10 Players Set to Shock the College Football World in 2020

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2020

10 Players Set to Shock the College Football World in 2020

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    There are more than a few college football players ready to step into starring roles in 2020, and plenty of those guys are prepared to shock you with just how good they actually are.

    For some, a lack of opportunity plagued their careers up until now. Others are incoming freshmen who are stepping into high-profile roles with the tool kit to shine right away. Then there are those who got some touches or reps in 2019 and proved what they could do going forward.

    Still others battled injuries and are geared up to do big things. It's their time, and everybody on this list has the ability to take advantage of it.

    All of them seem primed and ready to explode.

    Taking into account opportunity, talent and importance to their team, let's take a look at the Power Five players who are going to become household names this year as some of the biggest shocks of the 2020 season.

David Bailey, RB, Boston College

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    One of the most productive college football running backs of the past three years was Boston College's AJ Dillon, though he didn't get a lot of the attention he deserved.

    Now that he's wowed NFL scouts at the combine and is prepared to surge up NFL draft boards, it's too late for college football fans who failed to appreciate just how good he was, even on a subpar football team. Wasting an elite talent like him is one of the reasons coach Steve Addazio is gone.

    Now, the Eagles have a new head honcho in Jeff Hafley, and he's going to have a new centerpiece running the ball in David Bailey, who is more than ready to step into Dillon's huge cleats.

    The 6'1", 240-pound bruiser from Ridgely, Maryland, is a bruiser who is entering his junior season and has the chops to make a massive impact right away. When we got to see him last year, he gave a sneak preview of what was to come, running for 844 yards and seven touchdowns and averaging nearly six yards per carry.

    If Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec is granted immediate eligibility (a big question mark), the Eagles are going to have a potent offense. 

    Bailey has proven if he gets the ball, he's going to thrive, and Boston College also returns a stellar offensive line. Look for Bailey to produce some box score-busting numbers next year that are going to make everybody realize his talent.

    He waited his turn behind Dillon, and now he's ready to prove he's worthy of being deemed one of the ACC's biggest playmakers.

Mase Funa, OLB, Oregon

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    Everybody talks about Oregon star rising sophomore Kayvon Thibodeaux, and for good reason. But the Ducks are going to boast an elite pass-rushing duo in 2020 now that another rising second-year player is entrenched outside.

    Mase Funa is penciled in at defensive coordinator Andy Avalos' "STUD End" position, and if you don't think that's the coolest name for a position in football, you need to share what is in the comments section. 

    Funa was a 6'2", 260-pound missile who finished third among all Pac-12 freshmen with four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He played in all 14 games, registering 26 tackles (19 solo) and starting just once. Now, this is his position, and look for him to shine.

    Coach Mario Cristobal has done an exceptional job recruiting in California during his tenure in Eugene, and Funa was a major victory out of prestigious Mater Dei as the nation's 68th-ranked prospect and the fourth-rated inside linebacker.

    Perhaps the best thing about Cristobal's linebacking/defensive end corps is how young and talented it is going to be with Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell coming in to join Funa and Thibodeaux. The coach told Oregon.com's James Crepea entering last season the Ducks have "got to" get Funa on the field, and they did.

    Big things followed.

    Now that Bryson Young is gone, STUD is Funa's spot, and he's about to show everybody he can live up to the position's name. Predicting he will have a better season than Thibodeaux is a stretch, but he's going to complement the other star just fine.

Chase Garbers, QB, California

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    All you need to know about what Chase Garbers means to the California Golden Bears is this: When he started and played the majority of the game last year, the team was 7-0. When he didn't, coach Justin Wilcox's team was 1-5.

    He's a quality player and a team leader. The biggest problem with the 6'2", 205-pound rising junior is he has had a difficult time staying healthy. In 2019, he dealt with both a concussion and a broken collarbone. 

    Last year, he completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 1,772 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. With Bill Musgrave coming in as the offensive coordinator in 2020, the former NFL assistant should be able to squeeze a lot more out of Garbers.

    If he stays on the field, Garbers has dynamic potential.

    SI.com's Jake Curtis talked about one of the small (although perhaps not so much as a quarterback) things he must adjust to with Musgrave calling the shots, and that's lining up under center.

    "High school I was all shotgun, and then we were under center about 15, 20 percent with coach [Beau] Baldwin [last year's Cal offensive coordinator], primarily run plays and play-action, but it's a little different taking a five- or seven-step drop from under center," Garbers said. "I haven't done it since youth football training."

    Of course, with much of spring practice falling by the wayside, those things are magnified even more, but Garbers is the kind of player who can pick things up in a hurry, and he should thrive on the football field in 2020. Look for him to be one of the league's best signal-callers.

