Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft.
First-Team Quarterback: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
A year ago, everybody thought Andrew Luck would end up being the First-Team quarterback, but an athletic future superstar named Robert Griffin surpassed Luck to be the First-Team pick and the Heisman Trophy winner. This year, Thomas could be the player who has a massive season to breakout across college football.
Thomas (6-6, 262) is a big, athletic signal-caller who has a strong arm. He has a similar skill set to Cam Newton. In Thomas' first year as a starter, he set the school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, running for 627 yards (469 net) and 11 scores. Thomas completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,013 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, too.
With running back David Wilson in the NFL, Thomas figures to carry the load for the Hokies' offense. He has a workable schedule of defenses to go against in the ACC. It wouldn't be surprising if Thomas puts up some staggering totals in 2012.
The Virginia Tech signal-caller needs to develop his skills as a passer for the next level. He needs to improve his accuracy, footwork and reading defenses. Those are the essential tools for pocket passing in the NFL. Thomas has big-time potential, and he could skyrocket to the top of the draft class.
Second-Team Quarterback: Matt Barkley, USC
Barkley is all but guaranteed to have a good season. He has a tremendous supporting cast to work with, including one of the best receivers in the nation, Robert Woods. The offense has a number of other good receivers and a quality running back in Curtis McNeal. Barkley has an offensive line that should protect him well and provide their signal-caller with plenty of time to distribute the ball to his playmakers. At this point in his college career, he looks poised for a dominant year.
Barkley laid claim to the Trojans' starting quarterback position as a freshman and completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also threw 14 interceptions. In 12 games in 2010, the 6-foot-2, 220 pounder improved his production by completing 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Barkley had some huge outings last year while completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He really improved his decision making. Barkley is adept at reading defenses quickly and working through his progressions. He has mastered a West Coast offense.
Barkley may not produce as much as Thomas does for a variety of reasons. The other players the Trojans have, like McNeal, will take away scores from Barkley. USC also figures to be playing from a lead on a weekly basis, so Barkley may only see one half of the game where he is throwing the ball often.
Assuming his measurements are not exaggerated, Barkley looks poised to be a high first-round pick. He has great intangibles and is extremely pro ready. Barkley has franchise quarterback written all over him.
Third-Team Quarterback: Geno Smith, West Virginia
Smith had a massive 2011 season, and it wouldn't be surprising if he put up another big stat line this year. Smith has two talented receivers returning and he will take on the Big XII's porous defenses. They may be slightly more challenging than what the Mountaineers signal-caller saw in the Big East in 2011, but the lack of strong defenses in the Big XII last season was striking.
Smith, as a junior last year, completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,385 yards with 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 180 yards and two scores. Smith played his heart out against LSU's talented defense in a losing effort with 463 yards passing versus a Tigers' secondary comprised of NFL talent. He had a completion percentage of 65 percent for 2,763 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2010.
Smith shows the arm to be quality passer with some natural accuracy. The senior is somewhat raw, but if he develops as a pocket passer, he could push himself into first-round consideration. Smith is a good athlete who could fit well in a West Coast offense.
Honorable Mentions: Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Washington quarterback Keith Price and Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel.