August 23, 2008

Which players will burst on the scene in 2008?

Between TV, conference-specialty networks and Web sites dedicated to the coverage of college football, it's easy to get overwhelmed when the season starts.

If you're suffering from information overload already, we're here to sort through the madness. If you're dying to figure out a player to watch on Wednesday night football, or a hidden gem in a syndicated SEC game, or just want to impress your friends with your breadth of football knowledge, we're here to help.

Here's a list of players who may have slipped under the radar:

  • PANNEL EGBOH, Defensive end, STANFORD
  • Maybe you don't get Versus, the network that aired Stanford's upset of USC. He was unstoppable in the upset of the Trojans with 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a blocked kick. This season, Stanford's defense - particularly the front seven - will be the best the school has had in years. Egboh is one of the reasons. The fifth-year senior finished last season with 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He could be even better this year. Coach Jim Harbaugh says Egboh has bulked up so much he "barely even recognized him this summer." Get to know Egboh now. Pac-10 offensive linemen already do.

  • BRANDON GIBSON, receiver, WASHINGTON ST.
  • Gibson was second in the Pac-10 in receiving with 1,180 yards. But he plays for a team in a remote locale that hasn't reached a bowl game since 2003. Gibson likely will play for a losing team again this season, but he spurned the NFL Draft to play in Paul Wulff's receiver-friendly offense. As Washington State's best offensive weapon, Gibson will face his share of double teams. But he'll still get this share of receptions.

  • EUGENE JARVIS, Running back, KENT STATE
  • Not many 5-feet-5, 170-pound running backs from 3-9 MAC teams get noticed, but Jarvis is the leading returning rusher in Division I-A. Jarvis rushed for 139 yards per game last season, behind only UCF's Kevin Smith, Tulane's Matt Forte, Rutgers' Ray Rice and Arkansas' Darren McFadden. He also was Kent State's leading receiver with 306 yards. Conference USA produced the nation's most prolific running backs last season, but that distinction might fall to the MAC this season.

  • ARTHUR JONES, Defensive tackle, SYRACUSE
  • Face it the only time you paid attention to a defense in a Syracuse game last season, it was Louisville's defense getting shredded. Nose tackles aren't known for filling up the stat sheet, but Jones broke the mold. Jones came out of nowhere to rack up 17.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore. He is by far the top player on a struggling Syracuse team. NFL scouts will be watching Jones, a 6-4, 291-pound junior.

  • JAN JORGENSEN, Defensive end, BYU
  • BYU was the toughest 11-win team to find on TV last season. The Cougars didn't play on ESPN or any other major network until the Las Vegas Bowl. Too bad, because you missed a good player. Jorgensen signed with Kentucky out of high school in 2003, then landed at BYU after a two-year church mission. Once Jorgensen started playing in 2006, he started climbing up the record books. He has 19 sacks over the past two seasons, putting him 1.5 sacks away from the Mountain West record. If BYU contends for a BCS game, fans will get acquainted with Jorgensen.

  • GERALD McRATH, Linebacker, SOUTHERN MISS
  • Conference USA wasn't known for its defenses last season, so even the conference defensive player of the year may have been an afterthought. Then, during the offseason, the arrival of offensive whiz Larry Fedora as the new coach was all the rage. But McRath will get noticed this season. He has a nose for the ball and great size (6-3/228), leading to 139 tackles. The Golden Eagles have a knack for producing standout defenders, and McRath has put his name in the hopper.

  • D.J. MOORE, Cornerback, VANDERBILT
  • He plays for the one team about which SEC fans don't boast. But under coach Bobby Johnson, the Commodores are good for at least one elite player every season: Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett and Chris Williams, for example. Moore is this season's model and should be the most dynamic of them all. He is a shutdown corner the best at his position in the SEC who picked off six passes in 2007. He also will be Vandy's punt returner and will log time on offense at wide receiver.

  • DAVE PHILISTIN, Linebacker, MARYLAND
  • Maryland has churned out quality linebackers in recent seasons, from E.J. Henderson to D'Qwell Jackson to Erin Henderson. Philistin is the latest. He was second on the team with 124 tackles, only nine fewer than Erin Henderson last season. He is a fast, strong playmaker who topped out at 21 tackles against Georgia Tech. He's from New Hampshire, and NFL scouts know all about him.

  • JASON PHILLIPS, Linebacker, TCU
  • Though he arrived on campus as a fullback, Phillips is TCU's most decorated defensive player. He was the Mountain West freshman of the year in 2005 and is a two-time first-team All-MWC pick. He had 87 tackles and 11 for a loss last season. Look for TCU's defense to be even better this season with the return of suspended tackle James Vess. And with Vess in front of him occupying blockers, Phillips could have an even more productive season.

  • ERON RILEY, Wide receiver, DUKE
  • Think of Tennessee's receivers in 2006. The Volunteers had underachieved at wide receiver before David Cutcliffe returned as coordinator. But in '06, the offense as a whole improved and Robert Meachem broke out for nearly 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns. Riley was one of the few playmakers for Duke last season, averaging 20.8 yards per catch. Look for those numbers to improve under Cutcliffe. Heck, Duke might even win an ACC game this season.

  • ZAC ROBINSON, Quarterback, OKLAHOMA STATE
  • Coach Mike Gundy threw a tantrum last season to defend Bobby Reid, the quarterback he benched in favor of Robinson. Robinson's play defended the decision. He was outstanding in his first season as a starter. He set a school record for total offense with 3,671 yards.

  • RUSTY SMITH, Quarterback, FLORIDA ATLANTIC
  • Florida's Tim Tebow, South Florida's Matt Grothe and Smith are the state of Florida's top three quarterbacks. No one else is even close. Smith passed for 3,688 yards and 32 TDs last season. With a cannon for an arm and 6-5, 230-pound frame, he's a legitimate NFL prospect and he's only a junior. Behind Smith and Howard Schnellenberger, FAU could stun one of its BCS road opponents (Texas, Michigan State or Minnesota) this season.

    David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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