The college football season is almost underway, so it's time to take a preseason look at the Hot 100 list for 2004. As always, this list doesn't reflect how guys figure to get drafted. It relates directly to their impact on the field this season and does not include any injured players whose return is still up in the air (most notably Washington State LB Will Derting), non-1A players or kickers and punters.
1. Derrick Johnson, Texas, LB: Has added 15 pounds of muscle (up to 240). He was kept under wraps somewhat last season (he didn't blitz once), but with new DC Greg Robinson that will change. Also athletic enough to blanket slot receivers too.
2. Brad Smith, Missouri, QB: A phenomenal runner, he is vastly underrated as a passer, completing over 60 percent. Just needs to add more of a vertical dimension to his game -- and knock off a top-10 team.
3. Darren Sproles, Kansas State, RB: Ran for 1,986 yards in '03 and could get 2,000 this season despite playing fewer games. Little Tank, though, may need 2,500 to win the Heisman.
4. Antrel Rolle, Miami, CB: Aggressive and physical, he's college football's answer to Ty Law. Rolle owned Larry Fitzgerald and P.K. Sam last year. He gets his first big challenge of 2004 on Sept. 6 against Florida State burner Cro Thorpe.
5. Matt Leinart, USC, QB: Unflappable, very accurate and a vastly underrated athlete with a 36-inch vertical. Had 38 TDs and just 9 INTs. Only question is whether his arm (bothered by tendinitis this summer) will hold up.
6. Corey Webster, LSU, CB: Physical corner who has picked off 14 passes the last two years.
7. Mike Patterson, USC, DT: Best combination of hands and feet of any D-linemen in America. He's Warren Sapp minus the mouth. Inside guys don't often get double-digit sacks. This one will.
8. David Pollack, Georgia, DE: Great "motor" guy has shed some pounds and should put up numbers similar to what he did in '02.
9. Kyle Orton, Purdue, QB: Cannon arm, nice feet. Threw just one pick every 59 throws. Only missing a deep threat to make Boiler offense lethal.
10. Mark Clayton, Oklahoma, WR: The most polished wideout in the country. Not big (5-11, 180) or blessed with blazing speed, but is fearless and has superb quickness getting in and out of cuts. He is also very dangerous after the catch with an eye-popping 521 of his 1,393 yards following the reception.
11. Alex Barron, Florida State, OT: Very smooth, graceful big man is what scouts say. A better pass protector than FSU great Walter Jones, although probably a shade below as a run blocker.
12. Marlin Jackson, Michigan, DB: Great talent struggled early in '03 as a tackler, but should still merit All-American status now that he's back at his CB post.
13. Orien Harris, Miami, DT: Miami's next dominant DT. Has great hands, explosiveness and moves (and counter moves) for a 310-pounder. UM linemen can't handle him in practice. And he brings it every down.
14. Aaron Rodgers, Cal, QB: Perhaps the quickest release of any college quarterback. He has it on all levels (good arm, outstanding accuracy and underrated feet). Rogers will be Tedford's next first-round QB.
15. Cedric Benson, Texas, TB: In best shape of his life after not playing baseball this summer. May need to get 150 yards for UT to finally beat OU -- and would spring into Heisman race if that happens.
16. Jason White, Oklahoma, QB: Tough guy who is very accurate. Did get sacked 16 times in OU's last four games of the season and battled through injuries.
17. Eric Winston, Miami, OT: UM coaches think he's got more potential than Bryant McKinnie because he can be a dominator in the run game. Must avoid losing focus and coasting though.
18. Jamaal Brimmer, UNLV, S: More unavoidable than the Vegas blackjack tables. Has great instincts and vision. Plays much faster than his 4.6 time in the 40. Added 10 pounds to become even more of a force in the run game.
19. Cadillac Williams, Auburn, RB: Has great feet and is incredibly tough, especially since he's not that big. Probably won't eclipse 1,500 yards, but that's because understudy Ronnie Brown is too talented not to get a bunch of carries too. Will need to show improved hands in new West Coast system.
20. Josh Bullocks, Nebraska, S: A pure centerfielder who thrives on baiting QBs, his 10 picks were no fluke.
21. Kirk Morrison, San Diego State, LB: Solid against the run and the pass. The headliner of the nation's No. 8 D, he proved to be a complete linebacker in '03.
