The Top 25 College Football Players Whose Names You Need to Know in 2010
The NCAA has a ton of great players with endless potential.
There are guys like Terrelle Pryor, who give you hope that there is a quarterback who can run as efficiently as he can pass, and guys like Trent Richardson, who run like there are nothing but green lights in their paths.
However, there are other guys who can be the catalyst for changing the very complexion of a game from "out of reach" to winnable in just one game-breaking play.
Darren McFadden was that guy for Arkansas in 2007. Percy Harvin was that guy for Florida in 2008. Eric Decker and Dexter McCluster were definitely those guys for Minnesota and Ole Miss, respectively, in 2009.
Those are the guys you love to see out there on Saturday. Those are your “money” players—your X-factors—the slightly less respected, less known commodities who can burn you the moment you forget they exist. The ones who make you walk away and say, "Man, that guy is something else."
This list, I must warn you, will leave out just as many as it names, but I encourage the football-savvy fan that is you, the reader, to drop some names of your own below—I bet you can't name just one.
Dion Lewis, RB—Pittsburgh
Remember how phenomenal LeSean McCoy was for the Panthers? Well, Dion Lewis may just be better. The 5’8” wonder ended his freshman campaign with 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Even more impressive were his totals in November, where he racked up more than 400 yards rushing against Syracuse, Notre Dame, and West Virginia—the 13th, 89th, and 37th-ranked run defenses respectively.
2010 promises to be more challenging for the Big East Player of the Year, but if the Panthers can keep him healthy and the O-line can keep offering holes for him to run through, he could find himself in the Heisman conversation next season—as a true sophomore.
Jarrett Boykin, WR—Virginia Tech
Last season with the Hokies, a team not known to rely on its passing as much as its running, Boykin snagged 39 catches for 822 yards—a 21.08 yards per catch(ypc) average. That was good enough to make him third in the nation.
As 2010 beckons, the 6’2”, 215-pound receiver with the monstrous hands is poised to become the first 1,000-yard receiver the Hokies have seen since...well...ever.
Chris Owusu, WR/KR—Stanford
In 2009, Owusu had 1,167 yards, three touchdowns, and a 31.54 average...as a kick returner. That’s right—31.54. If that’s not robbery, I don’t know what is.
He also chipped in 682 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver.
In a game where field position matters, the Stanford Cardinals show up to the party with their ace in hand. Under the special teams guidance of Brian Polian, Owusu and the rest of the Cardinal kickoff team is only going to get better.
Now, that’s a scary thought.
Luke Kuechly, LB—Boston College
Kuechly came in as a true frosh and set the world aflame with his tenacity, work ethic, and ability to always be around the ball.
Despite the absence of All-ACC linebacker Mark Herzlich, Kuechly was able to make a quick name for himself as a playmaking tackler for the Eagles, and he finished with 158 stops on the year.
He’s still got some growing to do into that 6’3” frame, but he’s already a beast on the field. With Herzlich’s return looming large for the 2010 season, you have to feel pretty confident that the Eagles are getting set to field one of the best linebacking corps in the ACC next season, and Kuechly will be a big reason why.
Rahim Moore, DB—UCLA
Moore had 10 interceptions in 2009. That’s eight more than former Tennessee corner Eric Berry and nine more than former USC safety Taylor Mays.
Of course, I am aware that not all schemes are the same, and a corner’s responsibility is different than a safety’s, but that doesn’t make the feat any less impressive, does it?
He’s got 4.4 speed and great instincts, and in just two seasons he’s already accumulated 13 interceptions and 109 tackles. Every bit as impressive as the interceptions was the passes defended (17).
Moore is a menace in the outfield, and that makes him a very valuable asset against the passing game.
Ryan Broyles, WR—Oklahoma
All anyone seemed to key on last season was the loss of Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham. However, in doing so, they might have missed the emergence of Broyles as one of the best receivers the Big 12 has to offer.
Doing his best Mark Clayton impression, Broyles hauled in 89 catches for 1,120 yards and 15 scores.
He and Landry Jones sparked a lovely connection that will, undoubtedly, be even more fruitful come 2010 if the Sooners can gel their offensive line without too many hiccups.
Kellen Moore, QB—Boise State
Moore did just about everything right last season. He was poised in the pocket, took few chances with the football, and, for the most part, was money on just about every throw he made.
He played smart football, and his ability to do so has given him a record of 26-1 thus far into his career.
Last season, he threw just three interceptions against 39 touchdowns (161.27 QB rating) but stands to get better this season as the Broncos mount a serious challenge towards making it into the BCS title game. Can Moore lead them to the promised land?
If he can fix what ails him in the deep ball game, he will be as complete a quarterback as you could ask for, and that is a frightening thought considering he’s pretty darn good already.
Noel Devine, RB—West Virginia
I don’t think that there is one person unfamiliar with what Noel Devine has been able to do as a Mountaineer. His legacy is every bit as solid as all of the talented backs that came before him.
His style is simple: “I’m going to run this rock—see if you can catch me.” Most have not been able to.
