College Football 2010: The Top 25 Comeback Player Of The Year Candidates
As the 2010 college football season gets under way, there are some players out there that have waited even longer than us for the opening kick-off.
While the reasons are many, and some stories more compelling than others, the one constant connecting these young men that they all refuse to quit.
No matter the circumstance, or how improbable it seems, these kids have come back after a down 2009 season to stake a claim at their individual programs.
Each and every player on this list will either start, contend for a starting spot, or play a significant role in the system they play for. This just goes to show how important it is to have this caliber of character up there with physical ability when hitting the recruiting trail.
Because the kind of grit displayed by these athletes is something you either have, or you don't. You just can't coach up a kid that lacks the will to play this great game we all love.
So here are the college football players that have come off of a bad 2009 season, and will now look to reverse their fortune in 2010. Enjoy, and thank you to all the Bleacher Report FC's (and more) that helped out.
Mike Taylor LB Wisconsin
For Mike Taylor, the 2009 season was rolling along fine. He was leading his team in tackles (46), and was named Second Team All Big Ten by college football guru Phil Steele.
Then, against Iowa on Oct. 17, 2009, his knee gave way while making a cut towards the ball-carrier. Wisconsin would go on to lose that game 20-10. Though the Badgers went on to have a good season with out him, ending with a bowl win over 15th ranked Miami, Taylor was missed.
While that famous Bret Bielema power running game is what most think of when it comes to Badger football, this defense takes pride in hard-nosed play.
If Wisconsin is to continue it's run of defensive play, they will be best served if Mike Taylor is out prowling the field of play.
Tyler Moeller LB Ohio State
The 2008 season saw Tyler Moeller start to make a name for himself as a special teams terror. With the skill set that allows him to play either linebacker or safety, Moeller was setting it all up for a break-out 2009.
Then an assault in a Florida bar left Moeller with brain trauma that required surgery. It looked like it may be the end of his days as a football player.
But surprising us all, and in spectacular fashion, Moeller has fought back and claimed his spot on the Ohio State roster. Earning the fifth defensive back position, a position that will see a lot of snaps.
"I'm a hitter, and that's how I play the game." Moeller said this spring.
Thanks to his don't-quit attitude, he will get his wish in 2010.
Matt Asiata RB Utah
Playing in only four games in 2009 then going down with a knee injury, Matt Asiata was playing lights out for the Utes and even leading the Mountain West Conference in rushing. Helping Utah beat Alabama a few years back, and deadly out of the famed "Asiada formation".
Last night, opening night of the 2010 college football season, his Utah squad met up with a very well coached Dave Wannstedt and 15th ranked Pitt team. A team that is well known for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, time and again.
To show how vital he is to Utah winning, especially the big games, where Matt always comes up big, he led his team to an over time win. Going 17 for 65-yards, and when he was needed most, he carried the rock three straight times for two first downs in OT. Allowing his kicker to dink a short kick in for the win against the hard-nosed Pitt team.
A win that kept two great streaks going, the first a home field record for wins (18 straight MWC record), and the second is wins on Thursday night games (going back to 1954!).
"A steady dose of four red." The announcer kept saying in praise of Matt.
Need I say more about Utah power back Matt Asiata?
Xavier Rhodes CB Florida State
After a strange hand injury left him sidelined for all but two games of the 2009 season, Xavier didn't get to show half the talents he has.
Since his injury, Xavier has packed on 15 pounds of muscle, while losing none of his speed.
Now just a red shirt freshman, he has been pushing Ochuco Jenije, a seasoned veteran, for playing time at corner.
Nobody knows who this kid is, by the end of this season, I put my money on Xavier Rhodes to be the newcomer of the year in the ACC.
More important than that, he may be the key in getting the FSU secondary back to becoming the monster it once was.
Aairon Savage S Auburn
This unknown talent is no spring chicken, coming in to the 2010 season as a sixth year senior.
Aairon Savage does have two years of play to lean on, but the last time he touched the field of play was way back in 2007.
2008 was over before it started when Aairon went down with a knee injury.
Then lightning struck twice when an awful archilles injury put him on the bench for all of 2009.
Fingers crossed, the 2010 season has none other than number two as one of the starting safeties.
Aairon Savage had to fight hard, through injury and NCAA hearings, to get his chance to hit the field again.
Look for this one to go light-out on every snap, because Aairon knows that any given play could very well be the last one he makes as an Auburn Tiger.
