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CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: College Football Players to Fall in Love With

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A new college football season is nearing, and it will feature some terrific playmakers you should be well aware of. Odds are you are familiar with some of the players you should know, but now is a good a time as any to introduce the experienced and the brand new fans of college football to some of the top players to keep you entertained in 2017. You will have a blast watching these players do their thing this season and you will want to watch every game they play for the chance to witness greatness.

Without any further adieu, here are the players that will keep you most entertained this fall.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
In a season that has a number of good running backs around the country, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley may be the best there is. Penn State’s offense may be the best in the Big Ten, and Barkley is one of the reasons why. Barkley has shined in big games for the Nittany Lions the past two seasons, including in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and Rose Bowl against USC, and he will have his opportunities to lead Penn State to some big wins this season with his moves.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Leonard Fournette
may have been the star attraction out of LSU’s backfield the past few years, but Derrius Guice made a name for himself last season as one of the top running backs in the SEC. Now, Guice steps into the leading role without any question and he should be the main cog in LSU’s offense this fall while the Tigers try to get a passing game figured out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Keeping with the running back theme (and there are a number of others that could have been mentioned), we stay in the SEC to remind you that Georgia still has Nick Chubb ready to carry the ball. Chubb should be a key player in Georgia’s season, even though he will be splitting running calls with Sony Michel. But Chubb’s ability to burst through the line and get downfield with authority will be an essential ingredient to Georgia’s offensive game plan.

Derwin James, S, Florida State
Some will argue Florida State’s best player may actually be the best player in the nation. Derwin James is ready to make plays on every snap, and after missing the bulk of the 2016 season due to a knee surgery, James is ready to make up for some lost time. Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles will have James lining up all over the field, and he will be a key player in the highly-anticipated Week 1 matchup with Alabama.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Ed Oliver’s recruiting to Houston took the recruiting world by storm, and he has had quite the impact in his young career at Houston. Expect more of the big man to destroy the line of scrimmage this fall. Oliver would be a beast to contain in any conference, but do not look past his performance in the AAC this fall. Oliver will continue to show just how much fun watching a defensive tackle can be this fall.

Quinton Flowers, QB, USF
If there was one thing Charlie Strong really needed to be successful at Texas, it was his Longhorn version of Teddy Bridgewater. Now at USF, Strong has his quarterback in Quinton Flowers. Flowers is among the top players from the Group of Five and will give the Bulls as good a chance as any to not only win the AAC, but also guide the Bulls to a New Years Six bowl game.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Louisville’s quarterback may have won the Heisman Trophy last season, but a brutal finish to the season has left the reigning Heisman Trophy winner laying in the shadows this offseason it seems. Expect that love affair with the dynamic quarterback to be rekindled quickly as Jackson looks to pile up big numbers to start the season once more to remind us all why he captured the nation a year ago. History may be against Jackson’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy again this season, but do not be surprised if he manages to return to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Honorable mentions: Sam Darnold (QB, USC), Justin Jackson (RB, Northwestern), Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma), Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State), Mike Weber (RB, Ohio State), J.T. Barrett (QB, Ohio State), Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA), Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon), Jordan Whitehead (S, Pittsburgh), Da’Shawn Hand (DE, Alabama), Myles Gaskin (RB, Washington)

Justin Jackson’s career day helps Northwestern nip No. 23 Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl

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If you’re a fan of Northwestern football, go ahead and send all of your thank you notes and/or cards to Justin Jackson, c/o NU athletics.  Although, you could save some for the secondary as well.

Thanks in very large part to Jackson’s career day, Northwestern (7-6) was able to hold off No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5) and stake its claim to the 7th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium with a 31-24 win.  The victory was the Wildcats’ first in a bowl game since 2012 and just the third ever since the program was established in 1892.

And, again, thanks be to Jackson.  The junior running back gashed the Panthers defense for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries.  His previous career-high was 188, set in a mid-October win over Michigan State earlier this season.

Jackson was part of a back-and-forth second half, with the lead changing hands four times in the last two quarters after the Wildcats had taken a 14-10 lead into the halftime locker room.  What turned out to be the final lead change didn’t involve Jackson, though, as Clayton Thorson connected with Garrett Dickerson for a 21-yard touchdown pass on a fourth and one with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a four-point lead.

On the first play of the ensuing possession, Quadree Henderson, playing in pace of the injured James Conner, fumbled the ball back to the Wildcats at the Panthers’ 27-yard line; four plays later, a Jack Mitchell 37-yard field goal extended the lead to seven.

