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Keep an eye on these rising young stars

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Rich Cirminiello

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It's part of the fun of college football: the turnover of talent. Out goes Tebow, McCoy, and Bradford, and in steps a whole new slew of stars ready to take over the national spotlight.

The players below might not win Heismans or be sure-thing All-Americans, but they’re coming off of monstrous 2009 seasons and they’re expected to be among the best players in the country in 2010. If you haven’t heard of many of them, that’s fine, but you’ll need to know who they are going into the season.

Here are the five relatively obscure stars in each conference that you must know about going into the 2010 season.

Five new ACC stars you must know

1. LB Luke Kuechly, Soph. Boston College

After just one season on campus, he’s already one of the budding stars of the ACC. And he has the perfect low-key, grounded demeanor to not allow the instant success to become a stumbling block. An all-conference first teamer and the nation’s second-leading tackler in 2009, the sky’s the limit for the precocious sophomore-to-be. Plus, assuming Mark Herzlich makes a successful return after beating cancer, Kuechly figures to be a key component of one of the nation’s best corps of linebackers.

2. RB Torrey Smith, Soph. Maryland
3. LB Steve Greer, Soph. Virginia
4. DE Robert Quinn, Jr. North Carolina
5. WR Donovan Varner, Jr. Duke

Five new Big 12 stars you must know

1. RB Daniel Thomas, Sr. Kansas State
Daniel Thomas (Getty Images)

Kansas State's Daniel Thomas rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2009.
Jeff Gross


Thomas has the potential to be to Kansas State what Shonn Greene was to Iowa in 2008. One of the main differences is that Thomas is back in college for a final year, while Greene parlayed his monster season into a quick exit to the NFL. Even after leading the Big 12 in rushing, he’s still a well-kept secret on a national level. That won’t last, however, especially since he’s in a far better position for success in 2010 than when he arrived last summer without even a set position on the depth chart.

2. DE Aldon Smith, Soph. Missouri
3. RB Cyrus Gray, Jr. Texas A&M
4. WR Scotty McKnight, Sr. Colorado
5. LB Brian Duncan, Sr. Texas Tech

Five new Big East stars you must know

1. RB Jordan Todman, Jr. Connecticut

Todman is well on his way to becoming the next installment of a Husky back, with a career path that winds up in the pros. After showing hints of potential as a true freshman, he erupted when the touches increased in 2009, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and landing on the All-Big East second team. After enjoying a breakout year while sharing the load with Dixon, there’s no telling what Todman can accomplish now that he’s the alpha dog in East Hartford.

2. LB Doug Hogue, Sr. Syracuse
3. WR Mohamed Sanu, Soph. Rutgers
4. RB Mike Jones, Jr. Syracuse
5. LB J.K. Schaffer, Jr. Cincinnati

Five new Big Ten stars you must know

1. S Tyler Sash, Jr. Iowa

He is the embodiment of what it means to be an Iowa Hawkeye. While not the biggest, fastest, or most heavily recruited coming out of Oskaloosa (IA) High School, he’s quickly become one of the nation’s premier safeties. Johnny-on-the-spot when the Iowa D needs a game-changing play, he’ll defend the pass with the same intensity that he defends the run. A freshman All-American in his debut and an All-Big Ten first teamer a year ago, he’ll be one of the cornerstones of that underrated Iowa defense for the next two seasons.

2. WR/KR Tandon Doss, Jr. Indiana
3. DE Ryan Kerrigan, Jr. Purdue
4. RB Mikel Leshoure, Jr. Illinois
5. LB Brian Rolle, Sr. Ohio State

Five new Conference USA stars you must know

1. WR James Cleveland, Sr. Houston

He’s the top returning receiver in an offense that led the nation in total yards and scoring a year ago, and brings back Heisman-contending QB Case Keenum. By catching more than 100 passes in his first season at Houston, he became an instant favorite in fantasy circles and a new target for NFL scouts in charge of covering the Southwest. After erupting in his debut, there’s no telling what he’s capable of accomplishing now that he has that first full season in the vault.

2. RB Donald Buckram, Sr. UTEP
3. DE Bruce Miller, Sr. UCF
4. RB Brynn Harvey, Jr. UCF
5. S Travis Bradshaw, Sr. Rice

Five new independent stars you must know

1. QB Ricky Dobbs, Sr. Navy
Ricky Dobbs (Getty Images)

Navy's Ricky Dobbs is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and makes a big impression on and off the field.
Jamie Sabau


On the field, he’s the catalyst for a Navy program that’s been to seven straight bowl games, has beaten Notre Dame in two of the last three seasons, and was fourth nationally in rushing a year ago. After running for 27 touchdowns, an NCAA record for a quarterback, he’s destined to begin 2010 as a bona fide Heisman contender. Away from the field, he’s everything you’d want your son to become and will be helping protect the country on a surface warfare ship upon graduation next year. In fact, if you don’t care about Dobbs, you’re missing one of the truly good stories for 2010 in college football.

