The Boise State football team continues its dominating ways with placing no less than four players on this list of the top 15 non-AQ players to watch in 2011.
The upcoming college football season is still many months away until the first kickoff, but that doesn’t mean it is too early to start talking about who some of the difference-makers will be and which future pro stars will dazzle us in 2011.
The non-Automatic Qualifier teams are so numerous that this endeavor has taken a lot of time to put together. Our six previous lists of the AQ conferences only listed 10 per story, but seeing as how there are five non-AQ leagues I added in an extra five slots – six if you count the honorable mention.
I have no doubt I will leave some very deserving players out that you think are no-brainers, and I will also likely include some names that will leave you scratching your head. But my list takes into account past play-makers and includes my estimation of who will step up in the upcoming season. With that having been said, let the surprises begin.
15. RB Matt Brown – Temple
For all intents and purposes Brown is the human embodiment of the storied Little Engine that Could. The small running back (listed at 5′-5″) had a breakout game against Army last season finding his way into the end zone four times. His career average per carry is over five yards. Something tells me this kid is the next version of Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, and I guarantee he’ll be fun to watch in 2011.
14. RB Ed Wesley – TCU
Wesley is an important reason why the Horned Frogs tasted the success of the BCS bowl 2010 season. He notched together a 1,000-plus yard season and accounted for 11 touchdowns.
It is truly amazing just how overlooked he is by so many. Make no mistake about it, TCU needs Wesley and they will clearing the road for his many trips to the promised land next season.
13. DT Roosevelt Nix – Kent State
Nix did what most would think an amazing accomplishment. As a true freshman, Nix was an All-MAC first teamer, defensive player of the year and, big surprise, was voted the freshman of the year.
The kid is all upside as far as I can tell. He has a very promising future ahead of him after notching 44 total tackles and 10 sacks last season, with four coming in the game against Akron alone… Wow!
12. QB Dominique Davis – East Carolina
Davis wowed the ECU fans in his first year with the Pirates after transferring in to take over the job as the team’s main signal-caller. He amassed nearly 4,000 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in his first season. There is no question in my mind he will be ready to thrill the ECU faithful again next season.
11. QB Jeff Godfrey – Central Florida
The Central Florida quarterback caught a lot of attention last season in his first campaign in Orlando. Godfrey was voted Conference-USA freshman of the year honors in 2010.
He’s a mobile quarterback who can burn the opposing defenses with his feet, but he also put together a QB rating of 154.31. So the kid can use his arm fairly well. He should be fun to watch on an improving UCF team.
10. WR Rishard Matthews – Nevada
Matthews is a receiver that showed his abilities to Wolfpack fans last season, and the rest of the nation found out about him in the victory over Boise State in 2010. He is a quick receiver who has shown a lot of skill in making defenders miss him on the run.
He is a true bright spot in the Nevada receiving corps, and this season will present him another opportunity to distinguish himself. Last season he recorded 56 receptions for 879 yards, and I am betting he finds pay dirt more often than the five touchdowns he scored in 2010.
9. WR/KR Eric Page – Toledo
The Rockets’ leaned on Page a lot in 2010 and he was a guiding force in the team’s success. He recorded over a 100 yards receiving in half of the regular season games, providing a steady and dependable target throughout the season.
Page is a slippery fellow, and if you don’t believe me just ask one of the nation’s best defenses about it. The receiver put up 120 yards on Boise State last season, and he will be a major reason why Toledo will have more chances to shine in 2011.
8. WR/KR Damaris Johnson – Tulsa
Johnson is a guy you will get used to seeing. I know NFL scouts are already eying him with great joy. He is another receiver with great kick returning skills and he made a great impact with the Tulsa program last season.
Johnson’s return skills earned him special teams player of the year honors in Conference-USA last season and he’s been clocked in the low 4.3-range in the 40-yard-dash. This next season will no doubt showcase his speed and abilities.
7. DE Shea McClellin -Boise State
The kid who grew up on ‘Chicken Dinner Road’ (no joke) in a small Idaho town is absolutely representative of what the Boise State program is all about. He is a machine out of A Nightmare on Elm Street movie for opposing offenses.
He is an All-WAC first teamer, and just one of the many cogs in the highly effective Broncos defensive machine. Despite recording only 30 tackles, he led the team with 10 sacks.
