Which players can use their bowl performance to break out in 2021?
Just one game remains in the 2020-21 college football season, as the bowl slate wrapped up on Saturday, Jan. 2. It’s hard to read too much into bowl games due to opt outs and the unusual nature of the 2020 season. However, several players had big performances that could carry into the ’21 campaign. The definition of breakout players can vary from analysts and fanbases across the college football spectrum. However, these 15 players are worth watching on a national level, as they look to take their game to another level next fall.
Which 15 players bowl performances could spell big things in 2021? Here are some names to watch:
College Football: 15 Players With Big Bowl Games Who Could Break Out in 2021
Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
The Aggies should have one of the deepest backfields in college football next season. In addition to Isaiah Spiller and all-purpose weapon Ainias Smith, coach Jimbo Fisher has another option in Achane. The freshman ran for 140 yards and two scores over 12 attempts versus North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. Achane ran for 65 yards on 13 carries versus South Carolina, 99 against Auburn on nine attempts and finished the year with 364.
Adam Anderson, LB, Georgia
Azeez Ojulari (three sacks) had a huge performance in the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati, but he’s headed to the NFL, which opens more snaps off the edge for Anderson and Nolan Smith in 2021. Anderson flashed potential this year by registering two sacks and a forced fumble versus the Bearcats and recording two sacks against Auburn in early October. He could be the Bulldogs’ top pass rusher next fall.
Khafre Brown/Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
Sam Howell is going to need more playmakers to emerge next season. With the Tar Heels dealing with opt outs at running back and receiver in the Orange Bowl, Downs stepped up with four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns, while Brown grabbed two receptions for 40 yards. Both players should be more involved in 2021.
JT Daniels, QB, Georgia
Georgia’s offense found another level late in the season when Daniels emerged as the starting quarterback. That momentum carried over into the bowl, as the USC transfer threw for 392 yards and a touchdown on 26 completions against one of the nation’s top defenses. Daniels should be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in 2021.
Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Davis didn’t get enough respect for his regular season play, but he made sure the rest of the SEC was on notice with a strong performance in the Gator Bowl. The Georgia native recorded 13 tackles and one interception in the Wildcats’ 23-21 win.
Nathaniel Dell, WR, Houston
With Marquez Stevenson off to the NFL and Keith Corbin leaving as a graduate transfer, Dell should be able to build off a promising debut in Houston. The junior college recruit caught 29 passes for 428 yards and three scores this year, including his first 100-yard game (112 on six catches) in the New Mexico Bowl against Hawaii.
Jo'quavious Marks, RB, Mississippi State
Marks quietly had a nice freshman season and should be part of a solid core of talent Mike Leach is assembling in Starkville. Marks ran for 72 yards and a score and caught four balls for 30 yards in Mississippi State’s bowl win over Tulsa. The freshman finished 2020 with 580 total yards.
Seth McGowan, RB, Oklahoma
McGowan’s role for 2021 will be shaped by Rhamondre Stevenson’s decision to go to the NFL or return, along with Kennedy Brooks coming back after opting out in ’20. However, as evident throughout the year and in the Cotton Bowl, coach Lincoln Riley needs to get McGowan involved. The freshman had four touches (one rush and three catches) and accounted for 143 yards versus the Gators.
Brennan Presley, WR, Oklahoma State
With Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner off to the NFL, Oklahoma State will need more targets to emerge for quarterback Spencer Sanders in 2020. Presley stepped up with six catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns in the Cheez-It Bowl victory over Miami and figures to be more involved in the passing game in ’21.
Otis Reese, S, Ole Miss
Reese received a waiver to play in the 2020 season in November, so his opportunities to receive snaps this fall were limited. However, the bowl provided a glimpse of his potential in Oxford. The Georgia transfer recorded nine tackles and one interception versus Indiana.
Jaquarii Roberson, WR, Wake Forest
Roberson entered his junior year with just 13 career receptions. However, the North Carolina native emerged as the favorite target for quarterback Sam Hartman, collecting 62 receptions for 926 yards and eight scores. The Duke’s Mayo Bowl provided Roberson a showcase opportunity against a good defense, and he responded with eight receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Robinson gashed Colorado for 183 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries and caught two passes for two scores in Texas’ 55-23 win in the Alamo Bowl. The performance capped a strong stretch for Robinson, which included 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State on Dec. 5 and 113 against West Virginia on Nov. 7. Look for new coach Steve Sarkisian to get Robinson more involved after the true freshman had only 86 carries in 2020.
Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin
Sanborn made third-team All-Big Ten honors, but the bowl served notice he should be in for even better things in 2021. He recorded 11 stops (two for a loss) and one interception in the win over Wake Forest.
Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
Sewell is a rising star and on track to become one of the Pac-12’s top linebackers in 2021. He was all over the field in the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State, finishing second on the team with seven tackles (1.5 for a loss).
Cole Turner, TE, Nevada
Nevada and Mountain West fans know all about Turner. However, the Oregon native didn’t get much national recognition as one of the key cogs in the Wolf Pack’s high-powered passing game. Turner closed out the year by catching five passes for 60 yards and two touchdowns against Tulane, giving him 49 receptions for 605 yards and nine scores for the year. Turner should be among the top tight ends in college football for 2021.
(Bijan Robinson photo courtesy of @TexasFootball)