Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Until he announced he was coming back to school. Oregon running back LaMichael James did the same. As did All-America Bedlam receivers Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles.
Talk about star power.
College football will have plenty of it next season.
Except for Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, every player to finish in the top six of the Heisman voting will be in college next season. Seven of the 11 offensive players named to the Football Writers All-America team are back, including all six skill players.
With the talent pool deep as ever, the Heisman race figures to be ultracompetitive, the national title chase wide open and the 2012 NFL Draft loaded.
The labor issues facing the NFL didn't cork the increased flow of underclassmen leaving college early. The league faces a work stoppage if the players' union and owners can't produce a new collective bargaining agreement before next season.
But as of Friday night, 53 non-seniors had declared for the NFL Draft, tying last year's record number.
Still, the uncertainty in the NFL made the decision to come back easier for high-profile underclassmen like Luck, Blackmon and Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who would have been first-round picks.
The labor issues also made it a no-brainer to return to school for fringe first round/second day picks like Broyles, James, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Mark Barron, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick and Ohio State center Mike Brewster.
Every one of those players figures to have a major impact on the national championship race and will be favorites to win national awards in 2011.
"The labor situation in the NFL right now is something each one of these guys had to evaluate as a reality of how it could affect their development," Alabama coach Nick Saban said last week, when three of his juniors, including Mark Ingram, opted to enter the draft. "I think every guy did that."