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Nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen during the 2018 college football season, but most of the sport’s following has a decent understanding of what storylines will be popular.
Good or bad, great or indifferent, you’re going to hear and read these names often throughout the upcoming campaign.
Although popular figures such as Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh warrant inclusion, the only coaches considered are those who accepted a new job during the offseason. We’re focusing on players as much as possible.
The order is based on anticipated prevalence of mentions, which includes Heisman Trophy hype, NFL draft prospects, individual success, team expectations and past performance.
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50. Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah
Quick, name the only returning two-time AP All-American in the country! A first-teamer in 2016 and third-teamer last season, Mitch Wishnowsky is a rugby-style punter who has averaged 46 yards per kick—that is exceptional—over his two-year career.
49. Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State
In each of the last two seasons, Ryan Finley has topped the 3,000-yard mark and tossed 17-plus touchdowns. That streak should continue thanks to the return of three 500-yard receivers. Finley has received early attention as a potential first-round NFL draft pick.
48. Willie Taggart, Florida State Head Coach
After turning around both Western Kentucky and South Florida, Willie Taggart led Oregon to a 7-5 record last season (he didn’t coach in the Ducks’ bowl loss). He jumped at the chance to replace Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and is tasked with helping the program rejoin Clemson as a contender in the ACC.
47. Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo
No returning player has more tackles than Khalil Hodge, who ranked second nationally with 154 stops last season. He collected at least 17 takedowns in four games. If Hodge thrives again, Buffalo could have an All-American on both sides of the ball.
46. Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan
Michigan should boast one of the country’s stingiest defenses, and Chase Winovich should be its premier pass-rusher. Over the last two seasons, he’s collected 27.5 tackles for loss with 13.5 sacks. Winovich and Rashan Gary form an elite combination up front.
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45. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
A two-year starter, Nick Fitzgerald has accounted for 6,564 yards and 66 touchdowns since the beginning of 2016. Mississippi State lost longtime coach Dan Mullen to Florida, but Fitzgerald should continue to put up impressive numbers under Joe Moorhead—most recently the Penn State offensive coordinator.
44. Scott Frost, Nebraska Head Coach
Following a perfect season with Central Florida, Scott Frost has returned to his alma mater Nebraska. As a player, he quarterbacked the 1997 Cornhuskers to a shared national championship. Frost executed a rapid turnaround at UCF, and Nebraska—fair or not—will expect the same.
43. Jawon Pass, QB, Louisville
Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and finished third in the 2017 voting. Now, he’s trying to make NFL defenses look silly. His replacement will be Jawon Pass, who attempted 33 passes last season and will face Alabama for the first start of his Louisville career.
42. Herm Edwards, Arizona State Head Coach
What an intriguing storyline in Tempe. Prior to accepting the job, Herm Edwards last served on a college staff at San Jose State in the 1980s. The former NFL head coach had been a television analyst since 2009. We’re looking forward to seeing how this experiment goes.
41. Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
The other member of Buffalo’s potential All-American duo, Anthony Johnson totaled 76 receptions, 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Should quarterback Tyree Jackson remain healthy all year unlike 2017, Johnson may eclipse all of those numbers.
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40. Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
Is “The U” back? That answer is dependent on the performance of the quarterback position. Miami’s trend of producing NFL-caliber safeties sure is, though. Jaquan Johnson notched a team-high 96 tackles in 2017, also intercepting four passes and forcing three fumbles.
39. Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
2017 didn’t go as expected individually for Brett Rypien, who shared snaps with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart. However, Rypien still helped Boise State to a Mountain West championship. The Broncos boast returning experience all over the defense, so a steady Rypien-led offense could help the program appear in a New Year’s Six bowl.
38. David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
The best draft-eligible running back might be David Montgomery. While not a household name at this point, the powerful runner has earned praise for his versatility and ability to force missed tackles. Montgomery piled up 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore, adding 36 catches for 296 yards.
37. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Kelly Bryant could render this discussion pointless. Last year, he oversaw the offense while Clemson earned its third straight ACC title and College Football Playoff berth. But if Bryant struggles at any point, there will be clamoring for Trevor Lawrence. The No. 1 prospect of the 2018 recruiting cycle broke Georgia high school records set by Deshaun Watson.
36. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Head Coach
During an eight-year tenure at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher compiled an 83-23 record and celebrated a national championship. Now, he’s embraced the challenge of competing with Nick Saban, his former boss, on a yearly basis. Fisher will have a challenging September to open his Aggies career, as Texas A&M plays both Clemson and Alabama.
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35. Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State
The Big Ten East is loaded with respected quarterbacks. Brian Lewerke quietly propelled Michigan State to a 10-3 record last season while accounting for 3,352 offensive yards and 25 touchdowns. The Spartans should be a Top 25 team all year, and Lewerke will likely begin receiving more mainstream NFL draft attention.
34. Devin White, LB, LSU
Tremendously quick both mentally and physically, Devin White amassed 133 total tackles as a sophomore. He posted 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage, too. LSU may encounter some struggles on offense, but opponents will always be concerned about White’s presence.
33. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
For three straight seasons, Myles Gaskin has been a steady force in the Washington backfield. He’s registered 1,300-plus rushing yards in all three campaigns, setting career-high marks of 1,380 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. While Gaskin isn’t the highest-profile back in the country, he’s the most consistent.
32. Andraez “Greedy” Williams, CB, LSU
That redshirt season was a productive one for Greedy Williams, apparently. He entered the starting lineup in 2017 and proceeded to snag six interceptions, earning third-team AP All-America recognition. He’s a draft-eligible corner, so scouts will flock to LSU contests for a chance to watch White and Williams.
31. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Cam Akers quickly assumed control of the Florida State backfield as a true freshman. He topped the 100-yard barrier four times and ended the season with 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns. Florida State’s offensive line is a work in progress, but Taggart’s faster tempo should atone for some of those struggles and benefit Akers.
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30. Deebo Samuel, WR/KR, South Carolina
Had a leg injury not limited Deebo Samuel in 2017, he might be in the NFL. During only three appearances, the speedster had three touchdown receptions, one rushing and returned two kickoffs to the house. Samuel will be South Carolina’s most targeted receiver and most dangerous playmaker on special teams.
29. T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
Some linebackers excel against the run, while others are clearly better defending the pass. T.J. Edwards thrives at stopping both. Last season, he collected 81 total tackles with 11 behind the line of scrimmage and snatched four interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered a meager 38.9 rating when targeted.
28. Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic
In 2017, no player reached the end zone more than Devin Singletary. The third-team AP All-America choice scampered for 32 rushing touchdowns, scoring at least three times in seven games. Singletary wrapped up the year with an FAU-record 1,920 yards. He should continue to thrash defenses under the watchful eye of Lane Kiffin.
27. Chip Kelly, UCLA Head Coach
He’s baa-aack! Chip Kelly left Oregon after the 2012 season and spent four years coaching in the NFL before holding a television analyst role in 2017. The offensive style he helped popularize while at Oregon is now commonplace across the country. We’ll be monitoring his level of immediate success on offense.
26. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
The nation’s leader in touchdown passes last season, Drew Lock has a fascinating outlook. On one hand, Missouri isn’t expected to compete with Georgia. New offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has never called plays at this level, either. Conversely, the Tigers have a premier downfield thrower and speed to burn at receiver. A strong season would solidify Lock as a 2019 NFL draft pick.
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25. Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois
Could anyone have predicted Sutton Smith’s ascension from backup to All-American? The converted running back led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 29.5 tackles for loss and tied for the lead with 14 sacks last season. Smith enters 2018 with enormous expectations.
24. McKenzie Milton, QB, Central Florida
McKenzie Milton is ready for the encore. He directed the nation’s highest-scoring offense and only undefeated team in 2017, racking up 4,650 yards of total offense and accounting for 45 touchdowns as UCF went 13-0. The loss of key targets Tre’Quan Smith and Jordan Akins stings, but Milton should continue his rapid development as a dual-threat star under new coach Josh Heupel.
