Sports Illustrated's Cory McCartney recently revealed his list of "players poised to become college football's next household names." Nice list Cory, but you weren't exactly going out on a limb in selecting guys like Baylor's Robert Griffin or Michigan's Brandon Minor now, were you? Here's a few more under-the-radar names (and some familiar faces too) to add to the ridiculously early preseason hype list.
QB Ricky Dobbs, Navy- Ask any Navy fan and they'll tell you there is just something special about the junior-to-be quarterback. While maybe not the most technically sounds Navy quarterback to command the option offense in recent years, Dobbs shined in the few opportunities he had to play in 2008, sparking Navy's unthinkable comeback against Temple while powering the Mids past SMU and Northern Illinois. He's a physical runner inside who isn't afraid to take on linebackers, while his arm strength and accuracy in the passing game give Navy's run heavy offense another dimension. If he can continue his progress in learning the option reads he should be in for a monster year in 2009.
RB Joe Martinek, Rutgers- It may be all too easy for some fans and media members to stereotype the 6-foot, 215-pound redshirt sophomore as your run-of-the-mill 'fullback', but New Jersey's all-time leader in prep rushing yards was among the leaders that sparked the Scarlet Knight resurgence during the second half of last season. Not just a bruiser, Martinek averaged 5.3 yards per rush in limited duty last season, and recently ran for 124 yards on just 18 carries in a Rutgers spring scrimmage. He's the most complete rusher on the Scarlet Knight roster and despite the likelihood of having the split carries with two other backs should earn the starting job come September.
WRs David Nelson/Riley Cooper, Florida- On a team known for a battering ram quarterback and the dangerous presence of a bunch of shifty "little guys" who allegedly run in the 4.2 range, it's not hard to see why the 6'5'' David Nelson and the 6'3'' Riley Cooper are often overshadowed when one begins a conversation of the Gator offense. But don't overlook either of these receivers, as both return for their senior seasons in 2009. Nelson and Cooper combined for just 30 catches a year ago, but the two seniors also sported eight touchdown grabs between them. With Tim Tebow looking to refine his passing game and Percy Harvin moving on to the NFL expect Urban Meyer's offense to look more to their senior leaders on the outside next season.
RB Jewell Hampton, Iowa- Replacing Shonne Greene is not going to be easy, but the Hawkeyes do have a proven role-player from last year's squad ready to step in full-time in sophomore running back Jewell Hampton. While undersized at only five-foot, nine inches tall, Hampton runs with deceptive lower body strength and a tremendous burst which make him difficult for defenders to tackle. He finished last year with seven rushing touchdowns in limited duty, and should be the go-to playmaker for the Iowa offense next year.
FS Harrison Smith, Notre Dame- Let's just get this out of the way; Harrison 'Hayseed' Smith was good as a "hybrid" defender in Notre Dame's defense last year, but this guy is way too athletic to just be a situational player. The fact that he recorded 57 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and seven passes defended was certainly impressive given the fact that he wasn't playing his natural safety position, making this year's move to free safety all the more conducive to his continued success. He should have no trouble reminding Irish fans of a bigger and more athletic version of former Domer standout Tom Zbikowski.
WR McKay Jacobson, BYU- Perhaps as if to follow in the footsteps of another impact receiver at BYU who took his two year mission trip for the LDS church following a fantastic freshmen campaign, Jacobson returns to Provo this season just as Austin Collie departs for the NFL. BYU already has an All-American tight end candidate in Dennis Pitta, a fact which should allow the 5'11'' Jacobson (who is among the fastest players on BYU's roster) to flourish as an immediate weapon for returning quarterback Max Hall. Jacobson averaged 19.5 yards a catch as a freshmen in 2006, and despite coming off of his mission trip should be poised to put up big numbers in 2009.
LB Malcolm Smith, USC- The Trojans lose arguably one of the best linebacking corps in Pac-10 history with the departures of Brian Cushing, Ray Mauluaga, and Clay Matthews, but a new generation of USC linebackers looks primed to step up. A former running back, Smith should fill in nicely as the weakside 'backer in USC's defense, as the 6'2'' junior possesses outstanding athleticism and lateral quickness which make him a playmaker against the run and the pass. He has been the most noticeable standout thus far for USC's defense in spring ball, and should continue his success into the season.
QB Andy Schmitt, Eastern Michigan- The Eagle signal caller has been one of the MAC's best kept secrets for some time, but despite going into his senior season in 2009 has never garnered much attention outside of Ypsilanti. That all should change come September, as Schmitt returns fully healthy to lead new head coach Ron English's EMU offense. Schmitt is an elite athlete for his size and one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the ranks of the non-BCS, and could be the difference between another losing season and a breakthrough campaign for the Eagles.
QB Bo Levi Mitchell, SMU- It's not easy coming into an FBS school and starting at quarterback as a true freshmen, which is exactly what June Jones' rookie signal caller found out last year in the Mustangs' disastrous 1-11 campaign. Despite his struggles Mitchell still completed 56% of his passes for over 3000 yards a season ago, and with receivers Alderick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders back in 2009 Mithcell should only get better. With a season of June Jones' run-and-shoot system under their belts expect Mitchell and the Mustang offense to put up Hawaii like numbers in 2009.
WR Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M- The Big 12 South loses its most high profile target in Michael Crabtree to the NFL, but look for another physical and athletically gifted wideout to step out of the Lone Star state in A&M's Fuller. He was a Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection as a true freshmen a season ago, and set an Aggie receiving record with nine touchdowns on the year. At 6'4'' he has the frame to be an elite red zone threat, while the continued progression of quarterback Jerrod Johnson under Mike Sherman's guidance should lead Fuller to an even better sophomore season.