Whatever the expectations were for Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston coming into the year, and certainly they were high, he still exceeded them by a mile. All Winston did in his first season as a starter was win the Heisman trophy and lead the Seminoles to the BCS National Championship. Not bad for a guy who prior to the season was best known for playing baseball and throwing a football over a fraternity house.
Who will be next season's breakout star in college football? The 2013 season is in the books, so let's take a way-too-early look at those players who could make waves in 2014.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama - Henry served notice of an extremely bright future in Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. The freshman saw most of his carries during the regular season in garbage time of routs by the Tide, as Alabama was stocked at running back. T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake saw most of the touches, but Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and Altee Tennpenny also received work. As such, despite averaging more than 10 yards per carry, Henry toted the pigskin just 28 times for 282 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season. He exploded in the loss to Oklahoma, though, rushing eight times for 100 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter. Henry then took a 61-yard screen pass to the house in the fourth quarter. A huge, bruising back at 6-foot-3, 240, Henry also showed some shiftiness and breakaway speed as well. Kenyan Drake ended the season in coach Nick Saban's doghouse as well, which will only aid Henry's progress heading into the 2014 campaign. You can bet coach Saban will find a way to get Henry more involved as a sophomore.
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma - Staying with the Sugar Bowl, Knight was electric against one of the top defenses in the nation. The freshman QB was inconsistent during the regular season, while battling injuries as well. However, he picked apart the Crimson Tide to the tune of 348 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-44 passing in the 45-31 victory over Alabama. Though he did throw a pick, it was virtually the only blemish to Knight's name in a stunning win over the heavily favored Crimson Tide. Knight will lose top wideout Jalen Saunders to graduation, but will still have Sterling Shepard at his disposal. Don't forget about Knight's dual-threat ability as well, which makes him an even more desirable fantasy quarterback. He rushed 67 times for 445 yards and two touchdowns this season as well. After showing he can pass as well as throw, Knight could be an extremely dangerous weapon as a sophomore.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh - Freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd should already be on most fantasy radars, as he caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns, drawing comparisons to former Pitt star Larry Fitzgerald. Conner had an up-and-down freshman season, but ended it with a bang in the Little Caesers Bowl against Bowling Green. He set a Pittsburgh bowl record with 229 yards rushing in the 30-27 victory over the Falcons. NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett previously held the record. Considering that LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles, this season's rushing leader in the NFL, also used to play for Pitt, Conner's feat is quite an accomplishment. He ended the 2013 season with four games of 100-plus rushing yards en route to 799 yards on the ground, as well as eight touchdowns. He may still have to battle Isaac Bennett for carries, but it's clear Conner has the advantage, and upside, due to his monstrous bowl game performance.
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri - Mauk showed why he was Mr. Football in the State of Ohio in 2011 when Mizzou's starting quarterback, James Franklin went down with an injury midway through the 2013 campaign. After sitting out last season, the redshirt freshman stepped in seamlessly for the Tigers, starting four games and passing for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions over that span. Despite piloting a run-heavy offense, Mauk still passed for over 200 yards in three of those four starts. Franklin is graduating, leaving Mauk to shine under center. He'll still have the services of freakish wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, and may be asked to shoulder even more of the offensive load with running back Henry Josey headed to the NFL. Mauk even tossed a touchdown in limited action during the Cotton Bowl, while also rushing for 73 yards. He should be a top-tier quarterback in 2014.
Stacy Coley, WR, Miami - Coley is a flat-out gamebreaker. He has blazing speed, whether returning kicks or taking bubble screens to the house. Coley caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman, averaging a stellar 17.9 yards per catch. He also scored a rushing touchdown, a punt return touchdown, and a kickoff return touchdown. Leading wideout Allen Hurns is graduating, and Philip Dorsett has battled injury and inconsistency over the last two seasons for the Canes. Coley will also have to work with a new quarterback, likely Memphis transfer Ryan Williams, as Stephen Morris has also played his last game for Miami. Still, with Duke Johnson, Dallas Crawford and incoming freshman Joseph Yearby expected to be potent weapons out of the backfield, Coley should see plenty of one-on-one coverage and showcase his speed and quickness when the ball is in his hands.
Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M - There's uncertainty as to who will line up under center for the Aggies due to the departure of Johnny Manziel to the NFL. Whether it is Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen, the A&M quarterback in 2014 will still have a home-run hitter to hand the ball to in Williams. Starting rusher Ben Malena is graduating, and big-time wideout Mike Evans will also be in the pros. That leaves Williams to play the role of catalyst for the Aggies offense. Williams averaged an impressive seven yards per carry, rushing for 407 yards and six touchdowns on just 58 carries. It will be interesting to see if the 5-8, 195, back will be able to shoulder a heavier workload, as well as be able to succeed when the opposing defense is focused on him rather than Manziel. Williams has the talent, but may see increased resistance in 2014.
