As we head into the 2016 season, we already know who the game's biggest stars are. Whether it's LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, or Stanford's Mr. Everything, Christian McCaffrey, there are no shortage of stars across the country.
Of course, while you know those three names, as well as the names of guys like Dalvin Cook, Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett and many others, there was a time when these names were all new. Hell, before last season started, did you know who Christian McCaffrey was?
While some die-hards knew of him, the vast majority of the nation didn't become aware of McCaffrey's existence until he started putting up ridiculous numbers every weekend, and became a serious threat to Reggie Bush's NCAA record for all-purpose yards -- which McCaffrey would break with relative ease.
McCaffrey was a breakout star in 2015, and in this week's Friday Five, I'm ranking five players who have a chance to be 2016's Christian McCaffrey. A player who has the chance to go from relatively unknown on the national scale to a college football superstar over the course of a season.
These are the five players I believe have the best chance to do it.
5. Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama: Hand is the perfect example of the depth of Alabama's defensive line last season. The defensive end was a five-star recruit in Alabama's 2014 class, and was considered one of the best prospects in the country. Well, amazing talent or not, he was at Alabama, so he hardly cracked the rotation in 2014.
Hand played in 14 games for the Tide last season, and finished with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, but here's the thing: he was a third-stringer. Alabama had such a never-ending supply of giant monsters on its defensive line that even a player like Hand had limited chances, which he made the most of.
Now, in 2016, Hand will be taking on a much larger role, and his numbers will likely improve as well. Combine his opportunity, his talent, and the fact he plays for Alabama, so he'll be playing in plenty of big games, and odds are that Hand will be rather well known by the end of the season.
4. Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: The Big 12 always has more than its fair share of quarterbacks putting up big numbers, but while guys like Trevone Boykin, Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph and Seth Russell all received plenty of attention last year, Mahomes operated in relative anonymity.
That lack of attention did not keep Mahomes from throwing for more yards per game (357.9) than any other quarterback in the conference, as well as tying Mayfield for most touchdown passes (36).
Mahomes should continue to put up big-time numbers in 2016 as he enters his junior season, and will once again compete with Baker Mayfield to be the best quarterback in the conference. The one thing that could keep him from becoming a household name is the fact he plays for Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders were 7-6 last season, which played a role in Mahomes not gaining more notoriety, and Tech hasn't won more than nine games in any season since going 11-2 in 2008.
3. Ronald Jones, RB, USC: USC's 2015 recruiting class was one of the highest-rated classes in the country, and four-star running back Ronald Jones was one of the class' biggest gets. He did not disappoint during his first season with the Trojans, leading the team with 987 yards and eight touchdowns.
And he did this all while serving primarily as a back-up running back.
Jones was the first true freshman running back to lead USC in rushing yards since LenDale White in 2003 (he and White are the only two Trojan backs to do it), and he also broke Charles White's school record for rushing yards in a season (858 yards in 1976).
Jones should see more carries in 2016, as Clay Helton plans to build USC's offensive attack around its ground game, and Jones will play a pivotal role in that. While Jones may not be best-suited as a bell cow back rushing the ball 25 times per game and grinding out first downs, he is a big-play back that will make plenty of big, highlight plays for the Trojans, and a good USC running back on a good USC team tends to get plenty of attention.
2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Jackson hit plenty of bumps along the way during his freshman season in 2015, which tends to happen with any quarterback, let alone one playing at a Power Five school. As the season went on, however, and Jackson found a more solid footing both in his role and the Louisville offense, he showed plenty of flashes of brilliance along the way.
What really has me excited about Jackson heading into 2016, however, was his performance against Texas A&M in Louisville's Music City Bowl victory. As I watched the game I just got the sense that Bobby Petrino had finally figured out the best way to use his dual-threat quarterback, and with the month of preparation, Jackson came out with a confidence he just hadn't displayed during the regular season.
The results were 227 yards passing, 226 yards rushing, and four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).
It was the Lamar Jackson I saw on that December night in Nashville that has me convinced he's on the poise of a huge season in 2016.
1. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama: There wasn't very much excitement in Alabama's 38-0 win over Michigan State in the College Football Playoff semi-final last season, but there was one moment that stood out. Derrick Henry, coming off of his Heisman Trophy win, was the feature back in Alabama's offense, and he dominated all the carries.
But Henry was leaving for the NFL, and it seemed like Bama wanted to send a message. So, up 38-0 late in the fourth quarter, with the game well in hand, Bo Scarbrough made his way out with the Alabama offense. He picked up nine yards on his first carry, and then another nine yards on the very next play. He'd get another carry in which he'd lose a yard, but it wasn't so much his yardage total as it was that it felt as if Alabama was saying "Derrick Henry may be leaving, but don't worry, we have another behemoth who can carry the ball for next year."
That's what Bo Scarbrough will be in 2016: the new Derrick Henry. I'm not saying he's going to win the Heisman, but he could. He'll be in an offense that's working in a new quarterback, and will be built around its run game as it normally is.
Scarbrough will have the role of grinding down opposing defenses just like Henry did, and then in the second halves of games, he'll start breaking out the big runs to put the opponent away.
And by the end of the season we'll all know who he is.