For each team, I've identified both a "key player" and an "up and coming" player. The key player is an established star player who will go a long way in determining his team's success in 2007. The up and coming player is typically an underclassman with game-changing potential that may or may not already be a household name. So, without further ado, here are my top 15 (in alphabetical order):
Key Player - WR DeSean Jackson
Up and Coming player - CB Robert Peele
Overview: The first game will set the tone for the Golden Bears' season. Tennessee comes for a visit and Cal will be looking for revenge and looking toward dethroning USC. Cal's offense should be among the nation's best behind quarterback Nate Longshore, wideout DeSean Jackson, and a veteran line. The defense has questions, but should be good enough. However the offense will shoot it out with the best of them. If the Bears don't reach their goal at taking the PAC-10, they still may be a factor for a BCS at-large bid.
Key Player - DE Derrick Harvey
Up and Coming player - QB Tim Tebow
Overview: The Gators will have a hard time trying to repeat by just playing in the SEC East division. The nation's toughest division will be a handful, but if Florida wins that, they just might get a chance at it all if they win the SEC Championship, too. Don't count on it with a very talented but young defense. However, fans should expect a lot of noise in The Swamp this year.
Key Player - QB Matt Stafford
Up and Coming player - RB Knowshon Moreno
Overview: Georgia had all the looks of a national contender at the end of the season taking down Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in their last three games of the year. If questions on the offensive line and the defensive front are answered, Georgia will find themselves in a familiar national top 10 standing. The defense returning to dominant form may depend on two sophomores stepping in and stepping up: linebacker Darius Dewberry and defensive end Roderick Battle. Matt Stafford looks like he will be one of the nation's best at quarterback this year, but that will depend on the cohesiveness of his offensive line.
Key Player - LB Phillip Wheeler
Up and Coming player - WR Demaryius Thomas
Overview: Calvin Johnson is gone and… so is Reggie Ball. The light is not as dim as some may think for the Jackets. Quarterback Taylor Bennett looks to step in and comfortably run the offense behind a veteran offensive line and star tailback Tashard Choice as he did in the Gator Bowl. The usual strong defense will be very effective again this year returning nine starters. It will be hard for any team to run on the front seven as the Yellow Jackets look to take another crack at a conference title in the wide-open ACC.
Key Player - DT Glenn Dorsey
Up and Coming player - WR Brandon LaFell
Overview: The Tigers have all the tools and are the early pick to win the SEC. Therefore, they definitely deserve to be in the national spotlight. However, a tough schedule again this year in the SEC and adding a date with Virginia Tech will make for a tough run toward the fans' coveted and almost expected BCS title bid. Senior quarterback Matt Flynn has the surroundings to make it happen.
Key Player - RB Mike Hart
Up and Coming player - DE Brandon Graham
Overview: The offense, led by quarterback Chad Henne, should be balanced and very well put together all over the field. The defense has to reload with only four returning starters. However, that unit should be very strong as usual with a crop full of talent. This is Michigan's year to beat Ohio State, win the Big 10 outright, and win a bowl game, maybe even the national title.
Key Player - LB James Laurinaitis
Up and Coming player - RB Chris Wells
Overview: The Buckeyes will be young and inexperienced throughout, but an easy schedule the first eight games should allow the youth to mature in-season and become a force in the Big 10. Running back Chris Wells will be a star in their offense. Laurinaitis leads a defense which should be as strong as usual. Ohio State plays Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in three of the last four games and if they win a couple of them they could be in the spotlight again.
Key Player - RB Allen Patrick
Up and Coming player - QB Sam Bradford
Overview: Oklahoma lost their best player, but Allen Patrick always filled in nicely when Adrian Peterson wasn't available. A veteran offensive line, which includes five juniors and four returning starters, should lead a running attack on which the team will thrive. If they can beat Texas, they'll have a great shot at defending their Big 12 title and another appearance in a BCS bowl game.
Key Player - QB Erik Ainge
Up and Coming player - WR Lucas Taylor
Overview: Tennessee started hot last year before folding in the big games down the stretch last year. Senior quarterback Ainge is primed to have another outstanding year and lead the Volunteers in a fight for the SEC East. Seven returning starters on offense will make Tennessee a possible high scoring threat this year, which is rare to see in the SEC. The defense's front seven will help make the team balanced overall. If Tennessee wins it's first three, it will finish the year among the elite in the nation.
Key Player - QB Colt McCoy
Up and Coming player - CB Chykie Brown
Overview: The Red River Shootout should decide who will be a national player. Will it be Texas or Oklahoma? Texas certainly has what it needs to compete with anybody this year. Six starters return on offense and six return on defense. They reload at the other positions with great talent. The Longhorns are the early favorite to win the Big 12. Quarterback Colt McCoy should improve and will be in the national spotlight along with his team.
Key Player - QB Stephen McGee
Up and Coming player - CB Jordan Peterson
Overview: Texas A&M is coming off a breakout year and should improve greatly this season. Behind junior quarterback Stephen McGee, the Aggies are silently preparing to jump right in and contend with Texas and Oklahoma for the Big 12 South. A&M could very well be 7-0 when traveling to Nebraska on October 20th. The offensive line should be the glue of this team, creating time and space for McGee and the rest of the offense to shine brightly.
Key player - QB John David Booty
Up and Coming player - WR Patrick Turner
Overview: The Trojan defense is no doubt one of the best in the country. Their offense shouldn't have any trouble being known as one of the best either, as usual. Quarterback John David Booty should improve even more and lead a new set of receivers in typical USC fashion. Only a couple teams will contend with USC for the PAC-10, so it should be a smooth ride to the BCS national title game.
Key Player - QB Sean Glennon
Up and Coming player - DB Kam Chancellor
Overview: Virginia Tech is the favorite to win the ACC. Sixteen starters combined, offense and defense, return this year to make sure that happens. It will be tough to accomplish, but if "Beamer ball" becomes a factor this season the Hokies won't have very many problems. They have a chance on September 8th to make a huge statement at LSU. The only main question mark for Virginia Tech this year is at quarterback. Sean Glennon has to become a better decision maker in order for his team to really stand out above the rest.
Key Player - RB Steve Slaton
Up and Coming player - RB Noel Devine
Overview: The defense returns all five starters in the defensive backfield in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense. The defense was good last year and has a chance to be a lot better this year. The offense is quite possibly the most potent, and scary for that matter, in the nation. Versatile quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton could both be Heisman contenders. This just might be the year West Virginia plays for the big one.
Key Player - LB Jonathan Casillas
Up and Coming player - LB Elijah Hodge
Overview: The Badgers are currently riding a nine-game win streak. They should win their first nice games this season before match-ups at Ohio State and against Michigan back to back. Wisconsin defense will again be one of the best in the nation and the offense should still run solidly behind their monstrous offensive line and monster tailback P.J. Hill. If Wisconsin can win their big games and they can pull off a conference title, they could make a run at the BCS title.
15 other teams with the potential to stand out in 2007: