- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Who are the best players in college football heading into the 2015 season?
If we learned anything in 2014 it’s that the players who are perceived to be the best heading into the season might not be the best when the dust settles.
When ESPN.com ranked the top 100 players in college football before the start of the 2014 season, there were plenty of familiar names in the top 10, with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley leading the way.
When 32 voters from ESPN.com re-ranked the top 100 players after Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff in January, only three of the same players were ranked in the top 10: Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper.
In fact, four players who weren’t even ranked in the preseason top 100 ended up finishing in the postseason top 10:
Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III: Talk about coming out of nowhere. Winner of the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi awards, Wright was the nation's most decorated defensive player in 2014. He averaged 11.6 tackles per game, led the nation with 2.1 tackles for loss per game, forced six fumbles and recorded 14 sacks.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin: After finishing the 2013 season at wide receiver, Boykin was the country’s most-improved quarterback last season. In the Horned Frogs’ fast-paced spread offense, Boykin was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, throwing for more than 3,900 yards with 41 total touchdowns. He led the Horned Frogs to a 12-1 record.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett: There was an Ohio State quarterback ranked in the preseason top 10 -- Braxton Miller, who missed the entire 2014 season with a shoulder injury. Thrust into the starting lineup during preseason camp, Barrett looked like a seasoned veteran, accounting for 45 total touchdowns and finishing No. 2 among FBS players in pass efficiency. Oh, and he also helped lead the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record until suffering a broken ankle against Michigan in the regular-season finale. Both Barrett and Cardale Jones filled in as well as can be imagined during OSU's postseason run to the title.
Missouri defensive end Shane Ray: Ray filled in nicely for former star defensive end Michael Sam, leading the SEC in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (22.5). The All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year set Mizzou’s school record for sacks.
Who else came out of nowhere to finish in the postseason top 100? How about West Virginia receiver Kevin White (No. 14), Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott (No. 20), Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson (No. 24) and Georgia running back Nick Chubb (No. 27)? They might not have been household names (or at least proven commodities) at the start of the 2014 season, but they were legitimate stars by season’s end.
Once again, ESPN.com is ranking the top 100 players in college football as we inch closer to the start of the 2015 season.
This year, 43 of ESPN's college football writers, editors and analysts rated players on a scale of 0-10 based on their expected contributions for the upcoming season. Tuesday, we're looking at Nos. 61-80
Full player rankings: 20 players revealed every day