowland of notes, the last time OSU started a quarterback who was a senior (for the full season) was in 2006, when Troy Smith led the Buckeyes to the BCS national championship. Miller wants to do the same, albeit to the College Football Playoff championship, telling Rowland: "I feel like I left little things out on the field" during 2013.

    Miller will not lack in effort this season, and he'll drive the Buckeyes to whatever is possible.

Oklahoma Sooners

40 of 66

    Trevor Knight, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 201 lbs

    How important and valuable is Trevor Knight to Oklahoma's 2014 season—one that is filled with high expectations after the way last year ended and because of the talent flowing from both sides of the field?

    Knight's main competitor for the starting job, Blake Bell, has been permanently moved to tight end, while Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield isn't eligible this season and Kendal Thompson left for Utah.

    Yup, it's Knight or pretty much nothing else for the Sooners, who got more than 80 percent of the first-place votes to earn the media's Big 12 preseason nod, and whom are looked at as the conference's best hope to land a spot in the College Football Playoff despite the league not having a resume-boosting title game. As long as Knight can show that what he did in the Sugar Bowl was no fluke, Oklahoma should be fine.

    According to Kate Hairopolous of the Dallas Morning News, Knight considers that 348-yard, four-touchdown performance against Alabama as his "baseline," saying: "I just have to do it week in, week out."

    Those are lofty personal goals but also show how much Knight means to Oklahoma, and how necessary it is for him to have a good season over the course of all 12-plus games.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

41 of 66

    Desmond Roland, Sr., RB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 210 lbs

    After waiting two-plus seasons to get his chance, Desmond Roland (literally) ran with it once he became Oklahoma State's starting running back midway through the 2013 season. He finished with 811 yards and 13 touchdowns along with three receiving scores, despite not getting heavily involved in the offense until the seventh game of the year.

    Roland's breakout game came against Iowa State, when he ran for 219 yards and four touchdowns, and he was masterful in the Bedlam game against Oklahoma with 144 rushing yards and three total scores.

    All eyes will be on Florida State during the 2014 season opener in Arlington, but once Roland breaks off a few big runs against the defending champions, he'll start getting the attention that has escaped him to this point in his career.

Oregon Ducks

42 of 66

    Marcus Mariota, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 215 lbs

    Oregon's season took a turn for the worst in November last year, losing twice in a short span that took the Ducks from national title contender to just another team with 10 wins. Not surprisingly, Marcus Mariota's health deteriorated during that time span, as a nagging knee injury slowed his scrambling ability and made him far more one-dimensional than he'd ever been.

    Still, Mariota managed to put together a whopper of a season in 2013, throwing for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns while tossing just four interceptions. He didn't get picked off until the 11th game of the season, and finished the year completing 65.8 percent of his throws despite having to become more dependent on the pass than he and the Ducks would like.

    Fully healthy and steeled for a run to the College Football Playoff, look for Mariota to play every bit like the guy who is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in many early 2015 mock NFL drafts.

Oregon State Beavers

43 of 66

    Sean Mannion, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 220 lbs

    Sean Mannion had a big year in 2013, but he also had Brandin Cooks to throw to. One of those things won't happen this fall, with Cooks now in the NFL, but Mannion is apt to have an even better season as he works toward becoming the Pac-12's all-time leading passer.

    His 4,662 passing yards last season set a conference record, while he established a school mark with 37 touchdowns. He enters this fall with 10,436 yards and 68 TD, needing 1,892 to surpass Carson Palmer for the Pac-12 all-time mark. Mannion reached that total by the end of September last year.

    And while not having Cooks—as well as being at the helm of traditionally one of the poorest rushing offenses in the country, as the Beavers were 115th nationally with 94.4 yards per game in 2013—Mannion has always been an unselfish quarterback who spreads the ball all over. As he does that this season, he'll break all sorts of records in the process.

Penn State Nittany Lions

44 of 66

    Christian Hackenberg, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 234 lbs

    Christian Hackenberg had a heck of a true freshman season, performing as well as any first-year player not named Jameis Winston in 2014. And with a new coach who has a knack for developing quarterbacks, Hackenberg is primed to make his first season look like a warm-up.

    In 2013 Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns and helped pace key wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, turning a season without bowl eligibility (due to Penn State's NCAA sanctions) into a still profound year with seven wins.