Arik Gilbert, TE, LSU

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    Last year's LSU offense unleashed such a fury on college football, there's no way you can expect anybody to replicate it in 2020.

    If it happens, it happens, but quarterback Joe Burrow had a generational season, and targets galore such as Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall flourished because of it. Two of those three return in 2020, but Jefferson and tight end Thaddeus Moss leave huge voids to fill.

    Moss was an underrated force who played a split tight end for coordinator Steve Ensminger's offense. Yes, passing game coordinator Joe Brady (who is also gone) played a huge role in the offensive boost, but there's no question the Bayou Bengals can still fling it around a little with rising junior QB Myles Brennan in 2020.

    One guy who is going to get Moss' touches should be incoming 5-star tight end/wide receiver Arik Gilbert, who is going to be one of the nation's most phenomenal freshmen.

    Last year at Marietta High School with future Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey throwing him the ball, they torched Georgia competition on their way to a state title. He's a more talented player than Moss, who finished the year with 47 catches for 570 yards and four touchdowns.

    While it's difficult to envision LSU posting the same offensive team numbers this year, Gilbert's production can match Moss'. He's that good, and Ensminger would be smart to get him the ball.

    Brennan isn't going to be as pinpoint accurate as Burrow, so he may check down more often this season. Gilbert should be in line for a lot of catches and has the talent and size to be a red-zone weapon, too. He has megastar and instant impact written all over him.

Eric Gray, RB, Tennessee

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    Tennessee has struggled to lure some of the nation's top running backs to Rocky Top in recent years, but the Vols appear to have knocked it out of Neyland Stadium with instate star Eric Gray.

    The Memphis prospect flipped from Michigan in the 2019 class, and the former 4-star prospect immediately showed the type of speed and wiggle that was sorely lacking in the Vols offense. Unfortunately, Jeremy Pruitt didn't turn to him as the catalyst until late in the season.

    During the season's dreadful 0-2 start, Gray had 80 total offensive yards against Georgia State and 82 against BYU before largely disappearing while Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan received a bulk of the carries.

    Then, UT unleashed him in the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt, and the rest is history. Gray shredded the Commodores for 246 rushing yards on 25 carries, scoring three times, including a 94-yard end-zone scamper.

    In the Gator Bowl win over Indiana, Gray had 86 yards on 14 carries to go along with 34 receiving yards. He scored the deciding touchdown in a 23-22 comeback win, first corralling the onside kick that allowed UT to score in the waning minutes. Gray was named the MVP of the game.

    Afterwards, Indiana coach Tom Allen referred to Gray as a "special player," according to WVLT TV.

    The Vols look like they could be on the upswing, and Gray's success is tied directly to those hopes. With a talented offensive line returning to pave the way for him in 2020, it should be a big season.

    Gray has the type of swagger and back-it-up-on-the-field mentality to be special. He isn't the biggest back, but if he can prove he can be an every-down difference-maker, he's going to post monster stats.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

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    Ball-hawking safeties are hard to find, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish found one when they swooped into Atlanta and plucked highly sought-after defender Kyle Hamilton. 

    He was too good to keep off the field in 2019 as a true freshman, and even on a veteran squad, he stood out. The Irish have since lost both starting safeties in Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, but Hamilton was basically a third starter who played all over the place.

    He finished the year with 41 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups, and you can expect those numbers to swell when he is on the field more. The only real question is whether or not he's going to outgrow the position at 6'4".

    Regardless, he's fast and athletic enough to man the back level, and many people are taking notice of just how special a player coach Brian Kelly has on his hands.

    ACC Network analyst and former Clemson player Eric Mac Lain couldn't keep his eyes off Hamilton as a freshman a season ago.

    "The strength of their team is that pass defense; it has been electric," Mac Lain, the former Clemson All-ACC offensive guard, said, according to the Indianapolis Star's Mike Berardino. "They are really, really good back there. But one guy in particular has just caught my eye. I mean, he's a physical specimen."

    Of course, he was referring to Hamilton, and with another year in the weight room and more snaps, he's going to really shine this year, no matter where he plays. It wouldn't be a surprise if it turns out the Irish have a player like former Clemson star Isaiah Simmons on their hands.

Joseph Ossai, OLB, Texas

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    There weren't many positive things about last season's Texas defense, which was riddled with injuries and gave up yards by the mile. The Longhorns wound up canning coordinator Todd Orlando in December.

    But there are plenty of pieces for new coordinator Chris Ash to move around the table in Austin, including a slew of talented defensive backs that never reached their potential with the Longhorns. There's a guy in front of them who has an exciting future as well.

    That's Joseph Ossai, who has the potential to blossom into one of college football's top defenders in 2020. He has the talent and the ability to excel and transform that side of the ball for Texas. Really, he's one of the most accomplished players on this list.

