COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF | Top 10 players who will be household names
With three days until kickoff, we at ASN have created a list of the “Top 10 Players Who Will Be Household Names” for you, the fans.
These are players flying under the radar in FBS and FCS who are poised for breakout or breakthrough seasons.
Let's take a look at the players we predict you'll know by name before the season is over.
QB GREG WARD JR. | HOUSTON
The dual-threat quarterback led Houston to a 13-1 record and the first American Athletic Conference championship last season. The Cougars earned the Group of 5's spot in the New Year's Six, beating Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl. How much farther can they go in Ward's senior season? With 10 other starters returning, that will be worth watching.
• Key stat: Ward and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson were the only players in the nation last season with 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing.
• Bottom line: It's a longshot, but Ward could become the first player from a conference outside the Power 5 to win the Heisman Trophy since BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. He's at least in the Heisman conversation — if he can avoid the Sports Illustrated cover jinx (right).
• Watch him on ASN: Noon Sept. 10 vs. Lamar.
WR COREY DAVIS | WESTERN MICHIGAN
Zach Terrell's primary target might be the best wide receiver in college football. Davis enters his senior season as the active leader in FBS with 3,785 career receiving yards. He's also fourth all-time in the MAC and only 400 yards behind Jordan White's MAC career record of 4,187.
• Key stats: The 6-3 Davis made 90 receptions for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He is the No. 2-ranked wide receiver for the 2017 NFL Draft and could join Greg Jennings as WMU receiving greats in the NFL.
• Bottom line: The Broncos are the preseason pick to win it all in the MAC. With Davis, Terrell, sophomore running back Jamauri Bogan (1,051 yards, 16 TDs) and junior wide receiver Jarvion Franklin (735 yards, 5 TDs), they will be tough to beat and fun to watch.
• Watch him on ASN: 3:30 p.m. Nov. 19 vs. Buffalo.
RB LARRY ROSE III | NEW MEXICO STATE
The best running back you never heard of made the 40-player watch list for the Walter Camp Award as National Player of the Year despite playing for a losing team. He set the Aggies' single-season rushing record in Week 10 last season. He became the first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher for the Aggies since Denvis Manns in 1995-98.
• Key stats: Rose led the Sun Belt as a sophomore last season with 1,651 rushing yards on 240 carries and was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year.
• Bottom line: New Mexico State finished 3-9 last season and was ninth out of 11 teams in the Sun Belt's preseason poll. But Rose is reason enough to watch the Aggies.
• Watch him on ASN: TBD.
QB BRENT STOCKTILL AND WR RICHIE JAMES |
Stockstill might not be the biggest name in his own household because father Rick is Middle Tennessee's head coach. But he's gaining fast. Brent was was Conference USA Freshman of the Year last season, setting a league record for passing yards by a rookie (4,005). James, meanwhile, was a first-team Freshman All-American after piling up 1,346 yards on a school-record 108 receptions.
• Key stats: Stockstill led the nation’s freshmen in yards and TD passes (30) while James was the second player in school history with 1,000 receiving yards
• Bottom line: Southern Miss and quarterback Nick Mullens have been getting most of C-USA's preseason headlines. But don't overlook the Raiders with their dynamic duo. They're the preseason pick to win C-USA's East Division and could face Mullens & Co. in the conference championship game.
• Watch them on ASN: Noon Sept. 17 vs. Bowling Green, 7 p.m. Sept. 24 vs. Louisiana Tech and 7 p.m. Nov. 12 vs. Marshall.
QB BRETT RYPIEN | BOISE STATE
He's a nephew of Mark Rypien, MVP of the Washington Redskins' 37-24 victory against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. And like his uncle, Brett was a bit of a late bloomer. He didn't debut until Week 3 but finished as the Mountain West Freshman of the Year. He threw 20 touchdowns and completed 63.6% of his passes.
• Key stats: Rypien played only 10 games but led the Mountain West in passing yards (3,353), total offense (3,276 yards), completions (273) and attempts (429).
• Bottom line: The Broncos, the preseason pick to win the MWC Mountain Division, finished strong with a 55-7 victory against Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. They will ride that momentum and Rypien's right arm this season.
• Watch him on ASN: Noon Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana.
RB COREY AVERY | SAM HOUSTON STATE
The FCS is loaded at running back this season with William & Mary's Kendell Anderson, Fordham's Chase Edmonds, Lamar's Kade Harrington and The Citadel's Tyler Renew, among others. Don't overlook Avery, the No. 7 leading rusher in FCS last season after transferring from Kansas.
• Key stats: He was the Southland's No. 2 rusher to Harrington as a sophomore last season. He finished with 1,483 yards rushing — third most in school single-season history — as the Bearkats reached the FCS semifinals.
• Bottom line: The Bearkats are No. 2 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 and the pick to win the Southland. Avery will give Harrington a run for the Southland rushing title and help the Bearkats make a run at the FCS championship.
• Watch him on ASN: TBD
QB KYLE LAULETTA | RICHMOND
Lauletta emerged to lead Richmond to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs last season as a redshirt sophomore. He was No. 2 in FCS passing yards (3,598) and looks for more with top wide receiver Brian Brown (76 catches, 1,450 yards) returning.
• Key stat: Lauletta, CAA Football’s top returning passer, accounted for 26 touchdowns last season, including 19 passing.
• Bottom line: Richmond, the preseason pick to win CAA Football, opens the season No. 4 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 poll. Lauletta & Co. are aiming to finish No. 1.
• Watch him on ASN: Noon Sept. 17 vs. Stony Brook and TBD.
WR JUSTIN WATSON | PENN
Watson made the STATS Offensive Player of the Year watch list and three preseason All-American teams after leading the Ivy League in receiving. He made 74 catches for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a sophomore. He and quarterback Alek Torgersen, the Ivy League’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, give Penn a potent passing attack.
• Key stats: Watson finished with 1,236 all-purpose yards and ranked fifth in FCS in receptions and receiving yards per game (108.2).
• Bottom line: Penn was second to Harvard in the Ivy League's preseason poll, but the Quakers received for first-place votes. They're positioned to be the Ivy's next champion up, especially if Watson improves on last season. "The amazing thing," head coach Ray Priore said last month, "he didn’t take one snap in spring practice in 2015. This is his first full year to train."
• Watch him on ASN: Noon Nov. 5 vs. Princeton.
TB DETREZ NEWSOME | WESTERN CAROLINA
The Southern Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year was the league's only running back to average 100 yards rushing per game last season (190 carries for 1,109 yards, 100.8 ypg). He was also selected to the preseason watch list for the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Performer of the Year Award.
• Key stat: The multi-purpose back averaged a conference-leading 161.7 total yards per game as a sophomore last season.
• Bottom line: After consecutive seven-win seasons, Western Carolina could be ready to compete for the conference championship. Newsome will put the Catamounts in the running with preseason favorites Chattanooga and The Citadel.
• Watch him on ASN: 7 p.m. Oct. 8 vs. Wofford and 7 p.m. Oct. 22 vs. Samford.
Contributing: Doug Chapman
(All times Eastern)
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OK, fans, now it's your turn to be heard.
Above: Who is that facemasked man? New Mexico State's Larry Rose III, who might be the best running back you never heard of. (Courtesy NMSU Athletics)