Best Individual Performances of the 2017-18 College Football Season

South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers almost single–handedly ended UCF's shot at an undefeated season

From Baker Mayfield's Heisman Trophy heroics, to Bryce Love ably taking the reins from a Stanford legend, the 2017-18 college football season featured a variety of memorable, individual performances.

 

Because every Saturday is filled with jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments, pinpointing only a handful of individual performances to spotlight is a risky endeavor. To narrow the field somewhat, the following touches on the regular season and conference championship games, with no bowl game or College Football Playoff performances included. Best believe that Sony Michel and Tua Tagovailoa would appear here otherwise.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Notre Dame RB Josh Adams at Boston College, Sept. 16 — 229 rushing yards on 18 attempts (12.7 ypc), long of 65

 

Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick at Texas A&M, Oct. 14 — five total tackles, two for a loss, fourth-quarter interception near the goal line

 

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. TCU, Nov. 11 — 18-for-27, 333 yards, three TDs; 50 rushing yards on 11 attempts

 

FAU RB Devin Singletary vs. Marshall, Nov. 3 — 283 rushing yards, TD on 28 carries (7.3 ypc), long of 66; 60-yard TD catch

 

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor at Nebraska, Oct. 7 — 249 rushing yards, 2 TDs on 25 carries (10.0 ypc), long of 75

 

Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch at Washington State, Sept. 9 — 16 total tackles (10 solo), two sacks

 

17. NC State DE Bradley Chubb at Boston College — Nov. 11 

NC State needed every big defensive play it could muster in a grind-it-out win over Boston College. Chubb, who would end up being an All-American, led the way with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss. He also racked up a season-best nine tackles and forced two fumbles.

 

16. Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith at Nebraska — Sept. 16

Northern Illinois' win at Nebraska was a major milestone for one of the decade's most consistent programs. Driving the Huskies to a 21-17 win was Smith, the nation's leader in sacks. He notched two of his 14 for the season against the Cornhuskers, while also tallying 3.5 tackles for a loss and a pass breakup.

 

15. Georgia LB Roquan Smith vs. Auburn — Dec. 2 (SEC Championship Game)

Likely the best linebacker in college football in 2017, Smith delivered arguably his best game on an important stage. In the SEC Championship Game rematch with an Auburn bunch that drilled the Bulldogs (40-17) just a few weeks earlier, Smith was the catalyst for a monumental turnaround.

 

He recorded a season-high 13 tackles with two tackles for a loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries.

 

14. UCF QB McKenzie Milton vs. South Florida — Nov. 24 

UCF and rival USF exchanged haymakers on par with Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago in the climatic finale of Rocky IV. The quarterback left standing was  Milton, who elevated the Knights to the American Athletic Conference Championship Game with four touchdown passes and a fifth score rushing. Milton also tallied more than 400 total yards.

 

13. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny at Arizona State — Sept. 9 

Penny should have been a Heisman finalist. This countdown illuminates why. In the first of two Aztec wins over Pac-12 competition, Penny (right) went off for 216 rushing yards on a 12-yard per carry clip. He ran for one touchdown, caught another, and took a kickoff 99 yards for his third score of the game.

 

This was hardly the last time Penny demonstrated his full repertoire of game-changing abilities, however.

 

12. Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell at NC State — Nov. 4

In a showdown of two of the nation's best defensive lines — and two of the best defensive linemen in the game — Ferrell cranked up the energy. He got into the NC State backfield for five tackles for a loss, made a sack, and tallied a season-high 12 tackles.

 

11. Oklahoma State WR James Washington vs. Baylor — Oct. 14

The dynamic play of Washington was a sight to behold all season, but he was never better than against Baylor. Washington averaged 39.2 yards per reception in a 59-16 rout, finishing with 235 yards and a touchdown.

 

10. Memphis WR Anthony Miller vs. UCF — Dec. 2 (AAC Championship Game)

Miller was not a Biletnikoff Award finalist. That is criminal. The Memphis wide receiver was one of the two or three most exciting playmakers at his position in all of college football, and the platform of the American Athletic Conference Championship Game exhibited that to a national audience.

 

Miller had one game that was better statistically — he racked up 224 receiving yards and four touchdowns in a drubbing of Connecticut — but his 195 yards and three scores in a shootout vs. undefeated UCF made for his best performance, given the stage and competition.

