Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with the five most surprising players so far this season, five position groups that were downright awful, and a few teams with rosters that will blow your mind.
I talked about disappointing players last week, but let’s give some props to players who have dominant seasons that were a bit out of left field.
1. RB Kenneth Walker, Michigan State – We glimpsed his prowess in Wake Forest, but did we really expect a Heisman to run like this and lead an undefeated Michigan State team and lead the nation in a hurry? New.
2. QB Kenny Pickett, Pitt — In an odd year for quarterbacks, Pickett leads the best passing offense in the country and has 19 touchdowns and only one interception. It’s about time he got more national love.
3. WR Josh Downs, North Carolina – We loved Downs as a high school prospect and thought he would fit in well on offense for the Tar Heels, but he is fourth in the country in receiving yards and has six touchdown catches in the season. It would be scary to see where North Carolina’s offense would be without him.
4. DT Zachary Carter, Florida — Carter had a really good season last year but decided to come back and show everyone his progress as he tries to get to the first round. He already has as many sacks (five) and one less tackle for defeat (eight) as all of last season.
5. DB Verone McKinley, Oregon — McKinley was even overshadowed by guys opting out last year, but his game this season was off the charts, including a great game against Ohio State. He is tied for most interceptions in the nation with four due to anticipation.
I also showed some surprisingly good positional groups last week and maybe cursed a few (Florida offensive line, for example). So maybe calling out the bad will change their seasons?
Oklahoma’s Offensive Line: One of the main reasons Spencer Rattler and the rest of the Sooners forwards have had such a rough time this season is that they don’t even get average play out of their offensive line. Tennessee transfer Wanya Morris would come to bolster the unit, but he can’t even get on the field, and the unit as a whole is really struggling to block the run. None of their starters deserve a PFF grade above 66.3 and that’s terrible. The Sooners rank 75th in the country in rushing, largely because of their poor play up front and Rattler often runs for his life.
Clemson’s wide receivers: Yes, quarterback and offense in general has been a problem for the Tigers this season as they are now out of rank for the first time since 2014, but this wide receiver would be one of the best in the country with the return of Justyn Ross and Joe Ngata. But they’ve struggled tremendously with just 564 yards and three touchdowns between the two of them and there’s a general lack of separation that we’ve come to expect from the Clemson receivers.
LSU’s Defensive Backs: Coming into the season, we saw this group as one of the best in the country, with both Elias Ricks and Derek Stingley Jr. back in the herd, but both boys are greatly impressed. And their team as a whole is ranked 93rd in the country in pass defense. They allow teams to convert third downs at a 46 percent clip, ranking 112th in the country.
Wisconsin Offensive Line: Over the past 20 years, we expect the Badgers to have one of the best lines in the country year after year. But their unit is one of the worst in the country this year, with PFF’s eighth worst hit blocking mark out of all five. They had their quarterbacks fired six times against Michigan this past weekend as just another example of poor communication and general play. Left tackle Tyler Beach has been particularly bad, earning PFF’s third-worst pass-blocking rating of all Power Five tackles.
UCLA’s Defensive Backs: The Bruins started the season warm, but they have slipped in two of their last three games and have been especially sensitive to the pass. For the season, they rank 128th in the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up 321.4 per game, and they have only one interception in the season. Quentin Lake and the rest of the defending defenders are the unit holding back what could have been a Pac-12 title contender.
Finally, when going through some rosters, it was no surprise to find a few guys from teams like Wake Forest and Cincinnati to see where they came from in recruiting or through the transfer portal. But blueblood grids without names? Here are four programs with surprises on their depth maps and some players you may not have heard of.
Tennessee: While the Vols haven’t recruited to the same level as Georgia or Alabama in recent years, they’ve had a lot of good lessons nonetheless. But you wouldn’t know that looking at the pitch this season, as they lost so many guys to the transfer portal after last year that this year’s team is a motley crew with no names. Unless you’re a die-hard Tennessee fan, there aren’t many names you know here as their main rusher is JUCO transplant Tiyon Evans and their main recipient is 2016 USC class Velus Jones.
State of Florida: Remember when the entire Florida State roster was filled with four- and five-star prospects? That is certainly no longer the case. Their most visible players are both transfers (Jermaine Johnson and McKenzie Milton), and they’ve gotten next to nothing from one of the few recent big names they’ve recruited. Impact players recruited from high school, such as Amari Gainer, are rare.
Washington: There was a time when the Huskies were in the mix in the Pac-12 every year, and they had a lot of big names, especially in the secondary. But with their struggles this season, they are relying more on lesser-known guys and transfers than ever. Other than Trent McDuffie and Bookie Radley-Hiles (who missed the time herself), there aren’t many recognizable names that impress.
miami: Again, it’s the transfers that everyone knows. In this case, it’s D’Eriq King (now injured again) and receiver Charleston Rambo. But when was the last time we saw The U recruit and develop a real assault weapon? Mike Harley drops half the balls thrown his way, and there’s nothing in the backfield. Bubba Bolden is the biggest name in defense and there are some young hopes from Leonard Taylor and James Williams but they will fade into obscurity like many others.