15 Non-Power 5 College Football Players You Need to Know for the 2015 Season

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2015

15 Non-Power 5 College Football Players You Need to Know for the 2015 Season

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Did you know that since 2000, eight of the 20 different quarterbacks who started in the Super Bowl didn’t play for a Power Five team in college?

    That’s 40 percent of the field.

    It proves an important point: You don’t have to play for Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma or USC to be a good football player.

    It also means that you don’t have to play for a big-time program to become one of the greatest football players of all time. Think of Brett Favre of Southern Miss, Jack Lambert of Kent State and Walter Payton of Jackson State.

    The following 15 athletes all have the right stuff for a big 2015 season. Each has a potent combination of previous statistical success and a favorable situation (key returning teammates, coaching, strategy, etc.) to achieve even more this year.  A lucky few may even go on to be a part of football history.

    This is what will be referred to as their “humble beginnings."

Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The only thing that stopped Bowling Green’s Travis Greene from registering his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season was an injury that cost him two games.

    Greene rushed for 949 yards on 180 carries as a junior in 2014, down from the 1,594 yards on 279 rush attempts (No. three in the FBS) he managed the previous season. He broke the 100-yard mark in nine of his 14 appearances in 2013 and five of 12 times last year.

    Look for even bigger things in 2015 when Greene will be joined by the entire line from last season and all but one starter on offense.

    Greene was a 2-star prospect from Opa-locka, Florida, in 2011.

Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Did you know that the No. 9 receiver in yards per game last season played for UMass?

    Tajae Sharpe caught 85 passes for 1,281 yards in 2014. His per-game average of 106.8 put him just behind West Virginia’s Kevin White (111.3) and Baylor’s Corey Coleman (111.9). 

    In 2015, he’ll add to his statistical resume with the help of quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who managed a No. 4 finish last season in yards per game (334.5). The duo will be anchored by all but one starter from an offensive line that led the way for the No. 11-ranked passing attack in the FBS.

    Sharpe was a 2-star prospect from Piscataway, New Jersey, in 2012.

Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina

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    When you think of East Carolina, its pass-happy attack comes to mind, but don’t forget that the Pirates finished ranked No. 11 in the nation in rush defense last season.

    Leading the way was linebacker Zeek Bigger, who not only led his team in tackles (140) but also finished tied with Penn State’s Mike Hull for the sixth-most in the nation. He also registered two interceptions (one for a score), 3.5 tackles for a loss, four broken-up passes and five quarterback hurries. 

    Bigger won’t play on one of the best defenses in the country as a senior in 2015, but he will be flying way under the radar as one of the best individual players.

    He was a 3-star outside linebacker prospect from Gastonia, North Carolina, in 2011.

Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State

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    No FBS team returns as many starters this season as Appalachian State does, which brings back 10 to each side of the ball.

    Included in the sweep is running back Marcus Cox, who as a sophomore last season rushed 255 times for 1,415 yards and 19 scores. It was enough for a No. 10 finish in the nation in touchdowns, a No. 21 mark in yards per game (117.9) and a No. 23 finish in total yards.

    In 2015, he’ll have the help of all but one starter on the offensive line, a unit that led the way for the No. 18-ranked rushing attack in college football last year. It’s the same group that that earned a No. 27 mark in tackles for a loss allowed (63), tied with Alabama.

    Cox was a 2-star athlete prospect from Dacula, Georgia, in 2013.

Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

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    No quarterback in NCAA history has scored more rushing touchdowns than Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (64), and he still has a senior season left to play.

    Thus far, he's managed to score three-plus touchdowns on 12 separate occasions. His top performances were a seven-score, 240-yard day at San Jose State in 2013 and last season’s six-touchdown, 277-yard outing versus Georgia Southern.

    Remember, these are rushing numbers only.

    What may slow down the Reynolds Express in 2015 is the return of only five starters on offense, a number that includes just two to the line.

    Reynolds went unrated as a dual-threat prospect from Madison, Tennessee.

Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan

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    Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin was the second-most productive freshman running back in college football last season. His 119.31 yards per game put him behind only Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (131.8) and ahead of Georgia’s Nick Chubb (119.0).

    It was good enough for a No. 18 finish overall in yards per game, a No. 16 mark in total yards (1,551) and a No. 4 rank in touchdowns (24).

    In 2015, Franklin will be one of nine returning starters to an offense that ranked No. 33 in scoring. Included are quarterback Zach Terrell and three members of the starting line.

    Franklin was a 3-star prospect from Tinley Park, Illinois, in 2014. 

Xavier Woods, FS, Louisiana Tech

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    As a sophomore, Xavier Woods was the leader of a secondary that finished tied for the most interceptions in the nation. With 26, Louisiana Tech was deadlocked with TCU and Louisville for the most picks, and with 42 total turnovers forced, it stood alone at the top of the FBS.

    Woods individually contributed six interceptions (two for scores), 71 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, seven broken-up passes, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

    It tied him for the fourth-most interceptions in the nation. His 174 return yards ranked No. 2, just behind Louisville’s Gerod Holliman, who needed 14 picks to gain 245 yards.

    This season, Woods returns with all but one member of the starting secondary from a year ago.

    Woods was a 3-star cornerback prospect from West Monroe, Louisiana, in 2013.

Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky

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    BRADLEY LEEB/Associated Press

    If you haven’t heard of Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty yet, it’s time you meet him.

    Not only did Doughty pass for more yards than any quarterback in the FBS in 2014 (4,830), but he also finished No. 3 in quarterback rating (167.11). That put him behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (181.7) and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (169.8) but ahead of USC’s Cody Kessler (167.06).

    This is a guy who accomplished way more than just throwing the most touchdown passes in college football (49). He did it while completing 67.9 percent of his passes (No. 6) and throwing a mere 10 interceptions in 552 attempts.

    Doughty is back in 2015, along with seven other offensive starters of an attack that finished last year ranked No. 6 in scoring and No. 2 in passing yards. Included are the top two receiving targets, the top two rushers and three starters from the line.

    Doughty was a 3-star pro-style prospect from Pompano Beach, Florida, in 2010.

Keevan Lucas, WR, Tulsa

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    What do you get when you combine Baylor’s former offensive coordinator with the No. 27 quarterback in yards per game and the No. 11 receiver?

    A potential yard explosion.

    That’s what’s going down at Tulsa this season, where Philip Montgomery—fresh off three seasons running Art Briles’ offense—hooks up with an offense that managed a No. 37 rank in passing offense despite winning only two games.

    Throw in all but one member of the offensive line, the top three rushers and the entire receiving corps and you get the picture.

    The most proven guy of the bunch is receiver Keevan Lucas, who finished No. 11 in yards per game last season (101.6), No. 13 in touchdowns (11) and No. 12 in total yards (1,219).

    Lucas was a 2-star prospect from Abilene, Texas, in 2013.

Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Now that older brother Zach has graduated, the stage is set for Utah State inside linebacker Nick Vigil to explode as a junior.

    Vigil finished second to his brother on the team in tackles (123) and tackles for a loss (17) and third in sacks (seven) last year.  Despite that, his numbers were still good enough for a No. 21 finish in the FBS in tackles, a tie for No. 18 in tackles for a loss and a tie for No. 60 in sacks.

    He also tacked on five forced fumbles (the second-most in the FBS), an interception and 152 yards and three scores as a running back. Wow.

    In 2015, Vigil is one of three returning linebackers to a unit that finished No. 12 in scoring and No. 24 versus the run.

    Vigil was a 2-star running back prospect from Plain City, Utah, in 2012.

Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Of all the guys you’ve never heard of, Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush might be the most impressive.

    Not only did Rush, as just a sophomore, finish 2014 ranked No. 36 in passing yards per game (242.8), but he finished No. 20 in touchdowns (27), No. 24 in completion percentage (63.6) and No. 20 in yards per attempt (8.3).

