Ranking Top 25 Players at Halfway Point of 2015 College Football Season

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2015

Ranking Top 25 Players at Halfway Point of 2015 College Football Season

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    Leonard Fournette has developed into a must-watch player for LSU this season.
    Leonard Fournette has developed into a must-watch player for LSU this season.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    It might be hard to believe, but the 2015 college football regular season is halfway home. Seven weeks down. Seven weeks to go, and if the first seven weeks were any indication, they’re going to be a great run-up to the second College Football Playoff.

    Midseason All-American teams are trickling out, and it’s an excellent time to take stock of the best players in the game. So that’s what we’re doing here. This is a ranking of the top 25 players in college football, chosen for their contributions and importance to their team and ranked by their stats, skills and overall abilities. Ready? Let’s go.

25. Baylor QB Seth Russell

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    Seth Russell has been an impressive force for Baylor's offense.
    Seth Russell has been an impressive force for Baylor's offense.Rod Aydelotte/Associated Press

    Entering this season, one of the biggest questions surrounding a loaded Baylor offense was how the Bears would replace prolific quarterback Bryce Petty. Turns out, it shouldn’t have been a question at all. The Bears are unbeaten and firmly in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth after narrowly missing out on one last fall, and their offense is as good as ever. Baylor averages 64 points per game, best nationally.

    Russell has been excellent, throwing for 1,907 yards with 27 touchdowns against just five interceptions, completing 63.2 percent of his passes. It certainly helps to have a pair of talented receivers like Corey Coleman and KD Cannon to throw to, but Russell is fulfilling the promise he showed in limited stints as Petty’s understudy.

    With Russell under center, the Bears offense is in excellent hands, and it's dangerous for any defense in America to face.

24. Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty

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    Brandon Doughty is one of college football's most prolific quarterbacks.
    Brandon Doughty is one of college football's most prolific quarterbacks.Michael Noble Jr./Associated Press

    Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a little off the college football radar. OK, way off the college football radar. But Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty is proof that you should find your way off the radar every once in a while, because you never know what you’ll find.

    In Doughty, those who look will  find one of college football’s most prolific quarterbacks. The Hilltoppers are 6-1 and look like Conference USA’s best team, and they have Doughty to thank. A year ago, he led the FBS in both passing yards and touchdowns and could do it again this fall.

    He has 2,709 yards and 24 touchdowns against four interceptions, completing 74.1 percent of his passes. The only thing that might hold Doughty back from repeating his feat of a year ago is WKU’s penchant to stop passing during its frequent blowouts.

    If you want a good look at Doughty, the Toppers travel to LSU this week. WKU already owns a win over SEC foe Vanderbilt this season, and the Tigers defense should certainly be on notice.

23. Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell

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    Laquon Treadwell has come back faster and better for Ole MIss' offense.
    Laquon Treadwell has come back faster and better for Ole MIss' offense.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Saturday’s 37-24 loss to Memphis was certainly disappointing for Ole Miss fans, dropping the Rebels to 5-2 and out of College Football Playoff contention. Hugh Freeze’s team hoped to build on 2014’s nine-win season, but it hasn’t happened thus far.

    One player who hasn’t been disappointing, though, is junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. He has returned fully healthy from a broken ankle that ended his 2014 season a month early, racking up 49 receptions for 654 yards and four touchdowns. He’s already surpassed his 2014 numbers (48 catches, 632 yards).

    Treadwell has teamed up with new starting quarterback Chad Kelly to make the Rebs’ passing game even more dangerous, playing with speed and power. He also has a good arm, uncorking a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive series at Memphis. If this is his final season in Oxford, he’s making the most of it.

22. Notre Dame WR Will Fuller

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    Will Fuller has caught nearly everything thrown his way this fall.
    Will Fuller has caught nearly everything thrown his way this fall.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Malik Zaire? DeShone Kizer? It doesn’t matter who’s throwing the ball for Notre Dame this season. Will Fuller will catch it and do big things with it. Kizer has been impressive after stepping in as the Fighting Irish quarterback following Zaire’s season-ending ankle injury, and it certainly helps having a target like Fuller to throw to.

    Fuller has caught nearly everything thrown his way this season, making 32 receptions for 702 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s one of the best deep threats in college football, and his production keeps the Irish offense moving. Without him, it’s hard to imagine where it would be.

21. Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise

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    The versatile C.J. Prosise has been huge for Notre Dame's offense.
    The versatile C.J. Prosise has been huge for Notre Dame's offense.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Notre Dame is 6-1 and in contention for the College Football Playoff and a New Year’s Six bowl bid despite being beset with offensive injuries, including starting quarterback Malik Zaire and top tailback Tarean Folston. It's needed players to step forward, and that’s exactly what back C.J. Prosise has done.

    Prosise has been a rock for the Irish offense, with 922 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He also has 18 receptions for 219 yards and a touchdown through the air. Prosise can fit in as a back or receiver, and he is making the most of his opportunity in the backfield this fall.

    He has excellent speed and is the kind of player who can make a house call any time he touches the ball. Prosise has already far surpassed his previous season high for rushing yards (126 yards last fall) and figures to be a huge piece of the Irish’s playoff push.

20. Oregon RB Royce Freeman

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    Royce Freeman is a special piece for Oregon's offense.
    Royce Freeman is a special piece for Oregon's offense.Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Life post-Marcus Mariota has not been easy for Oregon. The Ducks have taken a clear step back from 2014’s national title game appearance, going 4-3 through seven games (including a 62-20 home loss to Utah and an ignominious double-OT loss to Washington State).

    One highlight? Sophomore tailback Royce Freeman. Freeman was excellent last season, rushing for 1,365 yards with 18 touchdowns while displaying power and speed. He’s been even better this season, rushing for 997 yards and nine touchdowns, an average of 142.1 yards per game.

    Freeman stands 5'11", 230 pounds and is an imposing force in the backfield. Even if Oregon winds up in a lesser bowl this holiday season, it’ll be worth tuning in just to see him run.

19. Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey

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    Versatile Jalen Ramsey anchors a young Florida State defense.
    Versatile Jalen Ramsey anchors a young Florida State defense.NELL REDMOND/Associated Press

    Even though 2015 was expected to be a retooling year, Florida State has found itself back in the AP Top 10 nationally and competing for an ACC championship and College Football Playoff spot. The Noles defense has been quite good, and junior cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been a major steadying factor.

    Ramsey has 22 tackles and seven pass breakups. He is one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, capable of playing either cornerback or safety. Last fall, he put together an All-American season, with 79 tackles, 12 pass breakups and two interceptions.

    He’s versatile, a hard hitter, fast and athletic. While Florida State’s defense is young, it is fortunate to have Ramsey anchoring its back end.

18. Southern California LB Su'a Cravens

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    Su'a Cravens has been a bright spot in USC's disappointing season.
    Su'a Cravens has been a bright spot in USC's disappointing season.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    It’s fair to say 2015 hasn’t unfolded the way Southern California envisioned. The Trojans were a popular pick to contend for the College Football Playoff, but following Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame, they’re 3-3 after a week that saw head coach Steve Sarkisian fired for alcohol-related issues.

    However, the Trojans still have plenty of talent on their roster. One of the most talented players? Linebacker Su’a Cravens. Cravens has been a terror for opposing offenses to contain this season. He has 41 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Cravens makes plays all over the field and is as adept at covering running backs on passing plays as he is dragging them down behind the line for a loss.

    He is the latest in a long line of USC defensive standouts that includes the likes of recently retired Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Before long, he’ll be making similar impacts in the NFL.

17. Oklahoma State DE Emmanuel Ogbah

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    Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah is one of the nation's best pass-rushers.
    Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah is one of the nation's best pass-rushers.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State has made some excellent progress from 2014’s up-and-down campaign, fashioning a 6-0 start and emerging as the Big 12’s third-best team behind Baylor and TCU. The Cowboys succeed by outscoring opponents, but their defense isn’t bad, either.

    It’s keyed by junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah has emerged as one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, piling up 33 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. In a league defined by its offense and passing games, he is an important weapon for Mike Gundy and the Cowboys defense to deploy on a regular basis.

16. Penn State DE Carl Nassib

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    Carl Nassib has been all but unblockable for Penn State foes this season.
    Carl Nassib has been all but unblockable for Penn State foes this season.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Despite a 38-10 loss at Ohio State on Saturday, Penn State is making progress in James Franklin’s second season. The Nittany Lions are 5-2 and are a lock to improve on 2014’s 7-6 record and Pinstripe Bowl bid, continuing to recover from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that rocked the program amid legendary coach Joe Paterno’s firing and death.

    This season, the Lions defense has smoothed over some rough spots from an inconsistent offense. Penn State allows 17.7 points per game, which ranks No. 20 nationally. A cornerstone of that front has been defensive end Carl Nassib. Nassib has been nearly unblockable. Through seven games, he has piled up 35 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and a national-best 11.5 sacks.

