Predicting Every Power 5 College Football Team's MVP for 2017 Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2017

Predicting Every Power 5 College Football Team's MVP for 2017 Season

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    No matter the win-loss record at the conclusion of the 2017 season, each college football team will look back at its campaign and identify the year's most valuable player.

    He could be the team's most productive player or its biggest playmaker. He might also be a key producer who kept a position of need from becoming a glaring weakness.

    Value is dependent on actual contributions—not simply potential. The program's best NFL prospect might disappoint this season. Or maybe the most promising freshman, despite his value in the future, holds a minimal, complementary role.

    Without this player, the season may have gone much differently.

Unranked ACC Teams

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    Boston College: Harold Landry, DE

    It was relatively surprising when Harold Landry announced he would return for his senior season. The dynamic edge-rusher piled up a nation-leading 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last year. Landry will again be a menace on the Boston College front.

         

    Duke: Daniel Jones, QB

    Thomas Sirk's injury opened the door for Daniel Jones to start as a redshirt freshman. He responded in commendable fashion, collecting 3,322 yards of total offense and accounting for 23 touchdowns. Jones, who was named team MVP, should protect that honor.

         

    Georgia Tech: Dedrick Mills, RB

    Not only is Dedrick Mills the leading returning rusher, but Georgia Tech has a slight concern at B-back. Marcus Marshall topped the 600-yard mark as both a freshman and sophomore but transferred. And since Mills was suspended twice in 2016 due to violations of team rules, the Yellow Jackets need him to be a leader off the field, too.

         

    North Carolina: M.J. Stewart, CB

    While the offense deals with enormous changes, M.J. Stewart is one of several MVP-worthy candidates on defense. Last season, the cornerback notched 66 tackles and 11 pass breakups. Cole Holcomb, Andre Smith and Donnie Miles would also be deserving choices if they create a few turnovers, as Stewart should in 2017.

         

    North Carolina State: Bradley Chubb, DE

    Jaylen Samuels' versatility is valuable, but Bradley Chubb has "college football superstar" potential. As a junior, he obliterated blockers to the tune of 21.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Flanked by a tremendous supporting cast on the D-line, Chubb might challenge for All-American honors this year.

         

    Pitt: Quadree Henderson, WR

    Quadree Henderson contributes in so many ways. The speedster was one of just 11 players nationally to crest 2,000 all-purpose yards last season. Matt Canada's departure may negatively affect Henderson's role, but he's still going to be a featured piece for Pitt.

         

    Syracuse: Eric Dungey, QB

    Provided he can avoid a long-term injury, Eric Dungey is a solid option behind center. Staying healthy has been a problem for the signal-caller, but he's showed off dual-threat skills over the last two years. Dungey posted 2,972 yards of total offense and 21 touchdowns in 2016, and Syracuse was 4-5 with him as a starter.

         

    Virginia: Micah Kiser, LB

    In short, he's everywhere. Micah Kiser amassed 134 tackles last season to lead all power-conference defenders. He recorded 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage with 6.5 sacks, also contributing seven pass breakups, five forced fumbles and an interception.

         

    Wake Forest: Duke Ejiofor, DE

    The Demon Deacons would've been in trouble up front had Duke Ejiofor decided to chase an NFL dream. Instead, the standout defensive end returned following a season with 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Ejiofor should secure All-ACC honors as a senior.

Unranked Big Ten Teams

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    Illinois: Kendrick Foster, RB

    In what will likely become a frustrating year for Illinois, Kendrick Foster should be a bright spot. He registered 720 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while sharing the backfield with Reggie Corbin and also Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who has since transferred. Foster will approach the 1,000-yard barrier as a senior.

         

    Indiana: Tegray Scales, LB

    If Richard Lagow improves his efficiency, Indiana's quarterback will have a legitimate claim to MVP. But we know Tegray Scales will be an ever-present playmaker in the 4-2-5. Last year, he notched 126 tackles with 23.5 for loss and seven sacks.

         

    Iowa: Akrum Wadley, RB

    Until the recent transfer of James Butler from Nevada to Iowa, Akrum Wadley was both a returning 1,000-yard rusher and the team's lone experienced runner. Butler gives the Hawkeyes a two-headed monster, but Wadley will reaffirm that he's the Hawkeyes' premier player.

