NCF Nation: 2011-conference-improved-poll

Every season coaches talk about being young. But eventually those young starters and contributors become veteran players. And sometimes breakout stars.

Even more dramatic: Sometimes players go from star to superstar -- see Oregon running back LaMichael James -- who went from all-conference to unanimous All-American, Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist.

So who do you think will make the biggest jump in 2011?

It's impossible to predict, but we've got five candidates.

Oregon State QB Ryan Katz will be in his second year as a starter, so he should make a jump. A lot depends on his supporting cast, particularly the health of his top targets: James Rodgers, Jordan Bishop and TE Joe Halahuni.

Arizona State lost receiver T.J. Simpson this spring, but Gerell Robinson stepped up and more than filled the void. The Sun Devils like to pass, and Robinson figures to be the top target.

Conrad Obi was an afterthought at Colorado before the this spring, but the talented but previously underachieving defensive tackle dominated this spring. He could work his way into the 2012 NFL draft.

USC cornerback Nickell Robey got picked on early in the 2010 season, but that won't happened in 2011. He improved dramatically last fall and he turned in an outstanding spring for the Trojans.

As for Washington's Alameda Ta'amu, he's a 330 pounder who's more than a big body in the middle of the Huskies D-line. He's an often dominant playmaker.

But who makes the biggest jump in 2011?

Poll: SEC's most improved player

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
2:30
PM ET
Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was a runaway winner as the SEC's most improved player last season. He came out of nowhere to win the Lombardi Award and developed into the most dominant interior defensive lineman in college football.

Is there another Nick Fairley out there for 2011?

Who will be the league's most improved players next season?

There are some obvious candidates, and then there are those guys who will fly under the radar similar to the way Fairley did last season.

He wasn't the only one who made huge strides. Arkansas running back Knile Davis, Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf and Ole Miss offensive tackle Bradley Sowell are three others who come to mind.

I've come up with five candidates for most improved honors next season. Tell us in our poll who you think will be the most improved player in the SEC at the end of next season, and I'll break down the results in a post next week.
One of Boston College’s biggest obstacles in recent seasons has been finding a dependable quarterback. Dominique Davis transferred to East Carolina, and his backup, Justin Tuggle also transferred. Dave Shinskie, who came in as a 25-year-old minor league baseball player, was benched last season in favor of a true freshman, Chase Rettig. It’s not the only factor, but how much progress Rettig made between Year 1 and Year 2 will go a long way in determining how seriously the Eagles should be taken in this year’s Atlantic Division race.

Rettig is hardly the only player in the conference, though, whose improvement should be noticeable – and needed. Clemson lost five games by a touchdown or less last season, including the overtime loss to Auburn, which slipped away with a missed field goal in overtime. How much more consistent can kicker Chandler Catanzaro be?

At Miami, the Hurricanes are most in need of improved quarterback play, and Jacory Harris will have to make better decisions in order to win his job back this summer. North Carolina tailback Ryan Houston will be expected to carry the running game this season, but can he break out of the mold of a short-yardage back and become the every down guy for the Heels? At Georgia Tech, quarterback Tevin Washington completed only 41 percent of his passes (25 of 61) for three touchdowns and two interceptions. He, too, must show improvement this summer as there are several eager young quarterbacks waiting in the wings.
We want to hear from you the next few days, so be sure to vote in all the polls we are putting out there. Up next: Which non-AQ player will be most improved in 2011?

As is the case with all of them, it was difficult to whittle the list down to five. I chose these players based on interviews with coaches and spring performances. Coach Gary Patterson praised defensive end Braylon Broughton for his improvement this spring as he steps in for Wayne Daniels. Devon Wylie returns for his senior season and could be a go-to player for new quarterback Derek Carr at Fresno State.

Kyle Padron has had two good seasons and is poised to have an excellent one for SMU, so long as his offensive line comes together and gives him time to throw. Jake Heaps is the full-time starter at BYU and has a new offensive coordinator in Brandon Doman. His maturation and leadership in the spring encouraged not only his coaches but his teammates. He could be poised to have a 3,000-yard season much in the way of his predecessors.