Pitt’s second-to-last chance to tie the game nearly ended in a touchdown but for a tremendous defensive play in the end zone and instead came to a halt on an interception tossed by Ben DiNucci, who prior to this game had never attempted a pass at the collegiate level.  The redshirt freshman was in the game because starter Nathan Peterman sustained a third-quarter head injury and didn’t return.  Conner suffered the same fate on the same type of injury in the same quarter.

Another DiNucci interception with 1:22 left sealed the Panthers’ third consecutive bowl loss.  The 24 points were the fewest for a Pitt offense this season that came into the game 11th in the country in scoring at 42.3 points per game.

Interestingly, with Pitt’s loss, ranked teams are off to an 0-3 start to the bowl season.  The Big Ten is 2-1 this postseason, while the ACC suffered its first loss after winning its first three.

Red-zone stands, Justin Jackson push Northwestern to halftime lead on No. 23 Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl

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Northwestern’s defense bent to the point of breaking but (mostly) never snapped, leading the Big Ten school to a surprisingly defensive 14-10 halftime lead on No. 23 Pittsburgh in the 7th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Already up 3-0 late in the first quarter, Pitt was looking at a fourth and goal from the Northwestern one-yard line that if successful would’ve extend its lead to two scores.  Instead, leading rusher James Conner was stuffed for no gain, with the Wildcats flipping that turnover on downs into a 10-play, 99-yard drive that was aided greatly by a 68-yard Justin Jackson run and capped off by Jackson’s eight-yard touchdown run.  The junior running back accounted for 88 rushing yards by himself on that drive.

The Panthers, though, seemed poised on the ensuing possession to regain the lead.  On a second and goal from the 10-yard line following a false start penalty, however, Nathan Peterman was picked off by the Wildcats’ Godwin Igwebuike with just under 13 minutes remaining in the second quarter.  Pitt’s defense, though, returned the favor, with Avonte Maddox intercepting a Clayton Thorson pass in the end zone five minutes later to snuff out a Wildcats’ scoring opportunity.

The Panthers’ offense could do nothing with the gift, handing the ball right back to the Wildcats on a three and out.  Eight plays and 74 yards later, another Jackson touchdown run, this one from 16 yards out, pushed the lead to 14-3 with just over three minutes remaining in the half.  In addition to scoring both touchdowns, Jackson ran for 147 yards on his 18 carries.

On the next possession for Pitt, however, it was the big play that got the Panthers back into the game, with Peterman hitting Jester Weah on a beautifully-thrown 69-yard touchdown pass just 17 seconds after the Wildcats’ second score.

The fact that the Wildcats held the high-scoring Panthers to a mere 10 points through two quarters was, along with Jackson’s play, the story of the first half.

Pitt came into today’s game 11th in the country in scoring at 42.3 points per game.  The Panthers scored at least 36 points in 10 of 12 regular season games, and in the other two they scored 28.  In their regular-season finale, they scored 76 points in a win over Syracuse.

Despite the relative lack of points, both teams moved the ball relatively well.  Northwestern finished with 294 yards of total offense, Pitt 264.  The Panthers came into the game averaging 447.5 yards per game while the Wildcats are less than 100 yards away from hitting their seasonal average of 392.9.

Having deferred after winning the pregame coin toss, Pitt will open the second half on offense.

Alabama and Ohio State each land six players on AP All-American teams

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The Associated Press released its 2016 All-American teams for the 2016 season, and it should be no surprise the teams are loaded with a healthy sampling of players from Alabama and Ohio State, as well as headlined by the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson was named a First-Team All-American by the AP, as well as fellow Heisman Trophy finalists Jabrill Peppers of Michigan and Dede Westbrook of Oklahoma.

Four players from Alabama were named to the Frist Team, which was more players from a single school than any other program; DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and OT Cam Robinson. Linebacker Tim Williams and tight end O.J. Howard received second-team recognition. Ohio State had three players on the first team; center Pat Elflein, safety Malik Hooker, and H-Back Curtis Samuel.

Houston freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the first freshman to be named First-Team All-American since Sammy Watkins of Clemson and LSU punter Brad Wing received the honor in 2011.

The Associated Press All-American team is the third of the five All-American teams to be released that is used t determine the Consensus All-American team. At this rate, there should be a good number of consensus All-Americans on the list, with just the AFCA and FWAA All-American teams to be released in the coming days.

AP First Team All-Americans By Conference

  1. SEC (8)
  2. Big Ten (7)
  3. Pac-12 (4)
  4. ACC (2)
    Big 12 (2)
  5. American (1)
    MAC (1)

FIRST TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Lamar Jackson, sophomore, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Louisville

Running backs — D'Onta Foreman, junior, 6-2, 249, Texas; Dalvin Cook, junior, 5-11, 213, Florida State

Tackles — Cam Robinson, junior, 6-6, 310, Alabama; Ryan Ramczyk, junior, 6-6, 314, Wisconsin

Guards — Cody O’Connell, junior, 6-8, 354, Washington State; Dan Feeney, senior, 6-4, 305, Indiana.

