Off the Beaten Path: 25 CFB Players You Need to Know in 2009
On the eve of the 2009 college football season, it is imperative to know that there is more to college football than Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy.
Each season gift-wraps us pleasant surprises that help change the landscape of the college football realm.
In 2008, Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin and Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith went from being unknown in August to two of the most feared college football players by January.
Who will rekindle the flames that burn for all of those unheralded college football players in 2009?
QB Jarrett Brown, West Virginia
The most popular guy on campus is typically the backup quarterback.
The above motto usually holds true, but not in Morgantown. The past four years the Mountaineers rode a wave of Big East dominance that was captained by quarterback Pat White.
With White now taking snaps in the NFL, Jarrett Brown, a senior who has lingered in White's shadow the last three seasons, hopes to immortalize himself within the halls of West Virginia football history—in just one season.
Brown is a very mobile quarterback despite his size (6'4", 221 lbs.) and possesses a stronger and more accurate arm than White.
As a matter of fact, the Mountaineer offense will emulate a more "pro-ready" package to better suit the skills of Brown, instead of the multiple spread formations we have come to know in West Virginia.
Watch out, Heisman voters—Jarrett Brown is riding in on a dark horse.
QB Kellen Moore, Boise State
Oh my, Doug Flutie has resurfaced!
Kellen Moore, the scrawny quarterback for Boise State, is the epitome of what the Broncos stand for.
This underdog passer stands in at 6'0", 185 lbs. soaking wet.
His stature did not prevent him from completing nearly 70 percent of his passes as a freshman in 2008.
It also did not stand in the way of his production—3,502 yards, 25 touchdowns.
His arm may not be the strongest, but for Boise State, he provides the necessary throws in the heat of the moment.
In just his third game out of high school, Moore torched the Oregon Ducks for 386 yards and three touchdowns last September.
We have a Heisman hopeful in the making with Kellen Moore.
QB Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
There may not be much room for notoriety among the Big 12 quarterbacks as long as Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Boo Griffin, Todd Reesing, Zac Robinson, and Taylor Potts are still in the saddle, but Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson has all of the tools to make the Aggies a strong contender in the Big 12 South.
Despite only having to beat out a raw, converted wide receiver for the starting quarterback job, Johnson showed last year why he was a dual threat from under center.
As a redshirt freshman in 2007, Johnson only saw the field eight times. Of those eight times, he led the mediocre Aggies offense to touchdown drives six times.
Last year, in a loss to Miami, Johnson threw for 275 yards and one touchdown.
He would go on to struggle in other big-time games, tossing six interceptions against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Baylor.
With more experience under his belt and another year under head coach Mike Sherman's tutelage, Johnson is a prime candidate for a breakout season.
All eyes will be on College Station on Oct. 3 as the Johnson-led Aggies will face their first true test of the season in the resurgent Arkansas Razorbacks.
RB Da'Rel Scott, Maryland
After battling through numerous injuries a year ago, Da'Rel Scott is back and ready to catapult the Maryland Terrapins back into ACC contention.
Scott was a first-team All-ACC member last year and has also been named to the 2009 Preseason Maxwell Award Watch List, honoring the most outstanding college football player in America.
Despite setbacks in 2008, Scott still rushed for more than 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.
If this Terp running back can overcome durability issues, we foresee a season in which he competes with Cal's Jahvid Best as the most productive running back in college football.
RB Stephfon Green, Penn State
Penn State's Evan Royster is one of the more famed running backs in the country, but Stephfon Green, Royster's backup, is the best kept secret in America.
Last year, Green left everyone in his dust whenever he touched the pigskin, as he accumulated 578 rushing yards on 105 carries.
Green also averaged nearly averaged 18 yards per reception.
With new faces at the wide receiver position in Happy Valley, we can only expect to see Green on the field more and included in plenty of offensive packages on passing downs.
His blazing speed and elusiveness makes the tandem of he and Royster one of the elite duos in college football.
RB Shane Vereen, California
Like Stephfon Green at Penn State, Shane Vereen is playing in the shadows of one of college football's best running backs—Jahvid Best.
Still, Vereen has to be one of the most exciting college football players in the country.
Last year as a freshman, Vereen tallied 715 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 175 carries.
He also added some electricity to the passing game with 221 yards and one touchdown receiving.
Although he is not the focal point of an offense in Berkeley that hopes to dethrone Southern Cal and compete for a national championship, you have been put on notice.
Shane Vereen is the real deal.
WR Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
Last year we saw Florida's Percy Harvin make defenses evaporate with his playmaking ability.
This year Dexter McCluster will torment defenses in the same fashion.
Despite piling up more yards rushing than receiving last year, this wide receiver will make any defender fall out of his spikes.
He will be featured frequently in the Ole Miss version of the wildcat formation, properly named the "Wild Rebel."
WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish will live on to fight another day thanks to the explosiveness of their wide receiver Golden Tate.
