The College Football Players You Don’t Want to Miss This Season

  • The Ohio State quarterbacks

    We had to cheat on this one–most National Champions that return the starter from the final game would never dream of having a competition for the job, but Cardale Jones was no ordinary starter. Jones lit up the Big 10 Championship and playoff games after filling in for Heisman favorite J.T. Barrett, who went down with an injury late in the year. These guys can ball, and the potential to rotate QBs in and out is tantalizing for fans.

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  • Nick Chubb

    RB, Georgia

    Speaking of losing Heisman hopefuls, Georgia fans were crushed when Todd Gurley went down last season. No worries–Chubb stepped in and ripped off 1,547 yards at over seven yards per carry as a true freshman. Georgia will be quite happy to give him the ball and watch him shed arm-tacklers up and down the field.    

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  • Shawn Oakman

    DE, Baylor

    You likely know him as the Baylor player who looked so physically imposing that he became an instant meme, but Oakman is a player you don’t want to see if you’re rooting for Baylor’s opponent. Watching him shed offensive linemen and chase down helpless quarterbacks is a joy, and he’ll look to add to the 19.5 TFL he racked up last season.

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  • Laquon Treadwell

    WR, Ole Miss

    In addition to having a name that could double as a tire company, Laquon Treadwell has everything you could ask for in a wide receiver. With the size to make plays in traffic and the speed to separate from defenders in space, Treadwell is hard to miss if you turn on an Ole Miss game. A broken leg derailed last season for him, so he figures to return with a vengeance.

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  • Ezekiel Elliott

    RB, Ohio State

    While the QB carousel in Columbus has drawn all the attention, the focus should probably be on the player who ran for almost 700 yards in the Buckeyes’ three postseason games last year. Give him an inch of daylight between the tackles, and you likely already lost the battle–he’ll be into the second level before you even know what hit you.

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  • Dak Prescott

    QB, Mississippi State

    Dual-threat quarterbacks are arguably the most exciting football players to watch, and Mississippi State’s signal-caller could be the best of the bunch. He threw for almost 3,500 yards and rushed for nearly 1,000 last season, racking up 41 total touchdowns with his arm and his legs. The Bulldogs lost significant talent from their Orange Bowl team, but Prescott will keep them in the mix in the standings and your heart.

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  • Scooby Wright

    LB, Arizona

    Arizona is traditionally thought of as a basketball school–rightfully so–but last year’s national leader in tackles makes it worth tuning into Wildcats football. Wright is absolutely relentless in his pursuit of the football, playing every down like he’s been shot out of a cannon. He may have only been a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but the reigning Pac-12 DPOY is making a lot of programs sorry for passing on him.

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  • Trevone Boykin

    QB, TCU

    The primary beneficiary of the Horned Frogs’ recently installed “air raid” system, Trevone Boykin was the breakout star of the 2014 college football season. Boykin can do it all, whether he’s asked to hit a wideout on a deep post or turn a broken play into a 50-yard run. With 10 returning starters on offense and the motivation of finishing just outside the college football playoff, Boykin is locked and loaded for a 2015 rampage.

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  • Pharoh Cooper

    WR, South Carolina

    Cooper has made his name at the college level as a wideout–and a good one at that–but it’s his versatility that makes him a name to watch this season. South Carolina lost starting QB Dylan Thompson in the offseason, and Cooper is a former prep quarterback who might be asked to run some Wildcat for the Gamecocks. Add that to his returning and receiving duties, and it’ll be hard to miss him this fall.

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  • Su'a Cravens

    S/LB, USC

    Cravens is hard to miss if you turn on a USC game, if only because he’s constantly switching back and forth between the safety and linebacker spots. Not many guys have the talent and instincts to blitz like a linebacker and hawk throws like a safety, but he’s one of them. He will force his way onto your television whether you like it or not–and unless you’re a UCLA fan, you’ll love his game.

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  • Braxton Miller

    RB/WR, Ohio State

    Perhaps the most electrifying player on the best team in the nation also happens to be a former award-winning quarterback who is playing a new position. He also put up two long TDs in his first game of the season AND unleashed a spin move that’ll be making highlight reels until spring. If you aren’t watching Braxton Miller as often as you can this year, there’s something wrong with you.

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  • Cardale Jones
  • Nick Chubb
  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Pharoh Cooper
  • Su
  • Braxton Miller

Having successfully launched a new playoff system after escaping the confines of the BCS last season, college football appears to be in great shape moving forward. It offers a kaleidoscope of styles and aesthetics–the triple-option offense, bombastic college bands, competitors from the deep South to the Pacific Northwest–that set it apart from its professional counterpart.

The heart of the game, of course, is the players who populate the programs, whether they’re starring for SEC powerhouses or running amok through the WAC. The stylistic differences shine through in the players as well; there are miniscule receivers darting through secondaries, quarterbacks who can hardly throw, and running backs who are simply too large for their competition–and too slow for the pros.

While NCAA football is a proving ground for the dreams of would-be professionals, for many players it is the peak of their athletic careers. And that’s just fine–very few people are gifted enough to suit up on Sundays, and it doesn’t take away from their awe-inspiring feats on the college gridiron. In fact, it often adds to their college legacy by immortalizing their feats as a triumphant final act.

You should know what teams to tune in for by now–hint: those Buckeye boys are a real threat to repeat–but keeping track of the most exciting players is tough when they’re spread across hundreds of programs around the country. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. These are the College Football Players You Don’t Want to Miss This Season.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Ronald Martinez/Getty Images