10 College Football Players Under Unrealistic Pressure in 2014
American college football might satisfy the literal requirement of "amateur" athletics, but the players who make up the sport are subject to a degree of scrutiny, pressure and lack of anonymity that most professional athletes would feel sorry for.
This holds doubly, triply and in some cases 10 times more true for the stars of college football, who do not get coddled with the same gentle hand a typical adult reporter would use with a typical student-athlete.
For proof of this, look no further than the Johnny Manziel circus at SEC media days last season. Can you imagine the pressure he was playing under—as an unpaid athlete, no less—knowing that that many people were paying attention to his every waking move?
Manziel is gone to the NFL, but there are still plenty of college football players facing unrealistic expectations in 2014. This can happen for myriad reasons, but the main ones include being counted on for team success, being counted on for individual success, being compared to previous superstars and (for young players) pedigree as a prospect.
Each case is different in its own way, but they are all the same in that the players involved have preposterous things to live up to.
Note: This piece is best read with Billy Joel on loop in the background.
QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
The pressure on Kyle Allen is multifaceted.
First comes the natural pressure of being the top-rated quarterback in a recruiting class. Max Browne (USC) hasn't gotten on the field yet after having the same honor bestowed upon him on the 247Sports Composite in 2013, but the top-rated QB before that, Jameis Winston, just won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman.
Speaking of guys who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman—and the list is not very long—Allen is fighting to replace Manziel, one of the best and perhaps the single most polarizing, exciting, memorable college player of the past decade.
Allen still has to beat out Kenny Hill to win the job, but senior Matt Joeckel's transfer this offseason while Hill was suspended from the team was a sign that Texas A&M plans on giving the freshman a go.
If and when that's the case, two of the players he'll be compared to are patently unrealistic for someone who's yet to play a down.
QB Jacob Coker, Alabama
Jacob Coker is expected to win the starting quarterback job at Alabama over Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman.
Alabama is expected to win the SEC and make (and win) the College Football Playoff because it is Alabama, and Nick Saban is its coach.
Ipso facto, Coker is expected to lead a team to the national title next season. This despite the fact that he has still not joined the program or taken a meaningful snap since his senior year of high school.
Let's not overcomplicate things by explaining any further. Those are about as unrealistic as expectations can get.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
We—the media—are responsible for creating the unrealistic pressure that Leonard Fournette faces next season, and even Bleacher Report does not escape culpability.
We do, after all, compare him with and call him the next Adrian Peterson in the video above. We aren't the only ones making such allusions, but still…think about how ridiculous that is. Adrian freakin' Peterson—the most gifted running back many of us have ever seen.
That's what Fournette has to live up to.
It's entirely possible that Fournette reaches such heights. Eventually. He was the No. 1 overall player on the 247Sports Composite for a reason: He's really, really, really good at football.
But Peterson ran for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns and nearly won the Heisman as a true freshman, and Fournette plays for a coach, Les Miles, who has always preferred a committee approach.
It's crazy to think he will post similar totals.
QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame
For this, Everett Golson has no one to blame but himself.
Take that however you would like.
But Golson alone created the unrealistic standard he currently faces. He led Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game with a perfect regular season in 2012 but then promptly got himself suspended for the following season because of academic issues.
The result is the bind Golson currently finds himself in—a place where the world is expected of him but little from him can be trusted.
Throw in the ubiquitous presence of redshirt freshman Malik Zaire—who looked like the better quarterback during much of spring practice—and you get a rare, daunting blend of pressure.
Irish fans think Golson can lead them to the College Football Playoff, but they will also be calling for the hook each time he does something even remotely wrong. No player in the country envies that.
RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
In the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Derrick Henry saw the most extensive playing time of his freshman season and made it count.
He took a handoff 43 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter and a screen pass 61 yards for a touchdown in the fourth, making Oklahoma defenders look like Lego people trapped in quicksand all the while. He finished the game with 161 total yards and two scores.
For one impressive evening, Henry looked like he belonged on the short list of best players in college freshmen. His resume—which includes the all-time record for high school rushing yards—helps validate the visceral dominance we all saw in New Orleans.
Anything short of becoming one of the best players in college football would thus feel like a disappointment in Henry's sophomore season.
