|Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press|
|USC's Leonard Williams will enter the 2014 season at full health after playing through an injury last season.|
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
Players to watch: QB Braxton Miller, DT Michael Bennett, DL Joey Bosa, DL Noah Spence
The outlook: The Buckeyes have always been regarded as one of the premier football factories in college football, and 19 Ohio State players have been selected in the first round since 2000, including Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby in 2014. The pipeline should continue to flourish with Urban Meyer snagging three straight top-10 recruiting classes since his arrival in Columbus. If the energetic coach can continue to push his blue-chippers to take their game to the next level through diligent work on the practice field, NFL scouts will continue to make Ohio State one of their destination visits.
Newcomer in the spotlight: LB Raekwon McMillan. The top-rated inside linebacker prospect in the 2014 class reportedly made a strong impression on the coaching staff with his impressive play this spring. Although he is listed as a backup at MLB, McMillan could see significant playing time as a part-time contributor.
7. Stanford Cardinal
Players to watch: OT Andrus Peat, WR Ty Montgomery, QB Kevin Hogan, RB Barry Sanders, Jr., LB A.J. Tarpley
The outlook: Credit Jim Harbaugh for building a solid foundation at Stanford, but it has been David Shaw's tireless work on the recruiting trail that has helped the Cardinal become the bully in the Pac-12. Stanford sports an impressive roster that features a number of blue-chip players on both sides of the ball. In addition, Shaw and his coaching staff have implemented a tremendous development program that helped the team produce 20 NFL draft picks since 2010. Given the combination of talent acquisition and player development that's taking place on The Farm, the Cardinal will continue to be a heavyweight contender in the Pac-12 and remain an important visit for NFL executives looking for quality football players.
Newcomer in the spotlight: DE Solomon Thomas. The newest member of "Nerd Nation" could quickly become a key contributor on the Cardinal defensive line. Checking in at 6-foot-3, 256 pounds with a non-stop motor, Thomas is an ideal fit as an edge rusher in the Cardinal's scheme.
8. USC Trojans
Players to watch: WR Nelson Agholor, LB Hayes Pullard, DL Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens
The outlook: Despite dealing with reduced scholarships due to the NCAA sanctions from the Reggie Bush scandal, the Trojans remain one of the top feeder programs to the NFL. USC has had more first-round selections than any other school in NFL history, and five former Trojans have been selected with the draft's top pick. Thus, it is certainly not a surprise that NFL executives regularly descend on the Coliseum to check out some of the top players in college football. This season, scouts will cast their eyes on Williams and Agholor to see if they're ready to make their mark at the next level. Additionally, scouts will have a chance to look at one of the best young safeties in college football in Cravens. With coach Steve Sarkisian killing it on the recruiting trail, reeling in a top-10 class that features a number of blue-chip talents, the Trojans are firmly entrenched as one of the marquee programs in college football.
Newcomer in the spotlight: CB/WR Adoree Jackson. Two-way players are supposed to be a thing of the past, but Jackson (and fellow freshman Juju Smith) could make immediate contributions on both sides of the ball. A talented athlete with world-class track credentials, Jackson is an explosive playmaker with the speed and quickness to become a difference maker as a versatile weapon.
Top college RBs to watch in 2014Take a look ahead to the 2014 college football season with the best running backs to follow this fall.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
Players to watch: RB Todd Gurley, LB Leonard Floyd, LB Ramik Wilson, WR Malcolm Mitchell
The outlook: Georgia has always been one of the marquee programs that NFL scouts target for blue-chip players, as evidenced by the 28 NFL draft picks the school has produced over the past five seasons. Although the Bulldogs rank third in the SEC behind Alabama (37) and LSU (35) in producing picks during that span, the number certainly suggests that coach Mark Richt has built a football factory that is among the elite programs in the country. The pipeline to the NFL will continue over the next few seasons with Gurley and Floyd ranking among the best underclassmen in football. Factor in the number of four- and five-star recruits that Richt has secured over the past few years, and the Bulldogs' place on this list is secure for a long time to come.
Newcomer in the spotlight: CB Malkom Parrish. The Bulldogs' paper-thin depth at corner could force the team to play the four-star recruit immediately in sub packages. Parrish is an explosive athlete with the natural instincts and awareness to eventually become a standout playmaker on the island.
10. Baylor Bears
Players to watch: QB Bryce Petty, WR Antwan Goodley, WR Levi Norwood, DE Shawn Oakman, RB Shock Linwood
The outlook: It didn't take long for coach Art Briles to whip Baylor into a legitimate title contender in the Big 12. The former high school coach has done it by blazing the recruiting trail to secure a number of four- and five-star recruits, while implementing an innovative scheme that allows blue-chip athletes to play fast and free on the turf. As a result, the Bears have produced 18 NFL draft picks since his arrival in 2009, including eight offensive skill-position players (QB, RB and WR). With Petty, Goodley and Norwood pacing college football's most explosive offense, the Bears could have a few more playmakers soon make their mark in the NFL.
Newcomer in the spotlight: WR K.D. Cannon. The Bears have quietly become a must-visit for teams looking for explosive wide receivers after Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrence Williams made positive impressions as pros. Cannon could eventually make his way to the league as a dynamic pass-catcher with explosive speed and quickness.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.