College football's wide geographical appeal, coupled with the sheer volume of players stocking 131 FBS rosters, creates a huge pool of potential characters who can emerge as stars. Sometimes, those stars are predictable. Former five-star prospect Bryce Young, for example, met the hype as a sophomore last season and won the Heisman Trophy while playing quarterback for a big-brand school like Alabama.
Other times, the sport produces unexpected stars like Kansas tight end Jared Casey, who became a national hero last season for catching the game-winning 2-point conversion in the Jayhawks' upset victory at Texas. Casey, who began his career as a walk-on, and Young, who was the No. 1 overall prospect in his recruiting class, can both be stars in college football. Such is the beauty of the sport.
As the 2022 season gets underway, we're firing up a Star Power Index to see who is shining the brightest. This isn't a Heisman Trophy watch list or a ranking of earnings potential based on players' name, image and likeness, nor is it an NFL mock draft. There are plenty of places to find those things.
This is a rundown of players who are maximizing their platform — be it for quality performance or other reasons — to stand out as stars in the sport.
College Football Star Power Index
Anthony Richardson, Florida quarterback
How a quarterback making his first career home start against a top-10 opponent in his coach's debut could look so perfectly in control defied explanation. There were Cam Newton and Dak Prescott vibes emanating from Richardson during No. 12 Florida's 29-26 win over No. 13 Utah. The passing stats alone -- Richardson went 17 of 24 through the air for 168 yards -- don't tell the story. Richardson's impact on the ground — he hit 106 yards rushing and three touchdowns — along with his command in big moments and knack for clutch plays make him one of the 2022 season's early stars.
This critical 2-point conversion stands out as the top highlight from Richardson's performance, but there were plenty to choose from as he put the Gators on his back and put his name in the national spotlight.
Tory Taylor, Iowa punter
It's not hyperbolic, or even sarcastic, to suggest that no player was more critical to his team's Week 1 win than Taylor. The immaculate right foot of Iowa's punter helped the Hawkeyes' defense pick up two safeties in the second half of a disgusting 7-3 win over South Dakota State. Taylor totaled 10 punts for 479 yards, which was 193 more yards than the combined tally of the Iowa and South Dakota State offenses. An astounding six of his punts were downed inside the 10-yard line, and he allowed just 8 return yards. If not for Taylor's ability to bail out the Hawkeyes' abysmal offense, Iowa and South Dakota State may still be exchanging failed two-point conversion attempts in an overtime game.
Perhaps the Hawkeyes should be testing out his arm in practice this week, because they need to figure out how to get their best player on the field more frequently than every fourth down. Instead of the RPO, how about the PPO? The punt-pass option. In Iowa's case, it could be effectively utilized on all downs.
Drake Maye, North Carolina quarterback
The competition hasn't been elite, but Maye threw for nine touchdowns without an interception while also proving to be a threat with his legs in wins over Florida A&M and Appalachian State. Not bad for a redshirt freshman tasked with replacing Sam Howell, the program's all-time leader in passing touchdowns and yards. Most impressive about Maye's 352-yard performance in the Tar Heels' wild 63-61 win over Appalachian State in Week 1 was that it came without star receiver Josh Downs on the field. With Downs injured, Maye relied heavily on Kobe Paysour, a redshirt freshman who entered the game with one career reception. After Paysour, Maye's second most-frequent target was sophomore J.J. Jones, who entered with seven career receptions.
North Carolina's defense has obvious issues, but this offensive core has the potential to grow into something even better than what the Tar Heels had back in 2020 when Howell and a dynamic group of backs and receivers comprised one of the nation's most high-powered attacks.
Jacoby Windmon, Michigan State linebacker
Michigan State's star transfer last season was running back Kenneth Walker Jr., but the early leader to take that title on the Spartans 2022 roster is linebacker Jacoby Windmon. The ex-UNLV star racked up four sacks in a 35-13 win over Western Michigan in Week 1 and was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. He was particularly effective in the second half when the Broncos were staging a comeback effort. His sack tally was best in the nation for Week 1, and his eight total QB pressures are tied for second nationally.
Windmon's breakout performance is a great example of a player maximizing his opportunity. He was ranked the No. 2,124 player in the Class of 2019 in the 247Sports Composite and played as a reserve during his freshman season at UNLV. Now in his fourth season, he's standing out on the national stage.
Analyzing Jacoby Windmon’s tape from last night. Beyond the bend/athleticism he’s always possessed, he showcased a wider array of pass-rush moves. Used the “ghost move” to great success. Moved the QB off his spot all night.— Justin Thind (@JustinThind) September 4, 2022
7 tackles, 4 sacks (!!!), & 1 FF in his MSU debut 🔊⬆️ pic.twitter.com/SR9sXtCqkg
Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina quarterback
As one of the most recognizable Group of Five players in the nation and a proven quarterback, McCall surely could have picked a Power Five transfer destination and reaped the benefits of a powerhouse collective this offseason if he wanted. Instead, he returned to anchor a Coastal Carolina roster that lost many of its top performers from back-to-back 11-2 seasons in 2020 and 2021. One game into his senior season, that decision is paying off. Among quarterbacks who faced FBS opposition in Week 1, McCall posted the second-highest quarterback rating, completing 12 of 17 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-28 win over Army.
But that's not all. McCall was also featured on a NASCAR Xfinity Series car at Darlington Raceway as part of an NIL deal with the Myrtle Beach-based apparel printing company Native Sons. Between the mullet and his NIL deal, McCall is as Carolina as they come.
Kayshon Boutte, LSU wide receiver
The reason Boutte registers on the Star Power Index is because his national-attention-to-actual-production ratio was off the charts during LSU's wild 24-23 loss to Florida State in New Orleans. Boutte did not catch a pass during the game's first 50 minutes and finished with just two receptions for 20 yards. Yet, because of who he is, Boutte still managed to be a starring figure in college football's Week 1 drama, especially since LSU and Florida State had the sport's national TV spotlight to themselves on Sunday night.
With LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels' penchant for running over letting downfield options develop, and the scrutiny around Brian Kelly's transition to LSU, Boutte figures to remain a curiosity every week until he and the Tigers find some form of stability. (Of note, all references to LSU have been removed from his Twitter page and Instagram account.) Maybe Boutte and Daniels will develop some rapport, resulting in more prolific production for Boutte. Or maybe things go another direction. Either way, Boutte is a star, and the saga of his junior season already feels like one of the 2022 season's top stories.