    New coach James Franklin made a point to sit down with Hackenberg shortly after getting hired away from Vanderbilt in January, helping to establish a relationship that will lead to a big season for the sophomore passer.

Pittsburgh Panthers

45 of 66

    James Conner, So., RB

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 250 lbs

    While everyone watching the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last December knew just who the exciting young wide receiver Tyler Boyd was, it was one of his fellow freshman teammates who really wowed the eyeballs and established himself as a major player in the future.

    James Conner ran for a career-best 229 yards and a touchdown in the win over Bowling Green, surpassing the Panthers' bowl record previously held by an NFL Hall of Famer named Tony Dorsett. The effort was far and away Conner's best of the year and pushed him to a team-high 799 rushing yards for the season. But entering 2014, his role should be much bigger in Pitt's offense.

    Boyd will continue to produce at a high level, but he'll be well covered and may get limited at times. That puts pressure on Conner to be a dependable and consistent runner who can take attention away from Boyd and keep the Panthers balanced.

Purdue Boilermakers

46 of 66

    Justin Sinz, Sr., TE

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 249 lbs

    It's hard to imagine that Purdue's offense can get any worse than in 2013, when it averaged 15 points and 283 yards per game. Whether there will be much improvement is uncertain, but at least the Boilermakers know that big body Justin Sinz is around for another year to pull in some throws.

    Last season Sinz had 41 catches for 340 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that wouldn't seem that good, except the reception total led all Purdue players. Also impressive was that he came into the year with just seven catches in two previous seasons on the field.

    Purdue has plenty of players back from last year, but none more reliable than Sinz, who is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties trying to prevent the ball from ending up in his hands.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

47 of 66

    Tyler Kroft, Jr., TE

    Height, Weight: 6'6", 240 lbs

    The Big Ten is where the tight ends appear to be in 2013, but that also includes ones who are coming into the league with new programs. And Tyler Kroft could give Michigan's Devin Funchess a run for the first-team honors as he's likely going to be Rutgers' top receiving threat this season.

    Last year Kroft was as reliable and dependent as they come, leading the Scarlet Knights with 43 catches for 573 yards, both of which were team highs. He only had four touchdowns, but he was a huge target over the middle who could outrun most linebackers as he ran up the seam.

    Kroft went from three catches in 2012 to last year's big output. This fall he'll be even more prolific.

South Carolina Gamecocks

48 of 66

    Mike Davis, Jr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'9", 223 lbs

    Mike Davis might be the hardest guy to tackle coming out of a college backfield, a low-centered force who breaks tackles as easily as he gains yards. But all of that contact took a toll on him in 2013, leading to Davis having to fight off nagging injuries that limited his production.

    And by limited, we mean only gaining 1,183 yards with 11 touchdowns on 203 carries. The yardage total was the fourth best in school history, while Davis also added 34 catches for 352 yards to account for more than one-third of the Gamecocks' offense last season.

    This year it could be an even higher number, as South Carolina is young at receiver, and veteran Dylan Thompson moves into the starting quarterback role and will be looking for a dependable weapon to utilize early and often.

    Assuming his body can handle the work again, Davis very well could be the top-gaining back in the SEC, if not the country, this season.

Stanford Cardinal

49 of 66

    Ty Montgomery, Sr., WR/KR

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 215 lbs

    How valuable is Ty Montgomery to Stanford's quest for another season that ends with a big-name bowl game? The fact that he may miss the Cardinal's first two games in 2014 because of an arm injury is a situation that would not only rob the team of its most dependable receiver, but also its top weapon in the return game.

    Last year Montgomery was ninth in FBS in all-purposes yards, averaging 157.7 per game and more than 30 yards on kick returns (along with two touchdowns), while catching 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 TD. He had three games with more than 200 all-purpose yards, and in a win over Washington scored on both a kickoff and a reception.

    Montgomery and quarterback Kevin Hogan work excellently together, and with Stanford again breaking in a new running back, the Cardinal need that reliable weapon outside. Any time he misses could affect Stanford greatly, the best possible way to show his status as team MVP.

Syracuse Orange

50 of 66

    Terrel Hunt, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 233 lbs

    At the start of last season, Terrel Hunt was fighting with Drew Allen to be Syracuse's quarterback, a competition he won over the course of the year as he was more consistent and showed a greater upside. We saw that upside in the bowl win over Minnesota last December, and expect to see it far more often in his senior year in 2014.

