Mark down 2011 as the year of college football.
Nobody’s sure if the 2011 NFL season will actually happen. With the players and owners still miles apart at the negotiating table, there will be plenty of impacts to current players and current college seniors. And when September rolls around and there’s no NFL, all eyes will be on the college game. But one group people may not be thinking about is the impact on rising juniors (and their teams) within college football.
This year 54 juniors left college early to enter the NFL draft, a record high. It used to be that only certified 1st round locks would leave college early. Now, players are jumping in when they may not even go in round 2 or 3. Some credit the possible future labor unrest with causing so many juniors to enter the draft.
But rising juniors, those that are eligible to enter the draft after this season, have a lot to consider as well. With the NFL collective bargaining agreement set to expire in March of 2011 just weeks before the scheduled draft, many will be asking “should I stay or should I go?” And teams that have the star juniors may hit the jackpot – an extra year with a certifiable star could make their teams better and could make 2011 the best year of college football ever.
Let’s look at several key players by position:
Terrelle Pryor – Ohio State – this guy had 3-years-and-out written all over him. With more experience behind center, Pryor will actually benefit from 4 years in the college game. And as for Ohio State, having a four-year starting QB going into 2011 would make them the front-runner for the title.
Ryan Mallett – Arkansas – Poor Michigan (and Rich Rod). When Mallett transferred to Arkansas, they were left with a walk-on to start at quarterback, and Arkansas counted their lucky stars with a new coach and a highly-rated QB. At 6’7”, NFL scouts will drool over him, but he was already eligible for the draft this year (redshirted due to transferring), so Arkansas could get yet another year from him.
Andrew Luck – Stanford – Just think what Stanford can do in 2011 with Luck, and with USC becoming a mess under Lane Kiffin. The Pac-10 will be wide open for the foreseeable future.
Mark Ingram – Alabama – Staying at ‘Bama could earn Ingram his second Heisman trophy, or possibly even his third, putting him in the company of Archie Griffin as the only 2-time winner.
Ryan Williams – Virginia Tech – Williams emerged as a powerful presence for the Hokies. In 2011 Tyrod Taylor will be gone, but a returning Williams could keep them relevant, and keep pressure off the new quarterback by taking his share of the load.
Quiz Rodgers – Oregon State – Similar to Luck’s situation, I expect the Pac-10 to be a free-for-all in coming years, and Rodgers can keep Oregon State in the midst of it.
A.J. Green – Georgia – Often compared to Andre Johnson and Randy Moss (sans attitude). Could a lockout keep his tremendous talent at Georgia?
Julio Jones – Alabama – Imagine Jones and Ingram both coming back for their senior years.
Michael Floyd – Notre Dame – j/k. There’s no way Notre Dame will be relevant in the next few years.