Examining which players had a breakout September
The first month of the 2018 college football season is in the books. With the arrival of October, and the upcoming Week 6 action, it’s time to take a look back at September and identify 25 breakout players from the first month of the season. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins lead the way in breakout candidates on offense, while Colorado’s Nate Landman and Miami’s Gerald Willis headline the candidates on defense. With the halfway point of the season just around the corner, many of the names on this list are likely to be in the mix for all-conference or All-America honors at the end of the season.
Which players had a breakout September? Here are 25 players Athlon Sports has identified:
25 College Football Breakout Players from September
Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Benjamin is coming off a monster performance (312 rushing yards and three scores) against Oregon State, giving him 595 yards and five rushing touchdowns through five contests in 2018. The sophomore has three 100-yard efforts so far, including a 104-yard performance against Washington in Week 4. Benjamin also has 21 receptions for 154 yards and two scores.
Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
Cisco has been an impact freshman addition to Syracuse’s defense this year. He leads all ACC defenders with four interceptions, has defended seven passes and recorded 15 tackles through five contests.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Etienne had a standout freshman campaign in 2017, but he’s been even better so far as a sophomore this fall. Through five contests, Etienne leads Clemson’s offense with 594 rushing yards and has scored eight times on the ground. He’s also averaging 8.1 yards per carry and enters Week 6 with three consecutive 100-yard performances.
K.J. Hamler, WR, Penn State
The Nittany Lions had to restock the receiver position this offseason, and Hamler has emerged as one of quarterback Trace McSorley’s top targets through five contests. The redshirt freshman has 13 catches for 308 yards and four scores, recorded a rushing touchdown against Pitt and has been a key weapon on special teams.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia
Hardman has been a threat to score every time he touches the ball for coach Kirby Smart this season. The junior has 18 catches for 290 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 29.5 yards (with one score) on punt returns.
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Haskins inherited big shoes to fill in replacing J.T. Barrett, and the sophomore has quickly emerged as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Through five games, Haskins is completing 70.8 percent of his passes for 1,464 yards and 19 touchdowns to just two picks. He also recorded a rushing touchdown against TCU.
Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
Jefferson opened the year as Oregon State’s No. 2 running back, but an injury to Artavis Pierce pushed him into the starting role. And through five games, the freshman quietly ranks second nationally with 727 rushing yards (6.9 per carry) and has added eight scores on the ground. Jefferson has two 200-yard performances and has chipped in nine catches in 2018.
Nate Landman, LB, Colorado
Landman’s emergence has been a big reason why Colorado is only giving up 4.8 yards per play through four contests this season. After recording 14 stops as a freshman last fall, Landman has developed into one of the Pac-12’s top linebackers. He’s generated 43 tackles (7.0 for a loss), one sack and a forced fumble in 2018.
Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
After catching 37 passes for 610 yards and eight touchdowns last year, Lipscomb has nearly exceeded all of those totals through five games in 2018. The junior has emerged as one of the top receivers in the SEC, grabbing 43 receptions for 480 yards and six scores so far this year. Lipscomb leads all receivers in the conference in receptions and receiving yards and is tied with Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy with six touchdown catches.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
The return of the run-and-shoot offense has transformed Hawaii into the Mountain West’s most improved team for 2018. McDonald is the catalyst for coach Nick Rolovich’s passing game, throwing for 24 touchdowns to just two picks over 156 completions. McDonald’s 2,100 passing yards are the most by any quarterback at the FBS level going into Week 6.
Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
Mond has made big strides under new coach Jimbo Fisher. The sophomore has raised his completion percentage from 51.5 last year to 60.1 through five games in 2018. He’s also passed for 1,221 yards and seven scores and added 215 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Moore was a big-time pickup on the recruiting trail for coach Jeff Brohm for Purdue’s 2018 signing class. Needless to say, it hasn’t taken long for the true freshman to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers. Moore leads the Boilermakers with 41 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns, has rushed for 136 yards and a score and added 302 return yards.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield is starting for the Cleveland Browns, but Oklahoma’s offense continues to thrive under Murray’s direction. In his first (and only) year as the starter for the Sooners, the junior has passed for 1,469 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two picks. Murray has accumulated 276 yards and four rushing scores through five games. The sophomore averages 13.5 yards per pass attempt, which is the most among quarterbacks this season.
Scottie Phillips, RB, Ole Miss
Phillips was a key junior college pickup for coach Matt Luke in the 2018 signing class and has led the way for the Rebels’ ground game this fall. Through five contests, Phillips ranks third in the SEC with 563 yards and has scored six times on 78 carries. The junior is averaging 7.2 yards an attempt and has rushed for 100 yards in three contests.
Jayden Reed, WR, Western Michigan
Reed’s career in Kalamazoo is off to a fast start. The true freshman leads all Western Michigan receivers with 26 catches and ranks second on the team with 397 yards. Reed’s six receiving touchdowns is tied for the most among MAC receivers through September.
Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State
Saquon Barkley was a big loss for Penn State’s offense, but the ground game hasn’t missed a beat in Happy Valley. That’s due to Sanders moving into the No. 1 role and an improving offensive line for coach James Franklin. Sanders has rushed for 538 yards and six touchdowns through five games and posted 200 yards in the Nittany Lions’ win over Illinois.
Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon
Sewell emerged as one of the nation’s top true freshmen performers in September. He started all five games for the Ducks at left tackle, helping Oregon’s offense average 45.6 points a game.
Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
Shenault has been an electric playmaker for coach Mike MacIntyre in 2018. He’s grabbed 38 receptions for 581 yards and four touchdowns and has seen a handful of snaps as a wildcat quarterback. Shenault’s four catches of 40 yards or more are the most by any Pac-12 player going into Week 6.
Marcus Simms, WR, West Virginia
West Virginia’s receiving corps was already one of the best in college football headed into the 2018 season, and this unit is only getting deeper thanks to the continued development of Simms. The junior leads the team with 24 receptions and 433 receiving yards, while averaging a healthy 18.04 yards per catch.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Tagovailoa was Athlon’s preseason pick to win the Heisman Trophy, and the sophomore is certainly living up to the hype in 2018. Tagovailoa has yet to play a snap in the fourth quarter of a game but still has 1,161 passing yards and 14 touchdowns to zero picks so far. The Hawaii native is completing 75 percent of his passes and has two rushing scores.
Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
In his first full year as a starter, Thompson has quickly emerged as one of the top safeties in college football. The junior leads the Alabama defense with 26 tackles (1.5 for a loss) and has recorded four pass breakups and two interceptions.
Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
James Washington departed Stillwater for the NFL, but as expected, Oklahoma State has its next star receiver already in place. Wallace has emerged as the go-to target for quarterback Taylor Cornelius, catching 30 passes for 546 yards and three touchdowns through five games.
Michael Warren, RB, Cincinnati
Cincinnati is one of the most improved teams in college football, opening the 2018 season with a 5-0 mark in coach Luke Fickell’s second year. Warren has anchored the ground game for the Bearcats, recording three 100-yard performances and 541 overall yards and 10 touchdowns.
Pooka Williams, RB, Kansas
The emergence of Williams was a big reason why Kansas snapped a 46-game road losing streak and heads into October at 2-3. The Louisiana native has rushed for 474 yards and four scores in his first four appearances. Additionally, the true freshman averages a healthy 7.9 yards a rush and has recorded eight receptions for 73 yards.
Gerald Willis, DL, Miami
The interior of the defensive line was one of the few question marks surrounding Miami’s defense this season. However, it hasn’t taken long for Willis to emerge as one of the ACC’s top linemen, helping to anchor the interior for coordinator Manny Diaz. The Florida transfer has recorded 23 stops and two sacks, with 10.5 of his tackles going for a loss.