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame - Golson has been reinstated to the Notre Dame Football team after sitting out a year due to academic infractions. Golson led the Irish to the BCS National Championship game in 2013 as a freshman, passing for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 298 yards and six more scores. However, following the season he was kicked off the squad for academic reasons. Nevertheless, he has worked his way back into the good graces of the administration as well as Coach Brian Kelly, and with Tommy Rees graduating, Golson will take the reins of the Fighting Irish offense in 2014. It will be interesting to see if the year away from football has helped him mature, or if he will be rusty. Golson has loads of upside, but certainly comes with some risk.
Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU - What will Jennings do in his first full season as a starter? He did not play well in LSU's Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, completing just 7-of-19 passes for 82 yards and an interceptions, while doing nothing on the ground. He started due to the injury to Zach Mettenberger, who is graduating. As such, Jennings will become the signal caller for Les Miles in 2014. Still, Jennings will have to deal with the departures of two incredible weapons, wideouts Odell Beckham, Junior and Jarvis Landry, both who have decided to forego their final years of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Jennings will certainly still have a potent running game to lean on, but he has extremely limited experience, and looked a bit overwhelmed at times as a freshman. Although this may be expected, and the Tigers will continue to re-stock with top-level talent, the onus will be on Jennings to show improvement in 2014, or he may find himself on the bench behind incoming freshman Brandon Harris.
Rannell Hall, WR, Central Florida - Quarterback Blake Bortles is leaving school early to head to the NFL and likely will be a top-10 pick in the draft. Hall, the leading receiver for the Knights, will certainly suffer the consequences. Hall caught 57 passes for 886 yards and two touchdowns as a junior in 2013, and played an integral role in the stunning Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor on New Year's Day. Hall caught four passes for 113 yards and two scores in the 52-42 triumph. However, the Knights do not have a surefire replacement for Bortles, as sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and true freshman Tyler Harris will battle for the starting job. One of the trio could end up being as successful as Bortles, but even that will take time. As a result, expect Hall's statistics to regress in his senior campaign.
David Ash, QB, Texas - Ash will be the frontrunner for the Texas starting quarterback job in 2014 under new coach Charlie Strong. He does not have much competition for the position, with Case McCoy graduating. The only other quarterbacks in play should be project Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Jerrod Heard. Still, Ash missed the majority of the 2013 with serious concussion issues. He played well when healthy, albeit in just three games, gaining 760 passing yards and 152 rushing yards, while scoring eight total touchdowns. However, it remains to be seen how the concussion issues will affect him moving forward. Likewise, the implementation of a new offensive system under coach Strong, all while recuperating from a head injury, may not bode well for Ash. The Texas gunslinger comes with considerable risk in 2014.
Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida - Don't bet on a bounce back season from Driskel, who wasn't exactly lighting it up before suffering a season-ending broken leg against Tennessee in September. Driskel tossed two interceptions in his prior start against Miami, and had already tossed another pick on just six passes before exiting with the injury. Driskel passed for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions as a sophomore, while also rushing for 408 yards and four more scores. However, he mostly struggled before getting hurt in 2013, and his injury only added to the complete mess that was the Gators' season. He'll have a new offensive coordinator in 2014, and hopefully will be healthy, but Florida still lacks playmakers in the wide receiving corps. The group will only get thinner due to the graduations of Trey Burton and Solomon Patton. Driskel will have stud running back Kelvin Taylor to lean on, though the Gators should remain a run-heavy offense despite the switch in OCs. As a result, Driskel's statistics could be limited, and he has not shown enough growth to be a reliable fantasy starter.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State - Firstly, Mannion shouldn't have a bad season in 2014, per se. However, it will be interesting to see how the Beavers fill the void left by Brandin Cooks, who will be an early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. Cooks accounted for more than 37 percent of Mannion's passing yards in 2013, a season which saw the OSU QB pass for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. The yardage mark set a Pac-12 record. Mannion still tossed 15 INTs, though, and has thrown at least 13 picks in each season under center for the Beavers. He battled injury and inconsistency in 2012, even with Cooks and current Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton on the roster. In other words, while he is less than 2,000 passing yards away from setting the conference record for passing yardage, it may be foolish to believe in a repeat performance of Mannion's standout junior campaign.