22. Shaun Cody, USC, DT: Whether he's playing inside or outside, he will overmatch the man in front of him using an array of moves and great hands. Part of a D-line that could combine for a ridiculous 50 sacks.
23. Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson, QB: Will emerge as a Heisman candidate, but probably won't navigate the entire brutal Clemson road schedule. Great arm with quick feet, he made huge strides in '03, throwing for almost 3,600 yards with a 2-1 TD-INT rate.
24. Anthony Davis, Wisconsin, TB: Shifty speedster has 2,000-yard talent. If he'd stayed healthy in '03, he would've merited an invite to NYC for the Heisman.
25. Lance Mitchell, Oklahoma, LB: Healed from the season-ending knee injury, he has a good chance to give OU another Butkus winner.
26. Reggie Bush, USC, RB: The nation's most dynamic player. Nobody is more dangerous in the open field or turns the corner faster.
27. Marcus Spears, LSU, DE: Athleticism to be a top-10 pick. Only needs more consistency. Played as well as any DE late in the season.
28. Charlie Frye, Akron, QB: Sometimes adapting to a West Coast system can be rough for college QBs, but Frye, a heady mobile senior, should be up to it. Has first-round tools.
29. Leroy Hill, Clemson, LB: Great nose for the ball. Had 27 TFLs, and was named the defensive player of the game in the 2004 Peach Bowl when he had 12 tackles, including a pair of sacks.
30. Geoff McArthur, Cal, WR: Super-tough guy who is more quick than fast. Attacks the ball. Had the quietest 1,500-yard season ever.
31. Matt Roth, Iowa, DE: Former prep wrestling star has 22 sacks in 26 games playing DE for Iowa.
32. Marion Barber III, Minnesota, RB: Not as explosive as Laurence Maroney, the 215-pounder relies on excellent vision, patience and a terrific low base to hammer Big Ten defenses.
33. Elton Brown, Virginia, OG: A mountain of a man at 6-6, 340, he has surprisingly nimble feet and the agility to be a scary force pulling. Won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy in '03 as the ACC's top O-lineman. Was at the point of attack for 75 percent of the Cavs rushing yards last season.
34. Justin Vincent, LSU, RB: Might become Tigers' first Heisman hopeful since Dalton Hilliard almost two decades ago. Winning Sugar Bowl MVP honors and lighting up the SEC Title game showed he's a big-game back.
35. Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin, DB/KR: The quintessential Badger. Much more athletic than given credit for. This is a guy who just keeps making plays. Had 7 more INTs in '03.
36. Chris Henry, West Virginia, WR: No wideout in college is a better home-run threat. Averaged 25 yards per on 41 catches and was still learning.
37. Laurence Maroney, Minnesota, RB: The faster guy of the Gopher 1-2 wallop is a pure slasher, who should be a Heisman frontrunner in '05.
38. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State, OLB: Tireless guy who seldom is caught out of position. OSU's top tackler (104 tackles, 4 sacks), can also cover. He should be a Butkus frontrunner.
39. Cro Thorpe, Florida State, WR: His blazing speed has returned with more explosiveness. The only question is will he have the cutting ability too?
40. Mario Williams, NC State, DE: Will earn the nickname Super Mario. Think Julius Peppers, but with more speed and potentially more size. If his intensity level ever matches his talent, he'll be a top-five pick.
41. Greg Eslinger, Minnesota, C: A fluid technician, he is the focal point of the Big Ten's best ground attack (289 ypg). Minnesota loves to pull and this fleet-footed junior is a perfect fit for its offense.
42. Justin Tuck, Notre Dame DE: The nation's top returning sackman (averaging 1.13 sacks per) is coming off a torn right ACL, but should be a force again. He'd better be because the Irish DBs are very green.
43. Braylon Edwards, Michigan, WR: Made loads of improvement last year, but still drops way too many passes. Will have a tough time eclipsing last year's stats (85 catches, 14 TDs) with a new QB.
44. Eric Moore, FSU, DE: Despite playing hurt down the stretch, Moore still made plays for the 'Noles.
45. Dan Orlovsky, UConn, QB: Strong-armed passer threw for 33 TDs and almost 3,500 yards last season. Showed impressive accuracy and character at Elite 11 QB show this summer.