    Nassib is making life difficult for tackles across the Big Ten and setting himself up for a nice future NFL payday at the same time.

15. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

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    Christian McCaffrey has been a huge part of Stanford's resurgence this season.
    Christian McCaffrey has been a huge part of Stanford's resurgence this season.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    One year ago, Stanford fell from the top of the Pac-12 into the middle of the pack thanks, in part, to a weakened running game. At midseason, the Cardinal are in excellent shape at 5-1 overall and unbeaten in the Pac-12 North, and they have sophomore tailback Christian McCaffrey to thank.

    McCaffrey, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, has emerged as a star. He has 844 yards rushing with five touchdowns, including four consecutive 100-yard rushing games and a pair of 200-yard efforts. He broke out in a big way in Thursday’s 56-35 romp over UCLA, carrying 25 times for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

    Stanford is right in the mix for its third Pac-12 title in the last four seasons and a College Football Playoff bid, and if McCaffrey’s legs keep churning, the Cardinal will be a force to be reckoned with until season’s end.

14. Baylor LT Spencer Drango

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    Spencer Drango anchors a great Baylor offensive line at left tackle.
    Spencer Drango anchors a great Baylor offensive line at left tackle.Rod Aydelotte/Associated Press

    Baylor’s offense hasn’t missed a beat following Bryce Petty’s departure to the NFL, averaging an eye-popping 64 points per game, best nationally. New starting quarterback Seth Russell has fit into the offense seamlessly, and it certainly helps that the Bears returned all five offensive line starters to protect him.

    Russell surely doesn’t worry much about his blind side with senior left tackle Spencer Drango protecting him. Drango stands 6’6”, 310 pounds and has a polished game, moving quickly with good feet and stonewalling opposing defensive ends. While he still has plenty of work left at Baylor, he’s the kind of player who could anchor an NFL offensive line for a decade or longer.

13. Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith

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    Jaylon Smith is one of the nation's best linebackers.
    Jaylon Smith is one of the nation's best linebackers.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    A hard-fought 41-31 win over Southern California kept Notre Dame in playoff contention. The Fighting Irish’s only blemish came in a 24-22, rain-soaked loss at Clemson, and they appear much-improved from 2014’s 8-5 record.

    A big reason for that improvement is a defense that has taken a step forward this fall. That unit is keyed by junior linebacker Jaylon Smith, who has made impacts all over the field. Smith has 56 tackles, six tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a sack.

    He is fast, athletic and plays from sideline to sideline as one of the nation’s top linebackers. NFL coaches are surely drooling at the possibility of plugging him into their defenses as early as next season.

12. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

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    Dalvin Cook has helped Florida State's building offense keep moving strong this season.
    Dalvin Cook has helped Florida State's building offense keep moving strong this season.Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Florida State’s offense has been inconsistent this season with new starting quarterback Everett Golson and four new starting offensive linemen, but the Seminoles haven’t had to worry about their backfield.

    When the offense is struggling, Jimbo Fisher knows he can lean on sophomore tailback Dalvin Cook. Cook has 955 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns, all while dealing with a balky hamstring. Saturday, he had at least two stints on a sideline table working out his hamstring, but he still managed 163 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-21 win over Louisville.

    Cook has rushed for at least 100 yards in all but two games, and he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball with speed and power. Imagine what he could do with two truly healthy legs. That’s a scary thought.

11. TCU WR Josh Doctson

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    Josh Doctson is having an All-American-caliber season as a TCU receiver.
    Josh Doctson is having an All-American-caliber season as a TCU receiver.LM Otero/Associated Press/Associated Press

    TCU’s offense just keeps rolling along, averaging 50 points per game, No. 3 nationally. Senior quarterback Trevone Boykin gets plenty of attention, with good reason, but it’s frightening to think about what the offense might be without receiver Josh Doctson.

    Doctson was a late bloomer, beginning his college career at Wyoming before transferring to TCU. Boykin and the Frogs are glad he came along. He is by far Boykin’s favorite target, with an impressive 60 catches for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

    The Frogs’ No. 2 receiver, by the way, has 18 catches. Doctson is capable of stretching defenses with both deep and short routes and has excellent speed and athleticism. He’ll be a huge part of TCU’s push for a College Football Playoff spot.

10. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa

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    Joey Bosa is an impressive force for Ohio State's defensive line.
    Joey Bosa is an impressive force for Ohio State's defensive line.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Saturday night, Ohio State rolled to 7-0 with a 38-10 rout of Penn State, sacking quarterback Christian Hackenberg five times. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa was a constant presence, making one of those sacks and finishing with three tackles for loss.

    Bosa is one of the nation’s best pass-rushers and a big reason why the Buckeyes remain in strong contention for another College Football Playoff berth. He missed the season opener while suspended due to a violation of team rules, but he still has 27 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two sacks this season.

    He has excellent strength, a great motor and is a handful for any opposing offensive line to contain, which makes the rest of the Ohio State defense even better.

    There are few players in the nation capable of impacting a game like Bosa does, which makes him one of the best players in college football.

9. Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III

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    Vernon Hargreaves has been a lockdown corner for Florida's secondary.
    Vernon Hargreaves has been a lockdown corner for Florida's secondary.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Even after a hard-fought 35-28 loss at LSU on Saturday night, Florida remains one of the best stories in college football. Jim McElwain has turned a moribund program left behind by Will Muschamp into a favorite to win the SEC East, injecting life into The Swamp.

    Another thing Muschamp left behind? Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Hargreaves was a second-team Associated Press All-American as a sophomore, and he has been a cornerstone for Florida’s tough defense.

    He already has three interceptions (which is tied for 10th nationally) and consistently persuades opposing quarterbacks to throw away from his side of the field if at all necessary, which is its own benefit.

    He is a highly effective, highly confident cover cornerback, and it would be no surprise if he made the leap to the NFL very soon.

8. Cal QB Jared Goff

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    Jared Goff has been a key force in Cal's rise to Pac-12 relevance.
    Jared Goff has been a key force in Cal's rise to Pac-12 relevance.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Any list of the nation’s most improved programs should start with Cal. In Sonny Dykes’ third season, the Bears have emerged as a bowl and Pac-12 contender, making 2013’s 1-11 record a distant memory.

    A high-powered, Air Raid passing offense led by junior Jared Goff deserves most of the credit. Goff, a prototypical pocket passer who stands 6’4”, 210 pounds, had a great sophomore season, throwing for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

    Through six games, Goff has been just as good, if not better. He’s already thrown for 1,970 yards with 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions (five of which came in a loss at Utah). He has thrived in the Air Raid offense, which could help carry Cal to a major bowl at season’s end.

7. Alabama RB Derrick Henry

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    Derrick Henry is making the most of his time as Alabama's lead tailback.
    Derrick Henry is making the most of his time as Alabama's lead tailback.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2015 was designed as Derrick Henry’s turn to shine in Alabama’s offensive backfield. And you’d better believe he’s making the most of it. After two years of serving as a backfield understudy, Henry has embraced his role as the Crimson Tide’s lead back with gusto.

    Through seven games, he has 901 yards and 12 touchdowns on 152 carries. By comparison, he had 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall on just 172 carries. He stands 6’3”, 242 pounds and has an impressive blend of power and speed.

    He’s fully capable of putting the offense on his broad shoulders when necessary. In Saturday’s 41-23 win at Texas A&M, he carried the ball 32 times for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

    "I don't know what else you can say about the guy's performance," Alabama coach Nick Saban said, per AL.com's Matt Zenitz. "He's a workhorse. He's tough. He does a great job instinctively running the plays the way he's supposed to. The guy had a great game."

    As Alabama chases another College Football Playoff berth, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will surely lean on Henry extra hard down the stretch.

6. Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche

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    Robert Nkemdiche is one of college football's most frightening defenders.
    Robert Nkemdiche is one of college football's most frightening defenders.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    For Ole Miss, Saturday’s 37-24 loss to local rival Memphis was disappointing. Losing standout defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche to a concussion suffered while serving as a running back was doubly damaging.

    Nkemdiche has been college football’s best defensive lineman and one of its best players overall in his junior season. Entering Saturday, he had 17 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, but don’t let those numbers fool you.

    The 6’4”, 296-pound behemoth has received constant double-teams but has still made an impact on every down he plays. This is likely his last season in Oxford: SI.com projects him as the top overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft. Hugh Freeze and Co. should get as much out of him as they can, but maybe dial back his offensive snaps a bit, OK?

5. Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett

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    Myles Garrett has emerged as a prolific pass-rusher.
    Myles Garrett has emerged as a prolific pass-rusher.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Saturday’s 41-23 loss to Alabama was a setback for Texas A&M, which had looked much-improved in the season’s first half. It was the first truly bad game for John Chavis’ defense, but that shouldn’t take away from the great season sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett has enjoyed.

