Bryce Love, Ed Oliver and Nick Bosa highlighted the stars returning to college football in 2018. Four weeks in, several other players have clearly joined the special group.
Most of these standouts previously held a significant role, and some were even All-Conference honorees. This season, however, they’ve elevated their performance and production to nationally elite levels.
The most obvious choice is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who’s supplanted Jalen Hurts and become a Heisman Trophy contender.
But there is new top-shelf talent emerging all over the country.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, wide receiver, Stanford
Stanford has such immense trust in JJ Arcega-Whiteside that the playbook features a unique call near scoring territory. Unofficially, it’s titled “throw it up and let JJ get it.” Arcega-Whiteside will literally run into the end zone, box out his defender and wait for a lofted pass. Simple? Sure. Effective? You bet. The senior has brought down a couple of those for touchdowns, among his seven scores. He’s registered 408 yards on 17 catches for a 24.0-yard average that ranks seventh nationally. Arcega-Whiteside is quietly emerging as a top 2019 draft prospect at his position.
Marquise Brown, wide receiver, Oklahoma
“Hollywood” is likely a familiar player at this point, given his explosion in 2017 against Oklahoma State and propensity for long touchdowns. Marquise Brown has three scores this season, each of which covered at least 58 yards. His longest reception — a 75-yard touchdown — happened in Oklahoma’s victory at Iowa State. That day, he totaled nine catches for 191 yards. Brown is the national co-leader in receptions that have gained 40-, 50- and 60-plus yards. When the Sooners need a big play, it’s safe to assume Kyler Murray is looking Brown’s way first.
Dwayne Haskins, quarterback, Ohio State
Dwayne Haskins’ blend of efficiency and production is special. The successor to J.T. Barrett has completed 75.7 percent of his throws for 1,194 yards and 16 scores to only one interception. Only Tagovailoa and West Virginia’s Will Grier have posted a higher rating than Haskins. Pretty good company for the Ohio State quarterback. He’s eclipsed the 300-yard mark three times and tossed five-plus touchdowns in two games. Haskins has helped the Buckeyes unlock the full potential of their offense, since opponents now have real respect for the passing game.
Darrell Henderson, running back, Memphis
This combination of volume and explosiveness is practically unheard of beyond a video-game system. Darrell Henderson has scampered for 709 yards on 58 carries, showcasing a jaw-dropping 12.2-yard average. The junior has broken off six runs of 50-plus yards, which is four more than anyone else in the country. For good measure, Henderson has a 62-yard reception, too. Overall, he’s averaging 12.0 yards per offensive touch and has accounted for nine touchdowns. Henderson is an under-the-radar contender to finish 2018 as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon
Even in the disappointing loss to Stanford, Justin Herbert put Oregon in position to win. Unfortunately for him, a stunning fumble by a teammate gave the Cardinal a lifeline they didn’t waste. Nevertheless, Herbert has steadily established himself as a realistic candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft. The big-armed quarterback has completed 63.2 percent of his passes despite a drop-plagued receiving corps behind Dillon Mitchell. Herbert has tallied 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns with an impressive 10.4-yard clip per throw.
Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson
The future has arrived. And for Dabo Swinney’s program, it’s a long-haired phenom. Trevor Lawrence spent the first four games of the campaign as a super-sub, often providing a much-needed jolt to Clemson’s scoring attack. Now, Swinney has seen enough to start Lawrence in Week 5 against Syracuse. The true freshman will enter the contest with 600 yards and 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Lawrence also boasts a rating of 191.8, which is the eighth-best mark in the country. The anticipated star is quickly becoming one at Clemson.
Rondale Moore, wide receiver, Purdue
Every time this freshman touches the ball, eyes widen and defenders internally panic. Rondale Moore shredded Northwestern for a school record 313 all-purpose yards in his first-ever college appearance and has hardly slowed. Through four games, the wideout has eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times. In addition to his five total touchdowns on offense, Moore has collected more than 200 yards as a returner. He currently ranks No. 5 nationally in all-purpose yards per game. Purdue’s hopes of a surge to relevance can be centered on Moore as the foundation.
Benny Snell Jr., running back, Kentucky
As a freshman who split carries, Benny Snell Jr. collected 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last season, he moved into the featured role with 1,333 yards and 19 scores. Snell keeps getting better. So far, he’s shredded four defenses for a total of 540 yards and seven trips to the end zone. Snell torched Florida for a season-high 175 yards and ripped apart Mississippi State to the tune of 165 yards and four touchdowns. Heading into Week 5, he’s the leading rusher in the SEC. Kentucky recently moved into the Top 25, and Snell is the main reason the Wildcats could hang around.
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama
While he earned praise for leading Alabama’s comeback in the national championship, Tua Tagovailoa still attempted only 77 passes last year. The hype looked warranted, but he needed a larger sample to prove it. Uh, mission accomplished. So far, the southpaw has completed 72.5 percent of his attempts for 1,033 yards and 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Tagovailoa has also picked up 103 yards and two scores on the ground. Alabama is dangerous enough on a yearly basis. Now, Nick Saban has a legitimate terror at quarterback. Good luck stopping the Tide.
Gerald Willis III, defensive tackle, Miami
Due to the early departures of both R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, Miami had a thin group at defensive tackle for 2018. The ‘Canes desperately needed Gerald Willis III to back up the offseason praise right away. Well, entering Week 5, no player in the country has recorded more tackles for loss than his 10. Willis made four stops in the backfield against LSU, then posted three TFLs opposite both Toledo and Florida International. He’s totaled 19 tackles with two sacks for the nation’s No. 2 defense. Willis has suddenly become an intriguing NFL prospect.