In 2009, he posted his best totals yet with 1,400-plus yards and 13 scores. He had seven games of 100-plus yards or more, including a 220-yard dismantling of the Colorado Buffaloes. In his last season, expect more of the same.
Just a side note: Devine is every bit as talented as Pitt’s own Dion Lewis. What’s the difference? In 2009, Devine saw 241 carries, while Lewis had 325. Imagine what Devine could do with 80 MORE carries—think about it.
Donovan Varner, WR—Duke
It doesn’t matter how often you think "Duke"—it’s still tough to think football. The Blue Devils just don’t seem to make too much of a fuss in the ACC until March Madness rolls around, and that doesn’t do much to help the football team.
That said, talent is everywhere in college football, and Varner proved that even a Devil can get some love if he’s given the right opportunity. He was voted first team All-ACC last season after catching 65 passes for 1,047 yards and eight scores—only the third Blue Devil in history to go over 1,000 yards.
His yardage numbers placed him second in the ACC, behind Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech, and, if Duke can find a replacement for Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback, there is little reason to believe he won’t be able to match those totals again.
Von Miller, DE—Texas A&M
The DE from Aggie country flirted with taking the NFL up on its offer but decided to make Big 12 quarterbacks nervous for just one more season instead.
The nation’s sack leader for 2009 is quick, strong, and packs a powerful wallop once he gets where he’s going.
The Aggies were porous as a unit on pass defense but ranked near the middle of the pack in both tackles for loss (of which Miller had 21.5) and third down conversion defense. If they can successfully transition to the 3-4 in 2010, he is likely to excel as an OLB next season and could be every bit as dominant as he was in 2009.
James Rodgers, WR—Oregon State
Rodgers is the very definition of "do-it-all," and he does it all for the Beavers on a weekly basis.
His 2,328 all-purpose yards last season were impressive given his size, and he plays at full speed on every snap. He had four 100-plus-yard games last season—including a 139-yard performance against the Ducks.
Rodgers may find pickings a bit slimmer with Sean Canfield now NFL-bound, but he has the attitude and the skills to find his way to pay dirt and continue to play bigger than he's expected.
Ricky Dobbs, QB—Navy
Say what you will about the system Dobbs plays in; he’s still a playmaker, and he's the guy whose hands you DON’T want to see with the ball with the game on the line.
Only problem is, it’s hardly likely that this won’t be the case given that a majority of the offense runs through Dobbs' nimble digits.
In 2009, he had almost as many yards on the ground as he had through the air, and his ability to make plays with both led to big-time wins over programs like Missouri and Notre Dame while giving a real scare to Ohio State early.
Dobbs scored 27 touchdowns for the Midshipmen last season and will have just as many chances to do it again in 2010.
Warren Norman, RB—Vanderbilt
It’s hard to take notice of Norman because he plays on an SEC team that doesn’t get nearly as much press as Alabama or Florida.
However, in a league where the names are every bit as big as the schools they play for, Norman managed to take home SEC Freshman of the Year honors on his way to rushing for 783 yards and over 1,000 yards in the kick return game.
His three returns for touchdowns made him a threat every time he touched the ball, and his ability to run like the wind made him a force to be reckoned with—even in the tough SEC.
His production is likely to get pushed to the side again in favor of bigger SEC story lines, but for the teams who play against him, he has already established himself as a player not to be taken lightly.
Dwight Dasher, QB—Middle Tennessee State
Dasher was on the bench in 2008. Go ahead, wrap your head around that for a minute.
Dasher was a role player in 2008 who went on to become the starter in 2009. The result: 623 plays, 1,154 rush yards, and 2,789 passing yards—oh, and 23 touchdowns. Not bad.
He’s not the most accurate passer, but he’s effective, and he was instrumental in the Blue Raiders' run to 10 wins last season.
If Dasher can stay in the zone despite the loss of his offensive coordinator and mentor Tony Franklin, he should continue to develop into every bit as good a dual-threat quarterback as any other in the nation.
Shane Vereen, RB—California
Last season, when you thought Cal football, you thought about Jahvid Best. Even after his injury, you thought, "I hope Jahvid will be all right."
Chances are while you were keeping Jahvid in your thoughts, you missed out on Shane Vereen. He started the last four games of Cal’s season and put up 566 yards. Added to that total was six touchdowns—he’s for real.
Vereen has been patiently awaiting his shot to be the lead runner for the Bears, and he will finally have his chance in 2010. Odds are good that his starting debut was not a fluke, and it won’t be too long before some people are asking, "Jahvid who?"
Greg Reid, DB—Florida State
It would be easy to pick Christian Ponder off this talented roster. After all, he is the man whose arm the offense will rest heavily upon next season.
However, it was much more fun to go with Reid because, well, first of all, Patrick Robinson is gone—leaving a void in the secondary that will require some filling.
Second, the Seminoles didn’t hire Mark Stoops to teach knitting to a unit that was ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense last season.
Third, Reid is likely to be one of the most exciting players on the field next season—regardless of where he plays—because he has devastating value as a return man. He raked in over 1,000 yards in 2009.
