TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, and a host other players enter the 2015 college football season on everyone’s radar. There are a number of others though who will make a name for themselves this season far away from the headlines. These are college football’s unsung heroes, the most underrated players in the nation.
Keenan Reynolds, QB Navy
Reynolds will most likely become college football’s all-time career leader in rushing touchdowns. The senior QB will be a four-year starter running one of college football’s toughest offenses to defend, the triple option. After taking over as a freshman and going 6-2 that season, Reynolds has led Navy to 21 victories over three seasons. As a sophomore, Reynolds rushed for an NCAA record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 31. He added 23 last year and is just 13 behind current leader Montee Ball. The 5-11, 195-pounder has led the Midshipmen to three consecutive bowl games and is poised to do it again in Navy’s first year in the American Athletic Conference.
Zach Terrell, QB Western Michigan
The Western Michigan football program was in disarray until a young, energetic head coach named P.J. Fleck took over. Fleck led one of the biggest turnarounds in college football as the Broncos went 8-5 last year and a big reason was the play of their junior quarterback. Terrell, 6-1 and 205 pounds, was sixth in the nation in passer rating (164.4) in 2014 while throwing for 3,443 yards and 26 touchdowns. Terrell completed 68 percent of his passes and was helped by a solid running game that featured freshman running back Jarvion Franklin who rushed for 1,551 yards. Terrell should flourish once again in the Broncos offense.
Tyler Matakevich, LB Temple
It is hard to believe, but Temple had one of the best defenses in the nation yielding just 17.5 points per game to finish fourth in the country in scoring defense. One of the big keys was the play of linebacker Matakevich, who had his third straight season of 100-plus tackles. The senior has 355 career tackles and has also recorded double-digit tackles for loss in consecutive seasons. He is a ball-hawking run stuffer who sometimes gets lost in the shuffle because he is not a big pass-rush specialist nor does he make many big plays in the secondary.
Paul Perkins, RB UCLA
How often does a running back lead his conference in rushing while playing for a team that is ranked in the Top 10 and not make his All-Conference team? Welcome to Paul Perkins, the 5-11, 198-pound junior, who led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards, the second-highest total in UCLA history. Perkins was often overlooked by NFL-caliber quarterback Brett Hundley and two-way star Myles Jack. While Jack is still around, Hundley is gone and true freshman Josh Rosen takes over at QB. Perkins will help take some of the pressure off of the freshman with his running abilities.
Brandon Allen, QB Arkansas
Face it. Arkansas football under head coach Bret Bielema is based on a strong defense and a power running game. The quarterback will not routinely be asked to throw for 300 yards in a game. Allen can do so, if asked. Last year, the 6-3, 210-pound senior threw for 2,285 yards and 20 touchdowns. He threw just five interceptions in his 339 attempts. Allen does exactly what he is told, does not make mistakes, and makes throws when asked. He is a big reason why the Razorbacks are expected to surpass last year’s win total of seven.
Tajae Sharpe, WR UMass
One of the most unheralded receivers in the nation, Sharpe was an All-MAC selection last season after catching 85 passes for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns. He should benefit from having senior QB Blake Frohnapfel healthy in 2015. Sharpe is a lanky (6-4, 200) receiver with great hands and good ball skills. He is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and is creating some NFL Draft buzz as well.
Drew Hare, QB Northern Illinois
The Huskies have produced some of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the history of college football and this season is no different. In his first full season as the starter, Hare ran the Northern Illinois offense to near perfection leading the Huskies to an 11-3 record. Hare threw for 2,322 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. He added another 900 yards on the ground and eight more scores. He will likely do the same in 2015 bringing back images of Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch.
The Wisconsin Offensive Line
Year in and year out, the Badgers are one of the top rushing teams in the nation and they do not run the triple option. Teams like Navy and Georgia Tech typically lead the nation in rushing because the triple option is a big part of what they do. Wisconsin lines up in power formations, using a fullback and multiple tight ends to play smashmouth football. Last season, the Badgers averaged 320 rushing yards per game to finish third in the country. While Wisconsin returns just two starters to the offensive line, the three new members – freshman Michael Delter, sophomore Hayden Biegel, and senior Ray Ball – will most likely keep the Badgers in the top 10 in rushing during the 2015 season. Corey Clement takes over for Melvin Gordon at running back and will likely run for well over 1,000 yards…all because of his offensive line.