The most exciting player for each Top 25 team

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

If you can’t take the heat and are missing fall football weather, we’ve got you covered with something to hold you over. Here’s a look at the most exciting players to catch this college football season from each of our Top 25 teams.

1. Alabama: QB Tua Tagovailoa

Whether he’ll win the starting job remains to be seen, but Tagovailoa is certainly must-see TV. And it didn’t start with the national championship. Go back to Vanderbilt and his insane scramble and throw for a touchdown. — Alex Scarborough

2. Clemson: DE Christian Wilkins

You have to go defensive line here and it’s hard to pick just one player. Wilkins gets the nod in part because few expected him to still be at Clemson. He’s a rare combination of size, athleticism and instincts, and it’s a real treat for everyone (except Clemson’s opponents) to still have him in college football. Wilkins has 26 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 43 quarterback hurries and 14 pass breakups in his incredible career. — Adam Rittenberg

3. Ohio State: RB J.K. Dobbins

With a jump cut that at times looks like the football cousin of an Allen Iverson crossover, Dobbins produced plenty of “Did you just see that?” moments as a freshman. The Buckeyes are stacked at their skill positions this fall, but the power and speed of this Texas back make him stand out above that talented pack. — Dan Murphy

4. Georgia: RB D’Andre Swift

Georgia receiver D’Andre Swift catches a pass as a slot receiver at practice. Steven Colquitt Georgia Sports Communications

Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were special. But if you thought they were alone in Georgia’s backfield last season, you weren’t paying attention. As a freshman, Swift showed why coaches have been enamored with his potential, showing off home-run speed with a 7.8 yards-per-carry clip and three rushes of 40 yards or more. — Scarborough








5. Oklahoma: QB Kyler Murray

Murray just signed a $4.6 million contract to play with the Oakland Athletics. But before he plays pro baseball, the former five-star recruit will captain Oklahoma’s offensive juggernaut, a role that could turn the run-pass Murray into a Heisman contender as well. — Jake Trotter

6. Washington: RB Myles Gaskin

Expect Washington’s offense to, well, run through Gaskin this season. In three seasons, Gaskin has rushed for 1,302, 1,373 and 1,380 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in the process. Last season, he averaged 6.2 YPC, rushed for 21 touchdowns and ran for at least 120 yards in four of the Huskies’ final six games. — Edward Aschoff

7. Wisconsin: RB Jonathan Taylor

It’s exciting to think about Taylor’s encore after he broke Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards in 2017. Taylor isn’t a typical Wisconsin plodder, as he averaged 6.6 yards per carry with five games of 150 rushing yards or more and three of 200 yards or more. He’ll also be running behind arguably the nation’s best offensive line, so look out. — Rittenberg

8. Miami: S Jaquan Johnson

Johnson spent a lot of time either wearing the Turnover Chain or doing things to allow others to wear it in 2017. He had four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries to go along with a team-leading 96 tackles. The All-America candidate returns to lead a Miami defense featuring playmakers at all three levels. — Rittenberg

9. Michigan State: WR Felton Davis

Davis is brimming with confidence after leading the Spartans in catches, yards and touchdowns as a junior. His 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame makes him a deep-ball threat that should keep defensive backfields on their heels in 2018.  — Rittenberg

10. Michigan: LB Khaleke Hudson

Michigan’s defense is built to create big plays for its Viper position, and this season’s Viper is no exception. Hudson made 18 tackles for loss last season in the linebacker/safety hybrid spot. He has a couple of NFL prospects in front of him, but his athleticism will make it hard to look elsewhere when he’s on the field. — Murphy

11. West Virginia: RB Alec Sinkfield

Though quarterback Will Grier and wideout David Sills V remain the bell cows of the West Virginia offense, the Mountaineers have been buzzing all offseason about redshirt freshman Sinkfield. “Sink” could give West Virginia a home-run threat out of the backfield, which would only make the Mountaineers all the more difficult to stop. — Trotter

12. Notre Dame: RB Dexter Williams

Williams averaged better than 9 yards per carry last fall while fans wondered why he wasn’t getting more touches. Battling injuries and Josh Adams had something to do with that. The door is open to become the centerpiece of the Irish offense if Williams is on the field and healthy during his senior season. — Rittenberg

