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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

12 breakout players of college football season so far

Kelly Bryant

Every year, college football produces its share of breakout players. These can be guys playing at smaller schools putting up big numbers, players who were in the shadow of elite teammates who have now gone to the NFL or graduated, or even guys who were already pretty well known but have taken an even bigger step forward to put themselves into elite company.

Here’s a look at 12 NCAA players who have really become breakout stars in 2017.

Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson

Bryant served two years as Deshaun Watson’s deputy at Clemson, but nobody could really be sure how he was going to cope with being the starting quarterback for the reigning national champions. So far, he has passed every test with flying colors. Though he has thrown for only two touchdowns in three games, he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and has proven to be a threat with his legs, racking up five touchdowns on the ground. He broke out with 342 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns against Louisville, going toe-to-toe with reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson on the road and coming out the victor.

Darren Andrews, WR, UCLA

It’s a pretty good gig to become one of Josh Rosen’s favorite targets, as Andrews is quickly finding out. The senior had some modest success in his first three seasons at UCLA, but he entered the 2017 season with five career touchdowns to his name. He’s surpassed that tally in 2017 alone. Only one player in the nation has more than Andrews’s 409 receiving yards so far in the season, and none have topped his total of six touchdown receptions. Rosen can feel good about throwing to him.

Joshua Jackson, DB, Iowa

Iowa’s secondary had questions entering the year, but Jackson, a wide receiver-turned-defensive back, has gone a long way toward soothing those concerns. Facing off against Wyoming’s Josh Allen, a highly-touted quarterback, Jackson had a great game, with five tackles and a key interception. It was his second pick in three games this season, and he has shown the skill and instincts to play the position well. There are probably more big plays in his future.

Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia

Kiser wasn’t exactly a secret — he had amassed over a hundred tackles in each of his previous two seasons for the Cavaliers — but he’s gone from highly-touted linebacker to genuine star in 2017. Beyond his usual pile of tackles — he has 36 in three games so far — he’s making big plays, with five sacks already. That is good for third in the nation, and he looks set to easily surpass his previous career high of 7.5 set in 2015. Kiser is, put simply, one of the nation’s elite defensive playmakers.

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Lots of eyes were on Love at the start of the season, as he was given the tall task of replacing Christian McCaffrey in the Stanford backfield. The junior has been up to the challenge and then some. He’s averaging a remarkable 12.2 yards per carry, and has tallied 524 rushing yards, both good for second in the nation. Love isn’t McCaffrey, and he doesn’t quite have the same receiving prowess that his predecessor did, but he’s a more than capable replacement.

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller’s ability to make big plays dates back to last season, but he’s really breaking into the national conscience now after a huge performance against UCLA. His nine catches, 185 yards, and two touchdowns were vital in the Tigers’ ability to pull off the upset. The big game was not a fluke; his 2016 season, in which he tallied 1,503 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns, is enough to prove that. The Memphis offense looks good, and you can bet that Miller will be a big part of its successes this season.

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