This article is part of our CFB Barometer series.
The wait is over. The College Football season is finally, mercifully, upon us. The BCS is gone, making way for the newly minted College Football Playoff. There will certainly still be bickering among teams that do not make the cut in this new format. However, the argument holds less merit for the No. 5 squad as opposed to the No. 3 team, as in the discarded BCS format. The odds of five teams being undefeated are slim to none as well. With a new era on the horizon, let's look at the first College Football Barometer of the 2014 campaign.
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame - The return of Golson to the Fighting Irish is a huge boon for the program. Suspended for last season due to academic issues, Golson led the team to the BCS national championship game during the 2012 campaign. Golson passed for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions that season, while also rushing for 298 yards and six more scores. He has taken a circuitous route back to South Bend but should be wiser and a bit more mature than the last time he suited up for the Irish. He has dual-threat capabilities that intrigue fantasy owners, and could perhaps be gotten on the cheap coming off of a lost season.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami - Johnson is a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman trophy. Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns in eight games before breaking his ankle against Florida State last season. Johnson is also an excellent kick returner, averaging more than 28 yards per return in 2013. The Canes will have a true freshman at quarterback in Brad Kaaya, making the running game will be even more of a focal point for the offense. Johnson will cede some carries to freshman Joseph Yearby, but the Duke of Miami will still be the star of the show. A home-run threat every time he touches the ball, Johnson will be leaned on heavily this season, making him a highly sought after fantasy commodity.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC - Agholor is an athletic freak who will no longer play in the shadow of Marqise Lee. Ironically, Agholor outperformed the more highly touted Lee last season. Lee caught 57 passes for 791 yards in fur touchdowns in a rollercoaster, slightly injury-riddled season. Meanwhile, Agholor hauled in 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns. Agholor showed far more game-breaking ability than Lee, averaging more than 16 yards per catch. Quarterback Cody Kessler eventually settled into the starting QB role nicely for the Trojans and developed an excellent rapport with the 6-foot-1 Agholor. With Lee no longer in the picture, Agholor is the surefire No. 1 receiver in an offense that is expected to play fast under new coach Steve Sarkisian. He should put up big numbers for Southern California.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss - Treadwell has all the tools to become the best wideout in the SEC this season. He's a physical specimen at 6-2, 225. He can go up over the top of most DBs and also outmuscle them when necessary. As a true freshman in 2013, Treadwell showed no signs of stage fright, catching 72 balls for 608 yards and five touchdowns. He will have the same quarterback as last season, the senior Bo Wallace, who is by far the SEC's most experienced quarterback. Last year's leading receiver for the Rebels, Donte Moncrief, is now in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. All of this adds up to the perfect storm for the ultra-talented Treadwell, who will be a beast for Ole Miss as the Rebels attempt to surprise many pundits in the SEC West this season.
Jacob Coker, QB, Alabama - Coker is arguably the top high-risk, high-reward player in the college fantasy game this season. He has all the physical attributes; Coker is 6-5, 230, and has a cannon for an arm. His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, called him the most talented passer he's ever seen. Most people thought that Alabama coach Nick Saban would just hand him the reins to the Tide offense once camp began. That has not been the case, though, as Saban has steadfastly refused to name a starting quarterback between Coker and senior Blake Sims. The latter apparently possesses more of the intangibles that Saban craves in a quarterback, including leadership and the trust of his teammates. The Tide could even go with a two-quarterback system for the first few weeks of the season. Coker may still end up being the starting quarterback of this squad, but it's a bit disconcerting that he has failed to win the job outright.
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville - The Cardinals were already a team in flux heading into 2014. Charlie Strong is now at Texas, leaving Bobby Petrino as the coach yet again. Teddy Bridgewater went pro, leaving a huge void at the quarterback position as well. Parker flirted with the NFL but decided to come back for his senior season despite a school-record 12 receiving touchdowns last season. That decision could not only cost him millions, but also severely damper Louisville's chances in the school's first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That's because Parker suffered a foot injury Friday in practice and is out indefinitely. He has gone to visit noted orthopedist Bob Anderson, who saw Derek Jeter after The Captain broke his ankle in the 2012 playoffs. As a result, the prognosis does not look good for Parker, who is questionable for the Labor Day meeting with the Miami Hurricanes, and could perhaps be looking at a significant time missed.
