This week marks the release of SI’s annual ranking of the top 100 players in college football. As that countdown kicks off, we’ll issue an apology—to these nine snubs and the dozens of other players on the teams you love who you’re just absolutely positive are going to break out this season.
It’s hard culling thousands of players to just 100, and there are dozens of reasons a deserving player might not make the cut: He doesn’t have enough experience. It’s impossible to know how he’ll perform with dramatically increased reps. His team won’t come close to threatening for a national title. The level of competition in his conference isn’t quite up to par. For the 10 guys on this list, our most deserving snubs, one or more of those reasons apply—and one or more of these players is almost certain to prove the snub wrong.
Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State
As a sophomore a year ago, Lewerke took over the Michigan State starting job and led the Spartans to a 10–3 season that took many people (pleasantly) by surprise. On the year, he passed for 2,793 yards, throwing 20 touchdowns and only seven interceptions while completing 59% of his passes. He’s also strong on the ground; Lewerke rushed for 559 yards last year. Surrounded by returning starters on offense, he has a realistic shot to be the best quarterback in Michigan and the second-best in the Big Ten—assuming Trace McSorley plays as he has during the first three seasons of his career.
Aaron Cephus, WR, Rice
Cephus has some of the most impressive big-play potential in all of college football. As a redshirt freshman last year, he caught 25 passes for 622 yards, averaging 24.9 yards per catch. And of those 25 receptions, six were for more than 50 yards. Only two players, James Washington and Marquise Brown, had more catches for 50+ yards last year, and they had 49 and 32 more catches, respectively, than did Cephus.
Tyrel Dodson, LB, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ defense looks primed to be very, very good in 2018, and the best player among that group is Dodson, a junior linebacker who was overlooked on the All-SEC honor roll a season ago. As a sophomore in 2017, he logged 104 total tackles and took his pass defense to another level from the year before; on the season, he had eight passes defensed along with three interceptions for 41 total yards and a touchdown.
Mason Fine, QB, North Texas
Fine looks like the best quarterback in the state of Texas—although he certainly doesn’t play for the team you’d expect for that qualification. He’ll be a junior in 2018, and over his first two seasons he helped turn North Texas from a perennial loser to a nine-win team last year. In 2017, he passed for more than 4,000 yards and improved in every major passing category, tossing 31 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions while completing 63.4% of his passes.
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
As a freshman in 2017, Harris averaged 6.1 yards per carry, accumulating 370 yards and three touchdowns. A relative afterthought among a talented running backs corps all season, Harris sparked Alabama in the fourth quarter of the national title game, rushing six times for 64 yards and setting up the field goal that brought the game within a score. With Bo Scarbrough off to the NFL, Harris should get more carries in 2018, and if that final quarter of 2017 is any indication, he seems poised for a breakout.
Ben Hicks, QB, SMU
And now for our second-best quarterback in the state of Texas—who also happens to play for a team in a Group of Five conference. Hicks was a sophomore in 2017, and he passed for 3,569 yards and 33 touchdowns. This season will be a transition for the quarterback; the Mustangs lost coach Chad Morris to Arkansas, and they’re adjusting to new coach Sonny Dykes’s Air Raid offense. It’s reasonable to expect SMU to miss a beat without Morris, but reports out of Dallas are that Hicks is taking well to the new scheme.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Jeudy, a rising sophomore, tore his meniscus in spring ball, but he’s expected to be fine for the start of the season. A year ago, he was the Tide’s second-leading receiver behind Calvin Ridley, and though he didn’t put up huge numbers—he finished with 14 catches for 264 yards—he’s expected to start in 2018.
Shareef Miller, DE, Penn State
Miller won his starting job before last season, and he led the Nittany Lions in sacks, with 5.5, and tackles for loss, with 11.5. He’s a disruptive edge rusher on a defensive line that should be better in 2018 than it was a year ago. Miller has said he wants to break Carl Nassib’s single-season sack program record—he put up 15.5 in 2015—and if he even threatens that goal, the Nittany Lions’ front seven will be a unit to be reckoned with.
Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State
We’ll round out the list with another Penn Stater, the Nittany Lions’ No. 2 running back from a season ago. He’ll have a huge production hole to fill with the departure of Saquon Barkley to the NFL, and if he can sustain the level of production he’s hinted at with increased carries this fall, Sanders will have a breakout year. Over the past two seasons, he’s combined for 56 carries in two seasons, netting 184 yards as a freshman and 191 as a sophomore. Of note: He’s averaged 6.7 yards per carry over his career.