    With about 15 pounds more muscle on him than at this time a year ago, Hunt has grown into a much more physical quarterback. He threw for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns, while adding seven rushing TD and 500 yards in 2013, but he'll be much more productive this season with a full slate of starts.

    Hunt will have a great opportunity to show how much he's progressed during a three-game stretch in late September and early October. The Orange face Notre Dame in New Jersey, then host Louisville and defending champion Florida State on back-to-back weekends, during which Hunt can either shine or (even if he struggles) prove just how important he is to the team.

TCU Horned Frogs

51 of 66

    Trevone Boykin, Jr., QB/RB/WR

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 215 lbs

    Heading into the 2014 season, Trevone Boykin is a man without a position. This comes after a year when he seemed to play every skill spot for TCU, and performed well in all of them.

    Boykin shared the Horned Frogs quarterback job at the beginning of 2013 but eventually was moved to wide receiver and also lined up in the backfield. As a result, he was the only player in FBS with a 200-yard passing game, a 100-yard rushing game and a 100-yard receiving game.

    It's looking like more of the same this season, as he spent most of spring as the No. 1 quarterback, but that situation is up in the air with the arrival of Matt Joeckel from Texas A&M. A move back to receiver might be the best fit for Boykin's skills, but wherever he ends up he'll be a key piece of a TCU offense that's going to be much more explosive and wide open in 2014.

Tennessee Volunteers

52 of 66

    Josh Malone, Fr., WR

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 202 lbs

    With one of the largest and most talented recruiting classes in the nation, most of which showed up in the spring, Tennessee is chocked full of promising youngsters and newcomers whom coach Butch Jones can implement into vital roles. He already knows how he'll use Josh Malone, though: as the highlight-reel maker.

    Malone has already made a name for himself in his brief time in Knoxville, putting on a receiving clinic during spring practice and in the spring game when he scored three touchdowns and had 181 yards on six catches. His ability to catch anything and everything will be huge this season, as the Volunteers will have an all-new offensive line, and whoever starts at quarterback will need to get the ball out quickly.

    Though rated as the No. 5 wide receiver in the 2014 recruiting class, Malone is apt to be the most prolific freshman at that position and a strong candidate for freshman All-American honors.

Texas Longhorns

53 of 66

    David Ash, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 227 lbs

    If not for injuries, David Ash might be getting mentioned among the best quarterbacks in Texas history. That can still happen after he plays at 100 percent all season in 2014 and puts together a tremendous season and quiets his many critics.

    Ash started six games as a true freshman in 2011, then took over the job full time in 2012 and put up solid numbers (2,699 yards, 19 touchdowns).

    All signs pointed toward continued improvement last year, and then the injuries set in. He missed the Longhorns' third game because of head and shoulder injuries suffered the week before, then after coming back the following game, got another head injury and was done for the year.

    A medical redshirt was granted, giving Ash two more years to work. New coach Charlie Strong named him the starter last week, prior to training camp, and Ash will translate that confidence his coach has in him into a breakout season.

Texas A&M Aggies

54 of 66

    Speedy Noil, Fr., WR/KR

    Height, Weight: 5'11", 180 lbs

    Newcomers are going to be asked to contribute all over for Texas A&M in 2014, so the likelihood of one of them ending up as the team's MVP is very strong. We're going with the guy whose name just screams value, because you're not called Speedy unless you can back it up.

    The 5-star recruit was the top-rated wide receiver and No. 8 overall prospect in the country this past year and should jump right into the fold for the Aggies both as a pass-catcher and in the return game.

    He'll be a key target, likely in the slot, for whoever A&M goes with at quarterback, and his speed and moves will be great in the field-position battle on kickoffs and punts.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

55 of 66

    Davis Webb, So., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 195 lbs

    In 2013 Texas Tech shuffled through three different quarterbacks, with Kliff Kingsbury making the changes because of a combination of health and effectiveness. He settled on Davis Webb at the end, and it paid off huge with a monster performance in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State.

    Kingsbury and the Red Raiders don't have the same luxury this season, as fellow passers Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield both transferred, leaving Webb as the sole quarterback with experience and a proper feel for the offense.