Mike McNeil S Auburn
Playing a small role in 2007, then following that with being the 26th ranked tackler in the SEC, the future was looking bright for highly touted safety Mike McNeil.
Yes safety. The second from Auburn on this list I know.
A badly broken leg (think Micheal Bush Louisville 05) left Mike out for all of the 2009 season, but it has seemed to have healed up as he is now listed as the back-up for either safety spot.
If Mike gets his chance, he proved in the past that he is a player that can be a game-changer, not J.O.G. (just another guy). So don't be surprised if he winds up in a starting role by mid-season.
Zac Etheridge S Auburn
Surprise! Another Auburn safety.
Many can remember the collision with an Ole Miss player that left Zac Ethereidge laying still as night, and had the football nation wondering if he would walk again, let alone play again.
Well the surprises keep coming with the Auburn Tigers secondary, because not only will he play, Zac is once again a starter at strong safety.
After three solid years of play, in which he had 33 consecutive starts, Zac has proven that he can play at a high level and sustain it. 2008 saw him lead the team in tackles and finish a very respectable 17th in the SEC. Zac was on track for another top finish when the injury happened last year.
Though he did not participate in spring ball, Zac is that much of a talent to have claimed his spot on the roster back. Look for number 4 for the Tiger defense to be called often this year because now that he is back healthy, Zac Etheridge will get back to being a big-play machine in 2010.
Zach Clayton DT Auburn
Another Auburn player, but at least he's not a safety. Zach Clayton played just under half the season in 2009 as a result of multiple injuries.
Clayton, a multi-sport star (discuss), has shown that when healthy, he can be one of the SEC's best defensive linemen, finishing 15th in sacks per game in 2008.
Now Clayton is at full strength, and has fought back to a starting role.
If he can stay healthy, Clayton could be one more reason that nobody wants to play the Auburn Tigers. Following his pedigree and past performances, I say that this kid will have a great 2010.
Darren Evans RB Virginia Tech
1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns: These are the numbers that Darren Evans put up in the rushing game for the Hokies in 2008 before going down with a knee injury in 2009 spring drills.
As a power back, those kind of numbers are impressive. Hell those numbers are impressive for any back.
Add to that Darren is the only Hokie running back to score a touchdown in his first six games, he holds the single-game rushing record at V-tech (253 against a tough Maryland defense), and those 1,265 yards I mentioned, they are also a record for an ACC freshman.
This kid is a stud, and when you pair him up with Ryan Williams, this may be the best 1-2 backfield in the country. Yeah, I know about the Alabama backs too.
Though Darren was not quite at full strength in spring drills, he is expected to be by game day. So look out for him in 2010, because if he plays up to his potential, you could be watching a legitimate Heisman contender.
Angus Quigley RB Kansas
Kansas' Angus Quigley is the only player on this list that did play all of last year.
Though he has missed two complete years with injury (2005, 2006), Angus finds himself on this list because after a 2007 season where he was the teams second leading rusher, he switched to linebacker last year.
As a multi-sport star in high school (football, basketball, track, wrestling), Angus does have the ability to make a move like that.
Just like it will allow him to switch back to the offensive side once again in 2010.
There are many highly touted backs that play in the Big 12, so it's going to be hard to get noticed in the crowd. Angus was able to switch sides in the off-season, and still be named the starting running back. So don't be surprised if he emerges as a force in the Kansas offense in 2010.
Marc Tyler RB USC
Marc Tyler has just about every accolade a high school kid can have, from Super-Prep and Lemming All-American, to Elite 50 and Fab 15. With a whopping 5,443 yards on 12.6 average rushing during his tenure, it's easy to see why.
In 2007, Marc surprised many by red shirting his true frosh year. He was against the move, but does admit that he gained valuable experience on the scout team.
2008 was a solid first year of play for Marc, but a mid-season injury held him back some. He did start to separate from the pack late in the season though, something hard to do with the deep stable of backs at USC.
In 2009, Marc came out blazing, averaging 14.4 yards in his only game. But a bad toe injury that would require surgery left Marc once again benched for an entire year.
In their opener against Hawaii, USC found themselves in a shoot-out. A shoot-out that was ended by a 44 yard scamper by, you guessed it, Marc Tyler.
Tyler finished with 157 yards on just 17 carries, showing the nation that he is ready to carry the torch for the Trojans by sealing Lane Kiffins' first win as the USC coach.