23. David Sills V, WR, West Virginia
Teammate Gary Jennings Jr. actually caught 37 more passes than David Sills V last season, but the latter paced the FBS with 18 touchdowns. Not bad for a former quarterback, right? Sills was a nightmare to cover in the red zone, and repeating that in 2018 would establish him as an early-round NFL draft prospect.
22. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
The trend of highly productive Wisconsin runners has continued with Jonathan Taylor. He posted 10 outings of 100-plus rushing yards as a freshman, totaling 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he scores more often, Taylor will be a Heisman front-runner. Since the Badgers return all five starting offensive linemen, that should happen.
21. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Mike Weber ran for nearly 1,000 yards as a freshman, but J.K. Dobbins ripped away the starting job in his first season at Ohio State. The speedster amassed 1,403 yards and seven scores on the ground, adding 135 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Dobbins should be involved in the Heisman conversation into November.
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20. AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Despite managing only 333 yards in his first six games, AJ Dillon still finished 2017 with the country’s seventh-most rushing yards. The true freshman piled up 1,256 over the last seven contests, highlighted by the most disrespectful stiff arm of the year. Boston College probably won’t keep up with Clemson in the ACC, but Dillon is a star.
19. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
After finishing sixth in 2016 Heisman voting, Jake Browning failed to elevate the Washington offense last season. Will he put together a bounce-back year? Browning won’t be a top NFL prospect unless his arm strength improves significantly—unlikely—yet he’s fully capable of guiding the Huskies to a Pac-12 title.
18. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Dwayne Haskins enters 2018 with extreme hype in uncertain circumstances. At this moment, there’s no guarantee Urban Meyer will be Ohio State’s head coach. How much would his departure affect Haskins and the Buckeyes offense? From a talent perspective, though, Haskins is the program’s best passer in years.
17. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
Michigan’s star-studded defense has a likely top-10 draft choice in Rashan Gary. During his first season as a starter, the former No. 1 overall prospect registered 66 tackles with 12 for loss and six sacks. Gary isn’t as flashy as other elite college linemen, but he’ll constantly disrupt plays in the backfield.
16. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
A transfer from Baylor, Jarrett Stidham guided Auburn to a 10-4 record last year. That included victories over Georgia and Alabama. He’ll again meet both SEC powers in 2018, and Auburn also plays Washington to begin the campaign. If Stidham passes those tests, he could be a first-round selection in the 2019 draft.
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2017 stats: 618 rushing yards, three TD
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean D’Andre Swift isn’t a special talent himself.
Sustaining that efficiency while absorbing a larger role will be a massive challenge, but Georgia returns four starting offensive linemen. Swift, who should also be a regular contributor as a receiver, should easily surpass the 1,000-yard plateau this season.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
2017 stats: 67.5 completion percentage, 1,983 passing yards, 15 TD, five INT; 183 rushing yards, five TD
Because of a broken collarbone, Justin Herbert made only eight appearances during his sophomore year. And Oregon’s splits depending on whether he started were dramatic.
- Herbert’s starts: 6-2, 516.5 yards, 49.1 points
- Others: 1-4, 320.0 yards, 15.0 points
Pretty valuable, no?
A scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller that among draft-eligible quarterbacks, Herbert has “the best delivery and accuracy of the ones we’ve looked at so far.”
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Richard Shiro/Associated Press
2017 stats: 65.8 completion percentage, 2,802 passing yards, 13 TD, 8 INT; 665 rushing yards, 11 TD
We introduced you to Kelly Bryant a little earlier, but that focused on the worst-case scenario for the dual-threat quarterback. Clemson certainly might stick with its ACC champion.
While guiding the Tigers to their third straight conference title, Bryant’s only loss happened in a game he didn’t finish. Syracuse upended Clemson on a Friday night, but he exited that contest in the second quarter due to a concussion.
This offseason, Bryant has impressed head coach Dabo Swinney, per Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier. “It’s been great to see him compete and his game is at a whole other level from where he was at any point last year,” Swinney said.
If Clemson needs an aerial spark, Swinney could insert Lawrence. Until necessary, though, it could be Bryant’s show again.
