13 College Football Players Who Could Set Stat Records This Season
The 2014 college football season is shaping up to be one for the record books.
School, conference and even FBS benchmarks are likely to be established this fall in a slew of statistical categories. Most of these will be of the career variety, as this season's senior class includes several players who have been key contributors since their freshman year.
Based on how these players have fared in previous seasons, their projected 2014 numbers put them in line to get their names etched atop certain single-season and all-time lists. Some records on this list have stood for quite a while, and others are ones that seem to get re-set every few years thanks to college football's continued uptick in offensive production.
Here's our look at 13 players who you should be able to call record-setters by the end of the season.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Record: Career rushing yards and carries at Nebraska
The Nebraska all-time rushing leaders list is jam-packed with some of the biggest names in college football history, a testament to the Cornhuskers' long tradition of ground-game dominance. Yet Ameer Abdullah has a chance to beat them all this season if he can match his output from 2013.
The 5'9", 195-pound Abdullah ran for 1,690 yards last season, the fourth-best total in school history and the most by a Cornhusker since Ahman Green gained 1,877 yards in 1997. It was Abdullah's second straight 1,000-yard season, and with 2,977 career yards, he needs 1,804 to pass Mike Rozier's career mark of 4,780 set from 1981-1983.
Even if he doesn't get to the top of the yardage list, Abdullah is almost a lock to become the all-time carries leader for the Huskers, barring injury. He ran the ball 281 times last year and needs just 120 attempts in 2014 to pass Rozier's record of 668.
Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee
Record: FBS career interception returns for a touchdown
Middle Tennessee isn't necessarily a hotbed for college football talent, as the school has produced less than 10 NFL draft picks in its history and never saw one go earlier than the end of the second round. But Kevin Byard could change that if he continues to show off his nose for the ball.
In two seasons with the Blue Raiders, Byard has intercepted nine passes, four of which he's brought back for touchdowns. That's one off the FBS record, which is held by four players (most recently Darrent Williams of Oklahoma [2001-2004], who needed a full career to get that many). Byard has recorded two pick-sixes in each year while also locking down the back line of MTSU's secondary with 180 tackles.
With at least one more year before having to decide whether he'll try to be the next Blue Raider to get drafted, the 5'11", 216-pound Byard will have plenty of chances to tie or break the all-time mark.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Record: Career passing yards and passing touchdowns at Marshall
For a school that's never spent much time in the national spotlight, Marshall sure has a pretty storied legacy at quarterback. Rakeem Cato's name should already be mentioned among the school's all-time greats after leading the Thundering Herd to their best season in more than a decade in 2013. And statistically, he's on pace to top them all.
The 6'0", 188-pound senior enters this season with 10,176 passing yards and 91 passing touchdowns after throwing for 3,916 yards and 39 scores last season. He needs just 1,728 passing yards to best Byron Leftwich for the school's career mark of 11,903, which the latter compiled from 1999-2002. And with 10 more touchdown throws he'll top Chad Pennington's Herd record of 100, which was set from 1997-1999.
Pennington started 81 games in the NFL, while Leftwich had a successful pro career despite numerous injuries. Beating their career records won't guarantee Cato professional prominence, but it's a great feat all the same.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
Record: ACC career receptions and receiving yards
Duke's rise from the depths of major college football to a position of prominence was capped by a history-making season in 2013, with the Blue Devils winning 10 games and playing for the ACC championship. Individually, it was a big one, too, as Jamison Crowder set the conference single-season record for catches with 108.
The 5'9", 175-pound senior is now on pace to become the ACC's all-time leader in receptions as well as receiving yards. If he does so, he'll top a former teammate of his; Conner Vernon had 283 catches and 3,749 yards from 2009 to 2012, laying the groundwork for Crowder's performance during those season and since then as well.
Crowder has 198 career catches for 2,597 yards, and while Duke no longer has offensive coordinator Kurt Roper calling the plays, it still has a speedy receiver who is on pace to be the most prolific wideout in ACC history.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State
Record: FBS single-game and single-season passing attempts
Assuming his arm doesn't fall off, Connor Halliday has a chance to go down in history as one of the most pass-happy quarterbacks that college football has ever seen. If he does, he'll have coach Mike Leach and Washington State's notoriety for a lack of rushing to thank for that honor.