Center — Pat Elflein, senior, 6-3, 300, Ohio State

Tight end — Evan Engram, senior, 6-3, 235, Mississippi

Wide receivers — Dede Westbrook, senior, 6-0, 176, Oklahoma; Corey Davis, senior, 6-3, 213, Western Michigan

All-purpose player — Curtis Samuel, junior, 5-11 197, Ohio State

Kicker — Zane Gonzalez, senior, 6-1, 195, Arizona State

DEFENSE

Ends — Myles Garrett, junior, 6-5, 270, Texas A&M; Derek Barnett, junior, 6-3, 265, Tennessee

Tackles — Jonathan Allen, junior, 6-3, 290, Alabama; Ed Oliver, freshman, 6-2, 290, Houston

Linebackers — Reuben Foster, senior, 6-1, 228, Alabama; Zach Cunningham, junior, 6-2, 230, Vanderbilt; Jabrill Peppers, junior, 6-1, 205, Michigan

Cornerbacks — Jourdan Lewis, senior, 5-11, 186, Michigan; Adoree’ Jackson, junior, 5-11, 185, Southern California

Safeties — Malik Hooker, sophomore, 6-2, 205, Ohio State; Minkah Fitzpatrick, sophomore, 6-1, 200, Alabama

Punter — Mitch Wishnowsky, sophomore, 6-2, 220, Utah

___

SECOND TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Deshaun Watson, junior, Clemson

Running backs — Donnel Pumphrey, senior, San Diego State; Christian McCaffrey, junior, Stanford

Tackles — Connor Williams, sophomore, Texas; Orlando Brown, sophomore, Oklahoma

Guards — Billy Price, junior, Ohio State; Will Hernandez, junior, UTEP

Center — Tyler Orlovsky, senior, West Virginia

Tight end — Jake Butt, senior, Michigan

Wide receivers — Zay Jones, senior, East Carolina; John Ross, junior, Washington

All-purpose player — Quadree Henderson, sophomore, Pitt

Kicker — Daniel Carlson, junior, Auburn

DEFENSE

Ends — DeMarcus Walker, senior, Florida State; Harold Landry, junior, Boston College

Tackles — Carlos Watkins, senior, Clemson; Montravius Adams, senior, Auburn

Linebackers — Raekwon McMillan, junior, Ohio State; T.J. Watt, junior, Wisconsin; Tim Williams, senior, Alabama

Cornerbacks — Rasul Douglas, senior, West Virginia; Desmond King, senior, Iowa

Safeties — Budda Baker, junior, Washington; Jamal Adams, junior, LSU

Punter — Cameron Johnston, senior, Ohio State

___

THIRD TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Baker Mayfield, junior, Oklahoma

Running backs — Saquon Barkley, sophomore, Penn State; Aaron Jones, junior, UTEP

Tackles — Mike McGlinchey, senior, Notre Dame; Forrest Lamp, senior, Western Kentucky

Guards — Nico Siragusa, senior, San Diego State; Quenton Nelson, junior, Notre Dame

Center — Ethan Pocic, senior, LSU

Tight end — O.J. Howard, senior, Alabama

Wide receivers — Amba Etta-Tawo, senior, Syracuse; Austin Carr, senior, Northwestern

All-purpose player — Christian Kirk, sophomore, Texas A&M

Kicker — Gary Wunderlich, junior, Mississippi

DEFENSE

Ends — Hunter Dimick, senior, Utah; Jordan Willis, senior, Kansas State

Tackles — Christian Wilkins, sophomore, Clemson; Solomon Thomas, junior, Stanford

Linebackers — Kendell Beckwith, senior, LSU; Jimmie Gilbert, senior, Colorado; Ben Boulware, senior, Clemson

Cornerbacks — Teez Tabor, junior, Florida; Cordrea Tankersley, senior, Clemson

Safeties — Nathan Gerry, senior, Nebraska; Weston Steelhammer, senior, Air Force

Punter — Michael Dickson, sophomore, Texas

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield takes home second straight Burlsworth Award

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For the second straight season, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has been named the recipient of the Burlsworth Award. Mayfield is now the first player to win the award two times.

The award is given to college football’s top player who began his career as a walk-on player. Mayfield was originally a walk-on player at Texas Tech before eventually transferring to Oklahoma, where he has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate and led the Sooners to two consecutive Big 12 championships and one appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Mayfield beat out Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr for the award. Mayfield will also have a chance to add one more Burlsworth Award to his name next season, as the Sooners passer has already said he will return to Oklahoma for the 2017 season.