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Ray Thompson/Associated Press
2017 stats: 64.4 completion percentage, 3,490 passing yards, 34 TD, 12 INT; 122 rushing yards, two TD
Prior to a broken finger that ended his season, Will Grier strung together 10 straight games of at least 285 passing yards and two touchdowns. West Virginia finished 7-3 in those contests.
Now back for his redshirt senior campaign, there’s a whole lot of hype surrounding the Florida transfer. After all, Grier should put up Heisman-caliber numbers if healthy. The big question is whether the Mountaineers can survive a road-heavy schedule.
Accuracy issues have dragged down his NFL prospects—he threw 12 interceptions as a redshirt junior—but in a relatively uninspiring quarterback class, Grier could climb back up the list.
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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
2017 stats: 66.5 completion percentage, 3,570 passing yards, 28 TD, 10 INT; 491 rushing yards, 11 TD
Similar to Lock, there’s a question of how changes will affect Trace McSorley. Penn State shredded Washington for 545 yards in the Fiesta Bowl under coordinator Ricky Rahne, but the offense lost Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall.
Those losses might be a bigger factor for McSorley.
Still, he’s tallied more than 8,000 yards of total offense over the last two seasons. That cannot entirely be a product of his surroundings.
The Nittany Lions must navigate a brutal Big Ten slate that includes Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the results will likely be reflections of McSorley’s contributions.
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2017 stats: 63.8 completion percentage, 2,259 yards, 17 TD, 9 INT
Production wasn’t the problem for Shea Patterson in 2017. Efficiency, however, was a glaring issue, as he had three multi-interception games.
Following a season-ending knee injury, he elected to transfer and joined Michigan. Patterson is immediately eligible at his new school, and he’s been crowned the savior of the offense.
“The bottom line is, he’s a special player, for sure, and he’ll make them a different football team,” an anonymous coach told Sports Illustrated during the offseason.
But the only guarantee is that he’ll play if healthy. The Wolverines travel to Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State and host both Wisconsin and Penn State. That’s a ruthless slate for anyone. Patterson’s efforts to fulfill his billing will be a major challenge.
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2017 stats: 85.7 completion percentage, 359 passing yards, three TD, zero INT; 142 rushing yards
Every time Kyler Murray takes a hit, Oakland Athletics fans and administrators will be holding their breath. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft is headed there next season.
In the meantime, the speedy quarterback will attempt to win Oklahoma a fourth straight Big 12 championship. Yes, he needs to officially beat out Austin Kendall in a quarterback competition, but the widely held expectation is that Murray will start.
Right now, everything is a projection with Murray. But his limited playing time in 2017 suggested an ideal fit in head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense, and only a select group of college football players could possibly be more newsworthy than Murray—a $4.6 million man.
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2017 stats: 62.0 completion percentage, 1,591 passing yards, 14 TD, 9 INT; 1,411 rushing yards, 12 TD
Could he really repeat 2017?
Khalil Tate basically watched Arizona’s first four games from the sideline before his meteoric rise. The elusive quarterback had six straight outings of 137-plus rushing yards—including two 200-yard showings and one 327-yard contest—before managing 118 total in the last three.
A real concern is that a young defense could force the Wildcats into weekly shootouts again. However, the arrival of head coach Kevin Sumlin, a respected offensive mind, should allow Tate to continue thriving.
Win or lose, Tate will demand attention because of his stats.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
2017 stats: 62.2 completion percentage, 2,615 passing yards, 24 TD, 7 INT; 79 rushing yards, three TD
Georgia will continue to lean on the running game in 2018, and Swift has greater Heisman potential than Jake Fromm. But if the Bulldogs are going to repeat as SEC champions and/or reach the College Football Playoff again, the sophomore quarterback will be why.
After replacing (and holding off) an injured Jacob Eason, Fromm did a marvelous job running an advanced pro-style system. His 9.0 yards per attempt tied for sixth-best nationally.
However, he only completed 48.2 percent of his passes in losses to Auburn and Alabama. Fromm’s performance against top competition—in other words, opponents that can contain the running game—will shape the outcome of Georgia’s campaign.
