As the college football season draws closer, hype builds across the country for some of the game’s biggest stars to return to the field. Fans will witness their favorite collegiate stars once again, but they’ll also see new ones emerge in 2019.
Every year we get to witness players who showed flashes the previous season return the next year and dominate on a weekly basis. Of course, 2018 also showed us that some special freshman can make the jump from high school to immediate stardom in college.
Here are 10 players set to take the college football world by storm in 2019.
Xavier Thomas, defensive end, Clemson Tigers
After losing four defensive linemen to the NFL, Clemson’s ability to win at the line of scrimmage is one of the biggest questions for the summer. However, Thomas might be the answer already and on the verge of a quick rise to fame.
Thomas excelled in limited playing time as a freshman with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s a force off the edge and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him record 12-plus sacks in his first year as a starter, given his athleticism and development.
Najee Harris, running back, Alabama Crimson Tide
Harris patiently sat behind star running backs before him while showing flashes of greatness in limited touches. 2019 will be his chance to shine as the featured running back in Alabama’s offense.
Harris enters the season with an incredible 6.5 yards per carry on 178 career touches. Opposing teams will already be dealing with Tua Tagovailoa and the best receiving corps in the country, which will open plenty of running lanes for Harris to dominate and become one of the nation’s most productive backs.
Adrian Martinez, quarterback, Nebraska Cornhuskers
If anyone thought Martinez experienced a breakout in his first season, they only saw a fraction of what he is capable of at Nebraska. The freshman All-American’s 25 total touchdowns gave us a taste of his ceiling in this offense and we’ll witness a lot more of it every Saturday this season..
Another summer of learning and developing in Scott Frost’s offense will do wonders for Martinez’s progression as a passer, and will help solidify chemistry with his receivers. The sophomore quarterback is capable of combining for 40 total touchdowns this season and could make some noise as a Heisman Trophy contender.
Derek Stingley Jr., cornerback, LSU Tigers
Making an immediate defensive impact as a true freshman can be incredibly difficult, but Stingley Jr. is one of the rare players capable of it. Coaches keep raving about his play in practice and Ed Orgeron compares his punt return skills to Reggie Bush.
He’s going to make an impact on special teams and might even take on a prominent role in LSU’s secondary. It might not be long before we’re talking about Stingley Jr. as one of the best defensive backs in the country.
Tyler Johnson, wide receiver, Minnesota Golden Gophers
It’s a special era in college football with star receivers displaying NFL-caliber talent spread out all across the country. While Minnesota’s best playmaker doesn’t draw a ton of national attention, he’ll earn more of it this season.
Johnson exploded in 2018 for 1,169 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns across 13 games. Those numbers came even with six games under 80 receiving yards, which opens the door for him to do even more this season. Minnesota’s offense will need to be more consistent, but Johnson has the talent to dominate and grab the spotlight.
Ricky Slade, running back, Penn State Nittany Lions
Slade is finally getting his shot with Penn State after enrolling as a five-star recruit and sitting behind Miles Sanders. After receiving just 46 touches in 2018, the sophomore is locked into the starting role for 2019.
He could also benefit from Penn State using a committee approach. He’ll be kept fresh throughout the season, including in the second half of the year, which will help him maintain consistency. Given his talent and the expected workload, Slade could quadruple his yardage total and become a 1,000-yard back in 2019.
Tommy DeVito, quarterback, Syracuse Orange
DeVito enters the summer as the new face of Syracuse’s offense. While that comes with risk, it also means an opportunity to shine as a starter. He dealt with some inconsistency in very limited playing time as a freshman, but that’s common for many inexperienced players.
We know the raw talent is there. An offseason to work as the starter is incredibly valuable for a young quarterback. Dino Babers’ offense is made for putting up big numbers and DeVito is finally in a place where he can take advantage of that. As long as he executes and avoids critical mistakes, Syracuse’s quarterback transition will be smooth and the explosive offense will roll on.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, wide receiver, USC Trojans
Plenty of USC’s skill-position players will benefit from the arrival of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, but we’ll focus on St. Brown. He proved himself to be a reliable weapon last season and his role will only grow in 2019.
JT Daniels will be more comfortable in this offense and put in position to make quick throws so playmakers can excel. Meanwhile, Harrell will find creative ways to get St. Brown the ball frequently in open space to make big plays. It creates a high-powered offense that could fuel a 1,200-yard, eight-touchdown season for the sophomore.
Anthony McFarland Jr., running back, Maryland Terrapins
Following a very rough stretch for the program, the Terrapins seems poised for a redemption story in 2019. In order for that to happen, Maryland will be counting on McFarland Jr. to take another step forward after a strong debut.
He eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards as a freshman and that came before the arrival of head coach Mike Locksley and quarterback Joshua Jackson. Locksley’s offensive mind will open up this offense to reach its full potential with Jackson under center and that all leads to even greater things for McFarland Jr. this year.
Chris Olave, wide receiver, Ohio State Buckeyes
Sometimes it only takes one game to realize an athlete is special. Anyone who watched Olave’s performance against the Michigan Wolverines knew they witnessed the beginning of a great player’s young career.
Now Olave is headed for a starting role in Ohio State’s offense and he could quickly become a go-to target for Justin Fields. He possesses excellent speed and has crisp route-running ability, which an unstoppable combo at the collegiate level in an elite offense. Consider Olave’s performance against Michigan to be the opening act to a breakout 2019 campaign.