No matter the coach, it's easy to see why USC will always be, "Tailback U".
Justin Siller WR Purdue
From being dismissed from the team in 2009, to jumping from quarterback to running back, then back to quarterback, Justin Siller has had a strange journey as a Purdue football player.
A journey that has gotten more strange now that Siller is now a starter at wide out.
While at running back he didn't really fit the mold, and while he was a pretty good signal caller, at 6'4" and 223lbs. the receiver position looks like a natural fit for Siller.
Who knows what's in store for the Purdue offense in 2010, but now they seem to have all the right guys in their most effective positions.
If the Boilermakers are to put a good season together, those players, ones like Justin Siller, had better come ready to play, and play at a high level. After fighting his way up from the community college ranks, Siller has shown that he has the skill set to do it.
Robert Marve QB Purdue
Purdue fans know that their team will likely only go as far as Miami transfer Robert Marve takes them.
A former Mr. Football in the state of Florida out of the power house Plant high school in Tampa, where he busted up many of Tim Tebows' records, Marve first gave his services to the Hurricanes.
At Miami, Marve was a dual-threat on the field and showed flashes of brilliance at times. He was plagued a bit by interceptions though, and for that and a few other reasons, decided to transfer out.
Now the slate has been wiped clean, and reports are that Marve is looking very good. He has the pedigree, and the skill, now he has one more chance to go prove that talent on the field in 2010. If Robert Marve plays well, the Boilermakers may play more than spoiler in the Big Ten.
Adewale Ojomo DE Miami
After a walk-on sucker punched him before the start of the 2009 season, leaving his jaw broken, Adewale Ojomo was well on his way to playing a significant role in the vaunted Miami defense.
Though he had his jaw wired shut for six weeks and had to sit the entire season out, Ojomo has taken over opposite DE Allen Bailey on the UM roster, no easy task in itself.
As a pass rusher, Ojomo is second to none. Now that he will get a full-time look, it is fair to say that he is set to break out in the ACC as long as he can progress as an all-around defensive player in 2010.
Steven Threet QB Arizona State
Starting his college football story at Georgia Tech, only to jump ship in spring ball for Michigan, Steven Threet has finally settled in at Arizona State.
After all that travelling, and sitting last year out due to transfer rules, Threet still has two years of eligibility as a red shirt junior.
When he has hit the field, both in practice and actual games, he has shown that he can make plays. With the Pac 10 being heralded as the new quarterback conference, you will need to have a good one if you want your team to have a shot at a conference title.
If you want a championship outside the Pac 10, your quarterback better be great.
Steven Threet is good, that's for sure. 2010 will tell us if he can be great.
Kendall Hunter RB Oklahoma State
The Okie State "Big 3" was never the same once Kendall Hunter got injured.
2009 was an injury-plagued year for this great talent. Though he did play most of the season, he didn't even gain 400 yards for the year.
When he was healthy, Kendall showed that he can make defenses look silly. Against a highly ranked Georgia defense he broke a 75-yarder, and when he finally got healthy late last season, he ran for 94 yards on under ten carries in OSU's bowl game.
Once clocked at 4.38 in the 40, Hunter is poised to bust out in 2010. He is once again the feature back, and with a new quarterback in Brandon Weeden, will be looked at to carry the Pokes offense.
If the guns are going to fire away in Stillwater, Kendall Hunter better have a healthy 2010 for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Andre Debose WR Florida
Nobody got to see this future stud on the field for the Gators in 2009 because of a lingering high school injury.
Andre Debose is healthy now, and ready to make his mark as a Florida football player.
Andre is everything a coach wants in a receiver. He's lightning quick, sure-handed, and can make a play in the clutch. In high school, he caught a Class 6A title winning catch in the closing seconds.
So now Andre turns to Gainsville to continue his storybook journey through football.
2010 is just the beginning, but what a start it should be.
Donald Stephenson OL Oklahoma
Donald Stephenson missed the 2009 season due to being academically ineligible, not the greatest of comeback stories so far.
Coming out of Missouri and very highly touted (No.34 OT in the nation), Stephenson hasn't played an entire season since he was a junior in high school.
Much is expected of him in 2010, seeing how he will cover Landry Jones' blind side for the Sooners at left tackle. This position was held by Trent Williams last year, and is crucial to the success of the offense.
The word is out that this line is much improved, and a big part of that is Donald Stephenson. OU fans better hope that word is right, because the season, once again, hinges on it.