2. DE Josh McNary, Sr. Navy
3. QB Dayne Christ, Jr. Notre Dame
4. LB Stephen Anderson, Sr. Army
5. LB Brian Smith, Sr. Notre Dame

Five new MAC stars you must know

1. RB Bernard Pierce, Soph. Temple

He’s one of the best young backs in America, coming off an auspicious debut at this level. He’s also the fresh face of an up-and-coming program under Al Golden that could be the MAC standard-bearer for the next few years. After one season in Philadelphia, Pierce has only scratched the surface of his potential, flashing the running ability to perennially pile up gaudy numbers for the Owls.

2. RB Chad Spann. Sr. Northern Illinois
3. WR Eric Page, Jr. Toledo
4. LB Adrian Robinson, Jr. Temple
5. LB Brian Wagner, Soph. Akron

Five new Mountain West stars you must know

1. LB Tank Carder, Sr. TCU

TCU is a program that perennially develops at least one or two outstanding defensive players worthy of national recognition and attention from pro scouts. Carder has the potential to be that guy in 2010 and 2011. In just his first season as a starter, he played an integral role on the nation’s top-ranked defense, earning a spot on the All-Mountain West second team. That year of experience coupled with the graduations of some key veterans means he’s poised for the kind of breakthrough junior year that reverberates outside the walls of the conference.

2. LB Carmen Messina, Jr. New Mexico
3. QB Ryan Lindley, Jr. San Diego State
4. RB Eddie Wide, Sr. Utah
5. DE Johnathan Rainey, Jr. New Mexico

Five new Pac-10 stars you must know

1. RB Shane Vereen, Jr. California

He’s on the tarmac and preparing for lift-off. After rushing for more than 1,600 yards in a complimentary role the last two seasons, all signs point to Vereen being one of this year’s breakout stars of the Pac-10, if not the nation. Supported by a massive, veteran offensive line and an experienced quarterback, he’s poised to bust out as the focal point of Tedford’s offense. Although still a well-kept secret outside the borders of the conference, that’s not likely to last beyond the first month of the 2010 season.

2. QB Nick Foles, Jr. Arizona
3. DE Kenny Rowe, Sr. Oregon
4. LB Malcolm Smith, Sr. USC
5. DE Tom Keiser, Jr. Stanford

Five new SEC stars you must know

1. WR Randall Cobb, Jr. Kentucky

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Cobb is one of the most exciting all-purpose players in America and the face of a Kentucky program that’s surprisingly been to four consecutive bowl games. Named to the All-SEC first team for his myriad abilities, he’s made quite an evolution in his first season moving out from behind center. With a full year of experience at wide receiver and a staff looking for even more ways to employ his athleticism, he’d be a fringe Heisman contender if the ‘Cats had some gravitas on the national stage.

2. RB Warren Norman, Soph. Vanderbilt
3. LB Kelvin Sheppard, Sr. LSU
4. WR Darvin Adams, Jr. Auburn
5. DE Justin Houston, Jr. Florida

Five new Sun Belt stars you must know

1. RB Lance Dunbar, Jr. North Texas

He’s one of the best small-school backs in the country that you’ve never seen in action. And he’s only scratched the surface of his potential. Forced into action when injuries struck the Mean Green backfield, he exploded as the starter, running for more than 100 yards in eight of his final nine games and finishing behind just Florida Atlantic’s Alfred Morris in the Sun Belt hierarchy. With two years of eligibility left, Dunbar is going to hang up some monster numbers before he’s through.

2. RB Bobby Rainey, Jr. Western Kentucky
3. S Marcus Bartels, Jr. Florida Atlantic
4. WR T.Y. Hilton, Jr. FIU
5. LB Grant Fleming, Sr. Western Kentucky

Five new WAC stars you must know

1. DE Dontay Moch, Sr. Nevada

The reigning WAC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time all-star, Moch is evidence that they do indeed play some defense in Reno. A true playmaker from the end spot, he possesses all of the athleticism of some receivers and backs, commanding constant attention from opposing linemen. A bundle of energy who’s had a tackle for loss in 19 of the last 26 games, he has one final year to show scouts he belongs in the NFL.

2. RB Robert Turbin, Jr. Utah State
3. S Shiloh Keo, Sr. Idaho
4. DE Ryan Winterswyk, Sr. Boise State
5. WR Greg Salas, Sr. Hawaii
Tagged: Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, Iowa, Notre Dame, Kansas State, New Mexico

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