First-time starters bound for breakout seasons. See also: The Doc's Up-and-Coming Defense.
QUARTERBACK • Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Alternately projected as a tight end, a wide receiver or an "athlete" out of Lynchburg, Va., Thomas managed not only to stick at quarterback in Blacksburg, but has impressed coaches so much that they reshuffled the offensive staff this spring to better suit his talents as a pocket passer. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Thomas already has the NFL's eye as a Josh Freeman clone, and — given dramatically better surroundings at Tech than Freeman ever enjoyed at Kansas State — may be coach Frank Beamer's last, best shot at a BCS championship over the next three years.
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Honorable Mention: James Franklin (Missouri); Mike Glennon (N.C. State); Randall Mackey (Ole Miss); Casey Paschall (TCU); Tyler Wilson (Arkansas).
RUNNING BACK • Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
The numbers coming out of Oklahoma State on a weekly basis last year guaranteed plenty of headlines for the prolific offense, most of them devoted to consensus All-Americans Justin Blackmon and Kendall Hunter. But Cowboy fans had to be equally intrigued by Randle, who commanded enough attention of his own as Hunter's true-freshman backup to rack up 880 yards from scrimmage with five 100-yard games as a rusher and receiver. OSU has produced a 1,200-yard rusher each of the last four years, and at 5.5 yards a pop, Randle should extend the streak with room to spare.
RUNNING BACK • Spencer Ware, LSU
Ware showed up in Baton Rouge last summer as a hyped five-star recruit and promptly took his place on the bench, logging all of 14 carries — most of them in garbage time — behind All-SEC starter Stevan Ridley during the regular season. Suddenly, though, on the heels of the hulking Ohioan's 10-carry, 102-yard breakthrough in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M and Ridley's decision to throw his hat into the draft, Ware hits his sophomore season looking less like a question mark than one of the lynchpins of the Tigers' SEC championship push.
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Honorable Mention: Mike Ball (Nevada); Brennan Clay (Oklahoma); Roy Finch (Oklahoma); Silas Redd (Penn State); Rod Smith (Ohio State).
WIDE RECEIVER • Geraldo Hiwat, Boise State
Hiwat is one of three native Dutchmen on the Broncos' roster via an improbable Amsterdam-to-Boise pipeline, and wasted no time this spring establishing himself as the heir apparent to departed Titus Young and Austin Pettis, the leading receivers in school history. Quarterback Kellen Moore is still pulling the trigger as a fifth-year senior, meaning Hiwat should have every opportunity to begin moving into the same stratosphere.
WIDE RECEIVER • Josh Huff, Oregon
Another of many touted Texas transplants in Eugene, Huff was the only true freshman to play in every game for the Ducks' Death Star offense in 2010, and made an instant impact by finishing second on the team — behind only Heisman finalist LaMichael James — in all-purpose yards as a rusher, receiver and return man (mostly as the latter). With a veteran quarterback and last year's top two receivers on their way out, the only thing keeping Huff from taking on an expanded role in the offense is his health.
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Honorable Mention: Duron Carter (Alabama); Adrian Coxson (Maryland); Kyle Prater (USC); Trovon Reed (Auburn); Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee).
TIGHT END • Levine Toilolo, Stanford
A looming, power forward-like product out of the same San Diego high school that produced Reggie Bush, Toilolo picked the right offense for a hyped tight end: Stanford rotated at least three tight ends on a regular basis last year, all of whom fared well as receivers in the Cardinal's democratic passing attack. Toilolo was supposed to be part of that group as a redshirt freshman, until he was injured on his only catch — a 27-yard gain on the second snap of the season against Portland State. This year, he's healthy, has an opening with the graduation of regular Konrad Reuland and still has Andrew Luck distributing the ball in the same TE-friendly scheme.
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Honorable Mention: Chris Gragg (Arkansas); Xavier Grimble (USC).
TACKLE • Malcolm Bunche, Miami
Bunche was overshadowed in the recruiting rankings and on the depth chart last year by classmate Seantrel Henderson, the mega-hyped man mountain who mostly lived up to the advance billing by starting 10 games and picking up widespread freshman All-America notices while Bunche bided his time as a redshirt. As a sophomore, Henderson was scheduled to make the natural transition from right tackle to left without controversy.
But when the 'Canes released a preliminary depth chart at the start of spring practice, it was Bunche listed as No. 1 on the left side, not Henderson, who was slated as a backup. That's how it stood at the end of spring practice, too, with new coach Al Golden vowing his seriousness: "You don't mess around with that position." If anything, Henderson is more likely to move back to the right side at this point than displace Bunche, who could be settling in for the long haul.
TACKLE • Rob Crisp, N.C. State
Crisp's signature in 2010 was the Wolfpack's first from a five-star prospect since 2004, which might have played a minor role in his presence in the starting lineup for the season opener against Western Carolina — a role he wouldn't reprise for the rest of the year. Crisp did play in every game behind senior mainstay Jake Vermiglio, though, and assumes the full-time position as a sophomore with the same NFL-bound potential that accompanied him to campus.
GUARD • Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
Huge, nasty offensive linemen rank right alongside machinery and Les Paul on the list of Wisconsin's major exports, but only one of them has ever come out with the first team in their first game as a true freshman: Frederick's start in the Badger's season-opening win over Northern Illinois in 2009 was the first of four starts for the 6-foot-4, 335-pounder over the course of the season, at both center and guard. Last year, coaches asked Frederick to redshirt behind All-American John Moffitt — he spent the season charting plays, formations and defensive tendencies from the sideline — with an eye toward shoring up depth in 2011. Even after losing Moffitt and Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi, comebacks by Frederick and injury casualty Josh Oglesby will still give the Badgers' front line 74 career starts going into the season.
GUARD • Chris Watt, Notre Dame
Watt's trajectory to the starting lineup has been textbook: He arrived as one of the most touted interior line prospects in the country in 2009, redshirted as a true freshman and appeared in every game last year as a backup. Now he steps into the full-time role at right guard as the only new starter on the entire Irish offense.
CENTER • Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
In addition to his status as one of the most prolific tweeters in the game, Harrison qualifies as a veteran by the standards of Florida's hopelessly green front: With his first career start in the Outback Bowl win over Penn State, he joins 2009 classmates Xavier Nixon and Jon Halapio and likely backup James Wilson as the only offensive linemen who have actually started a game for the Gators. In Harrison's case, he was a left guard for the bowl game, but made a smooth transition to center in the spring and seemed to emerge ahead of projected starter Sam Robey.
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Honorable Mention: A.J. Cann (South Carolina); Ryan Clanton (Oregon); Chris Faulk (LSU); Kevin Graf (USC); Chaz Greene (Florida); Marcus Hall (Ohio State); Paden Kelley (Texas); Jack Mewhort (Ohio State); Houston Reynolds (BYU); Brennan Williams (North Carolina).