Tom Wort LB Oklahoma
Last spring Tom Wort was said to have over-taken the MLB spot away from the "defensive quarterback" Ryan Reynolds. That is quite a feat, seeing how Reynolds, a red shirt senior, went on to have a very solid year leading the nations No.8 defense.
Then, in fall camp Worts' knee gave way with an ACL tear, side lining him for the 2009 season.
2010 finds a new start for Wort, who once again, fought through tough competition like Jaydan Bird and Rashod Favors to claim that coveted MLB spot in OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables defensive scheme.
Tom Wort has done nothing but amaze every time he straps on the pads, and I believe he will be the newcomer of the year in the Big 12 now that he is healthy and ready to play. Just another stellar find for Bob Stoops' staff.
Jewel Hampton RB Iowa
Rushing for over 500 yards in 2008, Jewel Hampton was coming in to the 2009 season as the listed starter at running back when he went down with an ACL injury.
This kid comes in with all the accolades, was a team captain on a back-to-back-to-back state champs, and has both speed and power.
He is listed now as the third team back, but with his skill set, I can see him getteing his shot to play a significant role in 2010.
Robert Griffin III QB Baylor
An instant success, Robert Griffin came in as an 18 year old true freshman in the fourth drive of the 2008 season and ended never looked back.
The season ended with a NCAA freshman of the year award, and Griffin ranked 31st nationally in total offense.
The 2009 season saw Griffin pick right up where he left off, showing the nation that he could throw on top of run by completing 45 of 69 with no interceptions. Then, in the third contest of the season, against Northwestern State, Griffin blew out his ACL.
A sad day for Big 12 football, not just for the Baylor Bears.
2010 begins with Griffin at the helm for the Bears, where he should be. The bottle of lightning that is Robert Griffin III is about to be uncorked, and with three full years of eligibility to boot.
He can take a game over at any time, and with some help from his peers, Baylor could surprise this year. Griffin just has to stay healthy or any chance at a Big 12 south run is over.
Dont'a Hightower LB Alabama
Another victim of an ACL injury, Dont'a Hightower was a true freshman starter under Sabans' strict standard.
In 2009, Dont'a was following up nicely as one of the stand outs in pass-play situations when he took a helmet to the knee on a cut block, tearing his ACL and ending his season.
Now he enters 2010 on the Lambardi watch list, and with three years of play left as a red shirt sophomore, he still carries a veteran-like disposition. Even earning a spring practice award for showing leadership.
Now with the departure of Rolando McClain to the NFL, the Bama defense will need another stellar line backer if they want a chance to defend their BCS national title, and Dont'a Hightower has the skills to be that guy.
Nate Irving LB NC State
Nasty Nate is what the fans call him. You may know him as The Predator. Whatever the moniker, Nate Irving is a beast.
With 8.7 tackles per game in 12 starts, four interceptions (most all-time by a Wolfpack LB), an honorable mention All-ACC, and 84 tackles to tie for third on the team, Irving made quite the impression in 2008.
All that and he didn't play a third of the season with a lower leg injury.
After earning preseason All-ACC honors, Nate missed all of 2009 with another injury.
2010 will see Irving back at top form, according to reports.
Most college football fans don't know who he is, if he stays healthy, though, Nate Irving will become a household name.
Micah Kia OL UCLA
Team captain Micah Kia has over 20 starts to his name, making him one of the most seasoned lineman in the Pac 10.
With early match-ups like at Kansas St., Stanford, and at Texas, the UCLA offense will need the services of Kia. They will need not only his leadership skills, but also his play on the field.
Kia is reported as the starting left tackle after going down with an ACL injury in fall camp in 2009.
Mark Herzlich LB Boston College
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Who can forget Mark Herzlichs' closely televised battle with Ewing's sarcoma (rare bone cancer)? How he overcame the disease, and has come back and claimed his spot on the Boston College roster?
Mark entered the 2008 season as a first-team All-American tag, and finished it with an ACC player of the year award after busting out on the national scene with his extraordinary play on the field.
Then he had to leave the game he loved in 2009 when he found out through routine tests that he had cancer. The rest of that story, as they say, is history.
Going in to the 2010 season, Mark enters as the league's leading career tackler, and is on the Lott trophy watch list.
A rare player that can take a game over from the defensive side of the ball, if Mark Herzlich is back to form, he will win that Lott trophy and much more, like that Butkus award that got away from him in 2008, mark it down.