Power Ranking the 25 College Football Stars You Haven't Heard of Yet

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2013

Power Ranking the 25 College Football Stars You Haven't Heard of Yet

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    Baylor is lighting up the scoreboard ... but can you name any of the players doing all that scoring?
    Baylor is lighting up the scoreboard ... but can you name any of the players doing all that scoring?Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    We all know Johnny Manziel. Everyone's heard of (or seen YouTube clips of) Jadeveon Clowney. Same goes for Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and, now, flavor-of-the-year Jameis Winston.

    But the beauty of college football lies in the seemingly endless number of star players that are spread throughout the country, not just on the rosters of the teams camped at the top of the polls.

    Some of the players on the list you might have heard of, depending on where you live or which leagues you follow. But all in all, they represent some of the best of the best of the "who are they?"

    And not surprisingly, it's got a lot of West Coast players, the ones who don't get much attention because "the games are on too late."

    Flip through the slides to see these top unknowns, counting down from 25th to first.

25. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

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    Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

    Who is he? Option quarterbacks never get much love, especially if they're on an independent that happens to also be a service academy. 

    But Keenan Reynolds is as good as they get when it comes to running the complicated triple option that Navy operates to near perfection each and every year. The sophomore is adept whether he's handing off to another back or serving as the leading rusher (385 yards, seven touchdowns) for the nation's No. 8 rushing offense, and he can sling the ball when needed as well, completing 20 of 31 passes for 378 yards and two TDs.

    This weekend against Air Force, Reynolds ran for 126 yards and three TDs in a 28-10 victory. And once he's done at Navy, he'll serve his country, which makes him as much of a star as anything he'll do on the football field.

24. Corey Robinson, QB, Troy

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Just the most prolific passer in Sun Belt Conference history, the FBS active career passing leader and, following Saturday's 210-yard effort in a 34-33 win over South Alabama, Corey Robinson is also No. 23 on the all-time FBS passing list with 11,797 yards. 

    The four-year starter has thrown for at least 3,100 yards in each of the past three seasons and is already over 1,500 in his season year for the Trojans to go with 73 career passing TDs.

    Sadly, Robinson only gets attention on those random weeknights when Sun Belt games get TV coverage, or during a little-watched bowl game, like when he threw for 387 yards and four TDs in a 2010 New Orleans Bowl win over Ohio.

23. Trey Watts, RB/KR, Tulsa

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    Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Most skill players who play on offense and also return kicks are wide receivers. Not Trey Watts.

    The small (5-11) but swift senior is the the No. 1 running back for Tulsa but also the main punt- and kick returner for the Golden Hurricane. Combined with more than 200 yards receiving, Watts is averaging 188 all-purpose yards per game, good for fifth-best in FBS.

    Tulsa is having a down year at 1-4, but Watts isn't.

22. Devante Davis, WR, UNLV

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Who is he? Sometimes the biggest NFL stars come out of programs you'd never expect to produce such a superstar. Calvin Johnson played at Georgia Tech, where most of the time passing is an afterthought.

    For Devante Davis, his crime is being by far the most talented athlete on one of the nation's worst teams: UNLV. The 6'3", 210-pound junior has a pro body and has been showing off play-on-Sundays hands this fall, hauling in eight touchdown passes. Three of those TD catches came two weeks ago in the Runnin' Rebels' wild 56-42 win at New Mexico, part of a 10-reception, 164-yard effort.

    If Davis keeps having those kinds of games, more pro scouts are going to have a reason to watch UNLV.

21. David Fluellen, RB, Toledo

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The engine that paces Toledo's offense.

    David Fluellen has seen his role in the Rockets' game plan expand each season, going from a backup his freshman year to rushing for nearly 1,500 yards as a junior in 2012. This fall, he's gained 846 yards, second-most in FBS, while also scoring nine touchdowns.

    Fluellen is on a five-game streak of 100-yard efforts, with his most recent performance (220 YDS, four TDs) pacing Toledo's 47-20 win over Western Michigan last week.

20. Jamison Crowder, WR/KR, Duke

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Jamison Crowder is averaging 106 yards a game as a wide receiver and more than 19 yards per punt return for Duke, but because he doesn't play for Mike Krzyzewski, he's a virtual unknown. 

    A junior, Crowder was one of Sean Renfree's favorite targets during that quarterback's big 2012 season, and in 2013, he's caught at least six passes each game while accounting for more than half of the Blue Devils' receptions and receiving yards.

19. Tim Bennett, DB, Indiana

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Tim Bennett hasn't recorded an interception yet this season, but it's not due to a lack of trying.

    The junior leads all defensive backs in FBS with 2.8 passes defended per game, a fancy way of saying he gets his hands on a lot of balls intended for the player he's guarding. He had four of those pass breakups in the Hoosiers' landmark win last week over Penn State, the school's first ever against the Nittany Lions.