We've already seen evidence of what can happen when the Cougars are trailing and Halliday is still in the game. Against Oregon last October, the 6'4", 190-pound righty set the FBS record for passing attempts in a game with 89, besting the old mark of 83 held by former Purdue passer Drew Brees. It's not the most noteworthy of records, as Jake Curtis of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that most passing-attempt record-holders have been on the losing end, as was the case for Halliday in his team's 62-38 defeat to the Ducks.
Halliday could top that number again this season as a senior, depending on how WSU fares. He also has a great chance to best the single-season passing-attempt record of 719, a record established in 2003 by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons—after all, Halliday did sling it 714 times in 2013.
Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina
Record: FBS career receptions
The American Athletic Conference isn't just gaining another slew of new teams this season; it's also getting the chance to have the newly named league etched into the record books thanks to the addition of East Carolina and its catch-magnet receiver Justin Hardy.
Hardy, a 6'0", 188-pound senior, heads into the 2014 season with 266 receptions after pulling in 114 catches last year. Even if he just has another effort like he did as a sophomore in 2012, when he caught 88 balls, he'll break the FBS career record of 349 receptions set by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles from 2008-2011.
It will be much harder for Hardy to finish No. 1 all-time in receiving yards or touchdowns, however. His 3,047 career receiving yards are 1,958 behind the FBS mark of 5,005 held by Nevada's Trevor Insley, while his 25 touchdowns are less than half the 60 scored by Rice's Jarett Dillard.
Michael Hunnicutt, K, Oklahoma
Record: Big 12 (possibly FBS) career field goals
Michael Hunnicutt already holds pretty much every Oklahoma record associated place-kicking, and the 6'1", 178-pound senior's name is favorably regarded in Sooners football history after his touchdown catch on a fake field goal in last year's Bedlam win at rival Oklahoma State. Now, he has his sights set on both conference and national immortality.
Hunnicutt has made 62 field goals for Oklahoma, a number that's far and away the school record. It's also only nine behind the Big 12's all-time mark of 71, which was set by Colorado's Mason Crosby from 2003-2006. Seeing as how Hunnicutt's lowest output was the 17 he had in 2012, that record is almost certain to fall in 2014.
A little harder to achieve will be the FBS record, which stands at 88. Florida State's Dustin Hopkins achieved that total from 2009 to 2012, and Hunnicutt would need to top his own career-high single-season output of 24 to match or surpass Hopkins.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
Record: Career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns at Kansas State
Tyler Lockett is well aware of the name that sits atop Kansas State's all-time leaders for wide receivers. In fact, he happens to be related to him.
Lockett, a 5'11", 175-pound senior, is coming off one of the biggest seasons for a wideout in Wildcats history. He had 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, including a three-touchdown effort in K-State's bowl win over Michigan. That performance has put him in position to challenge the school's career records for receptions (217), yards (3,032) and touchdowns (26).
All three of those records are held by Lockett's father, Kevin, who played for K-State in the 1990s. Lockett's uncle Aaron was also a solid receiver during that time and is among the school career leaders in various receiving categories as well.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Record: Pac-12 career passing yards and interceptions
The first line of Sean Mannion's Oregon State online bio says everything you need to know about the guy who likely will become the Pac-12 Conference's all-time passing leader: "Sean is the prototypical quarterback for a Mike Riley offense."
As one of the more pass-heavy programs in the country over the last decade, the Beavers' ability to throw the ball effectively and efficiently has either made or broken their season each year. The same goes for Mannion, the 6'5", 220-pound senior who will surely be the school's career leader in every major passing category and figures to top the conference in passing yards by the end of 2014.
Mannion enters this fall with 10,436 career passing yards, including a conference-record 4,662 last season. The all-time Pac-12 record is 12,327 yards, which was set in 2012 by USC's Matt Barkley. Even if Mannion were to have a down year—like he did in 2012, when a knee injury limited him to eight starts and just 2,446 yards—he should still become the conference's all-time leader.
He may also finish on top of a much less prestigious list, as his 46 career interceptions put him on pace to challenge the Pac-12 carer "worst" of 61, which was set by former Beaver Erik Wilhelm in 1988.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Record: Ohio State (possibly Big Ten) career total offense ; FBS rushing yards by a quarterback
Braxton Miller's return to Ohio State for his senior year will not only mean the Buckeyes will have a talented veteran running their offense, but it also means they're likely to have a record-setter on the field when the season is over.