Arguably the most exciting Golden Domer since Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail, Tate possesses the playmaking ability to own any defensive player that tries to get in his way.
Notre Dame has not won a national championship since the '80s, and they are not favorites to win one this year, but if they want to reach the Bowl Championship Series, they need to get the ball into the hands of Tate.
He finished 2008 with 1,754 all-purpose yards while reaching pay dirt 11 times.
WR Malcolm Williams, Texas
With two of Texas' top three leading receivers in 2008 no longer with the Longhorns, there is a large void that sophomore WR Malcolm Williams can capitalize on.
As a freshman, Williams caught 17 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
His blend of size, strength, and speed will make him a viable option for QB Colt McCoy, as McCoy passed for 3,859 yards last year.
Williams will get a chance to see significant time on the field, and with the lack of strong defensive will in the Big 12, he is a strong candidate for a 900-plus-yard season with the upside of scoring 10 to 12 touchdowns.
WR Mark Dell, Michigan State
Michigan State is considered by some to be "Wide Receiver U."
Andre Rison, Daryl Turner, Mark Ingram, Muhsin Muhammad, Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress, Charles Rogers, Devin Thomas, and now Mark Dell?
The above collection of names should be familiar to all fans, and they all have one thing in common: They are all wide receivers that have hailed from Michigan State.
Dell has the prototypical size and speed one looks for in a wide receiver, but his production has not yet matched his skill level.
Last year, he opened the season with a 202-yard performance against Cal but failed to reach triple figures in yardage the rest of the season.
Michigan State has a shaky situation at quarterback, but slow and steady will be the pace for Dell as he props himself up onto a national stage.
TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee
Luke Stocker is a long shot among tight ends since he is expected to be part of a pretty deep rotation at tight end for the Volunteers.
Still, his sure-handedness, mixed with decent speed and good blocking skills, makes him a key cog of what is expected to be an exciting season for Tennessee football.
At 6'6", 240 lbs., Stocker reeled in just 13 receptions for 139 yards a year ago.
With three of Tennessee's top six receivers from a year ago gone and a new system in place, look for Stocker to see a larger role in the offense for the Vols.
He has been in a heated battle with Jeff Cottam since the spring, but reports indicate that the Vols have big plans for Stocker since he is the better receiver.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois
Pronounced "hoh-OOM-uh-nah-wah-NOO-ee," this Illinois tight end may be the best in the Big Ten since Dustin Keller.
At 6'3", 270 lbs., Hoomanawanui has soft hands and will deliver punishment after the catch.
He is also a feared blocker.
His 25 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns do not make him stand out amongst the crowd of tight ends, but his leadership role with the Illini has been given a spotlight among those in the media.
Michael Hoomanawanui is a star in the making, and I have a strong feeling that broadcasters will love discussing this guy on Saturdays this season.
OT Jason Fox, Miami (Fl.)
The Miami Hurricanes are in rebuilding mode, and despite the plethora of young talent they have on their roster, one senior stands out.
Offensive tackle Jason Fox is one of the most dominating blockers in America, although he is going unnoticed due to the inadequacies in Coral Gables.
At 6'6", 315 lbs., Fox's failure to allow a sack against the best returning pass rushers in the ACC is very intriguing.
Add in the fact that Miami could reach the pinnacle of the ACC with an offensive turnaround, and we have the makings of an award-winning season for Fox, who has already been named to the 2009 Preseason Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List.
OG Brandon Carter, Texas Tech
Not since Owen Schmitt at West Virginia have we had such a colorful personality on the gridiron.
Texas Tech's Brandon Carter may be the Dennis Rodman of Big 12 football, but like Rodman, he backs his attitude and brassiness up with his play on the gridiron.
Carter is instrumental for the Red Raiders as he protects their key asset—the quarterback.
Last year it was Graham Harrell, and this year it will be Taylor Potts, but it does not matter who it is if Brandon Carter is not out there blocking.
DE Jerry Hughes, TCU
If Jerry Hughes played in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, or Gainesville, his face would be plastered on every major magazine in America.
Instead, he plays for the non-BCS Texas Christian Horned Frogs, a team known for its terrorizing defense.
Hughes led the nation in sacks in 2008 (15). He also compiled 19.5 tackles for a loss.
Naysayers point to the Oklahoma and BYU games where Hughes was a non-factor.
He finished with zero sacks in both games, but to say that he was a non-factor is asinine since the Sooner and Cougar offensive lines focused on stopping Hughes; they knew that if they could stop him, they would stop TCU's entire defense.
Let's not forget that Oklahoma and BYU had two of the country's elite offensive lines in 2008.
With that said, Hughes will undoubtedly become the most respected pass rusher in America and could eventually be a top 10 selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
DE Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech
Why is it that a pass rusher coming off of a season with eight sacks, 18.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick is getting no love from the media?