18. Shaquil Barrett, LB, Colorado State

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Shaquil Barrett is the college football version of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Though, in this case, he's an SEC linebacker in the Mountain West.

    The 6'2", 250-pound senior has thrived in the defensive system implemented by former Alabama defensive coordinator Jim McElwain over the past two seasons. Barrett has 6.5 sacks this year after registering just 3.5 in 2012.

17. Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? When Western Kentucky made headlines during the offseason by landing Bobby Petrino as its replacement for departed coach Willie Taggart, many people wondered what was the allure of the job. That is, other than to coach a school that's got a hand holding a red towel as its logo and a furry red blob for its mascot.

    Antonio Andrews was reason No. 1 in terms of on-field reasons why Petrino took the WKU job. The senior rushed for 1,684 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 and, this season, leads FBS with 882 yards to go along with nine TDs.

16. Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The latest in the Mid-American Conference's long line of under-the-radar big arms.

    The same league that has produced Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger and Chad Pennington, among others, now has Keith Wenning as its quarterback poster boy. The 6'3", 220-pound senior has thrown for at least 317 yards in each game this season en route to Ball State's 5-1 record, tossing 11 touchdowns against three interceptions along the way.

    Last weekend, he showed off his talents in ACC country, passing for 346 yards and two TDs in the Cardinals' 48-27 rout at Virginia.

15. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

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    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The brightest offensive hope Boston College has had since Matt Ryan.

    Andre Williams, a senior, currently leads FBS in rushing yards per game at 153.6, a number boosted heavily by last week's 263-yard, five-touchdown performance in a win over Army. Take out his poor performance against USC last month and Williams is averaging more than 187 yards per game and more than six yards per carry.

    A part-time starter the previous two seasons, Williams is likely to outgain what he had in his first three years with the Eagles. Output like that is a big reason BC (3-2) has already surpassed last year's win total.

14. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The second coming of Larry Fitzgerald might be a little overzealous, but Tyler Boyd's Pittsburgh career is off to an impressive start.

    The 6'2" freshman had minimal impact in the Panthers' season-opening loss to Florida State, a game that was the coming out party for FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. But since then, Boyd has been electric, averaging 133 receiving yards over the next three games along with four touchdowns, including a three-TD effort in Pitt's 58-55 shootout win at Duke last month.

13. James Franklin, QB, Missouri

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Not to be confused with the Vanderbilt head coach of the same name, this James Franklin is a dual-threat senior who is a key to Missouri's surprising 5-0 start. 

    Franklin has thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns and has rushed for 278 yards and two TDs to put him 10th in FBS in total offense per game. This year has been a resurrection of sorts for Franklin, who has been Mizzou's starter since 2011—earning Independence Bowl MVP honors that December—but has struggled with multiple injuries in 2012, part of the reason Mizzou went 5-7 last season.

12. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The epitome of a home run receiver.

    Paul Richardson has the speed and playmaking ability to make big plays, something he's done since he was a freshman in 2010. But the junior missed last season with a torn ACL, slowing down his stellar career that had already produced six catches of more than 50 yards.

    His return to the field this fall got off to a resounding start, hauling in an 82-yard touchdown catch on the Buffaloes' first pass play of the season. Richardson added a 75-yard TD catch in that game, a win over rival Colorado State and, since, has added two more 50-plus-yard receptions and even tossed a 75-yard TD on a trick play last week against Oregon.

    Colorado might not be very good right now, but Richardson is still going to give fits to every defense the Buffaloes face the remainder of the season.

11. Ty Montgomery, WR/KR, Stanford

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Possibly the most dangerous kickoff return threat in college football, Ty Montgomery is averaging more than 33 yards per return this season. That number was bolstered by a game-opening 99-yard touchdown return in Stanford's big win over Washington last week.

    Montgomery is also the top receiver for the Cardinal's efficient, pro-style passing attack with 383 yards and five TDs. The junior has already surpassed his yardage totals from each of his first two seasons and, by the end of Stanford's next game, will have established a career high in receptions.

    He'll probably also be getting a few less kickoffs booted in his direction.

10. Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The most prolific passer in Wyoming history, something that's taken Brett Smith less than 2 1/2 seasons to accomplish.

    The junior is third in FBS in total offense at 377.8 yards per game, but he's not doing it just by slinging the ball all over the place. Though he's passed for at least 290 yards in each of the Cowboys' five games (with three four-touchdown performances along the way), Smith also has nearly 300 rushing yards.

    His best game to date came last month in a rout at Air Force when he set a school record for total offense in a game with 511 yards (373 passing, 138 rushing) and accounted for five TDs.

    Smith and Wyoming could be the last hurdle for Fresno State to go unbeaten and be a BCS buster. The Cowboys host FSU on Nov. 9.

9. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? Every quarterback needs a go-to guy who can be counted on whenever a big catch must be made, and that's what Davante Adams is to Fresno State QB Derek Carr.

    Though just a sophomore, Adams is playing like a fifth-year senior who's ready for the NFL. He had 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, and this year, he's continued that torrid pace by averaging 10.4 receptions per game to go with seven TD catches.

    Spread those numbers over four seasons—something that's only unlikely because Adams will probably be in the NFL when he should be a senior—and you're looking at stats that could challenge FBS career receiving records.

8. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Who is he? Marion Grice's statistics seem pedestrian at first. Until you notice one key facet; the guy knows how to score touchdowns.

    Though he only has 307 rushing yards in five games, the senior has eight rushing TDs. He's also maybe the best pass-catching back in FBS, with five TD receptions and at least 30 receiving yards in each game this season. Grice's 15.6 points per game is No. 1 in FBS, ahead of even the most prolific of kickers, and his ability to run and catch makes him a matchup nightmare.

7. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The nation's leading quarterback sacker, despite not being a full-time player.

    Vic Beasley has eight sacks in five games for Clemson, an amazing stat considering he's only made 15 tackles on the season. Even more amazing, Beasley plays less than 40 snaps per game as a dedicated pass rusher brought in mostly in pass-obvious situations.

    Though fellow Palmetto State defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has gotten all the attention (despite not performing up to expectations) this season, it's Beasley that's been the true front line stud in the state of South Carolina.

6. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? A speedster of a running back with Playstation-like numbers for the country's most ridiculously proficient offense.

    Lache Seastrunk is making the most of the limited touches he's gotten through his 1 1/2 seasons at Baylor, averaging 7.7 yards per carry last year and an unheard of 11.1 per rush in 2013. He's averaging more than 147 yards per game this fall despite only 53 carries, though he's managed eight touchdowns in that small sample size.

    Would Seastrunk be able to keep up that level of efficiency if asked to carry the ball 25 times a game? Hard to say. First, Baylor has to have an opponent make it necessary for him to stay in the game beyond the first half.

5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Who is he? Sean Mannion is the quarterback for a team that is third-worst in the country in rushing offense. The junior's cannon of an arm is probably one of the biggest reasons Oregon State doesn't run the ball very well.

    After having so-so seasons as the Beavers' most-of-the-time starter in 2011 and 2012, Mannion has elevated himself to the pinnacle of college passers this year. His 403.6 passing yards per game and 21 total touchdown throws are both tops in FBS, but maybe the most amazing stat is that he's been intercepted just twice in 238 attempts, and both of those were in games OSU won easily.

    Mannion's arm could be a BCS buster later this season, as he and OSU still have Stanford and Oregon to face.

4. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? A behind-the-scenes workhorse, Bishop Sankey is just as much a reason for Washington's strong start to 2013 as its attention-grabbing quarterback, Keith Price.

    Sankey is fourth in FBS with 143.4 rushing yards per game, averaging more than 26 carries per contest. Throw out his four-carry, 77-yard cup of coffee in the Huskies' romp over FCS Idaho State last month and Sankey would be averaging 166.3 yards and 31.8 carries.

    The junior carried it a school-record 40 times in a win over Arizona two weeks ago, negating the effects of strong rain that limited Washington's normally dangerous passing attack.

3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? A quarterback who's so efficient he's actually making people around Waco mutter "RGIII who?"

    Bryce Petty is making the most of his chance to start at Baylor, even if he doesn't get to see what the second half looks like. He sports a video game-like passer rating of 229.6, tops in FBS, and is averaging 13.9 yards per pass attempt along with 10 touchdowns for the nation's No. 1 offense.

    The output by Petty is so astounding he's likely to get his coach, Art Briles, a nice coaching promotion in the offseason.

2. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? The FBS leader or co-leader in receiving yards, receptions and touchdown catches, Brandin Cooks is the country's most effective wide receiver.

    A junior, Cooks has 52 receptions for 809 yards and nine TDs, and each game for the Beavers has had him do something amazing. Whether it be his three-TD effort in OSU's overtime win at Utah or his 14-catch output in a comeback win at San Diego State, Cooks has combined with Sean Mannion to create one of the country's deadliest QB-WR combinations.

1. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

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    Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

    Who is he? There aren't a lot of chances for a quarterback from central California to get a lot of attention, but Derek Carr is milking whatever chances he gets.

    In the Bulldogs' season-opening overtime win over Rutgers, Carr went 52-for-73 for 456 yards and five touchdowns. Then three weeks later, he passed for 460 yards and four TDs to give FSU a program-defining 41-40 win over Boise State to take control of the Mountain West and put Fresno in line to be a BCS buster.

    The younger brother of former NFL No. 1 draft pick David Carr, Derek Carr will become Fresno's all-time passing leader by the end of October. Will that translate into him becoming a top pro passing prospect?