         

    Maryland: Ty Johnson, RB

    Ty Johnson's combination of versatility and explosiveness is unmatched on the Maryland roster. Despite handling just 110 carries last season, he clipped the 1,000-yard mark. And even though the Terps had a revolving door at quarterback, Johnson averaged nearly 13 yards per reception. Get him the ball and let him shine.

         

    Michigan State: Chris Frey, LB

    Perhaps 2017 is a completion of the trend of LJ Scott's being a bell-cow running back. If he approaches 20 carries per game, Scott is the obvious choice for MVP. But as Michigan State likely struggles again, Chris Frey will be an invaluable leader on the second level of the defense. He recorded 96 tackles last year.

         

    Minnesota: Steven Richardson, DT

    Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks give Minnesota an excellent tandem at running back, but no player can match Steven Richardson's output. The space-eating senior is heading into his fourth season as a starter for Minnesota. He set career-best totals with 31 tackles, 11 stops for loss and seven sacks in 2016.

         

    Nebraska: Tanner Lee, QB

    Will he be excellent? Probably not. But Tanner Lee should steady a Nebraska offense that must replace a four-year contributor at quarterback. The Tulane transfer won the starting job during the spring and will help the Cornhuskers return to a bowl game.

         

    Northwestern: Justin Jackson, RB

    The offense runs through Justin Jackson. In each of his three previous seasons, the workhorse totaled at least 267 touches. Northwestern might be able to manage without him, but John Moten IV and Warren Long would be hard-pressed to equal Jackson's numbers as both a runner and receiver.

         

    Purdue: David Blough, QB

    He might lead the nation in interceptions again, but David Blough has a difficult job at a program in transition. Purdue must rebuild its receiving corps while adapting to the up-tempo scheme Jeff Brohm brought from Western Kentucky. Between his experience and role, Blough will be the most important piece of the roster.

         

    Rutgers: Janarion Grant, WR

    Janarion Grant's 2016 season ended after just four games. Despite missing the final eight contests, he still finished third on Rutgers' all-purpose yardage list. Yeah, he's pretty valuable. Grant will contribute as a rusher, receiver and returner and should pace the Scarlet Knights in the latter two categories.

Unranked Big 12 Teams

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    Baylor: Terence Williams, RB

    The ongoing quarterback battle creates some hesitancy in penciling in Zach Smith or Anu Solomon here. Baylor might shuffle between the players as the season progresses. Terence Williams, on the other hand, will be a constant presence for the Bears. He led the team with 1,048 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

         

    Iowa State: Jacob Park, QB

    For now, at least, Iowa State doesn't plan to use Joel Lanning in red-zone situations again. The quarterback has moved to linebacker. Translation: It's Jacob Park's show. Last season, he threw for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns to just five interceptions and will improve those numbers significantly as the full-time starter.

         

    Kansas: Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE

    Once Kansas settles on its starting quarterback, Steven Sims Jr. and LaQuvionte Gonzalez could be contenders for team MVP. In the meantime, Dorance Armstrong Jr. is a safe choice because of his disruptive nature. He notched 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2016.

         

    Kansas State: Jesse Ertz, QB

    Do you want a flashy brand of football? You won't find it here. But if you enjoy a hard-nosed quarterback, Jesse Ertz is that guy. During his debut season, Ertz posted a 57.6 completion percentage with 1,755 yards and just nine touchdowns. However, he also ran for 1,012 yards and 12 scores while guiding K-State to a 9-4 record.

         

    TCU: Kyle Hicks, RB

    Although the Horned Frogs would enjoy having a little more explosiveness from Kyle Hicks, he's a versatile player who is fit for every situation. The running back ended 2016 with 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, adding 47 catches for 417 yards.

         

    Texas: Shane Buechele, QB

    Is the breakout season coming? Texas has received mostly favorable outlooks entering the 2017 campaign, and much of the pressure to match those expectations is on Shane Buechele. It's likely merited. As a true freshman, he tallied 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns, and his efficiency should rise due to his experience combined with Tom Herman's arrival.

