Every Top 10 College Football Team's MVP in 2017

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2017

Every Top 10 College Football Team's MVP in 2017

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    Saquon Barkley has emerged as one of the nation's top overall players as a junior.
    Saquon Barkley has emerged as one of the nation's top overall players as a junior.Chris Knight/Associated Press

    Week 7 of the 2017 college football season was one of the most exciting and unpredictable this fall. Four Top 10 teams were defeated, and the new Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday features a trio of new entrants in the Top 10. Seven weeks in, only six Power Five programs remain unbeaten, and beyond No. 1 Alabama, the College Football Playoff picture is wide open.

    This week reminded us all that teams need star players to thrive in college football’s competitive landscape. Stars carry the weight when they’re needed the most to make game-changing plays. They’re their team’s most valuable players. Here’s a look at the nation’s MVPs for the AP poll’s Top 10 teams at midseason. Players were judged by statistics, skills and their overall contributions to their team’s success. 

No. 10 Oklahoma State: WR James Washington

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    James Washington is a huge deep threat and one of the nation's top receivers.
    James Washington is a huge deep threat and one of the nation's top receivers.Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Mike Gundy has built a program at Oklahoma State that's consistently in the Big 12 title hunt. The 5-1 Cowboys are a fun offensive team to watch and again in contention for a conference championship and College Football Playoff berth. Senior quarterback Mason Rudolph is playing better than ever, and it helps that he has one of the nation’s best receivers to throw to in fellow senior James Washington.

    Last fall, Washington caught 71 passes for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he’s been just as good this season. He has 34 catches for 882 yards (second-best in the FBS) and six scores, while averaging an eye-popping 25.9 yards per reception. He’s on pace for 68 catches, 1,764 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    Washington is a speedy deep threat and one of the toughest receivers to cover in college football. Assuming Rudolph stays healthy, Washington will put up big numbers as OSU challenges for a league title and much more.

No. 9 Oklahoma: QB Baker Mayfield

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    Baker Mayfield makes Oklahoma's offense go as its star quarterback.
    Baker Mayfield makes Oklahoma's offense go as its star quarterback.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Bob Stoops surprised many when he stepped away from Oklahoma’s head coaching role over the summer, leaving the program’s reins to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Despite a stunning loss to Ohio State, the Sooners have hardly skipped a beat, going 5-1 after Saturday’s win over Texas. It helps to inherit a player like senior quarterback Baker Mayfield.

    Mayfield is a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and has been excellent for the Sooners this season. He has thrown for 1,937 yards with 17 touchdowns against just one interception and is completing 72.7 percent of his passes, the highest rate of his collegiate career.

    Mayfield is fearless in the pocket, mobile, strong-armed and an excellent leader for OU’s offense. If he keeps up his current pace, it would be a surprise if he didn’t receive a third invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

No. 8 Miami: QB Malik Rosier

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    Malik Rosier has fit in just fine as Miami's new starting quarterback.
    Malik Rosier has fit in just fine as Miami's new starting quarterback.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Following a wild, rain-soaked 25-24 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Miami has found its way into the Associated Press Top 10. The Hurricanes are 5-0 and are showing significant improvement in Mark Richt’s second season as head coach. That might be surprising given Brad Kaaya’s decision to bolt for the NFL after his junior season, but his replacement under center has been more than capable.

    Junior Malik Rosier has been solid in his first season as a starter, throwing for 1,371 yards with 12 touchdowns against three interceptions while completing 59.1 percent of his passes. Rosier has shown poise in the pocket, good touch with his passes and has been largely unflappable.

    He has led a pair of last-minute scoring drives, giving Miami its first win over Florida State in eight tries and the aforementioned victory over the Yellow Jackets in a monsoon. Miami looks like a strong contender to win the ACC Coastal and challenge for a league title, and Rosier will lead the way.

No. 7 Clemson: DE Austin Bryant

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    Austin Bryant has added yet another gamebreaker to Clemson's tough defensive line.
    Austin Bryant has added yet another gamebreaker to Clemson's tough defensive line.Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Clemson suffered a surprising 27-24 defeat at Syracuse on Friday night, ending an 11-game win streak and sending the Tigers downward in this week’s AP poll. But it’d be foolish to count out Dabo Swinney’s group; after all, Clemson rebounded from a home loss to Pitt last fall to win the national championship.

    Brent Venables’ defense will carry plenty of the freight in Clemson’s push for a repeat, and its foundation is a nasty, talented defensive line. You already knew about defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and end Clelin Ferrell, who broke out as a star during Clemson’s playoff title run. But another, less-heralded end has emerged as the most productive player.

    Austin Bryant has 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He leads the Tigers in both TFL and sacks and is an athletic specimen, as he showed with a one-handed interception against Virginia Tech. Bryant’s skills make it even tougher for opposing offenses to prepare for Clemson's defensive line.

No. 6 Ohio State: QB J.T. Barrett

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    J.T. Barrett is enjoying his best season as Ohio State's quarterback.
    J.T. Barrett is enjoying his best season as Ohio State's quarterback.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Following Saturday’s 56-14 demolition of Nebraska, Ohio State is 6-1 and firmly in contention for a Big Ten East title and another College Football Playoff berth under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes suffered a home loss to Oklahoma, but they appear far more explosive and proficient offensively than they were against the Sooners. Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has been a major difference-maker as the foundation of the offense.

