Matt Barkley should be applauded for returning for his final season at USC, and taking a shot at building on his legacy.
There are still those who will rip him for passing up the NFL’s money and risking his health for the Trojans and Lane Kiffin one more season.
So if Barkley has a bad game or USC loses a game, the critics will come at him from about every direction.
Barkley probably doesn’t care what anyone has to say about him, but he is one the top guys back in 2012 who will likely face the most scrutiny in college football.
Who are the rest?
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Landry Jones is primed for his final run at Oklahoma and through the Big 12.
He’d love nothing more than to deliver that elusive BCS National Championship for the Sooners.
Jones had a nice 2011, but he was also inconsistent at inconvenient times as Oklahoma dropped to third in the Big 12.
OU fans are going to expect a lot from Jones in 2012, and if he slips even the slightest he is going to hear about it.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Tyrann Mathieu is a polarizing figure who was easily one of the most scrutinized players in 2011.
There’s no reason to think that will get any better this coming season.
Luckily for LSU, the Honey Badger doesn’t care.
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Denard Robinson is such a gifted athlete that he can be pure joy to watch.
Because of his physical skills it seems like the expectations are too high to really achieve.
He remains an average thrower at best, and because he takes so many hits he’s almost never 100 percent.
Opposing fans just love to tear this guy down, but he just keeps playing and smiling.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Putting Montee Ball on this list doesn’t seem fair, but any time a Heisman finalist returns, they are bound to be scrutinized.
It was a little bit of a shock when Ball agreed to return to the Badgers, especially knowing how much talent Wisconsin would lose.
So Ball should be commended for wanting to play another season of college ball.
It’s hard to imagine Ball will come anywhere close to the numbers he put up in 2011 this coming season.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
The moment incoming freshman Dorial Green-Beckham signed with Missouri the expectations became immensely huge for the receiver.
It may be too much to ask for Green-Beckham to be the Tigers’ savior in Missouri’s first season in the SEC.
But that is going to be the expectation. Anything short of repeating what Sammy Watkins did for Clemson last year will be a disappointment.
If the fans and coaches can be patient, their prized recruit will deliver soon enough on the promise.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Tyler Wilson proved to be more than adequate to take over for Ryan Mallett at Arkansas.
After leading the Razorbacks to an 11-2 season, Wilson will be called on to take Bobby Petrino’s team to a new level.
It may be too much to ask of Wilson and Arkansas to eclipse Alabama and LSU, but that’s what winning will do to a fanbase.
Now Wilson’s performances will be dissected like never before.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Hopefully Tajh Boyd can put that disastrous Discover Orange Bowl performance behind him.
Boyd looked flustered and lacked confidence in the biggest game of his career.
With the talent back at Clemson and the fresh faces coming on board, the Tigers should be a contender for a few years.
If they fall short of expectations a lot of the blame will likely be hoisted on Boyd’s shoulders.
E.J. Manuel, Florida State
It’s time to live up to the hype.
E.J. Manuel was one of the nation’s top athletes coming out of high school, and Florida State felt it had a future Heisman on campus.
Manuel has been good, but not great.
The tough quarterback could be the guy to get FSU back into the Top Five of the rankings where its fans were so accustomed to seeing the Seminoles.
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
It would be easy to say quarterback Aaron Murray faces the most scrutiny, but if Georgia wants to take the next step, that will fall to the rushing attack.
So expectations are sky-high for running back Isaiah Crowell to be a difference-maker in 2012.
He led the Bulldogs with 850 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground, but the sophomore needs to step it up even more in 2012.
Fans will expect a lot from Murray, but the coaches realize Crowell could put Georgia over the top in the SEC race.
So instead of a puppy, it’s time for Crowell to break out the big dog.
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame
Tommy Rees is the incumbent quarterback at Notre Dame, but everyone from Brian Kelly to the 90-year-old nun isn’t sure he’s up to the task.
Rees will likely begin the season as the starter, but if he starts slow, then Kelly will have a few options.
It could be prep superstar Everett Golson, who is oozing potential.
It could be the talented Andrew Hendrix, who showed off his skills in limited action last season.
Or it could be true freshman Gunner Kiel, who is the nation’s top quarterback prospect.
So you can see that Rees is going to be critiqued from spring practice until that first snap in the fall.
Geno Smith, West Virginia
When you consider how dominant Geno Smith was in his final game of the 2011 season, it’s almost impossible for him to look that good again.
The number of critics should increase as WVU transitions from the lowly Big East to the restructured Big 12.
Smith will have some weapons around him again this fall, most notably his two favorite targets (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey).
If Smith develops into a legitimate Heisman contender then his every flaw will be over-analyzed.
Collin Klein, Kansas State
It’s one thing to come out of nowhere and become the feel-good story of the year.
Now everyone is looking to knock you down a peg.
That’s where quarterback Collin Klein fits.
Once Klein has a bad game or two, the folks who never believed in him will be ready to pounce.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Klein puts together another amazing season.
David Amerson, North Carolina State
As a sophomore, North Carolina State’s David Amerson came out of nowhere to become a ball-hawking corner.
His performance reminds you of how Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley burst onto the scene, but then had a down junior season.
Opponents will likely throw away from Amerson next season so his numbers are likely to drop. As long as he doesn’t feel any pressure to make big plays, Amerson will be fine.