    SB Nation's Bill Connelly noted that the best approach to keeping Webb healthy this season might be to "break out the bubble wrap" or else true freshman Patrick Mahomes would play.

    Webb threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns as a part-time starter in 2013 but still set the school mark for yards and touchdowns by a true freshman at Tech. It helped that he threw for 462 yards against West Virginia and had four TD in the Holiday Bowl, but he also has the knack for the quick throws necessary in the Air Raid attack.

UCLA Bruins

56 of 66

    Brett Hundley, Jr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 227 lbs

    While surprise two-way star Myles Jack was all the talk of the 2013 season—and if that happens with frequency again this year, all bets are off—the real person that deserves UCLA's MVP honors will be Brett Hundley. There are other defensive players besides Jack who will enable the Bruins to shine on that side of the ball, but the same can't be said on offense.

    Hundley had a good season in 2013, throwing for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns while also rushing for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns. But while the running part improved, his passing numbers dropped with 110 fewer attempts, something that we expect to see a major reversal of this fall as Hundley works to fine-tune the parts of his game that need work before likely turning pro after the season.

    With a challenging schedule that includes the Pac-12 gauntlet, as well as road trips to Texas (in Arlington) and Virginia, there will be few easy games for Hundley. That just gives him more chances to prove his worth.

USC Trojans

57 of 66

    Leonard Williams, Jr., DL

    Height, Weight: 6'5", 300 lbs

    Last season Leonard Williams wreaked havoc on the Pac-12, recording 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in his first season as a defensive end, after playing defensive tackle in 2012. Oh, and that was apparently not at full strength, as the shoulder injury that knocked him out of one game limited him for much of the year.

    "They said I probably shouldn't, but it was up to me. I just played on," Williams told reporters at the Pac-12 media days. "It's too hard for me to sit on the sideline and just watch my team fighting when I can't fight with them."

    Williams' importance up front will be even bigger this fall after redshirt freshman Kenny Bigelow tore his ACL in early July and was ruled out for the year. With less depth on the line, look for Williams to shift all over and play both tackle and end, further defining his value to the Trojans in 2014.

Utah Utes

58 of 66

    Dres Anderson, Sr., WR

    Height, Weight: 6'2", 190 lbs

    Dres Anderson is one of the more dangerous individual weapons in college football, but one that hasn't gotten as many chances to be unleashed as you'd expect. But with Utah overhauling its offensive coaching staff this offseason yet again, Anderson is set to explode in his senior year.

    Anderson had 1,002 receiving yards on just 53 receptions in 2013, while also running the ball on occasion and serving as a kick returner. With reported 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, he's scored 13 touchdowns in his career but could match that total in one season with the right conditions.

Vanderbilt Commodores

59 of 66

    Jerron Seymour, Jr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'7", 196 lbs

    Sometimes big things come in small packages, which is what new coach Derek Mason is hoping for from Jerron Seymour. Though very small and slight, Seymour is fast and shifty and could be the most explosive part of Vanderbilt's completely revamped offense this season.

    He led the Commodores in rushing in 2013 with 716 yards, and in the process tied the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 14. Vandy loses one of its two quarterbacks and its main receiving weapons from last year's nine-win team, so Seymour will be counted on even more this fall.

Virginia Cavaliers

60 of 66

    Kevin Parks, Sr., RB

    Height, Weight: 5'8", 205 lbs

    Kevin Parks enters his final year of college football ranked eighth on his school's all-time rushing list, with 2,474 yards. But with the progression he's made over his career, by season's end he could be No. 1 on that list and pacing Virginia to a huge comeback year.

    Parks ran for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while also catching 38 receptions (the second-most on the Cavaliers) for 329 yards and a score. He alone had nearly one-third of the team's total offense and was the hero of Virginia's best win of the season, when he scored the game-winning TD late to defeat BYU.

    Parks needs 1,525 yards to top Thomas Jones' school record, which isn't out of the question if he can put together the senior season he's capable of.

Virginia Tech Hokies

61 of 66

    Kendall Fuller, So., CB

    Height, Weight: 5'11", 195 lbs

    Some guys just live up to the hype, no matter how much is heaped on them heading into college. Kendall Fuller did that with an exquisite freshman year in 2013, and he's only going to get better.