         

    Texas Tech: Nic Shimonek, QB

    Nic Shimonek cannot perfectly replace Patrick Mahomes II's true impact, but the statistics might not change in a big way. Even though leading receiver Jonathan Giles bolted for LSU, Shimonek still has a strong supporting cast on the outsideand a defense that will require the offense to score 40 or 50 points per week.

Unranked Pac-12 Teams

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Arizona: J.J. Taylor, RB

    Though small in stature, J.J. Taylor is expected to be a huge contributor for Arizona's offense. The 5'6" running back basically played in just two games last season but picked up 168 and 97 yards. With a full season of work, Taylor will top 1,000 yards.

         

    Arizona State: N'Keal Harry, WR

    Kalen Ballage is a better-known name because of his eight-touchdown outburst last season, but Arizona State is looking for an even bigger year from N'Keal Harry. As a true freshman, he caught a team-high 58 passes for 659 yards and five touchdowns.

         

    Cal: Demetris Robertson, WR

    The Golden Bears need someone to replace Chad Hansen's production of 92 receptions, 1,249 yards and 11 touchdowns. Fortunately for Cal, it has Demetris Robertson. He reeled in 50 catches for 767 yards and seven scores during his college debut. Robertson will enjoy a larger target share now that Hansen is gone.

         

    Oregon: Royce Freeman, RB

    After a disappointing 2016, Royce Freeman is a prime bounce-back candidate. Oregon's outstanding depth will cap his production, but the bulldozing runner will have a healthier, more experienced offensive line leading the way. Freeman will record his third season of 1,200-plus yards.

         

    Oregon State: Ryan Nall, RB

    How's this for high praise of Ryan Nall? "He's a kid that right now we think of as a unicorn," said position coach Telly Lockette, per Gina Mizell of the Oregonian. "A kid to be that big, that agile and that fast, you don't see that that often in this game. He is a rarity at that position." Nall should improve on his 951 yards and 13 touchdowns from his sophomore campaign.

         

    UCLA: Josh Rosen, QB

    Following an encouraging freshman season, Josh Rosen had grand expectations in 2016. However, an injury shortened his year to just six appearances. But between Rosen's return and an upgrade at offensive coordinator, UCLA is positioned to recover from a 4-8 year.

         

    Washington State: Luke Falk, QB

    Luke Falk has established himself as one of the Football Bowl Subdivision's most efficient passers. He's ended the last two seasons ranked No. 2 nationally in completion percentage, also tossing 38 touchdowns in both years. Wazzu will be a true Pac-12 contender if Falk elevates his performance against top competition.

Unranked SEC Teams

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Arkansas: Austin Allen, QB

    Austin Allen spent most of the 2016 season under heavy pressure but still accumulated 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns. Even though conference contention is merely a dream, the Razorbacks will continue their postseason streak behind another solid year from Allen.

         

    Georgia: Jacob Eason, QB

    Nick Chubb will excel on the ground. Trenton Thompson will dominate on the inside. Now, both of these things have happened before, but neither has resulted in an SEC championship for Georgia. Jacob Eason, in his second year, will change that. The East Division crown is worth team MVP honors.

         

    Kentucky: Benny Snell, RB

    In addition to being Kentucky's leading returning rusher, Benny Snell is the roster's lone experienced back. The Wildcats lost Stanley "Boom" Williams to the NFL and Jojo Kemp to graduation. Snell collected 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman.

         

    Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald, QB

    Surely there are no disagreements about Nick Fitzgerald, one of the country's most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks. In 2016, he threw for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns while scampering for 1,375 yards and 16 more scores. Mississippi State's success (or lack thereof) will be a reflection of Fitzgerald's play.

         

    Missouri: Drew Lock, QB

    The pieces are in place for Missouri's offense to shine. Drew Lock has 20 career starts, so 2017 has the making of a breakout year. Granted, his SEC/non-SEC splits last season weren't pretty, but Lock's totals of 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns shape a promising future.

         

    Ole Miss: Shea Patterson, QB

    How will the Rebels react to an offseason of overwhelmingly negative news? If they follow Shea Patterson's lead, maybe not so badly. Patterson, who started the last three games of 2016, and a potential-filled receiving corps will be a thorn in the SEC West even if Ole Miss collectively stumbles.

