Each top 25 college football team’s most important player
13) Stanford — Bryce Love, RB
It’s not often that you can replace one superstar back with another, but when Christian McCaffrey left Stanford, the Cardinal turned right to Love and picked up where he left off. They promptly got over 2,000 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns, despite battling an ankle injury most of the season. Love passed on the NFL to return for his senior season and will be the most important part of the Cardinal offense again.
14) Michigan — Shea Patterson, QB
Jim Harbaugh has had some good teams at Michigan, but he’s never appeared in a Big Ten title game, much less won one or gotten to the College Football Playoff. A big reason for that is his quarterback play has never been good enough. Patterson, an Ole Miss transfer, could change that. Fresh off a 2,000-yard season, Michigan has weapons for Patterson to use provided he wins the starting job. He could be the guy who gets them over the hump.
15) USC — Porter Gustin, LB
True freshman JT Daniels has been named the Trojans’ starting quarterback. There’s only so much that can be expected out of a true freshman, so the USC defense will have to be ready to deliver each week to back up the offense. That is where Gustin comes in. The linebacker looked to be on the brink of a breakout season, but a knee injury derailed that. In his first two years, he combined for 11 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. If healthy, he could break out as a top linebacker in the Pac-12 and allow the offense a chance to find their footing.
16) TCU — Shawn Robinson, QB
Not exceptionally impressive in one outing last year, Robinson is now going to be the man for the Horned Frogs. The sophomore is mobile and skilled, and if the former four-star recruit can live up to that hype, TCU is looking at possible contention in the Big 12. His play is their biggest question mark.
17) Virginia Tech — Josh Jackson, QB
A good dual-threat quarterback with a year of experience under his belt, Jackson has a tough task with an inexperienced Virginia Tech team. His numbers were good in 2017, with 2,991 yards and 20 touchdown passes to his name. He has competition behind him, but there’s room for him to grow and lead the Hokie offense.
18) Mississippi State — Jeffery Simmons, DL
The Bulldogs have a sneaky good defense led by Simmons, a disruptive force on the defensive line once known for an infamous video. He could be poised to become a household name this season if he can improve upon last year’s numbers. As a sophomore, he collected five sacks and twelve tackles for a loss. The junior could do even better on what will be a very good Mississippi State defensive line.
19) Florida State — Deondre Francois, QB
Francois is going to have to fend off a challenge from last year’s starter James Blackman, but he might have the inside track after a very accomplished freshman season two years ago. Francois threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns, adding five more on the ground. After a season-ending injury in Florida State’s opener last year, he will come into the season with a lot to prove and a lot of young weapons around him.
20) West Virginia — Will Grier, QB
The former Florida quarterback is entering his second year with West Virginia, and the fact of the matter is he’s going to put up huge numbers. Last year he nearly hit 3,500 yards and threw for 34 touchdowns. This season, he’s being mentioned as a Heisman candidate and one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He can really take the Mountaineers places.
21) Texas — Sam Ehlinger, QB
Ehlinger, who looked better late in the 2017 season, was able to hold off Shane Buechele for the starting quarterback job. Now that the battle is over, the scrutiny can begin for a quarterback that will lead what was an unimpressive offense last season. Ehlinger threw too many interceptions, but came close to 2,000 yards in nine games of action and showed the ability to make big plays. If he can really grab hold of the job, the Texas offense could lift off and win ten games.
22) Boise State — Brett Rypien, QB
The nephew of former Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, this senior quarterback figures to have a huge season. He’s going to be a four-year starter on a quality team, and it would not be a surprise to see him rebound after a down year statistically and hit 3,000 yards and 20-plus touchdowns once again. The offense actually has room to grow — 32 points per game qualifies as a down year in Boise State — but Rypien is talented enough to elevate them.
23) UCF — McKenzie Milton, QB
One of the country’s finest dual-threat quarterbacks, new coach Josh Heupel is sure to build around Milton and hope he can help account for some of UCF’s defensive losses. Milton threw for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, plus 613 yards and another eight touchdowns via the ground game. He was the best Group of Five quarterback last year and should maintain that status yet again.
24) LSU — Nick Brossette, RB
LSU’s tradition of running backs heads for a new era again. After a couple years of Leonard Fournette and more recently Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, the spotlight falls on Brossette, a former four-star recruit who will finally get an opportunity after the logjam in front of him cleared. He only has 46 career carries for 306 yards, and is still in search of his first career touchdown. His ability to break down will dictate a lot about the Tiger offense.
25) Oklahoma State — Justice Hill, RB
With major turnover at quarterback and wide receiver, Hill is the steady returning option for the Oklahoma State offense. With 1,657 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns last season, he has the experience to put up big numbers. Finding a rapport with his new quarterback will be important, but he should be able to run productively no matter what.