    Barrett struggled near the end of 2016, failing to reach 130 yards passing and throwing one touchdown pass against three interceptions in the Buckeyes’ final three games, including an ugly 31-0 defeat to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. However, he has looked like a different player this season. Through seven games, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns against just one interception and added 359 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

    Saturday, he accounted for seven touchdowns (five passing, two rushing) in the rout of the Cornhuskers. He’s also completing 66.7 percent of his passes, the highest rate of his college career. If this keeps up, Barrett should have an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, the Buckeyes will have a great shot at the College Football Playoff. 

No. 5 TCU: QB Kenny Hill

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    Kenny Hill is fulfilling his potential as TCU's senior starting quarterback.
    Kenny Hill is fulfilling his potential as TCU's senior starting quarterback.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    It might surprise some that TCU, not Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, is the only unbeaten left in the Big 12 at the midpoint of 2017. The Horned Frogs are 6-0, have already matched their win total from last season and look like a strong bet to challenge for the Big 12 title and more. What’s changed? Senior Kenny Hill has become a much more efficient quarterback.

    A year ago, in his first season after transferring from Texas A&M, Hill threw for 3,208 yards with 17 touchdowns but had 13 interceptions and was sacked 28 times. This fall, he has 1,450 yards with 10 touchdowns against three interceptions and only seven sacks. He’s also completing 69.8 percent of his passes after completing 61.1 percent in 2016.

    Hill flashed big potential as a sophomore at A&M, but eventually he lost his job and wound up in Fort Worth. In his final season of college football, he appears to be putting it all together, and TCU is reaping major benefits.

No. 4 Wisconsin: RB Jonathan Taylor

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    Freshman Jonathan Taylor has emerged as one of the nation's best running backs.
    Freshman Jonathan Taylor has emerged as one of the nation's best running backs.Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Wisconsin is 6-0 at the halfway mark of the season, and the Badgers once again look like a strong bet to win the Big Ten West and challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff, with Michigan as the only ranked foe remaining on their schedule. Paul Chryst’s team looks like a classic Wisconsin roster, winning with the run game and defense, for the most part.

    It should be no surprise that the Badgers’ best player is in the backfield. Freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor is just the latest in a long line of runners to come through Camp Randall Stadium. He has 986 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He is sixth in the FBS in rushing yardage and averages 7.8 yards per carry.

    He already has three 200-yard rushing efforts, including a 219-yard, one-touchdown game in Saturday’s 17-9 win over Purdue. Taylor will be a huge factor in Wisconsin’s push for a Big Ten title and more and has a bright future ahead.

No. 3 Georgia: QB Jake Fromm

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    Jake Fromm started 2017 as a backup, but has quickly become one of Georgia's most important players.
    Jake Fromm started 2017 as a backup, but has quickly become one of Georgia's most important players.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    When 2017 began, Jake Fromm was a talented but unproven quarterback who was likely to spend the season sitting and watching behind highly touted sophomore starter Jacob Eason, playing only when games were out of hand. Eason’s knee injury in the opener against Appalachian State, however, changed all that.

    Fromm, a redshirt freshman, went from the bench to the fire and thrived. He proved he is a highly capable pocket passer with good touch, pocket presence and leadership. So good, in fact, that he kept the job even when Eason’s knee got healthy. Georgia is 7-0 and firmly atop the SEC East following Saturday’s 53-28 whipping of Missouri, and it looks like a good bet to take the East title and face off with the West champ (potentially No. 1 Alabama) in the SEC title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

    Fromm has 1,162 passing yards with 12 touchdowns against three interceptions, and he appears to have the starting role on lockdown. It would be no surprise if Eason transferred following the season. That’s how good Fromm has been.

No. 2 Penn State: RB Saquon Barkley

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    Saquon Barkley is one of college football's best players and a huge factor in Penn State's success.
    Saquon Barkley is one of college football's best players and a huge factor in Penn State's success.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    When Penn State broke out and won the Big Ten title last fall, tailback Saquon Barkley was a major factor, flashing speed and a physical running style while putting himself on the 2017 Heisman Trophy radar.

    Halfway through 2017, the Nittany Lions are again a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff contender. They're 6-0 entering Saturday's Big Ten East showdown with Michigan, and Barkley has been a huge reason. The 5'11", 230-pound do-everything back has been a hard-running, physical marvel and the centerpiece of Penn State's offense.

    He has 649 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, nearly a yard ahead of his 5.5-yard pace as a sophomore. Barkley has also become an improved pass-catching threat. He already has 29 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns. By contrast, he had 28 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns as a junior.

    Barkley is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, Penn State's clear MVP and a linchpin for the Lions' run at a national championship.

No. 1 Alabama: CB Minkah Fitzpatrick

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    Minkah Fitzpatrick plays a huge role in Alabama's overall defensive success.
    Minkah Fitzpatrick plays a huge role in Alabama's overall defensive success.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Alabama has assumed its customary place at the top of the national polls thanks to a capable offense and a typically stout defense. Following Saturday’s 41-9 rout of Arkansas, the Crimson Tide have allowed 10.1 points per game. There are stars throughout the defense, but the brightest is junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

    He has 32 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss (both third-most on Alabama’s roster) as well as an interception, a sack and four pass breakups. In short, he makes an impact in a number of ways.

    Fitzpatrick is a versatile defender who can play any position in the secondary, contributing at cornerback, safety and nickelback during his three-year collegiate career. He is always aware of where he is on the field and has a nose for the ball and the big play. If Alabama returns to the College Football Playoff, Fitzpatrick’s strength and versatility will play an outsized role.