#CFBrank outsiders could still rise

Originally Published: July 30, 2014
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Who believed Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would win the Heisman Trophy before the start of the 2013 season?

Who had former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam as an All-American?

ESPN.com is counting down the top 100 players in college football this week, but there are plenty of other players who might be poised for breakthrough seasons in 2014. Here are 10 players who might become household names before season's end:

Trenton Brown, OL, Florida

Florida's myriad injuries on the offensive line were a big reason it finished last season with a 4-8 record, its worst finish since a winless campaign in 1979. Among the 15 players who suffered season-ending injuries were offensive tackles D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green and guard/tackle Tyler Moore.

If not for the injuries up front, Brown, a transfer from Georgia Military Academy, might have redshirted in his first season at UF. But he was forced to start at right tackle in the final five games after Moore was hurt in a scooter accident. If Brown plays up to his potential this coming season, the 6-foot-8, 350-pound senior might become one of the SEC's best offensive linemen. He's slated to start at right guard and will be a load for interior defensive linemen to try to move.

Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame

Bryant was one of the country's most prized running back prospects when he signed with the Fighting Irish before the 2013 season. He had two carries in the season opener against Temple and one rush against Purdue. Then Bryant missed the rest of the season with a knee injury, and the Irish struggled to run the ball without him.

Bryant is healthy again and wowed Irish fans by running for 105 yards on 12 carries in the spring game. He'll battle Cam McDaniel and fellow sophomore Tarean Folston for carries during preseason camp. Bryant has improved as a pass catcher, and he might emerge as Notre Dame's No. 1 back this coming season.

[+] EnlargeTheiren Cockran
AP Photo/Kevin TanakaTheiren Cockran has grown into the role of one of the Big Ten's best defensive linemen.

Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota

If the Gophers are going to continue their surprising ascent under coach Jerry Kill, they'll need Cockran to continue disrupting opposing offenses. Last season, he had 30 tackles, 7½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss and led the Big Ten with four forced fumbles. He'll have to do it this season without All-Big Ten selection Ra'Shede Hageman, so he might see more double-team blocking than he did in 2013.

Cochran weighed about 190 pounds when the Gophers recruited him out of Homestead, Florida. He's added about 60 pounds in his first three seasons, so he's continuing to grow into the position.

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

Coleman, a junior from Tinley Park, Illinois, is certainly flying under the radar at Indiana, which isn't exactly known as a football hotbed. But Big Ten defensive coordinators probably cringe every time he touches the football in coach Kevin Wilson's offense. Last season, Coleman ran for 958 yards with 12 touchdowns, despite missing the last three games with an ankle injury.

Coleman ran for 108 yards against Minnesota and 215 yards with two touchdowns against Illinois before suffering the season-ending injury. He's one of the most explosive backs in the country and might be just as good as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten. Last season, Coleman had three 60-yard runs, five 50-yarders, eight 40-yarders and nine 30-yarders. He also caught 19 passes for 193 yards and is a dangerous kick returner.

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia

Two Georgia linebackers, Ramik Wilson (No. 45) and Jordan Jenkins (No. 70), cracked the top-100 list, but UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt thinks Floyd might be the best player on his defense. As a freshman in 2013, Floyd had 55 tackles, 9½ tackles for loss, 6½ sacks and 22 quarterback hurries. He also forced two fumbles and blocked a kick.

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Floyd is a difficult blocking assignment because of his length and speed. Floyd, from Eastman, Georgia, was only learning how to play outside linebacker last season, so he might emerge as an even more ferocious pass-rusher in Pruitt's scheme. If things go as planned, Floyd, a draft-eligible sophomore (he spent one season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia), might become an NFL first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks goes into his senior year with 332 career tackles.

Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

What does Kendricks have to do to be recognized as one of the sport's top 100 players? Kendricks led the Bruins in tackles in each of the last two seasons, and his 150 stops in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 and third-most in school history. Last season, Kendricks had 106 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception.

Sure, Kendricks doesn't play offense and isn't as electrifying as sophomore Myles Jack, but he's one of UCLA's most consistent and productive players. Maybe Kendricks, a senior from Fresno, California, will get the recognition he deserves if he leads the Bruins in tackles for a third consecutive season.

Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

Linwood was technically Baylor's No. 3 running back last season, behind Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, but he had one of the best freshman seasons of any runner in school history. He's the Big 12's top returning rusher after gaining 881 yards on 128 carries with eight touchdowns. Seastrunk left early for the NFL and Martin exhausted his college eligibility, so Linwood figures to be the high-flying Bears' No. 1 back this coming season.

Baylor coach Art Briles likes to keep his running backs fresh, so Linwood might have to share carries with Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. But Linwood proved he could carry the load last season, running for 182 yards against Oklahoma and 187 against Texas Tech.

Shane Ray, DE, Missouri

Overshadowed by teammates Sam and Kony Ealy last season, Ray was still a disruptive force on Missouri's defense, which helped the Tigers win an SEC East title in only their second season in the league. Playing as a reserve, Ray had 39 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He also returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown with 55 seconds left in the Cotton Bowl, helping the Tigers defeat Oklahoma State 41-31.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said some NFL scouts like Ray and fellow defensive end Markus Golden more than Sam and Ealy, who were both selected in the NFL draft. Ray is certainly an athletic freak -- he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, has a vertical jump of more than 40 inches, broad jumps more than 10 feet and bench presses more than 400 pounds. What's not to like?

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayRicky Seals-Jones provides a big target for the Texas A&M offense.

Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

The Aggies lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and star receiver Mike Evans to the NFL draft, so somebody is going to have to provide big plays in coach Kevin Sumlin's offense. Seals-Jones provided a glimpse of being something special in last season's opener, catching three passes for 84 yards in a 52-31 victory over Rice. But Seals-Jones injured his knee after a 71-yard touchdown catch in that game and didn't play the rest of the season.

Sumlin says Seals-Jones is healthy again and will be an integral part of the offense this coming season. The Aggies still haven't settled on a starting quarterback -- freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill are battling for the job -- but Seals-Jones should emerge as a top target, along with Malcome Kennedy and Speedy Noil.

Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss

In a league that doesn't bring back many experienced quarterbacks, Wallace might be the most explosive player returning under center. Last season, he threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 355 yards with six scores.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace's arm strength dipped dramatically as the season went on, which was the result of shoulder surgery the previous offseason. Freeze said Wallace has added 15 pounds and is in better shape after going through the offseason strength and conditioning program, which he wasn't able to do before the 2013 campaign.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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