And that—even for him—seems like unrealistic pressure.
LB Myles Jack, UCLA
Myles Jack was one of the stars of the 2013 college football season, playing two-ways as a running back and linebacker at UCLA.
That success and versatility at such a young age (he was a true freshman) helped push Jack's name onto the list of Heisman candidates to bet on in February. He was listed at 33-1 according to Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer on his blog, Kegs 'N' Eggs.
Head coach Jim Mora told Mike Yam of Pac-12 Networks that Jack will touch the ball on offense next season, but he also said he doesn't "know how many times." Despite these intimations, Jack is more likely to be used primarily on defense than he is with the ball in his hands.
Which is to say: A defensive player in his true sophomore season is listed as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, even though no defender has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1997.
Jack is as good as advertised…but that's a little over the top.
QB Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
According to the 247Spots Composite, Gunner Kiel was a 5-star prospect and the second-best quarterback in the 2012 class.
The only guy who was better? Winston.
But while Winston was out winning a Heisman Trophy and BCS National Championship last season, Kiel was on the sidelines at Cincinnati, sitting out the NCAA-mandated year after transferring from Notre Dame. He could not be further behind in that competition.
The pressure on Kiel this year is one of redemption. The history of 5-star quarterbacks transferring is hit-or-miss, and one can usually tell after the first year which type of prospect he will be.
Can Kiel emulate Ryan Mallett, who moved from Michigan to Arkansas and became a rightful superstar? Or will he be another Dayne Crist, the last blue-chip Irish QB who went running to another school?
Only one good way to find out.
QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has everything it needs to win the Big 12 and make the College Football Playoff next season.
The schedule sets up nicely, and the defense should really be stacked. There's a reason why, according to B/R's Adam Kramer, the Sooners opened as the biggest favorite (2-to-5) to win a power conference.
Quarterback Trevor Knight is the only real question mark.
He reminded fans in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama that he can—at his peak—play like one of the best offensive weapons in the country, like a poor man's version of Manziel (which is a compliment).
But he also reminded fans in the OU spring game that he can—at not-his-peak—play like the guy who got benched early last season after stinking up the joint against West Virginia and UL-Monroe.
Which Knight will the Sooners get in 2014?
The fate of the team is almost entirely dependent on the answer.
WR D'haquille Williams, Auburn
D'haquille Williams was the No. 1 overall player on the 247Sports JUCO Composite, and he sure looked the part during spring camp.
"Will junior college wide receiver D’haquille Williams live up to the hype?" asked AuburnTigers.com senior writer Phillip Marshall. "From what I've seen, I believe he will." And that sounds perfectly fair.
But let's discuss that hype for a second now, shall we?
The last wide receiver who topped the JUCO rankings was Cordarrelle Patterson. Less than a year after enrolling at Tennessee in July 2012, he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Less than a year after that, he is looked at as one of the best young playmakers at any level of the sport.
The last Auburn commit who placed so highly on the JUCO rankings was Cam Newton. Less than a year after joining the Tigers, he had already won a Heisman Trophy and a BCS National Championship and was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers. Today, he is looked at as one of the best young players—period—at any level of the sport.
Where will Williams be a year from now? Or in 11 months? And if it's not shaking Roger Goodell's hand on the stage at Radio City Music Hall, does that mean we can call him a disappointment?
It would be easier if he didn't make us find out.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
We save the best for last.
(Actually, the construct of "alphabetical order" did our job for us, but whatever.)
Winston will be measured against the historic precedent he set for himself in 2013. Anything short of a repeat Heisman Trophy and national title would be looked at, in some ways, as a letdown.
Same goes for his physical numbers. Can he find a way to remain so efficient? He did, after all, finish first in the country with a QB rating of 184.8 last season—more than 10 points better than No. 2 Bryce Petty and the fifth-best recorded score of all time.
The off-field issues will not help matters. Because he has found his name in the news for the wrong reasons—some obviously more serious than others—there will be a large faction of people out there rooting for Winston to fail. And even if he is not "failing," per se, they will be eager to point out any depreciation in his success.
Only playing as well or better than he did in 2013 will be enough for Winston to get people off his back.
And that will take a truly prodigious effort.