If Stoops can channel the focus of the secondary into something that’s even halfway decent, there is little reason not to believe that Reid will continue to emerge as the playmaker he is destined to be.
Baron Batch, RB—Texas Tech
Tommy Tuberville has relocated to Lubbock, and he’s bringing his brand of offense to the Red Raider Nation.
That doesn’t mean the running game will suddenly be more exciting than the passing game, but it does mean there is a pretty good chance that the program will finally see a 1,000-yard rusher—the last guy to come close was Shannon Woods in 2006.
Batch had 14 touchdowns to go with 884 yards last season, so he could easily get to the 1k mark if given enough carries. Tuberville will no doubt be willing to oblige, and that could spell b-r-e-a-k-o-u-t for the senior Batch in his final year.
Aldon Smith, DE—Missouri
Smith was a latecomer to football. He didn’t pick up the sport until nearly the end of his high school career, so the fact that last season, as a redshirt freshman, he ended up with Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors is pretty impressive.
Smith is still developing, but he is already making a name for himself after tallying 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a total loss of 126 yards.
If those numbers sound paltry to you, consider the fact that über stud DT Ndamukong Suh had 20.5 for the Cornhuskers last season.
Smith is poised to get even better as his understanding of both the game and his position grows. Keep an eye on this kid.
Marcel Dareus, DE—Alabama
Run your finger down the Tide roster and challenge yourself to find a name that you DON’T know. There are a lot of names there who will eventually be playing on Sundays—no doubt.
However, Marcel Dareus’ name was relatively obscure until he laid that hit on Colt McCoy. That’s understandable given the fact that he was playing in the shadow of Mt. Cody.
However, his time to shine is now.
Last season, he led the team in sacks (6.5) while chipping in nine tackles for loss. He may have been a bit of an unknown outside of Tuscaloosa before, but I don’t expect that to remain the case going forward.
Matthew Tucker, RB—TCU
Bet you thought I’d pick a defensive player here, didn’t you?
Well, everyone knows that the Horned Frogs have a solid defense and will keep most any offense in the country honest. However, the offense gets very little love despite being one of the best in the nation.
One of the reasons for the success of that offense is the running game.
Matthew Tucker ran through and over the opposition for 676 yards and eight scores (6.44 ypc) with just a little more than 100 carries.
With Joseph Turner now gone, Tucker will be in line to get a few more shots to up that yardage total in 2010. Look for him to do just that despite the presence of both Ed Wesley and Dwight Smith.
Kyle Padron, QB—SMU
The Mustangs are probably an afterthought to those who consider the Houston Cougars the kings of Conference USA. However, Padron is quickly becoming the heir apparent to the QB throne, as he passed for 1,922 yards, 10 TDs, and four INTs in only seven games.
His stellar play eventually led to the departure of Bo Levi Mitchell—the team’s starting QB at the start of 2009—and has set into motion talk of him being the next big name in the college football ranks.
He’s only going into his sophomore year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get close to 4,000 yards next season.
*Photo courtesy of ESPN
DeVier Posey, WR—Ohio State
If Terrelle Pryor returns even better from his knee surgery, Posey could be poised for a 1,000-yard season. His eight-catch, 101-yard Rose Bowl performance is likely still fresh in the minds of many, but he has another level he has yet to attain.
His speed has already been displayed—multiple 50-yard receptions in 2009—but that is merely an underscore to his overall ability to get open and make the big plays when his number is called.
He should be a favorite target next year for the still developing Pryor.
Brandon Boykin, DB—Georgia
Playing the CB position last season, Boykin had his share of growing pains, but he was more bite than bark, as he ended the year with three interceptions, 54 tackles, six passes defended, and three touchdowns. His 988 yards as a kick return man only increases his value.
His second season at starter brings hope for even better things as the Georgia Bulldogs look to right their pass defense under the guidance of a new defensive staff.
Alshon Jeffery, WR—South Carolina
If the Gamecocks are going to FINALLY get out of that SEC Championship rut, they will need their quarterback to duplicate his play from last season—perhaps even surpass it by some measure—and they will have to find a cure for what ails them in the running game. Could Marcus Lattimore be the remedy there?
Either way, one place they won’t have to search long for a playmaker is wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery left the basketball courts, where he shined ever so brightly, for the gridiron.
He isn’t Julio Jones or A.J. Green—yet—but he certainly showed some brilliant flashes of having that kind of talent when he hauled in 763 yards and six touchdowns last year.
He’s still growing into those SEC shoes as a receiver, but if Stephen Garcia can stay on track and the Gamecocks can find their way to success again, early, Jeffery’s trajectory only has one direction—up.
Nick Toon, WR—Wisconsin
John Clay, you know. He’s going to be a beast again next season. TE Lance Kendricks is probably going to surprise some people as well, but, Nick Toon is just a season away from being an offensive star. He had 804-yards and four scores last season but could be in line for a few more catches this year as he is already making some spring noise.
He’s got the size, speed, and hands to do whatever he is asked. He just needs a few more targets per game and, despite the Badger’s focus on the ground game, I think he’ll find his jersey called quite a bit more this coming year.