Ranking the Most Exciting Players in College Football This Season
On a good day, college football is packed with excitement. Players like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson are must-see TV.
Ten athletes, including that electrifying duo, stood out in September as the most exciting players in the country. We're highlighting what made them so dynamic in the past month.
These are the talents you can schedule Saturday viewing around, because you never know what they might pull off next.
10. Darius Phillips, CB/KR, Western Michigan
Playmaking ability: Darius Phillips hasn't played much offense in his career, yet it's not surprising to see him in the end zone. The cornerback and returner has already tallied three touchdowns this season, returning two kickoffs for scores and taking a fumble to the house. Once the ball finds Phillips, he's a threat to go the distance.
Signature moment: Even in a loss at USC, Phillips made his presence felt. About seven minutes into the fourth quarter, the Trojans had just taken their first lead of the contest since the opening frame. Most expected Stephen Carr's short touchdown to be the turning point. Phillips, however, took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to pay dirt and forced USC to assemble another go-ahead drive.
Why he's here: Phillips, who also has three tackles for loss and four pass breakups, is third and 17th in kick- and punt-return average, respectively. Along with the three non-offensive touchdowns, he's intercepted a pair of passes. Take a moment to watch Western Michigan, and you'll see Phillips make a play.
9. Cam Phillips, WR, Virginia Tech
Playmaking ability: Throw it up to Cam Phillips and there's a good chance he's coming down with the ball. The senior isn't necessarily a downfield menace like other receivers on the list, but Phillips makes highlight-worthy catches on a consistent basis.
Signature moment: Phillips' record-setting performance helped Virginia Tech torch East Carolina 64-17. He set a program mark with 14 receptions, also tallying a career-high 189 yards and three touchdowns during the blowout victory.
Why he's here: Entering Week 5, Phillips led the nation with 523 receiving yards. Despite the loss to second-ranked Clemson, he added 74 more yards. Phillips currently leads the country with 26 receptions of 10-plus yards and 12 of 20-plus yards.
8. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Playmaking ability: Get the ball to Christian Kirk and let magic happen. Whether he's creating after the catch or making kick coverage look silly, the speedy junior can turn one missed tackle or a running lane into six points. Texas A&M often throws him quick-hitting passes and sprinkles in jet action to give Kirk a chance in the open field.
Signature moment: In Week 4, Texas A&M played a back-and-forth game with SEC foe Arkansas. When the Razorbacks took a slim 36-33 advantage during the fourth quarter, Kirk returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. For good measure, he also caught the game-winning score in overtime.
Why he's here: Kirk hasn't shredded the box score, but he's been efficient with an average amount of touches. Through five weeks, Kirk leads the Aggies in every major receiving category and has accounted for five total touchdowns.
7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Playmaking ability: James Washington is best known for his downfield prowess, and that's the main reason he's demanded a place on the list. Plus, the senior wideout—though he stands an unsuspecting 6'0"—also has an underrated ability to make contested grabs and is adept at picking up yards after the catch.
Signature moment: The Pokes don't have a marquee win yet, but Washington's best play was sliding underneath a Tulsa defender for a 77-yard touchdown in OSU's opening game of the year. Since then, he's recorded no fewer than 98 yards in any game.
Why he's here: No receiver in the nation has more gains of 30-plus yards than Washington's eight. Following a 41-34 shootout victory over Texas Tech, he's now averaging 23.1 yards per catch and is pacing the FBS with 647 receiving yards.
6. Dante Pettis, WR/PR, Washington
Playmaking ability: Dante Pettis is a dangerous weapon for Washington's offense and special teams thanks to quick feet, breakaway speed and tremendous vision. The senior is patient with the ball but doesn't waste movement while looking for space. He finds a crease and attacks it.
Signature moment: Washington hasn't grabbed much attention this season because of a soft nonconference slate, but Pettis demanded some headlines with an impressive streak. He returned a punt for a touchdown in each of the Dawgs' first three games. The final one, a 77-yarder on Fresno State, moved Pettis into a tie for the NCAA all-time record with eight career punt-return scores.