Fans will expect a repeat performance, but it’s going to be tough to lead the nation in interceptions with 13 again.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
Mississippi State fans are hoping Dan Mullen’s fourth season in Starkville, Miss., is the huge breakout season.
Mullen will turn to quarterback Tyler Russell to run his offense.
Russell should benefit from the fact that the Bulldogs underachieved last season, as did senior quarterback Chris Relf.
Mullen has a solid track record of developing quarterbacks, so that builds up the hype for Russell to do well in 2012.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Ohio State had hoped Braxton Miller could have spent most of the 2011 season on the sidelines learning during a trying season.
But then-coach Luke Fickell needed a spark and he turned to Miller, who did provide it at times.
Now the sophomore should make a huge leap in productivity, especially with Urban Meyer taking over in Columbus.
The fact that Ohio State won’t be eligible for the Big Ten title or a bowl game will take some pressure off of Miller.
However, Ohio State fans want to see a much-improved Buckeyes team in 2012. If it’s another 6-6 season, then Miller could be the target of their displeasure.
Matt McGloin, Penn State
Penn State had enough distractions in 2011 that anyone outside of State College, Pa., didn’t even discuss the dismal state of the quarterback situation.
Will it be Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden?
Bolden struggles with his accuracy, and McGloin is overmatched against the better defenses in the conference.
McGloin will more than likely be the starter when the season opens under new coach Bill O’Brien, but the Nittany Lions fans won’t be very patient if McGloin still can’t make the passes necessary to be an upper-level team.
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
With superstar quarterback Andrew Luck off to the NFL, bruising back Stepfan Taylor becomes the focus of Stanford’s offense.
He rushed for 1,330 yards last year and was durable.
It will be interesting to see if he can be this productive without Luck running the show.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Tennessee was able to bring in some talented receivers in this year’s recruiting class, and quarterback Tyler Bray hopes he finally has the deep threat he hasn’t had.
When Bray went down with an injured thumb, the Volunteers’ offensive attack took a serious hit.
As long as he enters the season at 100 percent, Bray will be the key to Tennessee becoming an SEC contender.
You can see the fans and coaches are expecting a lot from Bray, so another dismal season (or another loss to Kentucky) just won’t do.
Coach Derek Dooley will likely be the fall guy, but if a player gets any blame it will probably be Bray.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Since Logan Thomas was taking over for Virginia Tech legend Tyrod Taylor, he was allowed a few growing pains in 2011.
Now everyone expects him to be the one to lead the Hokies back to the top of the ACC and hopefully a BCS bowl win.
It is the ACC, though, so let’s not get too excited about that bowl win.
Thomas shined at times last season and showed such great promise. He also had moments when he looked lost or unprepared.
He’s the experienced guy now so there is little wiggle room for error in 2012.
Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh
Tino Sunseri probably doesn’t have a shred of confidence left after one season playing for Todd Graham.
So really, anything the critics and fans have to say about him probably won’t matter much.
But he’s still a target because so many folks don’t believe he’s the best option at quarterback for the Panthers.
We’ll find out what Paul Chryst thinks of his beleaguered quarterback after spring practice.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Much like Tino Sunseri, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has encountered some heated criticism from his head coach.
The big difference is Martinez actually has Division I talent (and some expensive tattoos).
Martinez has enjoyed some moments when he flashed his exceptional running skills, but he lacks the arm strength and accuracy to be counted on as a passer.
If Nebraska gets in a position where Martinez needs to lead them down the field with his arm, and then he doesn’t…the critics will be out in full force.
Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Linebacker Jarvis Jones had a breakout campaign for a revitalized Georgia defense.
Jones could have left for the NFL, but decided he needed another year of grooming at the college level.
Jones is a legitimate prospect, so it won’t be easy to keep him from making plays again in 2012. However, you can bet offensive coordinators will prepare for Jones a bit more.
I’m sure there are a few quarterbacks who would like to see a lot less of him this coming season.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Louisville coach Charlie Strong knew there was a good chance he would eventually have to turn the offense over to Teddy Bridgewater last season.
Bridgewater started off a little slow, but once he settled down he became the best true freshman quarterback in college football.
Naturally, you’d expect him to be an even bigger star in 2012, but don’t be surprised if his game slips a bit before taking off in his junior season.
There will be a lot of people trying to figure out what’s not working for Bridgewater.
Whether it’s Clint Moseley or Kiehl Frazier, or even both, anyone involved with Auburn football is going to have an opinion about the Tigers quarterback.
Another season removed from having Heisman-winner Cam Newton guide the Tigers to a championship, everyone at Auburn is hoping to find a new gem like that.
It’s a good bet that Frazier will earn the starting spot, but if the offense isn’t producing under his guidance then everyone is going to be calling for Moseley to take over the team.
Matt Barkley, USC
Any time a sure-fire, first-round NFL draft pick chooses to come back for one more season in college—well, the media and opposing fans can start to nitpick everything.
That’s what is going to happen to USC quarterback Matt Barkley. It happened to Matt Leinart when he did it and you can bet Barkley will experience the same.
It will get even worse if he has a bad game, or if the Trojans lose a game.
Barkley is back to win a championship and maybe a Heisman. Anything short of that might be viewed as failure.