 

9. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny vs. Nevada — Nov. 18 

The 222 yards for which Penny ran for in a rout of Nevada were not his most over a five-game stretch in which he surpassed 200 yards. However, those 222 yards combined with a pair of kickoff returns that totaled 131 yards — including one for a touchdown.

 

8. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at Boston College — Oct. 14

Realistically, most of Jackson's 2017 could have made this countdown. The Louisville quarterback may not have had any one contest in the past season as memorable as his decimation of Florida State in 2016, or the record-setting showing he had at Syracuse on the way to the Heisman Trophy.
 
But in 2017, Jackson was more consistent, and the result was a slew of impressive, individual efforts. The loss at Boston College was a snapshot of Louisville's season, with Jackson providing heroics on offense — a season-high 180 rushing yards with three touchdowns and another two scores via the pass — but the Cardinals' defense struggling on the other end.

 

7. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett at Nebraska — Oct. 14

Ohio State's complete, 56-14 deconstruction of Nebraska — the Cornhuskers' worst home loss of the modern era, at least until facing Iowa in the regular-season finale — came largely through Barrett.

 

Barrett completed almost 82 percent of his passes, threw for five touchdowns, and ran in two more scores.

 

6. Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. Arizona State — Sept. 30

On his way to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Love put together one jaw-dropping performance after another. His masterpiece, however, came in the first month of the season.

 

Love roasted Arizona State for a 2017-best 301 yards. While his per carry output of 12.04 wasn't his highest — he actually had two games of greater YPC in the first month alone — adding three touchdowns to his triple-century mark made this Love's premier performance.

 

5. Iowa CB Josh Jackson vs. Ohio State — Nov. 4

Iowa football has had a knack for shaking up the national championship landscape. In 2017, the Hawkeyes' contribution came in perhaps the most surprising outcome of the season. Iowa's thorough deconstruction of eventual Big Ten and Cotton Bowl champion Ohio State fundamentally altered the College Football Playoff landscape, and Jackson (right) was front-and-center in the upset.

 

An all-America-caliber performer all season, Jackson was at his best against the Buckeyes with three interceptions. Three interceptions is a good year for most cornerbacks, say nothing of snagging that many against a conference championship-winning opponent.

 

4. Arizona QB Khalil Tate at Colorado — Oct. 7

College football has had a number of outstanding rushing quarterbacks in the last two decades or so. From Charlie Ward to Tommie Frazier, Tim Tebow to Cam Newton, all excelled carrying the ball — but none ever had a night quite like Tate's in Colorado this past October.

 

Tate ran for 327 yards in a 45-42 Wildcats win, setting a new record for rushing yards in a game among FBS quarterbacks. Remarkably, he did so without starting. Brandon Dawkins, who opened the game behind center, was removed following the first drive, on which he was tossed into the sideline on a late hit.

 

3. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley at Iowa — Sept. 23

Barkley dazzled in 2017 with all-around excellence. When rushing lanes were narrow, Barkley attacked opponents through the passing game. He also supplemented the offense with explosive special teams plays.

 

Penn State's thrilling, comeback win at Iowa was Barkley at his multifaceted best. He ran for 211 yards against a Hawkeye defense that allowed an average of 144 rushing yards per game, and he added 94 yards as a receiver on a game-high 12 catches. He also had 53 yards on three kickoff returns.

 

2. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma State — Nov. 4

Mayfield's Heisman Trophy highlight reel could have been made up exclusively from clips of his performance in Bedlam. Mayfield tore up the Sooners' in-state rivals to the tune of 598 passing yards with five touchdowns. His scores of 43 and 77 yards in the third and fourth quarters effectively put Oklahoma State away in a pivotal win for the eventual Big 12 champs.

 

1. South Florida QB Quinton Flowers at UCF — Nov. 24

Fitting that the best game of 2017 also featured the best individual performance of the season. Though USF lost a heartbreaker to rival UCF — which doubled as a de facto American Athletic Conference East Division championship game — Flowers put on a show for the ages.

 

Flowers accounted for 605 yards — 605! — with 503 through the air, and 102 on the ground. He was responsible for five total touchdowns, four of those coming through the air, including an 83-yard strike with a little more than a minute remaining that almost sent the War on I-4 to overtime.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Event Date: 
Monday, January 15, 2018 - 12:25

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