It’s never too early to start looking ahead to the next college football season. So as we watch the current one come to a close during the College Football Playoff, here’s a list of candidates at every position that have shown potential this year and are poised to break out in 2019.
Jacob Phillips, LSU LB
With Butkus Award winner Devin White moving on to the NFL (presumably), a spot opens for Phillips as the new centerpiece in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s scheme. Phillips, a Rivals.com five-star signee, started alongside White this season, but he’ll now get the spotlight in 2019. The junior from Tennessee had 83 tackles and three interceptions in his first season as a starter in 2018.
Phidarian Mathis, Alabama DL
The 6’4”, 305-pound Louisiana product is expected to see a bigger role next season with the departure of a couple of Tide defensive linemen. A rotating player this season, Mathis had 16 tackles, learning from some of the best front players in college football: NG Quinnen Williams, DE Isaiah Buggs and DE Raekwon Davis. Despite minimal reps, Mathis landed on the All-SEC Freshman Team.
Palaie Gaoteote, USC LB
The top-ranked inside linebacker in 247Sports.com’s 2018 composite rankings, Gaoteote had some mental growing pains during his first year this season, playing spot duty for injured starter Cameron Smith. But Smith’s exit opens the door for the Las Vegas product to shine as a sophomore next season. He finished 2018 with 38 tackles and two sacks in 10 games played.
Zamir White, Georgia RB
The 2018 class’s No. 1-ranked running back prospect, White tore his left ACL during camp in August, about 14 months after his senior season ended with him tearing his right ACL. A 6-foot, 215-pounder, White was expected to potentially contribute at tailback with the departure of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel last year. His wait extended another season with the latest ACL injury.
Cameron McGrone, Michigan LB
A highly touted 2018 signee from Indianapolis, McGrone saw minimal playing time as a freshman while behind a deep, talented linebacker pool. However, with starter Devin Bush presumably leaving for pro ball, McGrone could see a significant more snaps next season. The 6’1”, 230-pounder played in just one regular season game—on special teams—making him a redshirt freshman in 2019.
Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma RB
A little known redshirt freshman entering this season, Brooks didn’t record a carry in three straight games earlier this season before a 107-yard breakout against Baylor. He ended the regular season with three straight 100-yard outings, but the 5’11”, 205-pounder was overshadowed by his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. In 2019, Brooks likely finds the spotlight as OU’s leading man.
Houston Griffith, Notre Dame DB
A rotational player for the playoff-bound Irish, Griffith has made some key contributions in spots in his freshman season, offering a window into his future potential. Notre Dame’s highest-ranked 2018 signee, Griffith at one point earlier this season displaced a starter as Notre Dame’s nickel cornerback, and he even made a start against Wake Forest.
Matt Corral, Ole Miss QB
Corral, a Californian who signed with Ole Miss as a top five QB nationally, is poised to take over for Jordan Ta’amu and lead the Rebels’ pass-friendly offense. He played in just four games this season, allowing him to redshirt. He attempted 22 passes, two of those going for scores, and endeared himself to Ole Miss fans with in involvement in a scuffle in the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.
Xavier Thomas, Clemson DE
Ranked as high as the No. 3 recruit in the 2018 class, Thomas had 38 tackles, 9.5 for loss, as a rotational player on a Clemson defensive line that losses future NFL stars after this season, opening the door for this IMG Academy product. His high in snaps this past season was 28 in the ACC championship game blowout over Pitt. Imagine his statistical production with 50-plus snaps a game as a starter in 2019.
Chris Olave, Ohio State WR
This 6’1”, 175-pound speedster finished his freshman season in a flurry, catching two touchdowns and blocking a punt in a beatdown of Michigan before a season-high in catches (5) and yards (79) in the Big Ten championship game. With a host of wideouts leaving the Buckeyes, Olave should have a big role in 2019, where he’ll put on display his track speed (he ran a 10.8-second 100-meter dash in high school).