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They’re the potential difference-makers. They’re the players on the top teams who have to come through – or will be counted on to come up with big seasons. If these ten players are bad at playing college football – or are just mediocre – the respective teams will have to scramble to come up with a Plan B. These are the ten key players to the 2015 college football season.
10. CB Torrance Mosley, Soph. TCU
Kevin White was one of the best all-around corners in the nation last season making 51 tackles with two picks and 11 broken up passes, but now he needs to be replaced. With Ranthony Texada a proven veteran corner on one side, but that means everyone will challenge Mosley on the other. The 5-10, 170-pound sophomore got in a little special teams work and finished with two tackles, but now the spotlight will be on right away.
– 2015 TCU Preview
9. LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State, Soph.
A superstar recruit, even by Ohio State’s standards, the Georgia native was plucked out of SEC country with the right size and the right hitting ability even as a true freshman. He saw a little bit of time, but now the spotlight is on to see if he can handle the full-time role in the middle. Darron Lee and Joshua Perry are tremendous outside linebackers, but if McMillan isn’t getting the job done, there could be some reworking in the corps. Don’t expect that to happen, though. McMillian will be fantastic.
– 2015 Ohio State Preview
8. S Orion Stewart, Jr. Baylor.
There’s talent in the defensive backfield, but it has to be tighter. The other issue is health with a slew of key parts missing this spring, including Stewart. He’s a decent all-around player and a good tackler, but now he needs to be a leader and star for a secondary that got ripped up for 264 yards per game, getting bombed on for 281 yards or more seven times in the final eight games. Stewart came up with 82 tackles and four picks, but he’ll have to be more of a force in the deep safety role.
– 2015 Baylor Preview
7. P Jake Hartbarger, RFr. Michigan State
The Spartans were spoiled by terrific punting over the last few seasons with Aaron Bates and then Mike Sadler bombing away for well over 40 yards per kick on a regular basis. However, the coverage team didn’t do enough to help last year allowing over ten yards per return. Hartbarger is a very big, strong kicker who hangs the ball up in the air for an hour, but he has to be consistent. More than anything else, he has to work well with others. You give this Spartan defense good field position, and there’s no worrying about giving up long drives.
– 2015 Michigan State Preview
6. WR Malcolm Mitchell, Sr. Georgia
The quarterback situation will work itself out. There are three decent options in Faton Bauta, Brice Ramsey, and to a lesser extent, Jacob Park – one of them will turn out to be great. Now they need someone to throw to. Mitchell hasn’t been able to stay in one piece over the last two years, but he needs to become a go-to target who can be relied on to come up with a few deep plays now and then. There’s a boatload of speed in the Georgia receiving corps, but the production has to follow.
– 2015 Georgia Preview
5. QB Joel Stave, Sr. Wisconsin
The receiving corps has to be better, but the talent just isn’t there. For whatever reason, Wisconsin just can’t seem to get top-shelf wide receivers over the last few seasons – Jared Abbrederis was a walk-on – and even with Alex Erickson returning, opposing defensive coordinators aren’t going to worry about the Badger targets. Stave doesn’t have to be Aaron Rodgers, but with his experience and his decent skills, his job will be to just not screw things up. The three interceptions against Northwestern were a killer, the three against Ohio State didn’t help, and the three against Auburn were a problem. He can’t have any more games like those.
– 2015 Wisconsin Preview
4. QB Josh Rosen, Fr. UCLA
The Bruins return 18 starters, and the coaching staff upgraded when Tom Bradley replaced Jeff Ulbrich at coordinator. The missing piece? A worthy successor to Brett Hundley at quarterback. And while Rosen is just a few months removed St. John Bosco (Calif.) High School, the superstar recruit holds the key to how high UCLA could elevate in 2015. He doesn’t have to be Hundley immediately, but he must manage the offense with limited mistakes while making defenses think twice about stacking the box to stop RB Paul Perkins.
– 2015 UCLA Preview
3. QB Vernon Adams, Sr. or Jeff Lockie, Jr. Oregon
Long before Mark Helfrich, or even Chip Kelly, Oregon was always a quarterback driven program. And while the winner of the race to replace Marcus Mariota won’t have to be Marcus Mariota, he will have to orchestrate the attack with pop and precision. If the quarterback in this system lacks confidence or consistency it’s going to limit the upside potential of the playmaking backs and receivers. And that would be a recipe for an overall slip in the rankings for the Ducks.
– 2015 Oregon Preview
2. QB Everett Golson, Sr. Florida State
Of all the tender spots on the Florida State two-deep, including both lines, none has the potential to be more painful than quarterback. The Seminoles won’t raise the bar at the position in 2015, even though Jameis Winston suffered through bouts of poor play last year. Exiting spring, Sean Maguire, Winston’s backup, held an edge over a group of young Noles. Maguire can wing it, but he needs to improve on his intermediate throws, particularly now that Everett Golson has transferred from Notre Dame. Golson is the instant favorite. Now it’s up to Golson to learn the offense and FSU’s personnel in a very short period of time – and to be the Everett Golson of a few years ago.
– 2015 Florida State Preview
1. QB Jake Coker. Sr. Alabama
The former Florida State transfer was supposed to be the star of the show last year until Blake Sims changed all of that. With his size, arm, and passing skills, it seems like a no-brainer that the heady 6-5, 230-pounder would slip into the job. However, several other quarterbacks are being given an equal shot – he’s hardly a given to take over. The problem is that there’s just no experience to count on, so if it’s not Coker come fall, the Tide offense is relying on a guess. In a perfect world, it’s an easy call late this summer and there’s no quarterback controversy to deal with throughout September.
– 2015 Alabama Preview