         

    South Carolina: Jake Bentley, QB

    Jake Bentley might be the difference between South Carolina competing or floundering in the SEC East. After taking over at quarterback midway through 2016, the then-freshman guided the Gamecocks to four victories in five games. Bentley and wide receiver Deebo Samuel are the likeliest team MVPs.

         

    Texas A&M: Christian Kirk, WR

    Most college football fans know about Christian Kirk, a dynamic playmaker as a receiver and returner. But he's also the best reinforcement for a pass-catching group that is without the next four targets. Kirk already had 83 receptions as a sophomore, yet he might need to surpass 100 this season.

         

    Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb, RB

    Ralph Webb has gradually increased his contributions every year, tallying 907, 1,152 and 1,283 yards in his three respective seasons. Khari Blasingame's red-zone role may again cut into Webb's touchdown total, but Vanderbilt will rely heavily on the senior.

Auburn: Jarrett Stidham, QB

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    Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 24

    Last season, Auburn was a high-quality, non-elite team. Jarrett Stidham offers the ability to push the Tigers to the next level.

    The Baylor transfer solidified himself as the roster's top quarterback during the spring, moving beyond incumbent starter Sean White. Barring injury, Stidham will be Auburn's No. 1 in the fall.

    Since the Tigers ranked 112th nationally with 169.5 passing yards per game last year, Stidham and his downfield arm could make a one-dimensional offense an all-around nightmare to defend.

Utah: Chase Hansen, SS

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 23

    Lowell Lotulelei, a three-time All-Pac-12 performer, is Utah's best player. Chase Hansen, however, will be the most valuable.

    The Utes have an enormous amount of production to replace in the secondary due to graduations, an early NFL departure and a transfer. Hansen will be called upon to ease the transition.

    After posting 90 tackles with 7.5 stops for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles last season, he's already proved he can be the defensive playmaker Utah desperately needs in 2017.

Tennessee: John Kelly, RB

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 22

    It's a good thing John Kelly is returning because Tennessee would otherwise have serious questions surrounding its backfield.

    While Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano battle for the starting quarterback job, Kelly is the clear No. 1 at a thin position after Alvin Kamara headed to the NFL and Jalen Hurd transferred.

    Despite playing very little in the opening five weeks, Kelly picked up 630 yards and five touchdowns last season. If the offensive line makes the expected improvement, he will legitimately threaten to double that outputthough the Vols may struggle around him.

Louisville: Lamar Jackson, QB

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 21

    How could it possibly be anyone else?

    Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, gathered 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air during his memorable season. He also shredded defenses on the ground with 1,571 yardswhich was 10th overall in the countryand 21 more scores.

    His encore performance likely won't be as flashy, but Jackson remains confident, as noted by B/R's Matt Hayes.

    "There will be no down year for me," Jackson said this summer. "I love this game, this team, too much for that."

Miami: Mark Walton, RB

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 20

    Mark Walton is so important to Miami's offense that the coaching staff limited him during the spring. He didn't like "being babied," but it only happened because of Mark Richt's confidence in Walton.

    "I've got no question in my mind what Mark is capable of doing and will do given the opportunity," the second-year coach said, according to Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post.

    Walton, who tallied 1,357 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns last season, may have an even larger workload in 2017 due to the early departure of Joseph Yearby.

West Virginia: Will Grier, QB

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 18

    With the wrong quarterback, 2017 is a rebuilding year for West Virginia. Only Air Force lost more production than the Mountaineers, according to SB Nation's Bill Connelly.

    But Will Grier may reverse that outlook.

    As a freshman at Florida two years ago, Grier had a 65.8 completion percentage with 1,204 yards and 12 total touchdowns while propelling the Gators to a 6-0 record. After his season-ending and transfer-inducing suspension, Florida mustered a 4-4 mark.

    West Virginia should again field an explosive offense, which will be a tough matchup for the Big 12's top contenders.

Colorado: Phillip Lindsay, RB

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 17

    Colorado likely will regress, but Phillip Lindsay shouldn't.

    During the program's breakout year, he amassed 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns as a runner with 53 catches, 493 yards and one more trip to the end zone as a receiver.

