1. Running back Marcus Lattimore- If Lattimore returns fully from tearing ligaments in his left knee, he's a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the best running backs in the country. He burst onto the national scene while putting up 1,609 total yards and 19 touchdowns as a freshman in Columbia.Lattimore was on his way to another big season for the Gamecocks in 2011. As a sophomore, he totaled 818 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in the first seven games of the season before the injury came against Mississippi State.
With the los of Alshon Jeffery, Lattimore is the unquestioned star of the South Carolina offense. Quarterback Connor Shaw got some experience under his belt last season without Lattimore healthy, but with the junior running back returning to the field, it should also take some pressure off the rest of the offense.
2. Wide receiver Justin Hunter- Tennessee came to Gainesville last season with plenty of hype around its offense. Hunter was a big reason for that. In games against Montana and Cincinnati to open the 2011 season, Hunter totaled 302 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The 6-4, 200-pound receiver was making his mark as one of the top receivers in the country.The momentum around Hunter, and the Tennessee offense, was slowed when Hunter touched the ball for the first time in Gainesville. He made the catch, tried to plant his foot and tore his ACL. Hunter missed the rest of the season and spent the offseason working his way back.
If he comes back completely healthy as expected, Hunter will give quarterback Tyler Bray and the Volunteers a dominant playmaker. Pair him with Da'Rick Rogers and five-star junior college receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and defenses won't have an easy task in covering all the options at receiver in Knoxville.
3. Quarterback James Franklin- The junior quarterback makes the Missouri offense work. He completed 63.3% (238-376) of his passes last year to throw for 2,865 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. On the ground, Franklin ran 217 times for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns. Franklin outrushed Florida's leading rusher (Chris Rainey) by 120 yards during the 2011 season.His effectiveness for the Missouri determined whether or not the team would be in the game and have a chance to win. Missouri returns leading rusher Henry Josey (1,168 yards, nine touchdowns), and he will continue to help carry the load and take some pressure off Franklin.
Missouri returns three of its top five receivers from the 2011 season, but the anticipation is focused on freshman wide receiver and former five-star recruit Dorial Green-Beckham.
5. Quarterback Aaron Murray- The Georgia offense lost a key piece in running back Isaiah Crowell, but the stability at quarterback should make the offense move on and still be successful. Murray returns key receivers like Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King.Murray completed 59.1% (238-403) of his passes in 2011 for 3,149 yards, 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also made an impact on the ground. Murray rushed for 103 total yards on the year, but teams were forced to respect his legs while preparing for Georgia.
One of the weaknesses for Georgia will be the team's offensive line, replacing three starters. Murray's athleticism can cure some early-season problems for the group.