    You just haven't heard much about him because he played for such an awful unit.

    As a sophomore, Ossai finished with 90 tackles, including 13.5 for loss, five sacks and forced one fumble. But his coming-out party was in a dismantling of Utah in the Alamo Bowl, where he finished with six tackles for loss.

    When Austin American-Statesman reporter Cedric Golden asked coach Tom Herman about Ossai's upside back in February, Herman didn't hide his feelings, saying the "sky is the limit."

    Texas fans already know plenty about Ossai, but the nation is going to take notice this year. He's going to skyrocket into the All-American conversation and should thrive under Ash. Moving into 4-3 scheme where he's expected to play a hybrid "Jack" position should only escalate the ascension. 

    If he can get after more quarterbacks in 2020, the Longhorns are going to improve a ton on that side of the ball.

Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State

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    If you're a Penn State fan, get your popcorn out because of Micah Parsons. Break out the Junior Mints because of Jayson Oweh.

    The popcorn may be the main staple, but the candy sure is nice to have, and Oweh is going to be sweet to watch during his redshirt sophomore season. With Yetur Gross-Matos headed to the NFL, there is a major need for the Nittany Lions at pass-rusher, and Oweh has the ability to step right in.

    A season ago, he was a situational player who finished with 21 tackles, including five tackles for loss and five sacks in 11 games. He flashed off the edge, and the 6'5", 255-pound pass-rusher is going to be depended on much more this season.

    Even last year, coach James Franklin was excited about Oweh's potential.

    "There's been a buzz about Jayson since he arrived on campus," Franklin told Onward State's Will Pegler. "He is very athletic, he's getting better all the time, and I think his ceiling is really high. He hasn't played a whole lot of football so his opportunity for growth is really dramatic."

    Now that Oweh has played a full season of football and is getting another year in the weight room, the excitement for the next couple years in Happy Valley should be palpable. If he helps take some of the pressure off Parsons and lets him do his thing this year, that's going to be a very good PSU defense.

    The Lions have a lot of quality parts returning for a possible championship run, and it's going to start with toppling Ohio State. If that happens, Penn State could be a serious title contender, and Oweh is going to be a massive part of it.

Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

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    It's certainly possible Spencer Rattler's name is on every list like this across college football media, so it may not be a surprise if he shines.

    But just how good he has the potential of being as a redshirt freshman could shock a lot of people. He hasn't even won the Sooners' quarterback battle yet, but there's a reason why coach Lincoln Riley hasn't been as hot and heavy on the transfer market as he usually is.

    The guess here is it's not because of Tanner Mordecai.

    Rattler is an unassuming signal-caller who is listed at 6'0" on the school's official site. So, you'd think he was a terrific dual-threat talent, right? Nah, he really isn't that, either. The Phoenix native just has the type of moxie you're looking for in a leader.

    He is mobile enough to evade pressure, possesses a strong arm and has the precision to make every throw, and he's got a slew of talent around him, including Charleston Rambo, Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges.

    The Baker Mayfield comparisons are obvious since Mayfield shone for the Sooners, but Rattler should be able to carve out his own legacy in Norman. It's going to be exciting to watch Riley mold a quarterback of his own after the way he milked elite skills from Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.

    There's a reason why Rattler was the only 5-star pro-style quarterback in the 2019 recruiting cycle; we're all about to see it. He's just got to beat out Mordecai first.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

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    Everybody wants to talk about the young new receivers the Clemson Tigers are going to toss on the field to go along with Justyn Ross in 2020, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited for guys like Joe Ngata and Frank Ladson.

    But there's a pretty good role player on the roster who should step right into stardom this year, especially with the familiarity already established with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

    That would be rising senior Amari Rodgers.

    The 5'10", 210-pound prospect is an explosive playmaker who is going to be a quality NFL player for a long time, but his return to school was overshadowed by running back Travis Etienne coming back. It shouldn't be. Rodgers is a vital piece for the 2020 version of the Tigers.

    This is a guy who has been a part of what Clemson built offensively in his first three years on campus. As a freshman, he had 19 catches for 123 yards in 12 games of backup action. He really had a strong season in 2018 with 55 catches for 575 yards and four scores.

    Last year, he took a small step back with 30 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns as a junior, but with Tee Higgins off to the NFL, he is going to have more opportunities. Yes, Ngata and Ladson will squeeze some of them from him, but Rodgers is a weapon who needs to be used.

    Given his propensity to turn short catches into big gains, he's the type of playmaker the Tigers are going to need as they develop the young downfield options to go along with Ross.

    Lawrence is the maestro who makes everything tick, and it is going to surprise a lot of people when Rodgers' established relationship with him yields numbers that approach the 1,000-yard mark in 2020.


    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.