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The most exciting players in college football

We’re a third of the way through the college football season, and I’ve been having a blast watching games and posting these articles. There is nothing I like writing about more than my favorite players and why I enjoy watching them on the field. I usually make these lists before and after seasons, but since we’re at a marker point of 2013, I thought I’d share my favorite players to watch at each of the offensive skill positions. These are all guys who deserve your attention on Saturdays as we get into the bulk of conference play.

Quarterbacks

• Jameis Winston, Florida St. – I still think he’ll win the Heisman, as stated in my very first college football article. The kid is the best QB in the ACC — yes, even better than Tajh Boyd. His completion percentage is nearly ten percent better at 73.6, he’s thrown for 12 touchdowns to Boyd’s nine and thrown for 54 more yards. Boyd’s only statistical advantage is his zero interceptions to Winston’s two, but he had 13 last year so they’re bound to happen soon. Winston sits calm in the pocket like a seasoned vet, he’s stunningly accurate and slippery — able to escape pressure and extend the play. He has the skill set and mentality of a future NFL signal-caller but we’ll have to wait until at least the 2015 draft. Winston and Florida State are always a TV priority for me, especially this week when they’re hosting fellow dual-threat QB C.J. Brown and the 4-0 Maryland Terrapins at 9 a.m. on ESPN.

• Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – I don’t care what anybody says about Johnny Football, the kid is the prototypical college quarterback that any coach would love to have on his team. Everything that happened off the field is behind him and he’s back to playing his defense-torching, elusive game that will keep A&M in contention with ‘Bama and LSU in the SEC West. Speaking of Alabama, Manziel threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns and even ran for another 98 yards against the Crimson Tide. He’s the only QB to beat the current back-to-back champs since Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee “did it” when LSU beat ‘Bama 9-6 in 2011. If you remember, there weren’t any touchdowns in that game and Jefferson didn’t even throw for over 100 yards — he just happened to be the QB of the winning team. Before LSU, it was Cam Newton during Auburn’s run to the 2010 National Championship. For a bit of perspective, Alabama has had eleven defensive players drafted over the last three years. Manziel destroyed the best defense in college football this season and found a way to beat them last year. He’s the real deal folks, not the next Eric Crouch and certainly not the next Tim Tebow. He’s NFL ready and we’ll see him playing on Sundays (or at least holding a clipboard on the sidlines) in 2014.

Running Backs

• Marion Grice, Arizona St. – As an Arizona alum, it pains me to praise any of the Sun Devils, but this guy is a touchdown machine and I can’t look away. He’s scored 12 of his team’s 22 touchdowns and is likely to pick up at least another pair this weekend against Notre Dame in Dallas. Grice’s secret weapon is is receiving skills. The man is LaDanian Tomlinson-good out of the backfield and this skill will make him a very hot commodity in the 2014 draft. Whoever ends up with Grice, a likely second-round pick, will get to add a new wrinkle to their offense. Think Darren Sproles but a half-foot taller. Grice will continue to put up these numbers because ASU has a fast-moving, high-scoring offense that isn’t afraid to keep getting him the ball.

• Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – Call me biased, but then step back and realize who I’m talking about. This man led the nation in rushing last year and this season is becoming the collegiate version of Marshawn Lynch. It takes more than one man to bring down Carey, he drags tacklers, pushes piles and rarely loses the football. He makes University of Arizona football relevant. It helped to have an experienced senior quarterback last season in Matt Scott. Opposing teams were less focused on only stopping the run that the passing game opened up, and relieving the pressure on Carey allowed him to trample the defense. This year, the Wildcats have an inexperienced senior quarterback in B.J. Denker. Teams have seen this guy struggle to throw for 100 yards in a single game and focus on stopping the run, but that doesn’t matter to Ka’Deem Carey, as he’s averaging nearly 144 yards per game even though know it’s coming.

Wide Receivers

• Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, Baylor – I’ve already written at length about the Bears offense but these two guys along with RB Lache Seastrunk are the pistons the make the engine run. Quarterback Bryce Petty is the driver and together they’re one hell of a motor. Each wideout is averaging over 115 yards and at least one TD per game and I expect that to continue despite the infinitely more difficult schedule ahead. Baylor has played a cupcake opening schedule, outscoring Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe 209-23. You are reading those numbers correctly. They’ll host West Virginia this week and again I expect Baylor to put up over 60 points with Goodley and Reese hauling in a score apiece. Enjoy this high-flying offense for the next few weeks, they’ll take on WVU, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Kansas before a string of three (currently) ranked teams in November: Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

• Brandin Cooks, Oregon State – What the SEC has been for defense, the Pac-12 is for offense. Cooks is far and away the most productive receiver in the country, hauling in 807 yards through four games, 106 more yards than the man behind him, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. It also helps that Sean Mannion, his third-year starting quarterback, leads the nation in passing yards. These guys have been working together since they were freshmen and it shows on the field. Cooks is averaging ten receptions and 161 yards per game and has almost matched his numbers from last year when he was sharing receptions with current Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton. He’s on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List and I would be shocked if he isn’t a finalist.

Some of my other favorites to watch:

QBs:

CJ Brown, Maryland

Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

Chuckie Keeton, Utah St.

RBs:

Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

Storm Johnson, Central Florida

Bishop Sankey, Washington

Rajion Neal, Tennessee

WRs:

Jarvis Landry, LSU

Paul Richardson, Colorado

Alex Amidon, Boston College

Stefon Diggs, Maryland

What I’m watching this week:

9:00 a.m. – #25 Maryland @ #8 Florida St. – ESPN

12:30 p.m. – Minnesota @ #19 Michigan – ABC/ESPN2

4:30 p.m. – #22 Arizona St. vs. Notre Dame (in Dallas) – NBC

5:00 p.m. – #4 Ohio St. @ #16 Northwestern – ABC

7:30 p.m. – #15 Washington @ #5 Stanford – ESPN