    It all added up to a No. 17 rank in passer rating (149.54), ahead of Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel (149.39) and Michigan State’s Connor Cook (149.36) and just behind Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (151.72).

    In 2015, the talented but unheralded Rush will be joined by three starting offensive linemen and two of his top four targets. 

    Like East Carolina’s Zeek Bigger, he’s another guy who may not play on the best unit in the nation but will still manage to be an outstanding individual player.

    Rush was a 2-star pro-style prospect from Lansing, Michigan, in 2012.

Zach Terrell, QB, Western Michigan

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    The No. 24 quarterback in passing yards per game last year (264.8), Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell pumped out numbers near those of Notre Dame’s Everett Golson (265.0) and Boise State’s Grant Hedrick (264.0).

    Even more impressively, he achieved a quarterback rating of 164.41, the sixth-best mark in the FBS and ahead of Baylor’s Bryce Petty (157.83) at No. 8.  His highest grades came in completion percentage (67.9), where he tied for sixth, and yards per attempt (9.4), where he finished third nationally.

    In 2015, he returns along with eight other starters on offense. Included in the deluge are the top rusher (Jarvion Franklin, whom we mentioned earlier), three linemen and most significantly for Terrell the entire receiving corps.  It’s a group headlined by wide receiver Corey Davis, who with 117.3 yards per game finished 2014 ranked No. 4 in the nation.

    Terrell was a 2-star pro-style prospect from Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2012.

Kamalei Correa, DL, Boise State

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    As a sophomore in 2014, Boise State defensive lineman Kamalei Correa led the team in tackles for a loss (19) and sacks (12). He also registered 59 tackles, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

    His stats were good enough for a tie with Clemson’s Vic Beasley at No. 8 in the FBS in sacks and a No. 15 finish in tackles for a loss.

    In 2015, he’ll join what should be the best defensive line in the Mountain West, returning all but one starter and five of the front seven. It's especially noteworthy given the attrition at the offensive skill positions.

    At 6’3”, 247 pounds, Correa is comparable in size and ability to guys like Missouri’s Shane Ray and Clemson’s Beasley. Look for him to have similar, nation-leading stats this season.

    Correa was a 3-star defensive tackle prospect from Honolulu in 2013.

Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

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    San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey finished his sophomore season ranked No. 4 in the nation in rushing yards per game (144.08), No. 4 in total rushing yards (1,873) and No. 9 in rushing touchdowns (20).

    It’s the most yards gained by an Aztec back since the program moved up to Division I in 1973 and 243 more yards than Marshall Faulk gained in 1992, his most productive season as a collegian.

    This year, Pumphrey will be joined by three members of the starting offensive line, a unit that powered the No. 28-ranked rushing attack in the nation. It’s the same group that finished No. 12 in the FBS in fewest tackles for a loss allowed last year (58).

    Pumphrey was a 3-star all-purpose back prospect from North Las Vegas in 2013.

Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

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    The starring member of what is perhaps the strongest individual unit in the FBS in 2015, linebacker Tyler Matakevich is one of 11 returning starters to a defense that ranked No. 4 in scoring last season.

    He led the team in tackles (117) and was No. 2 in tackles for a loss (10.5). He also contributed 1.5 sacks, an interception and three pass breakups.

    Though he finished ranked No. 33 in the nation in total tackles, his 88 solo tackles tied him for No. 3 overall behind UCLA’s Eric Kendricks (101) and Arizona’s Scooby Wright III (99).

    His stats aren’t as obscene as other guys simply because he plays for one of the best defenses in college football. In fact, only Ole Miss (16), Stanford (16.4) and Clemson (16.7) allowed fewer points per game than Temple did last season (17.5).

    Matakevich was a 2-star outside linebacker prospect from New Berlin, New York, in 2012.

     

    Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Star ratings courtesy of Rivals.com. Returning starter data courtesy of Phil Steele