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NCF Nation: 2011-conference-impact-poll

Every team needs that one guy to step up and lead. He can be an emotional leader or a leader by example.

These impact players can dictate the direction of a team's season, so the pressure is certainly on them.

Impact players come in all shapes, sizes and positions.

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower's knee appears to finally be healthy, and with his speed and athleticism he should tremendously help the Tide's pass rush. Improving that linebacker unit could propel Alabama's defense to the top of the SEC.

Alshon Jeffery proved last season that he'll be a force for opposing defensive backs to cover for as long as he's in the league. South Carolina's junior wide receiver led the conference with 1,517 receiving yards on 88 catches last season and could be the most important element to the Gamecocks' offense if senior quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. Having a reliable target like Jeffery on the field should help sophomore Connor Shaw if he's thrown into the starting position.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Tennessee's Tyler Bray showed some signs of promise toward the end of last season and will be a key cog in the Volunteers' improvement this season.

With Washaun Ealey out at Georgia, it might only be a matter of time before incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell moves into the starting spot. And while all the attention is on Arkansas' passing game, running back Knile Davis should take some pressure off new quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Every team needs that one guy to step up and lead. He can be an emotional leader or a leader by example.

These impact players can dictate the direction of a team's season, so the pressure is certainly on them.

Impact players come in all shapes, sizes and positions.

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower's knee appears to finally be healthy, and with his speed and athleticism he should tremendously help the Tide's pass rush. Improving that linebacker unit could propel Alabama's defense to the top of the SEC.

Alshon Jeffery proved last season that he'll be a force for opposing defensive backs to cover for as long as he's in the league. South Carolina's junior wide receiver led the conference with 1,517 receiving yards on 88 catches last season and could be the most important element to the Gamecocks' offense if senior quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. Having a reliable target like Jeffery on the field should help sophomore Connor Shaw if he's thrown into the starting position.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Tennessee's Tyler Bray showed some signs of promise toward the end of last season and will be a key cog in the Volunteers' improvement this season.

With Washaun Ealey out at Georgia, it might only be a matter of time before incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell moves into the starting spot. And while all the attention is on Arkansas' passing game, running back Knile Davis should take some pressure off new quarterback Tyler Wilson.
It's now time to look at which Big Ten player will impact games the most during the 2011 season.

Although statistics are great, a better gauge for players is how they consistently impact games. It could be a quarterback carrying an offense with both his arm and his legs. It could be a disruptive defensive tackle changing an opponent's entire offensive strategy. It could be a cornerback taking away one side of the field. In rare cases, it can even be a specialist who's automatic on field-goal attempts from inside 55 yards or can pin the opponent back deep on punts.

Last season, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt impacted games more than any other Big Ten defender. Although I'll stick by my pick of Ryan Kerrigan as the league's Defensive Player of the Year, Watt made impact plays nearly every time he took the field. On the offensive side, quarterbacks Denard Robinson (Michigan), Dan Persa (Northwestern) and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) seemed to impact games the most.

Let's put the spotlight on the 2011 season. Persa and Robinson both return, although Persa is coming off of a serious injury and Robinson is learning a new system. Iowa defensive back Micah Hyde showed last season that he can impact games in big ways. I've seen defensive tackles consistently impact games in the Big Ten, and Nebraska's Jared Crick and Michigan's Mike Martin are two players to watch.

It's your turn to vote on this topic.
We'll do this category a bit different. We're all about the wild cards here on the Big 12 blog. Fear of the unknown? How about the anticipation of the unknown?

In this poll, pick the unknown player that will have the most impact on the 2011 season. (alternate title for this poll: What can Brown do for you?)

Malcolm Brown is one of the nation's top running backs in the 2011 class, and appears to have an opportunity with a pair of underachieving seniors as the featured backs on campus. Can he be the guy to bring the Longhorns running game to life?

Bryce Brown was once a five-star running back prospect just like Malcolm Brown. But his career took a detour to Tennessee before he transferred back closer to his home in Wichita. Is he the answer to replace Daniel Thomas, running behind an offensive line that must replace three starters?

Sheldon Richardson is another former five star who had to go to junior college and committed to USC before re-committing and signing with Missouri. He's expected to be on campus this June, but once he arrives, will he be a game-changer?

Steele Jantz, aside from possessing the league's most intimidating name, is entrenched in a four-man race to be Iowa State's new quarterback. Is he the man to replace Austen Arnaud?