And don’t be surprised if you start reading rumblings about the 2020 draft-eligible quarterback as an early NFL favorite.
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We shouldn’t single out any of these superstars. Where one is mentioned, the others probably will be too.
Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant all secured AP All-America recognition. Dexter Lawrence joined Ferrell and Wilkins on first team All-ACC, while Bryant was a second-teamer.
Last year, the quartet combined for 45 takedowns for loss with 25 sacks and five forced fumbles. They played a pivotal role in Clemson allowing the nation’s second-fewest yards per snap.
All four could be first-round selections in the 2019 NFL draft.
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David Goldman/Associated Press
2017 stats: 60.6 completion percentage, 2,081 passing yards, 17 TD, 1 INT; 855 rushing yards, eight TD
If Jalen Hurts earns the starting job for Alabama, he’ll be newsworthy for one main reason: He’s the starting quarterback at Alabama.
Should the two-year standout take a backseat to Tua Tagovailoa, however, Hurts will remain notable because of his eligibility. Will the Crimson Tide have Hurts appear in more than four games? Or, will he manage to use a redshirt thanks to the new rule?
The dual-threat quarterback recently said he’s only 15 credits from graduating, per Rainer Sabin of AL.com, so Hurts could be the most coveted grad transfer available next offseason.
Or, he’s the starter at Alabama.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
2017 stats: 63.6 completion percentage, 636 passing yards, 11 TD, 2 INT; 133 rushing yards, 2 TD
Hurts recently expressed frustration about Alabama’s quarterback competition and the narrative surrounding it. That storyline is Tua Tagovailoa supplanting the two-year starter.
Although the displeasure is reasonable, Tagovailoa deserves the attention. Basically, he played mop-up snaps throughout the regular season prior to throwing three touchdowns after halftime of the national championship victory over Georgia.
Simply, the southpaw provided a throwing element Hurts could not.
No matter which player is under center, Tagovailoa will be a popular topic. Either he supplanted a two-year starter, will be part of a two-quarterback system or will be a transfer risk—and a highly coveted player—if Hurts retains the job all season.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
2017 stats: 2,118 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns
It’s only sensible that 2017’s runner-up is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
As a junior, Bryce Love broke Christian McCaffrey’s school records for yards. Had an injury not limited Love in the latter half of the campaign, his numbers would’ve been even more impressive. That’s an absurd thought, considering he had 12 100-yard performances.
Fortunately for Love, the Cardinal boast an offensive line capable of guiding him to another 2,000-yard year. They return six linemen with starting experience and also have Foster Sarell, a 5-star prospect in the 2017 class, aiming for snaps.
Every opposing defense and coaching staff will know Stanford wants to pound the football with Love. But can anybody stop him?
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Michael Wyke/Associated Press
2017 stats: 73 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, seven hurries, two forced fumbles; 1 rush TD
Ed Oliver isn’t a time-consuming study for evaluators.
“Put the pen down. He’s easy,” one scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller this offseason. “Kid’s a great athlete, great person, great teammate. He’ll go top-five.”
A dominant run-stopper, Oliver has collected 139 total tackles—including 39 for loss—over the last two years. He’s also broken up 12 passes, notched 14 hurries and forced five fumbles.
Though the defensive tackle is a junior, his football future is clear. Oliver has already announced he’ll enter the 2019 draft.
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Andy Lyons/Getty Images
2017 stats: 34 tackles, 16 TFL, 8.5 sacks
The then-San Diego Chargers used the No. 3 overall selection of the 2016 draft on Joey Bosa. Nick might go even higher.
“He doesn’t really need any help,” the older brother said during an appearance on NFL Total Access when asked what pointers he gives Nick (h/t Dane Belbeck of theScore). “He’s an absolute monster. I think he’s light-years ahead of any spot I ever got to in college.”
Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, the Ohio State lineman racked up 66 total quarterback pressures. Unsurprisingly, he took home Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
The odds are strong Bosa will receive All-American consideration. And when the 2019 draft rolls around, expect to hear his name mentioned as the potential No. 1 choice.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.