My vote on this one would go to Boise State receiver Geraldo Hiwat. We have to remember he has only been playing football since high school after coming to the United States from the Netherlands. He has tremendous upside. At 6-foot-4, has the ability to be a big-play receiver with his speed and a possession receiver with his size. Much is expected of him this season.
Let's face it: College football's offseason drags on forever. One way to pass the time is to project everything about the upcoming season -- league champions, sleeper teams, disappointing teams and everybody's favorite, breakout players.

It's time to examine which Big Ten player will be most improved in 2011. Now there are far more possibilities than the five men I've listed below, and every Big Ten squad should have a handful of players make a significant jump this fall.

Last season, we saw Wisconsin's J.J. Watt go from a solid defensive lineman to a first-round draft pick. The same held true for Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Not many folks pegged players like Northwestern receiver Jeremy Ebert, Wisconsin cornerback Antonio Fenelus and Michigan State running back Edwin Baker to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors last year, but all three men were among the league's most improved.

Who will have the designation this season? Quarterbacks like Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, who returns to quarterback from the wide receiver spot, all have chances to make major strides. Penn State running back Silas Redd also could take a big step forward. Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon has been billed as a future All-American. Can he have a breakout season in 2011?

Let's hear from you on this topic, which will be revisited throughout the offseason.
College football is all about promotion and development. Players undergo enormous growth in their time on campus, but every year, there's a handful of guys who make the jump from good to great. Who will make the biggest jump in the Big 12?

Brad Madison led Missouri in sacks last season, but did it as a backup. Fellow defensive end Aldon Smith is gone now, though, and Madison slides into a starting role. What's he have in store for 2011?

Like Madison, Damontre Moore filled in for an injured future top 10 pick early in the season, and excelled. Moore, though, did it as a true freshman. Once Von Miller got to full strength from his ankle injury, Moore was relegated back to the bench. Will he become a household name as a sophomore?

Baylor's Josh Gordon showed some flash as a sophomore in 2010, but has the size and speed to become one of college football's top receivers. Will that potential turn to production?

Joseph Randle caught more passes last year than every running back but DeMarco Murray. This year, though, he'll be counted on in a bigger role in the running game. What will be bring as a sophomore?

Corey Nelson made huge waves this spring, further intensified when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called him the best player on the defense. There's no room for him, it would seem, in the starting lineup for the Sooners, but he'll be on the field somehow. Can he crash the party?
Over the next couple of days, I'll be asking you to give your opinion on a variety of burning questions in the Big East.

You'll get a chance to vote in a poll right here and let your voice be heard. We'll tally up the results and react to your decision once the vote it over.

The latest poll question is about most improved players. I've tried to pick some guys I think could really break out and turn into superstars this year. Here are my nominees:
  • Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Inherits the starting job from two-time 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and showed this spring that he can do lots of different things with the ball.
  • Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers: Really came on at the end of last year and has a chance to be the best receiver in the Big East if he plays like that over an entire season.
  • Josh Bellamy, WR, Louisville: First had to adjust from junior college and then had to deal with a concussion; was clearly the Cardinals' best receiver this spring.
  • Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida: A big-time recruit who is now moving into a full-time starting role; could he be the next George Selvie or Jason Pierre-Paul?
  • Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh: Had an up-and-down first year of starting and now will be asked to lead a high-powered, no-huddle offense.

There are your nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard.


Over the next couple of days, I'll be asking you to give your opinion on a variety of burning questions in the Big East.

You'll get a chance to vote in a poll right here and let your voice be heard. We'll tally up the results and react to your decision once the vote it over.

The latest poll question is about most improved players. I've tried to pick some guys I think could really break out and turn into superstars this year. Here are my nominees:

Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Inherits the starting job from two-time 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and showed this spring that he can do lots of different things with the ball.

Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers: Really came on at the end of last year and has a chance to be the best receiver in the Big East if he plays like that over an entire season.

Josh Bellamy, WR, Louisville: First had to adjust from junior college and then had to deal with a concussion; was clearly the Cardinals' best receiver this spring.

Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida: A big-time recruit who is now moving into a full-time starting role; could he be the next George Selvie or Jason Pierre-Paul?

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh: Had an up-and-down first year of starting and now will be asked to lead a high-powered, no-huddle offense.

There are your nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard.

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