12 breakout players of college football season so far
Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss
The Rebels may have a deeply flawed team, but they know they have a quarterback they can build around in Patterson. He’s just two yards shy of NCAA leader Josh Rosen in the passing yardage department with 1,281, and his 489 yards through the air set a new school record in the team’s Week 2 win over UT-Martin. He’s still learning what he can get away with and what he can’t — he has four interceptions in three games, including three alone in a loss to Cal — but he also has 11 touchdowns and a huge arm. Big things look to be in his future, and he’s already putting up gaudy numbers now.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
The unheralded Penny is the nation’s rushing leader and a focal point of the San Diego State team that has pushed its way into the top 25. The junior was a solid enough running back in 2016, racking up over 1,000 yards in 14 games in 2016, but he’s already over halfway to matching that total through just three games this year. He only has four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry and pacing the offense. He can be a threat receiving, too, having picked up 69 yards and a touchdown so far as well.
Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Pettis had to stand in the shadow of John Ross for the Huskies last season, but that isn’t the case anymore, and he’s embracing his status as Washington’s star playmaker. He had 15 receiving touchdowns last year and is on a similar pace in 2017, picking up three in three games while averaging 17.4 yards per reception. He’s just as explosive, if not moreso, on special teams. The senior has a remarkable three punt return touchdowns in three games, bringing his career tally to eight. That ties him with Antonio Perkins and Wes Welker for the all-time career NCAA record, and it’s probably only a matter of time before he claims that mark for himself.
Cam Phillips, WR, Virginia Tech
The country’s leading receiver by yardage has really stepped it up in 2017. After a solid year in 2016, with 983 yards and five touchdowns, Phillips looks set to obliterate those career bests. He’s already matched the touchdown mark with five in three games, tying him for second in the nation. He’s averaging a career-best 15.4 yards per catch, with a pair of 100-yard receiving games so far. That includes a mammoth performance against East Carolina, where he caught 14 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Forget the quality of competition — those are amazing, amazing numbers, and it’s games like that which demonstrate that Phillips has become one of the country’s elite playmakers.
Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
Phillips introduced himself to the nation against USC with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. He promptly followed it up by doing the exact same thing one week later against Michigan State. He had interceptions in both games, and added a strip fumble that he recovered and returned 67 yards for another touchdown against the Spartans. The cornerback may be playing for a smaller school, but he has demonstrated his skills against power conference opposition. Everybody knows that they have to gameplan against him now.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
To be fair, Rudolph was hardly a no-name player entering the season, with the Cowboys hoping to push a dark horse Heisman candidacy for him. Plus, we knew he could do some wild football tricks on a jet ski. Still, he was absent from the preseason All-American teams and was generally left in a tier below the likes of USC’s Sam Darnold and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as far as college quarterbacks went. Not anymore. Rudolph has thrown for 1,135 yards and 11 touchdowns, has completed over 72 percent of his pass attempts, and has established himself on NFL draft boards everywhere. At this rate, he stands a good chance of outdoing the 28-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio he put up in 2016. Frankly, an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony may well be in his future.