Pick 6: Star players on struggling teams
The next time you turn on the television and see a couple of sub-.500 teams slogging along, desperately hoping to just get bowl eligible, don’t turn it off.
There is bound to be at least a few players out there worth watching.
Here are six star players who will be trying to lead their struggling programs to the postseason.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana. Simply put, Coleman was one of the most explosive players in the nation last season. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns in the Hoosiers’ high octane offense. He also led the nation in runs of 40 yards or more, and would have easily surpassed 1,000 yards if an ankle injury didn’t sideline him for three games. If Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is the undisputed best back in the Big Ten, Coleman makes a good case for being No. 2. And if Indiana, which went 5-7 last season, can reach the postseason for the first time since 2007, Coleman’s star will shine even beyond the Big Ten’s newly expanded footprint.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas. The Razorbacks are rebuilding behind coach Bret Bielema, who wants to mimic the ground-and-pound style he won with at Wisconsin. Well, he has the backs to do it, even if the rest of the Hogs still need a lot of work. Collins ran for 1,026 yards as a freshman in 2013, and the only thing likely to keep him from surpassing that total in 2014 is Arkansas’ depth in the backfield. Jonathan Williams, a junior, is a bruiser, and Korliss Marshall, a sophomore, is a burner. Collins (5-foot-11, 218 pounds) is the whole package, and maybe the program’s most talented back since Darren McFadden.
Anthony Harris, S, Virginia. The senior had eight interceptions and made 80 tackles last season as the Cavaliers limped to a 2-10 season. He was one of the best defensive backs in the country, but didn’t rake in as many postseason honors as he probably deserved. Excellent safeties were in abundance in 2013, many on top teams. The Cavaliers might not be all that much better in 2014, but if Harris is as good as he was last season he won’t lack for recognition.
Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas. The senior middle linebacker is the leader of defense that just might be good enough to drag Kansas to bowl eligibility after four wins in two seasons under coach Charlie Weis. Heeney had more tackles per game (8.8) last season than any player returning to the Big 12. And he missed two games with a knee injury. The former high school safety and running back fits the mold of the smaller (6-foot, 230 pounds), sideline-to-sideline linebackers that are so vital to stopping all those Big 12 spread offenses. He should be very busy this fall.
Martin Ifedi, DE, Memphis. One of the best pass rushers in the country last season with 11 1-2 sacks for a 3-9 team. If the Tigers can make the jump to bowl eligibility in Year 3 under coach Justin Fuente, a strong defensive line should lead the way. Ifedi is the best of that bunch and should draw plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines.
P.J. Walker, QB, Temple. Walker grabbed the starting job about midway through his freshman season last year and almost immediately gave the Owls some credibility. They won only two of the last seven games he started, but the offense showed some serious life. Walker completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also ran for three scores. Walker might be the most exciting player at Temple since Heisman Trophy finalist Paul Palmer.