    Unless something goes horribly wrong, Lindsay will finish the season as Colorado's all-time leader in all-purpose yards after entering at No. 3.

Virginia Tech: Tremaine Edmunds, LB

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 16

    If you could create a player that represented Bud Foster's mentality as a defensive coordinator, it would be Tremaine Edmunds.

    The 6'5", 236-pound menace destroyed opponents during his first year in the starting lineup. Edmunds amassed 106 tackles, logging 18.5 for loss with 4.5 sacks. He also registered nine hurries, three pass breakups and one interception.

    Edmunds, a second-team All-ACC linebacker, has landed on watch lists for the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award and Nagurski Trophy.

Florida: Antonio Callaway, WR

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 14

    Should either Feleipe Franks or Malik Zaire be the full-season starter and lead Florida to another SEC Championship Game appearance, the quarterback deserves the MVP.

    However, the Gators might end up shuffling between the signal-callers at the beginning of the year. One constant will be Antonio Callaway, a game-breaking target for both quarterbacks. But that's not his only contribution to Jim McElwain's club.

    In two seasons, Callaway has 89 receptions for 1,399 yards and seven touchdowns. And, after taking a pair of punts to the house in 2015, he averaged a respectable 8.4 yards per return last season.

LSU: Derrius Guice, RB

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 13

    There's no questioning Derrius Guice's value.

    Losing a player like Leonard Fournette is supposed to hurt a roster, but Guice entered the lineup and shined. He twice sprinted past the 250-yard mark in a single game, finishing his sophomore campaign with 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns.

    Guice, who paced the SEC in yards per carry both as a freshman (8.6) and sophomore (7.6), will be the featured player for a fresh LSU offense.

Stanford: Bryce Love, RB

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 12

    Gone is Christian McCaffrey, an ultraversatile superstar. Stanford should be supremely confident in his replacement, though.

    Bryce Love peeked onto the scene with an extremely limited but efficient freshman year, then followed up the debut by tallying 783 yards last season. Plus, in the two games McCaffrey did not play, Love scampered for 129 and 119 yards, respectively.

    The Cardinal should sport an improved offensive line, so Love may ascend from a lesser-known understudy to a top-30 rusher nationally.

Oklahoma State: Mason Rudolph, QB

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 11

    Whether Oklahoma State can reach its ceiling as a College Football Playoff contender doesn't change this: Mason Rudolph is the pre-eminent reason we're even talking about the Cowboys.

    A full-time starter for two years, Rudolph has thrown for 7,861 yards and 49 touchdowns to 13 interceptions while leading the Pokes to a pair of 10-win seasons. He's also run for seven more scores, a number assuredly lessened by J.W. Walsh's red-zone role in 2015.

    "He's almost like a Pete Rose in baseball," head coach Mike Gundy said, per Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. "He doesn't do anything real flashy but he ended up hitting .342. He's Moneyball. He's just not as flashy as what a lot of people would like."

    This might be the year that production leads to a Big 12 title.

Michigan: Rashan Gary, DL

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    Final AP Poll Ranking: 10

    Why is there all this hype around Rashan Gary?

    "Uh, because he's a freak. He's definitely a freak," said teammate Mike McCray, who compared the sophomore to Jadeveon Clowney, according to the Detroit Free Press. "He's too big to be that fast and athletic. It's something rare that you see."

    The 6'5", 287-pounder waited patiently behind three NFL draft picks last season, but he still managed 24 tackles, five stops for loss and six hurries in a reserve role. He'll obliterate those numbers as a starter.

Wisconsin: T.J. Edwards, ILB

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    Matthew Holst/Getty Images

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 9

    It might be more fitting to choose Wisconsin's linebackers as a collective MVP. Picking one doesn't seem right.

    Jack Cichy amassed 60 tackles in seven games before an injury ended his season in 2016. Ryan Connelly basically matched that production. Meanwhile, T.J. Edwards wrapped a bow on his second straight year leading the Badgers in tackles and snaring three interceptions.

    We'll give the nod to consistency as MVP, though Cichy and Connelly may also be deserving alongside Edwards.

