10 Super Seniors Who Will Make the Biggest Impact in 2021
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA decided the 2020 season would not count as a year of eligibility. All college football players—regardless of athletic class standing—had the opportunity to stick around for another year.
A strong number of key contributors did exactly that.
Many of these players, popularly known as "super seniors," will impact the 2021 campaign. We're highlighting 10 of the players most likely to influence the national conversation—not necessarily the 10 most talented super seniors.
The list considers a player's past production, his projected role in 2021 and the possibility that his team competes for a conference (or national) title.
Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati
Last season, Cincinnati allowed six yards per pass attempt, ranking fifth nationally. The Bearcats gave up seven touchdowns through the air compared to snatching 16 interceptions.
While safety James Wiggins headed for the NFL, the rest of the lockdown secondary stayed intact. That includes first-team All-AAC cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant—the latter of whom is coming back for a fifth season.
Bryant totaled team-high marks of four interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2020, adding 35 tackles. The upcoming season will be his fourth as a full-time starter.
Partially thanks to Bryant and this secondary, Cincinnati is the favorite to represent the Group of Five in a New Year's Six bowl.
James Skalski, LB, and Nolan Turner, S, Clemson
As the offseason began, Clemson expected to bring back the entire defense. Since then, linebacker Mike Jones Jr. has transferred to LSU, and the program dismissed cornerback Derion Kendrick.
It's not everyone, but it sure is close.
The extra year of eligibility will strengthen what would've been an excellent unit anyway. Along with linebacker Baylon Spector, Clemson returns middle linebacker James Skalski—who's responsible for relaying the calls from defensive coordinator Brent Venables—and All-ACC safety Nolan Turner.
Over the last two seasons, Skalski has collected 125 tackles with 10 for loss and five sacks. Turner has posted 102 stops, five interceptions and 10 pass breakups in that stretch.
Clemson's reign in the ACC likely won't end in 2021.
Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana
As the Hoosiers aim to crack the barrier of "legitimate Big Ten contender," the receiving corps will lean on Ty Fryfogle.
The wideout is a three-year contributor who enjoyed a breakout season in 2020. Fryfogle racked up 721 yards on 37 catches for an average of 19.5 per catch, which ranked third nationally among players with four-plus receptions per game and 19th overall.
Fryfogle assembled a stellar three-game stretch with 142 yards on Michigan, 200 against Michigan State and 218 at Ohio State with six touchdowns. That scorching run mostly ended because quarterback Michael Penix Jr. tore his right ACL.
As long as Penix recovers fully, he and Fryfogle give Indiana one of the best QB-WR combinations in the Big Ten.
Greg Eisworth II, S, Iowa State
Greg Eisworth II made it simple: He's returning for 2021 to improve his NFL draft perception.
"It was tough, a lot of it was back and forth," the safety said, per Michael Swain of 247Sports. "But it was really just getting some feedback from the NFL and making my decision based on that. A lot of it was just like size and speed, which last year with COVID and I was rehabbing from my shoulder injury, I didn't get an offseason to lift."
No matter the reason, Iowa State should be excited he's back.
Eisworth joined the Cyclones as a junior college transfer in 2018. He's landed three straight first-team All-Big 12 honors while collecting 199 tackles, three interceptions and 19 pass breakups.
Eisworth headlines a large group of key super seniors who return for title-chasing Iowa State. The others are offensive tackle Sean Foster, tight end Chase Allen, defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, linebacker Jake Hummel and kicker Connor Assalley.
Skylar Thompson, QB, Kansas State
Oklahoma has a Kansas State-sized thorn to navigate.
Despite winning the Big 12 in both 2019 and 2020, the Sooners lost to K-State during the regular season each year. Along with losing the turnover battle a combined 6-0, Oklahoma hasn't found an answer for Skylar Thompson. He's put up seven rushing scores on the Sooners in those two victories.
The disappointing part for K-State is Thompson (shoulder) only played three games in 2020. The offense imploded down the stretch, and the Wildcats—who went 8-5 with Thompson as the starter in 2019—trudged to a 4-6 finish.
Even if the Wildcats aren't a top-tier Big 12 contender, they can influence the league championship race if Thompson leads them to another upset or two.
Levi Lewis, QB, Louisiana
Cincinnati is the Group of Five favorite for a New Year's Six bowl, but the Ragin' Cajuns shouldn't be far behind.
Last year, Louisiana ripped off a 10-1 campaign that featured a 17-point victory over Big 12 runner-up Iowa State. The impressive year followed an 11-3 season in 2019. Louisiana secured a spot in the Sun Belt championship game in both years, and quarterback Levi Lewis deserves a hefty portion of the credit.
Over the last two seasons, he's thrown for 5,324 yards and 45 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Lewis has also scampered for 530 yards and eight scores, helping the Ragin' Cajuns end with top-35 rankings in both scoring offense and yards per play.
Louisiana, which opens the season at Texas, is the favorite in the Sun Belt's West Division because of Lewis' return.
D'Eriq King, QB, Miami
Whether you buy Miami as an ACC contender is worthy of debate, but D'Eriq King's impact is inarguable.
Against conference teams, the Hurricanes hadn't ranked higher than sixth in scoring offense since 2013. Last year, they finished third. One season after posting a miserable 27.2 third-down conversion rate, Miami jumped to 40.6 percent.
King—who transferred from Houston prior to the 2020 season—provided a much-needed mobile element for Miami's previously bland offense. While throwing for 2,686 yards and 23 touchdowns to five interceptions, King rushed for 538 yards and four scores. He guided the 'Canes to an 8-2 regular-season record.
The lingering concern is King tore his right ACL during the Cheez-It Bowl, though his recovery is on schedule. If he's healthy, Miami is a definite Coastal Division contender.
Miami returns two more super-senior starters with King: wide receiver Mike Harley and right tackle Jarrid Williams.
Thayer Munford, LT, and Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State
Even without Thayer Munford and Haskell Garrett, the Buckeyes wouldn't be starving for talent up front in 2021. However, their respective returns will stabilize the offensive and defensive lines.
Munford, a three-time All-Big Ten honoree, is entering his fourth year as the starting left tackle. The 6'6", 321-pounder had an excellent 2020 but decided to return, citing a desire to earn his degree—and a chance to bolster his NFL draft stock doesn't hurt.
Garrett tallied 20 stops with four tackles for loss and two sacks last season, and it's remarkable he even played. Last August, he was shot in the face while attempting to break up a fight.
As the Buckeyes turn to a new quarterback—likely C.J. Stroud—more returning experience will ease the transition.