13. Penn State: QB Trace McSorley

The third-year starting quarterback has a low-key personality off the field, but in pads he is a home-run-swinging, defense-evading, energy-sharing playmaker. McSorley will be the key to Penn State’s offense hanging on to the momentum it has built in the past couple of seasons. — Murphy

14. Stanford: RB Bryce Love

It’s pretty easy to say that Love is the Cardinal’s most exciting player to watch. He was second in Heisman voting last year with a Power 5-best 2,118 rushing yards and 162.9 yards per game. He rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 of the 13 games in which he played, ran for 19 touchdowns and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. — Aschoff

15. Virginia Tech: QB Josh Jackson

Hokies fans can breathe a bit easier after the school cleared Jackson of an academic issue that briefly threatened his eligibility. This offense loses a lot but regains a young quarterback who could blossom under Justin Fuente’s tutelage. Jackson passed for 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman and had a passer rating of 135.17. — Rittenberg

16. Mississippi State: QB Nick Fitzgerald

It’s easy to be enamored with Fitzgerald’s athleticism. His speed and throwing ability are really something to behold. But pay attention to a different facet of the quarterback’s game: his toughness. He can not only break tackles, but right now he’s surpassing expectations as he works his way back from a gruesome ankle injury late last season. — Scarborough

17. USC: RB Stephen Carr

Though an ankle injury limited Carr to 10 games last season, he was easily one of the most fun Trojans to watch when healthy in 2017. To start the season, Carr averaged more than 9 yards per carry against Western Michigan and Stanford. The elusive Carr rushed for only 363 yards last year but averaged 5.6 YPC. — Aschoff

18. UCF: QB McKenzie Milton

An easy choice here, Milton put himself on the national radar with a record-setting sophomore season for the undefeated Knights. He set team records for passing yards (4,037), passing touchdowns (37) and pass efficiency (179.29) in 2017, averaging 15.2 yards per completion. Milton must adjust to a new coach and offense, although UCF hired Josh Heupel in large part to maintain schematic continuity. — Rittenberg

19. Auburn: WR Devan Barrett

If Eli Stove can come back from ACL surgery, he’s the one to pay attention to. The slot receiver is among the fastest players in the SEC. But if he’s not healthy, watch out for his potential replacement in Barrett. He might not have Stove’s straight-line speed, but his background as a running back could make him lethal in the open field. — Scarborough

20. TCU: WR KaVontae Turpin

Since his electrifying Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year season, Turpin’s career has been derailed by injuries and off-the-field issues. Yet when healthy and locked in, Turpin can change games. Now a senior, Turpin will look to rediscover that freshman form. — Trotter

21. Boise State: DE Curtis Weaver

Leighton Vander Esch, the first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in April, generated all the headlines last season on a rugged Boise State defense. But Weaver was a massive part of the Broncos’ success as well. A freshman All-American in 2017, Weaver will look to lead the Mountain West in sacks again. — Trotter

22. Texas: WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey

The versatile Humphrey lit up Texas’ spring game, suggesting he could be in for a big season. The Longhorns have longed for a go-to wide receiver for years now. Humphrey and teammate Collin Johnson seem primed to finally fill that void. — Trotter

23. Texas A&M: RB Trayveon Williams

It’s understandable if you lost Williams in the shuffle the past couple of seasons. There have been a bunch of good running backs in the SEC during that time. But sleeping on him and his combined 1,790 yards, 15 touchdowns and 38 receptions is a mistake. — Scarborough

24. Oregon: QB Justin Herbert

Herbert’s 2017 season was railroaded by a broken collarbone, but when he was in, he showed flashes of greatness. The 6-foot-6, 231-pounder is a fast, slippery runner but has an accurate cannon for an arm. He threw a touchdown pass in all eight games in which he played in last season and hit nearly 2,000 yards on the season (247.9 yards per game). — Aschoff

25. South Carolina: WR Deebo Samuel

If you thought South Carolina’s offense was better than expected last season, then get ready for what comes next. The Gamecocks won nine games without their most dynamic offensive weapon in Samuel, who is simultaneously one of the best receivers in the SEC as well as one of the best return specialists in the conference, if not the best. –– Scarborough



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