    Last season Fuller started 12 games at cornerback and also contributed on special teams, and he finished with a team-high six interceptions while breaking up 11 other passes, as well as recording 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

    Virginia Tech's defenses usually have a few playmakers on them, and Fuller will be the first one opposing teams look for when watching game film.

    The Hokies have games against some talented quarterbacks, like Ohio State's Braxton Miller and East Carolina's Shane Carden, but even they'll be wary of what Fuller can do in the secondary.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

62 of 66

    Ryan Janvion, So., S

    Height, Weight: 5'11", 190 lbs

    The cupboard wasn't particularly stocked for new coach Dave Clawson when he took on the Wake Forest job in the offseason. Surveying the returning talent from 2013's 4-8 team, though, he likely stopped and gave a long look at what Ryan Janvion accomplished and what he'll be like in Clawson's defensive system.

    Janvion's redshirt freshman year was solid, with 95 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. And he kept getting better as the season went on, finishing with a career-high 14 tackles that included 11 solo takedowns in the finale against Vanderbilt.

Washington Huskies

63 of 66

    Hau'oli Kikaha, Sr., LB/DE

    Height, Weight: 6'3", 250 lbs

    Built like a linebacker but with the skills to compete as a down lineman, Hau'oli Kikaha is a product of Steve Sarkisian's system at Washington but will be the key ingredient to what new coach Chris Peterson puts on the field in Seattle this season.

    Kikaha had 15.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2013, playing defensive end and dominating at that spot. In Washington's bowl win over BYU, he had three sacks and forced a fumble to win the game's defensive MVP trophy.

    This season Kikaha has moved to outside linebacker but will continue to line up close to scrimmage and use his speed off the edge to terrorize quarterbacks and swallow up ball-carriers.

Washington State Cougars

64 of 66

    Connor Halliday, Sr., QB

    Height, Weight: 6'4", 201 lbs

    In a Mike Leach offense, the quarterback is far more important than any other player. And in Connor Halliday, Leach has the perfect passer for his system because the veteran has no problem throwing as often as possible.

    Last season Halliday attempted 714 passes and completed 449, establishing Pac-12 records in both categories, while his 4,597 yards were the most in school history (and second-best all time in the conference). He also threw 34 touchdowns, tying Ryan Leaf's school record, and helped WSU reach a bowl game for the first time in more than a decade.

    There are no indications WSU's offense will look any different this year, and though Halliday has a tendency to make some bad throws (he tossed 22 interceptions) he's never afraid to sling it. The FBS record holder for attempts in a game, with 89, Halliday's well-used arm makes him the Cougars' MVP.

West Virginia Mountaineers

65 of 66

    Karl Joseph, Jr., S

    Height, Weight: 5'10" 196 lbs

    West Virginia has been known for offense for quite a long time, but with that unit still getting things sorted out and uncertainty heading into 2014, we've found our MVP on the defensive side. Karl Joseph jumps off the page with what he's done in his first two seasons, and he will be the one player the Mountaineers can depend on more than ever this fall.

    A two-year starter at free safety, this season Joseph moves into the bandit slot in West Virginia's 3-3-5 alignment, which will get him even more involved in disrupting what Big 12 passing games try to do. Last year he had 68 tackles but just one interception, but in 2014 he's going to get his hands on a few more passes.

    Joseph will also continue to be a menace with his tackling skills, as named him the hardest hitter in college football for 2014.

Wisconsin Badgers

66 of 66

    Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB

    Height, Weight: 6'1", 213 lbs

    One of the most prolific running backs from 2013 heads into this season with some of the freshest legs in the game, as Melvin Gordon has accumulated only 288 carries in his college career.

    Finally given a chance to be a primary back, Gordon was masterful last season in gaining 1,609 yards with 12 touchdowns on just 206 carries thanks to a platoon with James White. White is gone now, leaving Gordon as the main rushing weapon, and at 8.08 yards per carry for his career, he has a chance to break the FBS record of 8.26 set by Army's Glenn Davis from 1943-46.

    Records aside, Gordon will be the most reliable and dependable piece of Wisconsin's offense this season. Without a go-to receiver for Joel Stave to throw to, the run game will be even more important as the Badgers try to win their division and get back to the Big Ten championship.


    All recruiting information courtesy of

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.