Why he's here: Pettis quietly amassed 53 catches, 822 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He's already on track to match or surpass those numbers, sporting 27 grabs for 368 yards and six scores while dominating on special teams. Pettis is a special player for the 5-0 Huskies.
5. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Playmaking ability: No other college quarterback extends plays like Baker Mayfield. It helps that Oklahoma has an above-average offensive line, but he's acutely aware of pressure. And once Mayfield leaves the pocket, he's typically looking for a big gain through the air.
Signature moment: You mean other than planting an Oklahoma flag at midfield after knocking off Ohio State on the road? Mayfield's moment is a little different, since it's a collection of plays for now. He tossed three touchdowns in that showdown against the Buckeyes, guiding the Sooners to a convincing 31-16 triumph.
Why he's here: Mayfield has practically done no wrong in 2017. He's led Oklahoma to a 4-0 record while completing 75.2 percent of his passes—which is the third-best clip nationally—for 1,329 yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
4. Rashaad Penny, RB/KR, San Diego State
Playmaking ability: Rashaad Penny has speed to burn, and San Diego State's offensive line and kickoff unit have been providing room for him to show it. But the senior also uses a 220-pound frame like you'd expect. Penny finishes runs with authority, dropping his pads to power through tackles and pick up extra yards.
Signature moment: Piling up 206 offensive yards in an upset of Stanford is impressive, but Penny had an even greater performance against another Pac-12 foe. He gashed Arizona State for 353 yards, scoring one touchdown as a runner, receiver and kick returner.
Why he's here: Penny enters October ranked near the top of several categories. The Aztecs standout is second nationally in total rushing yards with 823, second in all-purpose yards per game (229.0) and third in gains of 10-plus yards (23) while accounting for 10 scores.
3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Playmaking ability: Despite playing behind a shaky offensive line, Lamar Jackson is still lethal with his legs. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner boasts an elite blend of acceleration and top-end speed most often seen on designed runs. Jackson doesn't get enough credit for his velocity as a passer, but his running ability is a unique, exceptional trait for a quarterback.
Signature moment: Jackson carried out a fake to the running back, turned to the right and found an unblocked North Carolina defender closing in. No worries, though. The junior calmly stepped up, avoided the shoestring tackle and uncorked a 50-yard bomb to Jaylen Smith in stride for a 75-yard touchdown.
Why he's here: Clemson's defense contained Jackson. Clemson's defense will do that to just about every opponent. Otherwise, teams have simply failed to shut down the dynamic player. He's collected at least 333 total yards in all five games so far.
2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Playmaking ability: Bryce Love has that coveted track speed. When Stanford gives the junior space to run, defenders probably aren't going to track him down. And so far this season, the Cardinal have done exactly that.
Signature moment: Saturday afternoon, Love shredded a confident Arizona State defense. One week after holding Oregon to 120 rushing yards, the Sun Devils could not contain Stanford's star. Love racked up 301 yards to break Christian McCaffrey's single-game mark of 284.
Why he's here: After just five games, Love has already accumulated 1,088 rushing yards. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's the fourth-most yards over that span in Football Bowl Subdivision history. And you can be sure Love is far from finished.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Playmaking ability: Saquon Barkley doesn't need perfect blocking to shatter a defense's confidence. Trying to wrap him up in the open field is typically a lost cause. Barkley will hurdle, jump-cut and finesse his way around players like no other back in the country.
Signature moment: Trailing Iowa 15-13, Penn State needed to convert a 3rd-and-6 inside its own 20-yard line. Trace McSorley could only throw a checkdown to Barkley, who saw two defenders cutting off his path to the first-down marker. So he proceeded to hurdle one and bounce off the other—while in midair—to extend the drive.
Why he's here: Perhaps a better question is why anyone else would be No. 1 on the list. Barkley, who leads the nation with 243.6 all-purpose yards per game, has been the most electrifying player in the country and put together a sensational performance in his team's most important game of the season. Penn State wouldn't be a championship contender without Barkley.