Arthur Brown, like his brother Bryce, was once one of the nation's top recruits, but signed with Miami. Also like his brother, he's back closer to home and made a big impact this spring. Will that continue through to the fall?

Vote: Impact non-AQ players

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
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So which non-AQ player will have the biggest impact in 2011? Let your voice be heard and vote. I am pretty sure I know who is going to win in this category.

It is hard to pick against Kellen Moore of Boise State. He is a Heisman Trophy finalist and has helped Boise State make it into a BCS game and will probably have them ranked in the preseason Top 10 once again. Moore is expected to elevate his young receivers because of his experience and his smarts. Another 3,000-yard passing season should be in the offing.

As for the other candidates, I went with three players expected to have good seasons and one wild card in Tyler Lantrip of Nevada. He is on the list because I think how he does will largely impact how Nevada does. If he comes right into the Pistol and picks up where Colin Kaepernick left off, the Wolf Pack will win the WAC. If he struggles, then a conference title will be harder to win. The question for Chris Ault in that case is this -- does he stick with a struggling Lantrip, who is a senior, or get redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo in if he is the quarterback of the future?

Tank Carder of TCU should be a first-team All-American; Case Keenum should put Houston back into a bowl game; and Jake Heaps has the potential to get BYU back into the Top 25.
Some players can take over games. Some players practically will their team to success. They are the impact players who are out front, making a team substantially better.

There's a long list of players returning in the Pac-12 in 2011 who could have a huge impact -- on both sides of the ball. But we're going to focus on offense because, hey, this is the Pac-12.

Quarterbacks, naturally, lead the way, but at least one running back could determine whether his team is a factor in the conference's North Division.

Andrew Luck, as the Heisman Trophy runner-up, is the best returning player in the nation, but Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas put up numbers last fall that were nearly as good. And Thomas might be asked to throw more this fall because of a rebuilding offensive line.

Washington's season transformed in 2010 when it started leaning on running back Chris Polk instead of QB Jake Locker. He rushed for 1,415 yards last year and could go much higher in 2011.

Speaking of big numbers, two other veteran QBs -- USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles -- should put up big numbers. Both will be throwing to deep, athletic crews of receivers. Further, both will be playing behind offensive lines that may struggle to run block. It's possible one or both could eclipse the 4,00o-yard benchmark passing, though Foles is far more likely to do so in a spread offense versus Barkley's pro-style scheme.
We're continuing to ask for your opinion on some burning questions facing the Big East in 2011.

You can vote on the poll included on this post, and we'll tally the results and react to them when the voting concludes. The topic now is: biggest impact newcomers.

I've selected five players who weren't on the field last year who could make an impact on this year's Big East race. Here are the nominees:
  • Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers: The 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman was wildly impressive this spring and could develop into a star quickly with his blend of size and speed.
  • Vernard Roberts, RB, West Virginia: The true freshman took the lead in the West Virginia running back race this spring, and in Dana Holgorsen's offense he could put up huge numbers.
  • Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers: Arguably the top recruit in the Big East this year, Huggins has already drawn Ray Rice comparisons and hasn't even started taking classes yet.
  • Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: The Cardinals' quarterback of the future couldn't beat out Will Stein this spring but has a whole summer to make up ground.
  • Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Cincinnati: The junior-college transfer is already a team leader, and coach Butch Jones says Thompkins can be the Bearcats' No. 1 receiver in 2011.

So those are the nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard.
Former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor was a game-changer -- his ability to scramble in the final two minutes of the game is the reason the Hokies beat Nebraska, 16-15 in 2009. Former North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates almost single-handedly beat Florida State last year. And former NC State linebacker Nate Irving caused the fumble that changed the Florida State game -- and the Atlantic Division race.

Those were only a few of the ACC’s 2010 impact players.

Out with the old, in with the new.

With more than half of the conference introducing new quarterbacks, the ACC’s biggest impact player could be a first-year starter. Defensively, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a wrecking ball and has the ability to disrupt the passing game, force fumbles and instinctively find the ball. Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has already proven to be an impact player, as he was the 2009 Gator Bowl MVP, and he led the Noles to a win over South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But can he do it in the ACC championship game this year? Miami running back Lamar Miller was arguably the ACC’s impact performer of the entire spring, and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has little choice but to fill the role if the Hokies are going to defend their Coastal Division title. North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples was one of the best linemen in the ACC last year, and should be even better playing his natural position this fall. He could be this year’s version of Da’Quan Bowers.

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