Though football is a team sport, individual stats matter, especially in a division of 128 teams with full rosters.
Predicting which single guy will lead an individual statistical category is a bit like forecasting the weather for next November, but history and current trends can give us a decent idea in both cases.
Here’s a look at seven major stats and the guys with the best chance of being at the top of the heap in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
The No. 2 passer in yards last season with 4,662—Oregon State’s Sean Mannion—could eclipse the 5,000-yard mark in 2014.
Though the Beavers bid farewell to Brandin Cooks—their top receiver from a year ago—the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 targets are all back this season. This, along with three starters from the offensive line, bodes well for Mannion to be the No. 1 passer in yards in 2014.
The last time Alabama had a back rush for more than 1,600 yards was in 2011 when Trent Richardson racked up 1,679 yards as the offensive cornerstone of the Tide’s national championship run.
It’s no coincidence that Richardson’s prolific season coincided with quarterback AJ McCarron’s first year as the starter. The same scenario played out in 2009, when Mark Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards—and a Heisman—during quarterback Greg McElroy’s first season as the starter.
With Alabama debuting a new quarterback in 2014, look for T.J. Yeldon to build on his 1,235 yards from last season and perhaps lead the nation in rushing yards.
The top receiver from the No. 5 passing offense in 2013, Baylor’s Antwan Goodley is set for a huge senior season in 2014. The biggest plus for Goodley is the return of quarterback Bryce Petty, the No. 2-rated passer in the nation last season.
Goodley caught 71 passes for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, making him the No. 13 receiver in yards and the No. 8 guy in scoring. Watch for Baylor coach Art Briles to put his foot on the gas this season and Goodley’s numbers to explode.
As a sophomore last season, Temple’s Tyler Matakevich finished No. 6 in the nation in total tackles with 134 and No. 1 in solo tackles with 106.
This is all the more remarkable given that the Owls went 2-10 last season and ranked No. 81 in scoring defense.
In 2014, Matakevich will lead a unit that returns a whopping seven starters, including five of the front seven. Look for him to improve on his huge numbers from last season.
Tackles for a Loss
What will new head coach Charlie Strong mean to Texas’ No. 57-ranked scoring defense from last season Well, hopefully he’ll take talented athletes like defensive end Cedric Reed and help them reach their full potential.
Reed registered 16.5 tackles for a loss as a junior last season, earning him the No. 24 slot in the FBS. What he’ll accumulate under the maestro that engineered Louisville’s No. 2-ranked scoring defense in 2013 is unknown. We’ll assume it will be big-time, especially given the seven Longhorn starters due back on D.
Hidden somewhere in all those delicious layers of Clemson, with its No. 8-ranked scoring offense from last season, is a defense that ranked No. 24 in points allowed.
Leading the way in sacks and tackles for a loss was junior defensive end Vic Beasley with 23 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown. This was enough for a No. 3 finish in the FBS in sacks, second to only Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Louisville’s Marcus Smith.
In 2014, Beasley will have six other starters to help him launch a stellar senior season.
Though TCU safety Sam Carter finished tied for No. 18 in the FBS in interceptions last season, his five were only three picks from national leader Anthony Harris of Virginia.
In 2014 Carter will be a senior, a leader on a defense that returns eight starters and plays in the most pass-happy league in big-time college football, the Big 12.
Can he lead the nation in interceptions? Absolutely. This is a guy who will have more chances than virtually any other defensive back in the nation, and he’s got the skills to go along with the volume.