Barry Sanders Jr., RB, Stanford - For better or worse, the name is going to follow the younger Sanders around wherever he goes. So are the comparisons, which are not fair either. Dad is considered one of the greatest running backs of all time, while junior is simply trying to get his fair share of carries for the Cardinal. The good news for Sanders is that Tyler Gaffney, last year's workhorse, is now in the NFL, leaving 330 carries to fill from a season ago. So is Anthony Wilkerson, a four-year player who toted the pigskin 84 times as a senior in 2013. The bad news is that the junior has nine total touches out of the backfield in his Stanford career thus far. As a result, there could be a learning curve. Likewise, though the Cardinal love to pound the ball on the ground, Sanders is not your prototypical bruising back in the mold of the aforementioned Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor. That means Kelsey Young and Ricky Seale will also get looks from coach David Shaw. Sanders might end up having a monster season, but there's no guarantee.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU - The expectations couldn't be higher for Fournette, who has already been mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson. From all accounts, he is humble, hungry and ready to feast on the SEC. Will he be able to live up to the massive hype, though? One factor working against Fournette is the bevy of running backs at the disposal of coach Les Miles. Senior Kenny Hilliard rushed for 310 yards and seven touchdowns in a backup role in 2013, while fellow upperclassman Terrence MaGee is the captain of the offense, having rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last year. There still should be plenty of ball to go around, but Fournette may be worked into the offense slowly as a true freshman. Still, Les Miles has shown he is not afraid to play the best player regardless of age, meaning that Fournette may seize the starting job during the season -- if he's really, truly as good as advertised.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State - The Buckeyes championship dreams were dashed due to a shoulder injury to Miller. Considered a Heisman favorite, the explosive Miller will instead watch from the sidelines at the Horseshoe in 2014. Miller had offseason shoulder surgery, but reinjured the shoulder in practice a week ago and faces another operation. Miller is out for the season, a devastating blow to both OSU fans and fantasy owners alike. Miller was a surefire top-5 fantasy QB along with Bryce Petty, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. Coach Urban Meyer will instead hand the keys to the offense to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, a relative unknown. The outlook for 2014 is considerably more sour in Columbus now that Miller is shelved for the year.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State - A repeat performance for Mannion is going to be a difficult proposition in 2014. That's not to say Mannion won't have a decent season for the Beavers. It is certainly possible that he has matured into an elite quarterback during his time in Corvallis. Mannion was the second-leading passer in terms of yardage in the entire FBS last year. However, he passed for an astounding 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior in 2013. In his two prior seasons at OSU, he passed for a combined 31 scores. He also will be missing his top target from 2013, the dynamic Brandin Cooks, who has taken his talents to the NFL. Cooks caught 17 of Mannion's TD throws, while accumulating 1,730 yards through the air as well. With Mannion missing his No. 1 playmaker from last season, the odds of another virtuoso performance are low.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma - The Sooners thought DGB would be deemed eligible for this season despite his transgressions that led to his departure from Missouri. What a coup it would have been for Oklahoma. Despite his off-field issues, DGB was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school and is an absolute game-changer. At 6-6, 225, DGB had a sensational sophomore season at Mizzou to the tune of 59 catches for 883 yards 12 touchdowns. The Sooners were mistaken, however, as the waiver was denied, and Green-Beckham will instead be forced to sit out the 2014 campaign. Quarterback Trevor Knight is still poised for an excellent season with Sterling Shepard at his disposal, but adding DGB to the mix would have been truly frightening for opposing defenses.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia - Mitchell was expected to make a full recovery from an ACL tear suffered in last year's season opener against Clemson. The injury actually occurred after celebrating the first score of the Bulldogs 2013 season. He entered camp healthy, but tweaked the same knee at the beginning of August and was forced to undergo an arthroscopic procedure. He was still supposed to be ready to face Clemson once again, but his progress has gone slower than expected. As a result, Mitchell will be sidelined against the Tigers. With fellow wideout Justin Scott-Wesley also not expected to play due to an ankle injury/suspension, expect Chris Conley and Michael Bennett to be the main targets for new quarterback Hutson Mason.