He can seem relatively quiet in his play, until – Wham! He is involved in some of the biggest defensive plays.
6. QB G.J. Kinne – Tulsa
Ever since Kinne transferred from Texas to the Golden Hurricane, he has been making solid use of his time in Tulsa. He accounted for 3,650 passing yards and 31 touchdowns through the air. But he is fleet of foot as well, with seven rushing touchdowns and ripped the Houston defense for 190 yards on the ground last season. This is a signal-caller with chops, and the Tulsa fans can’t wait to see what he can do in 2011.
5. RB Doug Martin – Boise State
Broncos fans have affectionately named the stout 5′-9″ 201-pound running back the ‘Muscle Hamster’ due to his stature and musculature. Now, I have a feeling he may not care for the nickname, but the small-ish back bowls through opposing defenses time and time again. The guy runs hard, gaining tons of yards after contact, and he just doesn’t know how to stop moving the ball.
He is a threat to run the ball, or catch it as well. Martin established himself in 2010 with 1,260 rushing yards, averaging more than six yards a carry and he scored a dozen rushing touchdowns. It should be an interesting year in 2011 to watch how the competition plays out between Martin and our next playmaker, as the two will be in the same conference starting next season.
4. RB Ronnie Hillman – San Diego State
What’s not to like about Hillman? I can’t think of much, other than seeing him work on his receiving skills of which we have seen very little of.
Hillman tore up the Mountain West Conference in his freshman campaign with a total of 17 touchdowns (plus one receiving) and more than 1,500 yards on the ground for the Aztecs. The kid didn’t fumble once and recorded multiple 228-yard rushing performances against Missouri and the other coming in the the SDSU Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy… Watch out!
3. QB Case Keenum – Houston
Keenum suffered an ACL injury in the third game of the 2010 season, but the NCAA has seen fit to grant the talented passer a sixth year of eligibility. He has recorded 13,586 passing yards and 107 touchdowns through the air.
He is one of the game’s great passers. With his rehab on track to be ready to start in 2011, you can expect him to challenge another great passer to be seen later in this list.
2. LB Tank Carder – TCU
Carder is a beast, and it’s hard to sum up what he brings to the field in so few words. He was responsible for 61 tackles and four sacks for the Horned Frogs in 2010.
The reigning Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year is the heart and soul of the tough and dominating TCU defense and he will play on Sundays. In 2011, the AP second team All-American will anchor one of the most fearsome defensive attacks in the entire country.
1. QB Kellen Moore – Boise State
You had to know the 2010 Heisman Finalist was going to make the top of this list. The “Prosser Passer” leads the prolific Boise State offense. He loses two key receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis, but there are plenty of younger receivers ready to step up in their place.
Moore led the nation in passing efficiency in 2010 and the expectations for his competing for another Heisman showing is a foregone conclusion. The AP third team All-America quarterback enters his final season on the Blue with a career QB rating of 182.63, several records, 99 passing touchdowns and almost 11,000 yards through the air.
In short, Kellen is… Hmmm, what’s the word? Oh, that’s right – good!
*Honorable Mention DT Billy Winn – Boise State
I know this list is heavy with Broncos players, but there is a very good reason why they have been one of the premier non-AQ programs over the last decade. They are stocked with impressive playmakers. (Bring on the homer comments.)
I had to include Winn, because I kept going back and forth on who I would include in the list between McClellin or Winn. The defensive tackle has proven himself an incredible force to be reckoned with causing destruction and mayhem when attacking opposing offensive lines. Winn will be a destroyer again in 2011.
He makes the list as a testament to the entire defensive front. Last season defensive end Ryan Winterswyk was double-teamed constantly, freeing up opportunities for other members on the line to wreak havoc while he tangled with two sets of bodies.
I hope you enjoyed this list. I tore out my hair over the course of several days researching and compiling it. Again, this is my opinion of who will provide us with the most fun to watch in 2011, based on their previous performances, and how I estimate the players will do in the upcoming season.
Are there other players who were overlooked that could also easily be included? Yes, but this is my list and I encourage you to make your own and leave it in the comment section.
Make your case for why they belong, I want to hear it!
This completes our seven lists of all the conferences. Links to the previous “Top Players to Watch in 2011” series are provided below. And my thanks to our hard-working writers for pouring their souls into this fun project.