    Garrett stands 6’5”, 262 pounds and is perhaps the best edge-rusher in college football, with tremendous speed, quickness and motor.

    Last fall, he had a great freshman season, finishing with 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He set an SEC freshman single-season sack record, breaking the mark set by South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, who was the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the Houston Texans. Garrett has picked up right where he left off, with 8.5 sacks in six games. He’s on pace for an impressive 17-sack season. Take a good look at him, Aggies fans. He won't be around long in College Station.

4. Baylor WR Corey Coleman

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    Corey Coleman is the nation's top deep-threat receiver.
    Corey Coleman is the nation's top deep-threat receiver.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press/Associated Press

    After just missing the College Football Playoff last fall, Baylor is out to change that in 2015. The Bears are 6-0 and a prime playoff contender with a high-powered offense that averages 64 points per game, tops nationally.

    Junior quarterback Seth Russell has been impressive, and it helps to have weapons like junior wide receiver Corey Coleman at his disposal.

    Even with quarterback Bryce Petty off to the NFL, Baylor’s offense hasn’t missed a beat in 2015. Coleman has made Russell’s transition as the starting quarterback particularly seamless.

    Coleman has 41 receptions for 877 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 21.4 yards per catch. He stands just 5’11”, 190 pounds, but he has excellent speed and hands. Teams hoping to knock off the Bears will have to find a way to neutralize Coleman. A hint: It won’t be easy.

3. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

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    Ezekiel Elliott has been a steadying force for Ohio State's offense in 2015.
    Ezekiel Elliott has been a steadying force for Ohio State's offense in 2015.Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Following Saturday’s win over Penn State, Ohio State is still unbeaten, despite uneven efforts against teams like Indiana and Northern Illinois. The Buckeyes offense hasn’t been as sharp as it was a year ago with Cardale Jones running the ship and J.T. Barrett backing him up, but one thing hasn’t changed: Ezekiel Elliott’s running.

    Elliott has 988 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season, and he looks like the same player who emerged as a bell cow during the Buckeyes’ national title run, finishing 2014 with three consecutive 200-yard efforts.

    Elliott stands 6’0”, 225 pounds and is a physical, powerful, quick runner. The Buckeyes would be wise to lean on him during their playoff push this fall, too.

2. TCU QB Trevone Boykin

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    TCU QB Trevone Boykin is the key to one of the nation's most prolific offenses.
    TCU QB Trevone Boykin is the key to one of the nation's most prolific offenses.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    One year after a breakout 12-1 season that finished just short of the College Football Playoff, TCU is 7-0 and right back in contention for a playoff berth, despite a defense that has been depleted by graduation and injuries. No one can stop the Horned Frogs offense, which averages 50 points per game, No. 3 nationally.

    The centerpiece of that offense? Senior quarterback Trevone Boykin. A year ago, Boykin led the Frogs’ breakout with a huge junior season. He threw for 3,901 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and he added 707 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

    He has kept up the pace and then some this fall. Boykin has 2,539 yards with 25 touchdowns against five interceptions, as well as 440 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Boykin also led late comebacks against Texas Tech and Kansas State (which held a 35-17 halftime lead) to keep his team unbeaten.

    Boykin has a solid arm, great speed (he rushed for a 69-yard touchdown at K-State) and mobility, and he is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. If the Frogs finish the drill this fall and make the playoff, they’ll have Boykin to thank.

1. LSU RB Leonard Fournette

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    Leonard Fournette has been the best player in college football this season.
    Leonard Fournette has been the best player in college football this season.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    LSU has only one Heisman Trophy in its storied history. Unless something strange happens in the season’s second half, it sure looks like Billy Cannon’s stiff-arm trophy will get some company in December. That’s how good sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette has been. He is a favorite to win the Heisman, per FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman. 

    Fournette was the nation’s top recruit in 2014, and he had a good freshman season with 1,034 rushing yards. But he’s gone from good to great as a sophomore. Following Saturday’s 180-yard, two-touchdown effort against Florida, he has 1,202 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging an impressive eight yards per carry.

    He runs with power and speed, and he always looks like the best player on the field. Even though LSU’s opener against McNeese State was canceled by thunderstorms, Fournette is on pace to more than double his rushing total from a year ago. If anyone but Fournette totes home the Heisman this year, it’ll be a huge upset. He’s the best player in college football.