46. Dan Cody, Oklahoma, DE: Mr. Relentless. OU's version of Matt Roth.
47. Ahmad Brooks, Virginia, ILB: Prototype inside backer fits Groh's scheme well, but is so fast and strong, he'd fit any system. Only issue is consistency.
48. Craig Bragg, UCLA, WR: Outstanding technician. He is a super smooth wideout who doesn't get the pub he deserves because of the Trojan Machine and the Bruins' tumultuous '03 season.
49. Chris Leak, Florida, QB: Great talent. Great focus. Will be much more consistent in Year II. Only needs the young UF receivers to blossom. Probably good enough to save Ron Zook's job.
50. Thomas Davis, Georgia, S: Nasty hitter. Not as instinctive as former OU great Roy Williams, but may have a bit more speed. Had 138 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
51. Richie Incognito, Nebraska, OL: Moves inside to center, should thrive in the congestion. Ran a sub-4.8 forty this summer.
52. Rod Wright, Texas, DT: An agile 308-pounder, he was the only DL to beat OU's Jamaal Brown for a sack in 2003.
53. Abdul Hodge, Iowa, MLB: Rugged mike man, who teammates say is absolutely reckless with his body. Had 141 tackles for the nation's No. 8 rush D.
54. Donte Nicholson, Oklahoma, S: Big hitter, part of the country's top safety tandem. Will be key in shoring up the Sooners middle.
55. Walter Reyes, Syracuse, RB: Topping last season's marks of 1,347 yards and 20 TDs won't be easy, but he should get close.
56. Darnell Bing, USC, S: Awesome specimen (weighs 225 with 4 percent body fat). Probably could start at TB, DE, LB and DB for the cross-town Bruins.
57. Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech, DE: The star of what should be a very good D-line. Led the ACC with 11 sacks and was second with 24 tackles for loss, a Tech single-season record.
58. Kevin Burnett, Tennessee, LB: Great prospect, lacking only a more consistent motor and the ability to stay healthy.
59. T.A. McLendon, NC State, RB: Some question his durability, but he is a hard-running back with soft hands. Should be a workhorse now that Philip Rivers is gone, although stud frosh Bobby Washington will get some of those carries.
60. Antonio Perkins, Oklahoma, CB/KR: With one more punt return for touchdown, he gets the NCAA record. Book it.
61. Heath Miller, Virginia, TE: Former prep QB led the nation's tight ends last season with 70 receptions and 835 yards and should be the Mackey Award favorite in '04.
62. P.J. Daniels, Georgia Tech, RB: Has great balance and vision. The former walk-on battled his way to 1,447 rushing yards, including an NCAA bowl-game record 307 yards versus Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl.
63. Andrew Whitworth, LSU, OT: All the tools to be a first-round pick and showed them in the Sugar Bowl.
64. Leon Washington, Florida State, RB: Runs lows, has soft hands, can block. A poor man's Thurman Thomas. Plus, he's working behind a very good O-line.
65. Channing Crowder, Florida, LB: A phenomenal talent, a pure linebacker. Just needs to avoid the off-field trouble. Led SEC in tackles per game.
66. Darrent Williams, Oklahoma State, CB: Shifty playmaker runs in the 4.3 range and has the savvy to lock up any wideout.
67. Brodney Pool, Oklahoma, S: Can run, can hit. Picked off 7 passes. Only flaw was some shaky tackling that was exposed in the Sugar Bowl.
68. Anttaj Hawthorne, Wisconsin, DT: A powerhouse, he just has to be more consistent with his effort level to be an All-American.
69. Andrew Walter, Arizona State, QB: In the mold of Drew Bledsoe, he struggled in '03. Walter, who throws as pretty a deep ball as anyone, has added on 15 pounds of bulk and vowed to leave ASU on a high note.
70. Michael Boley, Southern Miss, OLB: Was every bit the player that USM star Rod Davis was in '03, Boley had 154 tackles, 11 sacks and 22.5 TFLs. Toyed with coming out early. Made smart move because with his added strength, he should go from a sixth-rounder to a first-day pick.
71. Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College, DE: Budding 6-8, 255-pound star exploded onto the scene with 11.5 sacks. Plays with great leverage and agility and also is fueled by a great work ethic.
72. Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo, QB: As accurate, tough and heady as any QB playing in any conference. A true gamer.
73. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis, RB: Solid guy on and off the field. Super-productive back could lead the Tigers into the top 25.
