Each college football season, a handful of new players become household names. Most of the breakout players start the year as unknowns or as hyped recruits by a fanbase, but by the end of a year, those players are on the radar for college football fans across the nation.
Athlon tries to project the breakout players every offseason, but each person has a different take on how to define or categorize breakout players.
With six weeks in the books, it’s time to evaluate the breakout players as the second half of 2014 approaches.
Whether it’s quarterbacks like NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett or Pittsburgh running back James Conner, there are handful of players emerging as superstars as the season hits the halfway point.
Here are 20 names to know, along with a handful of others so far in 2014:
20 College Football Breakout Players After Week 6
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
Despite a lot of turnover in the receiving corps this offseason, Oregon’s high-powered offense hasn’t missed a beat. Allen emerged as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s go-to receiver, catching 19 passes for 377 yards (19.8 ypc) and six scores. The redshirt freshman’s elite speed is valuable for the Ducks to stretch the field, and Allen has two receptions of at least 70 yards in 2014.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Losing Braxton Miller was a huge early-season setback for Ohio State’s offense, but the Buckeyes are starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time. Over the last three games, Ohio State’s offense is averaging 623.7 yards per game and has scored at least 50 points in each contest during that span. Barrett’s play has been critical to the development of the Buckeyes’ offense, as he has 14 touchdowns over the last three games and has tossed only one pick on his last 67 passes. And in another positive sign of Barrett’s development: He’s completed at least 72 percent of his throws in three straight games.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
As long as Gary Patterson is on the sidelines in Fort Worth, it’s safe to assume TCU is going to have one of the Big 12’s best defenses. However, the Horned Frogs struggled to find consistency on offense in recent years and lost four games by three points in 2013. Needing to inject a quick fix for the offense, Patterson turned to Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie as his new coordinators. And the Meacham/Cumbie hires are proving to be huge for the Horned Frogs, as TCU ranks second in the Big 12 by averaging 42.8 points per game. Boykin wasn’t guaranteed the starting job this offseason, but the junior has been nearly flawless through four games. Boykin has completed 61.5 percent of his throws and has 1,176 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. Boykin is clearly one of the nation’s most-improved passers this year.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State
Brissett nearly guided NC State to an upset over Florida State, but the Florida transfer is off to a fast start in his Wolfpack debut. The junior ranks third among ACC quarterbacks with 1,399 yards and is tied with Miami freshman Brad Kaaya for the conference lead (13) in touchdown passes. Brissett completed over 66 percent of his passes through his first four games and has just one interception on 185 attempts.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner finished 2013 on a tear, rushing for 229 yards on 26 attempts in the bowl victory over Bowling Green. The sophomore carried that momentum into 2014, gashing his first four opponents for at least 153 yards in each contest. Opposing defenses in the last two games has slowed Conner and the Pittsburgh rushing attack, as the sophomore has not topped 100 yards in either outing. However, Conner’s 873 yards ranks second in the nation, while his nine rushing scores are tied for third nationally.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett was one of the top incoming recruits for the 2014 signing class and hasn’t disappointed for Texas A&M. The true freshman is physically ready for the challenge of playing in the trenches in the SEC, recording 30 tackles (eight for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. By recording two sacks over the next six games, Garrett will set a SEC record for the most sacks by a true freshman.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Injuries and coaching transition equaled a disappointing 1-11 start to Sonny Dykes’ tenure at California last year. But the Golden Bears have showed marked improvement in 2014, as they lead the Pac-12 North with a 2-1 mark in conference play after six weeks. In addition to better luck with injuries, combined with improvement on defense, California’s offense is a big reason why this team could be the nation’s biggest surprise in 2014. Goff has thrown for 1,875 yards and 22 scores through five games, and his 375 yards per game mark ranks second in the Pac-12.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Goldman started 13 games in 2013, but the junior is playing at an even higher level in 2014. Through five games, the defensive tackle has 15 stops (3.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Goldman also forced a fumble with less than two minutes to go against Clemson, preventing the Tigers from getting into scoring range and winning in Tallahassee earlier this year. Goldman won’t post huge numbers, but he’s ready to live up to the hype as a five-star high school recruit.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
“Optimus Perime” has emerged as Oklahoma’s No. 1 back this year. A leg injury sidelined Keith Ford after the third game, and Perine has rushed for 329 yards and seven scores over the last two contests. The true freshman will likely relinquish some carries when Ford returns, but at 243 pounds, Perine is tough to keep off the field when Oklahoma wants to establish its ground attack.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Replacing standouts on the defensive line is nothing new for coordinator Dave Steckel and line coach Craig Kuligowski. And despite losing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy to the NFL, Missouri’s defensive line is just as effective as it was in 2013. The Tigers rank third in the SEC with 17 sacks and are tied for fourth with 35 tackles for a loss. Ray has a sack in four consecutive games, including two in Missouri’s road win at South Carolina.
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
We could list quarterback Dak Prescott here, but Robinson fits our “breakout” criteria better since he never rushed for at least 500 yards in a season – until 2014. The junior has emerged as a perfect complement to Prescott this year, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 79 attempts. Robinson has three 100-yard efforts in his last five games, including 197 in a huge road win at LSU.
Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
The improved play in the trenches is a big reason why the Razorbacks are showing progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Skipper worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season, starting the final eight games of 2013. The sophomore anchors the left tackle spot in 2014 and is a big reason why Arkansas leads the SEC with five runs of 50 yards or more and ranks seventh nationally by recording 316.6 rushing yards per game.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t played a gauntlet of elite offenses so far in 2014, but the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 12 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Despite personnel losses up front, new coordinator Brian VanGorder has managed to keep the Fighting Irish’s defense among the nation’s best. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a standout linebacker like Smith. The sophomore leads Notre Dame with 45 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and has two sacks through five games. Smith could be an All-American by the end of 2014.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
Arizona began spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying for the starting job. After an extended battle into the fall, Solomon emerged as the No. 1 quarterback. So far, the redshirt freshman has not disappointed. The Wildcats are 5-0 and the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 South. Solomon has passed for 1,741 yards and 14 scores and has tossed only four picks on 206 attempts. He also has 167 rushing yards on 51 attempts. Solomon has completed at least 64 percent of his throws in three consecutive starts.
Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado
No Paul Richardson? No problem. Spruce has emerged as a capable replacement for Richardson and is the favorite target for Colorado’s rising star quarterback Sefo Liufau. Spruce leads the nation with 62 receptions and ranks third with 732 receiving yards. The junior also leads the nation with 10 touchdown receptions and has caught at least 10 passes in three games this season. Coming into 2014, Spruce had just seven career touchdown catches.
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech
At 5-0, Georgia Tech is probably the biggest surprise from the nation’s 10 remaining unbeatens. The Yellow Jackets’ option attack has operated smoothly with Thomas at the helm, as the sophomore has rushed for 470 yards and three rushing scores. Thomas also has seven passing scores and averages 18.4 yards per completion. As long as Thomas executes the necessary reads to run the option, and utilizes his legs to make plays on the ground, the sophomore should have Georgia Tech squarely in the mix to win the Coastal this year.
Kemoko Turay, DL, Rutgers
Turay is a key cog in Rutgers’ defensive line, as the redshirt freshman leads the team with 5.5 sacks and ranks second with 5.5 tackles for a loss. Turay also leads the nation with three blocked kicks (including one to preserve the win over Michigan) and has 12 tackles through the first six games.
More Breakout Players from 2014
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Promising true freshman is a future star in Seattle. Baker has 26 stops and three pass breakups through Washington’s first five games.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Blanding has lived up to the hype as a five-star recruit early in his career. The true freshman leads Virginia with 61 tackles and has recorded four pass breakups and one interception.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker has provided a spark for Utah’s ground attack, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 88 attempts this year. The junior college recruit has 513 yards (No. 5 in Pac-12) and four rushing scores.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Standout true freshman averages 21.9 yards per reception. Leads Baylor with five touchdown tosses through five games.
Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Golson made 10 starts last year, but the senior is off to arguably the best start in his career. Through five games, he has 17 stops and four interceptions, including the game-winning pick to beat Alabama in Week 6.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Hamilton – a redshirt freshman – leads the team with 36 receptions for 502 yards in 2014.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill is the definition of a true all-purpose threat. The junior college recruit has 196 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards on 14 catches, 15 punt returns and averages 23.4 yards per kickoff return.
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Howard headlines Baylor’s revamped secondary, as the sophomore has recorded 16 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defended through five games.
Jojo Kemp/Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky
Heard and Kemp are two of Kentucky’s rising stars at the skill positions, and both players have energized a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 2013. Heard averages 8.1 yards per carry, while Kemp boasts a 5.7 mark on 50 carries.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
True freshman has emerged as a capable replacement for Venric Mark. Leads the team with 396 yards on 89 attempts.
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
The talent is there – the true freshman just needs more snaps. Has tossed at least two picks in four out of Miami’s six games in 2014.
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Stanford’s defense hasn’t missed a beat under new coordinator Lance Anderson, and Kalambayi (16 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks) has been a key cog in the pass rush.
William Likely, CB, Maryland
Likely has been one of Maryland’s top defenders through its first six games, helping the Terrapins to hold their first two Big Ten opponents to just four passing scores on 61 attempts. The sophomore has recorded 42 stops, one sack and three interceptions. Likely also has one forced fumble and averages 22 yards per punt return.
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
Serigne has been one of the few bright spots from Wake Forest’s offense this year. The freshman has 29 catches for 282 yards and one score.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska
Valentine helps to anchor Nebraska’s rush defense, which is holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. The sophomore has 16 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks through five games.
D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
Williams was considered one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and hasn’t disappointed through five games. The junior has 25 receptions for 385 yards and three scores so far this year.
Shaun Wilson, RB, Duke
Only has 36 attempts but has made the most of his opportunities (12.1 ypc).