By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - They are often the brashest of players, but it seems these days those who play with a swagger elevate their game and by nature their teams to new heights. Whether they go by wide receiver, flanker or any other name, these players can change the momentum of a game with one play.
Here are the top wideouts heading into the 2010 season.
A.J. GREEN, GEORGIA
Perhaps the top "difference maker" on the outside in all of the FBS, Green can
do it all. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, there isn't much to dislike about this
Bulldog. Plenty of speed and great hands separate him from the rest of field.
A two-time All-SEC First Team selection, Green is coming off a 2009 campaign
in which he hauled in 53 balls for 808 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers
were slightly off his amazing freshman season (56 receptions for 963 yards and
eight TDs), but a lot of that had to do with injuries and the Bulldogs' lack
of consistency as a whole last year (8-5). If Georgia is to return to SEC
glory in 2010, expect Green to be the main reason why.
MICHAEL FLOYD, NOTRE DAME
The definition of a big play wideout. The Irish have something special in
Floyd, who will probably jump ship to the NFL following this season. With
great size (6-3, 220) and athleticism, it is awfully tough to contain him
down the field. Last season, he played in just seven games before breaking his
collarbone, and still finished with 44 receptions for 795 yards and nine TDs.
There will be a new QB in South Bend to go with a new coaching staff and new
system, but if Brian Kelly is to bring the Irish back to prominence, Floyd is
the kind of building block to start with.
JONATHAN BALDWIN, PITTSBURGH
Showed immediate promise as a freshman in 2008, averaging 22.4 yards per catch
on 18 receptions. Baldwin took it to a higher level as a sophomore, grabbing
57 balls for 1,111 yards and eight TDs. At 6-5, 225 pounds, he has the size
that keeps NFL scouts drooling. Whether he takes the next step and becomes a
household name this year depends a lot on the quarterback situation at
Pittsburgh. Baldwin enjoyed great success with a veteran signal-caller last
season and will need to form a solid foundation early on with the Panthers'
new QB if he is to put up big numbers again. Pittsburgh will once again rely
heavily on the run, but when the team goes vertical, Baldwin will be the
target more often than not.
JULIO JONES, ALABAMA
Yes, the Crimson Tide won the national championship last season, but it took
the extremely gifted Jones quite awhile to get going and be a regular
contributor. The 6-4, 211-pounder struggled with injuries in 2009, after being
named the SEC Freshman of the Year and earning All-American honors in 2008.
His 24 receptions for 331 yards and three TDs this past season certainly
aren't the kind of numbers that jump out at you, but, make no mistake, when
he's healthy, he rivals the best in the game. The Crimson Tide have some holes
to fill this year, but the offensive side of the ball will remain potent. A
devastating ground game led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram
should open things up for Jones down the field, providing he is able to suit
up all season long.
RYAN BROYLES, OKLAHOMA
Broyles won't scare defenders with his size (5-11, 183), but still creates
mismatches. The Sooners had a down year in 2009, but Broyles didn't. Despite a
quarterback change resulting in the loss of the then-reigning Heisman
Trophy winner, Broyles still put up huge numbers, hauling in a school-record
89 balls for 1,120 yards and a school-record-tying 15 TDs, dwarfing his
2008 season, when he set the school record for receiving yards by a freshman
(687). The OU offense will be much better this season with a "veteran"
sophomore QB under center. The Sooners will return to national prominence in
2010 and Broyles will have a big hand in that.
JAMES CLEVELAND, HOUSTON
Cleveland has finally found a home at Houston. A former Iowa Hawkeye who spent
a season at Trinity Valley Community College, the 6-1, 205-pounder settled in
with the Cougars last season and formed an immediate connection with standout
QB Case Keenum while being tabbed the 2009 Conference USA Newcomer of the
Year. Did Cleveland benefit from the system in Houston? Who cares. His first
year couldn't have gone much better, as he caught just about everything thrown
his way, resulting in 104 receptions for 1,214 yards and 14 TDs. He has the
kind of size to be effective at the next level and another big year in the FBS
ranks could have him climb the draft boards at a rapid pace. Houston will be
in the hunt for the Conference USA crown, and look for the Keenum-to-Cleveland
connection to be front and center along the way.
JERMAINE KEARSE, WASHINGTON
There hasn't been much to cheer about as a Washington fan the last couple of
years, but the potential of the 6-2, 200-pound Kearse is certainly reason for
optimism in 2010. An All-Pac-10 Second Team selection as a sophomore, Kearse
led the team in receptions (50), receiving yards (866) and TDs (eight) in
2009. He has one of the game's top quarterbacks in Jake Locker back in the
fold, so look for another increase in numbers. Whether his production helps
the rebuilding Huskies add to their modest five-win total from 2009 remains to
be seen, but the talented Kearse must be accounted for at all times.
JAMES RODGERS, OREGON STATE
This talented Beaver is overshadowed by his little brother (running back
Jacquizz Rodgers) in Corvallis, but is certainly a game-changer in his own
right. A versatile player, the elder Rodgers is one of the Pac-10's elite
wideouts, who doesn't mind getting involved in the ground game, return game,
or as a blocker, despite his diminutive size (5-7, 188). Last season, Rodgers
was an All-Pac-10 First Team selection after setting a school record with 91
receptions, going for 1,034 yards with nine TDs. He also set OSU's single-
season record for all-purpose yardage (2,328). A tough non-conference slate
that includes TCU and Boise State may hinder the team's ability to exceed last
season's eight-win total, but with the ultra-talented Rodgers' brothers on the
field, anything is possible.
GREG SALAS, HAWAII
Playing in the WAC usually won't help a player in terms of national attention.
Add to that the fact that he plays well off the mainland at the University of
Hawaii and you can understand how this talented wideout has gone overlooked
week-in and week-out. As a junior in 2009, Salas was among the nation's
leaders, finishing with 106 receptions for 1,590 yards and eight TDs, leading
the WAC in both receptions and receiving yards per game (fourth in the nation
at 122.3 ypg). He plays the slot position for the Warriors and the 6-2
California native is as reliable an outlet as there is in FBS. Hawaii finished
just under .500 last year (6-7) and if the team is to earn a winning season in
2010, you can bet Salas' fingerprints will be all over it.
TITUS YOUNG, BOISE STATE
A key cog for one of college football's most prolific offenses, Young burst on
the scene as a junior in 2009, hauling in 79 balls for 1,041 yards and 10 TDs
and becoming a go-to-guy for All-American QB Kellen Moore. Having Austin
Pettis (63 balls for 855 yards and 14 TDs) on the other side doesn't hurt
either, but Young is much more versatile, scoring three more TDs on the ground
and another two on kick returns, while earning All-WAC First Team honors in
2009 as both a receiver and return specialist. What Young lacks in size (5-11,
170), he more than makes up for in playmaking ability. The Broncos could
finish their stay in the WAC (they're moving to the Mountain West in 2011)
with a national championship run. Look for Young to be a difference maker on a
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Austin Pettis (Boise State), Deonte Thompson
(Florida), Leonard Hankerson (Miami-Florida), Alshon Jeffrey (South Carolina),
Devier Posey (Ohio State), Niles Paul (Nebraska).