74. Chris Rix, Florida State, QB: If he can avoid the big mental meltdowns, he's a Heisman candidate.
75. Jammal Brown, Oklahoma, OT: Should be a dominator, but scouts say he needs to use his hands better. Better in pass protection than as a run blocker. Surrendered only one sack in '04.
76. Vincent Burns, Kentucky, DE: Utilizes a great first step to cause havoc in SEC backfields. Could be a 15-sack guy this fall.
77. Haloti Ngata, Oregon, DT: The ultimate run-stuffer at 340 pounds with excellent agility and flexibility, he should help keep heat off pass-rushing star Devan Long. If Ngata's 100 percent, he jumps about 50 places up on this list.
78. DonTrell Moore, New Mexico, RB: Pounded his way for 1,450 yards and 19 rushing TDs.
79. Justin Miller, Clemson, CB: Cocky playmaker probably had a better freshman year when expectations weren't as high as '03, but still a force.
80. Rian Wallace, Temple, LB: Great player on a not-so-great team, "Goo" might be the best defensive player in the Big East. Had 148 tackles and 19.5 TFLs.
81. Bill Swancutt, Oregon State, DE: Big-play man had 22.5 sacks the past two years. Will miss star DT Dwan Edwards, but don't bet against him notching another 11-sack season.
82. Dusty Dvoracek, Oklahoma, NT: One Big 12 O-coordinator says Dvoracek caused more problems for them than Tommie Harris. We'll see because now he'll be the one getting the doubles.
83. David Greene, Georgia, QB: Would be much higher if his TD-INT ratio (13-11) was better. But should build off a strong finish after winning MVP honors in Dawgs bowl win over Purdue.
84. Rocky McIntosh, Miami, OLB: Back at 100 percent, he is big, fast and solid in coverage. He should be Miami's next first-round LB.
85. Brandon Browner, Oregon St., CB: Is 6-4 and has long arms. Amazing range for a corner.
86. Adell Duckett, Texas Tech, DE: One-time prep basketball star has really blossomed into a much-needed big-play man on defense for the Red Raiders. Had 24.5 TFLs in '03.
87. Kevin Simon, Tennessee, LB: The Vols leading tackler (112), he has bulked up 12 pounds (to 242) to ease his transition to the middle.
88. David Baas, Michigan, OG: A mauler. Plays with a mean streak. The typical Wolverine O-lineman with loads of grit.
89. Matt Grootegoed, USC, OLB: Great instincts, he should pile up the tackles now that he's healthy.
90. Baraka Atkins, Miami, DL: Not as much of a pass-rushing force as Javon Nanton, but at 6-4, 270, Atkins is Miami's most complete DE.
91. J.R. Russell, Louisville, WR: The 6-3, 200-pounder fancied himself as more of a basketball talent until last season when he exploded for over 1,200 yards receiving.
92. Chad Greenway, Iowa, OLB: Almost as athletic as Hodge, but just as productive.
93. Loren Howard, Northwestern, DL: Weight-room junkie has the power and the athleticism to be an ideal 3-4 DE. Had 8 sacks, 16 TFLs last season as a sophomore.
94. David Anderson, Colorado State, WR: Put up almost 1,300 receiving yards in '03. Has great hands, is very tough and boosted his deceptive speed thanks to some offseason technique work with Willie Gaunt and Maurice Greene.
95. LaRon Landry, LSU, S: Great hitter, closes really well on the ball. Rising star.
96. Chris Canty, Virginia, DE: Overshadowed by the talented young linebackers, this future pro, an athletic 6-7, 280-pounder, still piled up 110 tackles (tops among all ACC D-linemen).
97. Kevin Kolb, Houston, QB: All he did was throw 25 TDs and just 6 INTs. Some rookie year, eh?
98. Chris Myers, Miami, OL: Versatile, he can play anywhere on the line. Moves well. In the mold of those "undersized" Denver Bronco linemen, although he ain't that undersized any more.
99. Patrick Cobbs, North Texas, RB: Coming off a season when he ran for a Sun Belt-record 1,570 yards and 17 TDs.
100. Dwayne Jarrett, USC, WR: A Mike Williams protégé, the rangy 6-5 true freshman from New Jersey will be a red-zone nightmare for opponents. Doesn't turn 18 until Trojans second game.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment comes out later this month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.