Florida State: Deondre Francois, QB

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 8

    Safety Derwin James is unequivocally Florida State's best player, but the Seminoles still finished 10-3 last season when he only played seven quarters. That's a credit to Deondre Francois' impact.

    He registered a 58.8 completion percentage, throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and also scampering for 196 yards and five scores.

    Francois took several enormous hits in 2016, and the offensive line is a glaring question mark again. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher is confident in the unit.

    "He's our commander-in-chief," he said, per Wayne E. McGahee III of the Tallahassee Democrat. "We're going to make sure he's protected."

Penn State: Saquon Barkley, RB

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 7

    It takes a special running back to create running lanes for himself. Saquon Barkley is one of the nation's best at being his own blocker.

    "Space is not your friend with a guy like that," teammate Jason Cabinda said, per Bob Flounders of Penn Live. "You let him run at you with a full head of steam and give him a two-way go, he's going to take it and that's going to be a hard battle to win.

    Barkley edged the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman before surging to 1,496 yards in 2016. He also grabbed 28 passes for 402 yards, scoring 22 touchdowns for the surprise Big Ten champions.

Ohio State: J.T. Barrett, QB

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 6

    The sting of J.T. Barrett's unimpressive finish to 2016 has clearly lingered into the offseason.

    Midway through the year, he was a Heisman Trophy contender. However, after an ugly three-game stretch, he's entering the 2017 campaign as an underappreciated quarterback.

    Barrett is still the same player who guided Ohio State to the 2015 College Football Playoff. He and Barkley shared the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as league MVPs last season.

    The concern surrounding Barrett won't last long.

Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield, QB

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 5

    By any metric, Baker Mayfield is Oklahoma's most valuable player. He's a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who has twice eclipsed 4,000 total yards and 40 touchdowns.

    And in 2017, the gunslinger will be expected to guide a revamped offenseone that must replace Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook as the program begins the post-Bob Stoops era.

    Despite all of that transition, the Sooners are still considered the Big 12 favorite and a top choice for the College Football Playoff.

    It's good to have an elite college quarterback.

Washington: Dante Pettis, WR

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 4

    Defense propelled Washington to the Pac-12 crown and a CFP berth in 2016, but the offense was plenty threatening, too.

    And while Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin compose a solid one-two punch, the Dawgs need a go-to wideout.

    While John Ross III stole the headlines with a 17-touchdown year in 2016, Dante Pettis was similarly explosive. They both notched 23 receptions of 15-plus yards, and Pettis registered nine catches of 25-plus yards, just two shy of Ross' 11.

    Can he repeat it without Ross on one side? We say yes.

USC: Sam Darnold, QB

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 3

    Sam Darnold has already showed the difference he can make.

    Capped by a Rose Bowl victory, USC ripped off a nine-game winning streak shortly after the redshirt freshman took the reins. Darnold wrapped up the year with 3,086 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, adding 250 yards and two scores on the ground.

    The Trojans will ride into the 2017 season with championship dreams, but only Darnold can make that aspiration a reality.

Alabama: Jalen Hurts, QB

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 2

    Tua Tagovailoa arrived at Alabama as a prized prospect. He backed up that billing with a wonderful spring game and recently drew praise from head coach Nick Saban.

    Charlie Potter of 247Sports noted Saban said on ESPN that Tagovailoa "is a very, very good player" and will need to contribute in 2017. But the legendary boss quickly added he wasn't creating a controversy. After all, Jalen Hurts is the reigning SEC Player of the Year.

    Although the sophomore is still improving as a passer, there's little reason to change quarterbacks when the returning guy accounted for 3,734 yards and 36 touchdowns while being protected.

    Hurts is the starter. He'll be Alabama's MVP, too.

Clemson: Christian Wilkins, DL

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Final AP Poll Ranking: 1

    Most college football fans know Christian Wilkins is a tremendous football player, but he's also uniquely versatile.

    After playing defensive tackle in 2015, the 6'4", 310-pounder shifted to end last season. Wilkins gathered 48 tackles with 13.0 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks and 10 pass breakups. And he's also a goal-line blocker and contributor on special teams.

    There isn't a unit on the field Wilkins doesn't bolster.


    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.