Jason Worilds is the poster child for what we expect out of Virginia Tech football.
This gritty, no-nonsense athlete has all of the tools necessary to dominate the gridiron.
With Virginia Tech being propped up onto the national landscape, Worilds will have the opportunity to be the next great pass rusher out of the ACC, following in the footsteps of Gaines Adams and Mario Williams.
DT Brian Price, UCLA
When you look up the term "run-stuffer," a photograph of Brian Price appears.
For a school to turn things around, it must start on defense.
UCLA has one of the best defensive lines thanks to Price, a defensive tackle cut from the same mold as Albert Haynesworth.
His stats were impressive in 2008, as he grabbed four sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one blocked kick, and one interception.
Not bad for a 300-plus-pound defensive lineman.
As UCLA looks to improve on its 2008 season, the first year of rebuilding, expect to hear Brian Price's name called a lot.
DT Malcolm Sheppard, Arkansas
As talent-packed as the SEC is, it is a shame that Malcolm Sheppard went unnoticed last season.
His seven-and-a-half sacks were fourth-best in the SEC, which is saying a lot considering he is an interior lineman that got to the quarterback more often than pass rushers like Florida's Jermaine Cunningham and Auburn's Antonio Coleman.
His 16 tackles for a loss were also second-best to Peria Jerry, a first round pick in last year's draft.
Sheppard will be the anchor of a Razorback defense that is primed to compete for the crown in the SEC West.
OLB Michael Morgan, USC
There looms a large hole in the linebacker corps of USC since Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing all departed to the NFL.
Outside linebacker Michael Morgan (No. 17 at left) is ready to take over and become the next Keith Rivers of the USC defense.
Morgan projects to be faster than Cushing but still can hold his own with his strength.
Fans of the Trojans will be awestruck this season as Morgan will likely land himself upon the peak of linebackers in America.
ILB Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is not known for having a pipeline of defensive talent to the NFL, but Chris Marve, a sophomore, will hold his own on Saturdays this fall.
As a freshman, Marve piled up 105 tackles, three sacks, and four fumbles forced.
Reminiscent of former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, Marve lacks the speed to be a pass rusher from the edge, but he is fundamentally sound from the middle.
He plays the zone well and makes quick reads on the quarterback.
Offenses in the SEC must know where Marve is at all times.
OLB Manny Abreu, Rutgers
A lot can be said about Rutgers when they were recruiting Manny Abreu (No. 51 at left) as he chose the Scarlet Knights over Michigan, Florida, Florida State, and Boston College.
Expected to be a full-time starter after competing against Antonio Lowery, Abreu managed to put up an impressive stat line in 2008.
This Union City product has the speed and quickness to place his name among all linebackers nationally, but he needs to relax on his aggressiveness, which causes him to overplay the attack at times.
Still, Abreu is an emerging star in not just the Big East, but also in all of the NCAA. As long as Rutgers keeps producing a winning record, the spotlight should not stray far from Manny Abreu.
CB Chris Hawkins, LSU
LSU fell back from its national championship mode last year due to its lackluster offense and its underachieving defense.
That could be the case again this year, but one cornerback at LSU is looking to prove otherwise.
Chris Hawkins grabbed three interceptions last year. He also broke up nine passes.
He is a quick cornerback that flips his hips well and possesses the ability to take the rock to the house any time he gets his hands on it.
Chris Hawkins will be key in LSU's turnaround in 2009.
CB Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
Known for his coverage more than interceptions, Chimdi Chekwa could announce himself to the Big Ten in considerable fashion by interfering with passes from the Big Ten's top quarterbacks.
Chekwa still needs to improve his run support skills, but with more experience, especially against top-flight competition like USC, he will likely emerge as one of the best ballhawks in 2009.
Ohio State's defense doesn't have the Vernon Gholstons of the nation anymore so Chekwa is in a position to become the poster child of the Buckeyes' defensive platoon.
S Sean Baker, Ball State
The best freshman in America last year was Ball State's Sean Baker.
He had 94 tackles, four for a loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and two touchdowns.
It will be tough for Baker to match those numbers again in 2009, his sophomore season.
Still, Baker is a feared defensive back that quarterbacks like to throw away from, and to say that he doesn't face top-notch QBs is a joke, considering he faced Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Western Michigan's Tim Hiller last year.
It is time to get excited about Sept. 26 when Ball State travels to Auburn. Sean Baker has plans for an upset, that is for sure.
S Drew Astorino, Penn State
With Anthony Scirrotto now out of the picture, Penn State fans are joyous to see Drew Astorino scouring the secondary for the Nittany Lions.
This exciting safety is a legitimate threat in the Big Ten and one of the most underrated players in the country.
Last year, as a freshman, while not being a full-time starter, Astorino grabbed two interceptions and 39 tackles.
Penn State fans should be excited about Astorino since he will be beloved much in the same fashion that Alan Zemaitis was a couple of years ago.