One player doesn’t win a game, but these guys might determine their teams fates
Cody Kessler (USC) Kessler is coming off a solid year of completing 70% of his passes and throwing just 5 picks. He’s proven he can take care of the ball and put up points. This year he’ll have to prove he can do both without Nelson Agholor snatching passes and Buck Allen keeping defenses honest up front. The Trojans lost key players on the defensive side of the ball as well so he’ll need to give his defense a lead to work with and be the senior leader to take control of this team. The Pac-12 doesn’t look to have a lot of powerful offenses so he won’t need to put up 40 to win this season.
Dalvin Cook (Florida State) For better or worse, the Jameis Winston era is over in Tallahassee. But the Seminoles didn’t just lose their quarterback. Jimbo Fisher only has three offensive starters back from a team that relied on their explosive ability to jump back into games in the second half. They also fielded an average defense in a conference that could barely be called a Power 5 football member. Cook is an explosive runner who led the team in rushes, yards and yards/attempt last season but also had a tendency to fumble. With Everett Golson stepping under center in a new offense in a new uniform and a new school, FSU will need Cook to step up and be a steady offensive influence. He can allow them to control the clock, keep the defense off the field and take pressure off Golson, who has a tendency to throw picks and fumble. The fortunes of the ‘Noles may rest squarely on the 6’, 200 lb running back’s shoulders.
Deshaun Watson (Clemson) Dabo Swinney seems to win 9-10 games and keep his team in some sort of championship discussion every year. He’ll need Watson to come thru big this year if he wants that streak to continue. With only 4 offensive starters returning and only two of them skill position players, the Tigers QB will need to mature quickly and create some points. The Venables-Hobby defense will be suspect at best so the sophomore will need to be efficient and hope the running game keeps defenses more honest than last year. Bottom line: this team will go as far as Watson takes them.
Jake Coker (Alabama) Blake Sims didn’t exactly light it up for the tide last year, but he was solid and didn’t make too many mistakes. If Jake Coker is the same kind of game-manager the Tide may be in the hunt again this year. The offense only has two starters returning and none of them are skill position players, but with 7 defensive starters back and most of them upperclassmen he may only need to give a Dilfer-esque performance to make the playoff. If another T.J. Yeldon emerges, Coker’s job might get tremendously easier.
Royce Freeman (Oregon) Marcus Mariota is gone……he’s not coming back…..just accept it. Transfer quarterback Vernon Adams might jump in seamlessly or junior back up Jeff Lockie might leapfrog the fifth year senior and light it up in this scorch-the-earth offense. More than likely, there will be an adjustment period for whoever takes over the helm and Freeman will carry the load until they’re up to speed. His speed and nose for open spaces might make teams think twice before blitzing and give their pass plays time to develop.