With the first half of the 2015 college football season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the first seven weeks and examine some of the new stars across the nation. Breakout players are hard to predict in the preseason, but the emergence of new stars are a huge boost for a team’s win total or the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Houston quarterback Greg Ward are two of college football’s top breakout players from the first half of 2015, and both show no signs of slowing down. McCaffrey has elevated the Cardinal’s offense since the opening week loss to Northwestern, while Ward could help the Cougars earn the Group of 5 bowl spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowls.
Expect to see more stars and standouts emerge over the next seven weeks of action, but here’s a look at 10 breakout players from the first half of 2015.
College Football's Top 10 Breakout Players at Midseason
Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
It should be no surprise a Mike Leach-coached quarterback is posting huge passing totals. After starting the final three games last year, Falk stepped into the full-time role this spring and ranks as one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks midway through the 2015 season. The sophomore has completed 235 of 325 throws for 2,371 yards and 21 scores. Falk also recorded at least three games of 400 passing yards or more this season, while his 72.3 completion percentage ranks second nationally.
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
The rapid development of Harris is another example of why Missouri’s line coach Craig Kuligowski is one of the top defensive assistants in the nation. The Tigers entered 2015 looking to replace Shane Ray and Markus Golden at end, but Harris has eased any concerns this coaching staff had at defensive end. Through seven contests, Harris has recorded 29 tackles (12.5 for a loss), five sacks, four quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.
Willie Henry, DT, Michigan
Henry is just one of a handful of players having a standout year for Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines are giving up only 9.3 points per game and rank second nationally by holding opponents to 3.45 yards per play. Henry accumulated 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss in his first two years of playing time in Ann Arbor and has already exceeded those totals seven games into 2015. The junior has 19 tackles (nine for a loss), six sacks and two pass breakups.
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Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk is another dynamic addition to Texas A&M’s high-powered offense, and the Arizona native is arguably the nation’s top true freshman midway through the 2015 season. Kirk leads the team with 39 catches for 609 yards and four scores, while his per game average (101.5) is the best in the SEC. The freshman is also second in the conference with an average of 195 all-purpose yards per game.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Stanford’s run of six consecutive 1,000-yard rushers ended last season, but the Cardinal will start a new streak in 2015 with the emergence of McCaffrey. The sophomore is one of the nation’s top all-purpose performers, averaging 253 total yards per game and 8.9 yards per touch. McCaffrey has 844 rushing yards and five scores through the first six games of 2015.
Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
Despite the loss of Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, the Penn State defensive staff felt confident in its defensive ends this offseason. So far, that prediction is holding true. Nassib is one of the nation’s top overall defensive performers in the first half of 2015, recording 35 tackles (15.5 for a loss), 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. The senior is a former walk-on and only had 19 career tackles entering the 2015 season.
Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh
New coach Pat Narduzzi is already making an impact on Pittsburgh’s defense. The Panthers are holding opponents to 21.7 points per game, 5.04 yards per play and lead the ACC with 22 sacks. Headlining the rush off the edge at defensive end for Narduzzi is Price, who has registered 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss through the first six games. Additionally, Price has 13 tackles, one blocked kick and one forced fumble in 2015.
C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
A season-ending knee injury to Tarean Folston in the opener against Texas pushed Prosise into the No. 1 role. The Virginia native converted from receiver to running back after the 2014 campaign and entered this fall with just 10 career rushing attempts. Through seven games, Prosise has ensured there was no drop in production from Folston. The junior has rushed for 922 yards and 11 scores and caught 18 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown. Prosise’s 11 rushing touchdowns is tied for sixth nationally.
Greg Ward, QB, Houston
New Houston coach Tom Herman is widely regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. Under Herman’s direction, Ohio State’s offense never missed a beat last season after injuries sidelined Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, forcing Cardale Jones to start the final three games of 2014. Ward showed promise last season, and the junior has thrived under Herman’s watch and developed into one of the top Group of 5 quarterbacks. Ward has passed for 1,524 yards and nine scores in 2015 and rushed for 631 yards and 14 touchdowns. The junior’s 359.2 total yards per game average ranks seventh nationally.
Marcus Williams, S, Utah
Williams had his share of ups and downs as a true freshman for the Utes last season, but the sophomore is on pace to finish 2015 as one of the top safeties in the Pac-12. After six games, Williams ranks fourth on the team with 29 tackles but leads the Utes with four interceptions. The sophomore also has five passes defended and one fumble recovery. Williams is a key cog in a Utah secondary that held Arizona State without a passing score in last week’s win and has limited the last four teams on its schedule to less than 55 percent completion percentage.