Now that we’ve looked at who might be leaving the collegiate ranks early, it's time to take a gander at some guys who could step in and make a splash next season
It’s important to note that this list is a start, and is based upon assumptions made in our early entry piece. Between now and next August, opportunities to emerge will come and go for countless players, so let this be a starting point as we turn the page on the 2009 season, and look towards 2010. And one more caveat; I’ve omitted some of the obvious choices such as John Brantley of Florida and Zach Collaros of Cincinnati. Both will be taking over the reigns at their respective schools next fall and each will be high round draft picks.
Rodney Scott, Jessie Grandy, Raymond Cotton/Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss - The Rebels figure to be one team looking to replace a plethora of offensive output, especially if Jevan Snead leaves. While they aren’t short on RB options, Rodney Scott offers the best combo of speed and between the tackles running. WR Jessie Grandy may need a little more time, but his speed could make fans forget about Dexter McCluster sooner than later. And under center, Raymond Cotton is the dual-threat brought in to be the future. But don’t ignore Nathan Stanley, he is a big pocket passer who should succeed if he wins the job.
Bryn Renner, QB, UNC - Let’s face it, T.J. Yates is an average quarterback in the ACC, which makes him a lower tiered QB overall. If Butch Davis wants to take the Heels to the next level, Renner is his means. Their young wide receivers didn’t explode this season, but let's just blame Yates as much as the pass catchers’ inexperience. I think they’ll grow collectively with Renner, making Joshua Adams, Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith names to consider when a change under center comes.
Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas – Gilbert has seen nothing but mop up duty in his first year at Texas. But Mack Brown obviously feels strongly enough about him to burn his redshirt and give him some reps. He’s the the odds on favorite to win the starting job next fall. And while Jordan Shipley departs, James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams and Dan Buckner all return.
Peter Lalich, QB, Oregon State – Maybe I’m reaching here, but Lalich was a one-time star recruit, and you could probably make the argument that his demise in Charlottesville led to Al Groh’s fate. Sean Canfield graduates and Lyle Moevao is praying for another year of eligibility, so Lalich seems to be the only quarterback standing. And with the Brothers Rodgers taking the heat off of him, he can grow into a solid option pretty quickly.
Eugene Smith, QB, West Virginia - Anyone who drafted him this past season (like this author) will be happy to see Jarrett Brown depart Morgantown. It’s a shame Mr. Brown only got one season as a starter, but it’s equally a shame Smith had to play a little this season. This guy might be one of the best dual threat options in college next season.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State - See box score against Colorado, multiply to stretch over entire season, subtract minor growing pains. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Tyrik Rollison, QB, Auburn - Spread offense, check. Super athletic dual threat quarterback, well, we’ll have to wait and see to be sure, but for now, check. Rollison briefly competed to start in 2009, but figures to be ready to take over the Tiger offense in 2010. Mix in a few random games against inferior 1AA opponents that the SEC seems so good at scheduling, and you have quite the option.
Chris Relf, QB, Mississippi State - Dan Mullen slowly weaved Relf into the offense this season and then unleashed him against Ole Miss last Saturday. Relf is the perfect fit for Mullen's offense and if last week is any indication, Relf along with wide receiver Chad Bumphis, are going to do some damage next season.
Kendrick Hardy, RB, Southern Miss - The Eagles lose their top two running backs, and Hardy enjoyed their tutelage while redshirting this season. It won’t matter who is playing quarterback, as long as DeAndre Brown is stretching the field, Hardy will see plenty of room to run underneath.
J.J. Di Luigi, RB, BYU - One of my editor’s favorite picks, this makes a lot of sense. Max Hall is leaving Provo, Dennis Pitta is departing, so let's assume Harvey Unga follows suit. That leaves unproven players at all skill positions, and in order to breed a quarterback, I say hand it off. Di Luigi has the chance to be the Cougars offensive focal point.
Cory Sykes, RB, Ball State - My latest blurb on Sykes shows my affinity for the little guy. Thanks to a few Tuesday night games while my wife watches the “new” 90210, I’ve caught Sykes' speed on the laptop via Slingbox (greatest invention ever!) Sykes is fast, can get the corner, and plays in a conference where no one cares about defense. I expect Ball State to show a fair amount of improvement next season, and Sykes should be big part of that growth.
Brice Butler, WR, Southern Cal - His 6-96-1 evening against Stanford is a clear sign of things to come. The Trojans figure to lose their top wide receiver in Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson never seems healthy, yet they return a rising sophomore quarterback. Barkley will improve tremendously, and Butler will emerge as a top receiving threat in LA. Book it.
Bryce McNeal, WR, Clemson - Most everyone knows that while the Tigers will be looking to replace a star running back next year, and their options there seem a little more obvious (Andre Ellington, Jamie Harper.) But don’t forget about Jacoby Ford departing the Palmetto State as well. McNeal redshirted this season to gain weight. Assuming he doesn’t sacrifice speed, he figures to be the next good-to-great receiver to come out of Clemson.
John Goodman, WR, Notre Dame - This may be a bit of a stretch, but since I’ve got so many disclaimers to open the article, why not take a stab at something? I think a few things happen in South Bend this off season. 1) New Coach, who is known to run a spread offense. 2) Players leave early, namely a quarterback and a wide receiver. 3) Others transfer, perhaps at the wide receiver position (no, not Michael Floyd, but maybe someone who has the same name as a Cleveland Cavaliers center.) Even if you only assume #2 is correct, that leaves the Irish with one scholarship quarterback who is coming off of knee surgery. Goodman has dabbled in some Wildcat formations this season, and I think said new coach will find ways to make this guy his new toy on offense.
Blake Ayles, TE, Southern Cal - Gotta have one tight end in here…and this is based on personal hope as much as anything else. I’ve waited patiently for two seasons now for Ayles to be USC’s next great TE. If he can manage to stay healthy, it is very easy to see him becoming Matt Barkley’s safety net. Watch him this spring. If there is any hint of an injury, cross him off your list for good. If not, start moving him up your lists rapidly.
Others to monitor:
QB – Tyler Russell, Cotton Turner, Tino Sunseri, Kale Pick, Garrett Gilbert, Kevin Newsome, Robert Marve and Dayne Crist
RB – Lamar Miller, Payten Jason, Marc Tyler, Damien Thigpen, Tyler Gaffney, Dexter Pratt, Montee Ball, Anthony Allen and Jermie Calhoun
WR – Gerell Robinson, Tyrece Gaines, DeAngelo Benton and lots and lots of MAC wideouts, more to come on this during the offseason!
In reading through this, hopefully a few conclusions arise.
1) I expect lots of new faces in college football next season. We have been spoiled in recent years with numerous outstanding quarterbacks, game breaking running backs and wide receivers, and in large part, they’ve remained in school. For those, their time is up, and for the others, they won’t follow their predecessors and are gone a little sooner than anticipated. Either way, playing time for newbies!
2) It’s much easier to find quarterbacks and running backs who are primed for impact. Wide receivers simply aren’t as easy to project stardom upon. That’s why this is November, and we have until July to rank the breakout wideouts!
Check back soon. Only a week left before the season officially ends, coaches will be canned, players come and players go. If you’ve planned appropriately, all of those events are good news!