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. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.
The Rimington Trophy is given to the top center in college football.
Rimington Trophy Winner:
Barrett Jones, Alabama
Even though Jones will be at a new position as Alabama's starting center, I think he'll be the best center in college football in 2012. Jones is entering his fourth season as a starter and was one of the nation's best guards in 2009 and 2010. His size, speed, strength and athleticism on the interior of the offensive line combine to form an overwhelming force for defensive tackles and linebackers to handle.
Jones had a tremendous junior season at left tackle for the Crimson Tide's National Championship team in 2011. He was a fabulous run blocker for Trent Richardson while also serving as a reliable pass-protector. Jones, a First-Team All-American last year, was rock solid against LSU's premier pass-rushing defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery in both matchups.
Jones started 14 games at guard in 2009 as a redshirt freshman and Mark Ingram ran his way to a Heisman while Alabama won a National Championship. Jones stayed at right guard and started 11 games there in 2010. He was named as a First-Team All-SEC selection that season and again in 2011.
Jones is powerful and athletic. Since the 6-foot-5, 311-pounder can play well at left tackle, he should be dominant once again as an interior linemen. Jones has tons of experience and is extremely intelligent. He has a complete skill set as an offensive linemen. Defensive linemen could easily find that Jones is the most devastating center in the nation this season. Playing in the middle for the defending National Champs will earn Jones plenty of attention.
Khaled Holmes, USC
With a Heisman-favorite taking snaps from him, Holmes figures to maybe the most watched center by voters next season. Quarterback Matt Barkley will be one of the most high-profile players in the nation this season, so everybody will get a good look at Holmes.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Holmes is extremely quick and athletic. He glides well in pass-protection and is the leader for USC's interior line at keeping the pocket clean for Barkley. Holmes really did a great job of opening up holes in the ground game for Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler in 2011.
Holmes could use some more strength for his senior year; he has the frame to add it. It would really help Holmes' status if he plays well against Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and UCLA tackle Cassius Marsh. If Holmes does well against them and gets more powerful at the point of attack, he could win the Rimington Trophy over Jones.
Riminigton Dark Horse:
Sam Schwartzstein, Stanford
Schwartzstein is one of the most underrated centers in the nation. That is somewhat surprising considering he played in front of Andrew Luck last season, but many are overlooking Schwartzstein heading into his senior season. Teammates Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro took a lot of the spotlight during the 2011 season as the Cardinal's top offensive linemen, but the center had an excellent year.
Schwartzstein won the starting center position leading up to the 2011 season, and was he extremely consistent. Schwartzstein and DeCastro led the way for Stanford to have a strong interior running game, and they kept the pocket clean for Luck. Schwartzstein played a leading role in shutting down defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu when the Cardinal played the Huskies. It was an excellent tape for Schwartzstein to display his talents.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder is agile and quick. He packs a nice punch, too. While Schwartzstein has lost talent around him, he has running back Stephan Taylor returning for his senior season, and Stanford should feature a strong running game. Don't be surprised if Schwartzstein impresses NFL talent evaluators leading into the 2013 NFL Draft.
Honorable Mentions: Clemson center Dalton Freeman, Iowa center James Ferentz, Illinois center Graham Pocic, Louisville center Mario Benavides, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma center Ben Habern and Oklahoma State center Grant Garner.