The 6'2", 215-pound Miller won't challenge any of the league's career passing records, nor is he likely to throw for enough yards to become the Buckeyes' career passing leader. But the combination of his strong arm and great running ability puts him in prime position to take both the school's and conference's top spots in total offense.
Miller has 8,346 career yards of total offense (5,292 passing and 3,054 rushing), and he is only 504 yards behind OSU record-holder Art Schlichter and 4,346 behind Big Ten all-time leader Drew Brees of Purdue in this category. Miller's highest single-season total is 3,310 total yards, but he was on pace to top that last year had he not missed two games with a knee injury.
With the Buckeyes considered to be a major contender not just for the Big Ten title but also the College Football Playoff in 2014, OSU could play as many as 15 games this year. If that were to happen, Miller could not only best Brees' Big Ten record for total offense, but he could also challenge the FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback (4,495), which was set in 2012 by Michigan's Denard Robinson.
Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
Record: FBS single-season and career rushing touchdowns
Playing college football at Navy is rarely the main motivation for student-athletes to attend that school, as the desire to serve and protect the country often trumps any athletic incentive. But that doesn't mean Keenan Reynolds won't give it his all to try and break some records along the away, especially if he continues to score touchdowns at the rate he did last season.
Reynolds, a 5'11", 195-pound junior, took over as Navy's starting quarterback midway through his freshman season in 2012. Since then, he's operated the Midshipmen's triple-option offense to near-perfection and has become the main weapon in that attack, racking up 41 career rushing touchdowns.
That includes 31 rushing scores last season, which tied for the FBS lead and is tied for second-best single-season mark in FBS history. Only Barry Sanders' amazing 37 rushing touchdowns back in 1988 topped what Reynolds did in 2013; however, the latter did it on just 300 carries compared to the 344 carries Sanders had during his record-setting effort.
And depending on how wild Reynolds runs this fall—take note, he holds the FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single game after scoring seven in a triple-overtime win at San Jose State in 2013—he could challenge the FBS career rushing touchdown mark of 77, which was set in 2012 by Wisconsin's Montee Ball. If he doesn't get there this year, he will in 2015 as a senior.
Ryan Switzer, PR, North Carolina
Record: FBS career punt returns for a touchdown
At 5'10" and 180 pounds, there's nothing physically about Ryan Switzer that would prompt opponents to fear him. That all changes when he lines up deep to field a punt, as he suddenly transformed into one of the nation's most dangerous weapons in this facet of the game last season.
As a true freshman in 2013, Switzer returned five punts for touchdowns, tying the FBS single-season record (set in 2004 by Hawaii's Chad Owens) and putting him in great position to challenge the all-time mark of eight that's shared by Antonio Perkins of Oklahoma (2001-2004) and Wes Welker of Texas Tech (2000-2003). Neither Perkins nor Welker had more than three in a single season.
Switzer might not get as many great opportunities to return punts this year, especially with teams looking to kick away from him or draw a fair catch, but that might not stop him. His fifth career punt return for a touchdown, which came during North Carolina's bowl win over Cincinnati, saw Switzer bait the Bearcats into thinking he was going to call for a fair catch only to burst forward and go almost untouched for the 86-yard score.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Record: Career rushing yards at Alabama
Considering all of the great running backs that Alabama has produced during its storied history, it's hard to imagine that T.J. Yeldon has a chance to surpass all of them in terms of career numbers. Not because Yeldon isn't one of the best the Crimson Tide has ever had, but that the top all-time rushers at 'Bama didn't have more yards.
Yeldon has rushed for 2,343 yards during his first two years at Alabama, which puts him on pace to challenge Shaun Alexander's career mark of 3,565 set back in 1999. The 6'2", 218-pound Yeldon needs 1,222 yards, which is fewer than he gained in 2013 when he shared carries with Kenyan Drake and rarely saw fourth-quarter action because of Alabama's big leads.
The same factors could be all that keeps Yeldon from passing Alexander this season, as Alabama's running back stable is again overflowing with talent and the Tide figure to be in a lot of blowouts.
All stats and records courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.