Secret Super Sophs: Seven Under-the-Radar Stars Poised to Take Center Stage This College Football Season

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You’ve read about impact transfers. You’ve read about fabulous freshmen (the true variety). Now, it’s time to turn your attention to some superb sophomores.

Chances are you know all about J.T. Barrett, Nick Chubb, and Myles Garrett, because you don’t live under a rock. But who else is out there, ready to make an impact in their second year on the field?

Luckily for you, the Grantland supercomputer has developed a foolproof formula for identifying future studs. It’s called the “IYL method,” and it has marked these seven sophomores (both the true and redshirt varieties) for greatness:

If You Like: Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett
You Might Also Like: Arizona’s Anu Solomon

Straight outta Kalihi, via Vegas’s Bishop Gorman, Solomon became the first redshirt freshman QB to start the Wildcats’ season opener when he took the field against UNLV. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hawaiian threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns in that game, providing a good indication that the former three-star prospect might be more of a difference-maker than the recruiting rankings suggested.

Like Barrett, Solomon was able to command the offense immediately upon getting the call. For the season, the Arizona signal-caller threw for 3,793 yards and 28 TDs (against nine picks) and rushed for 291 yards and two more scores, leading his team to the Pac-12 championship game (where the Cats got waxed by Oregon, 51-13) and a 10-4 overall record.

Only two passers, ECU’s Shane Carden and Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, totaled  more attempts than Solomon’s 540 last season. But the prolific Solomon needs to improve his accuracy, which sat at 58.0 percent in 2014, if he wants to take the next step.1

If You Like: Georgia’s Nick Chubb
You Might Also Like: Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine

Both Chubb and Perine appeared on the big stage in 2014 as if from nowhere (at least to the uninitiated), thrust into the spotlight by suspensions to more widely known teammates (Todd Gurley for Chubb, Joe Mixon for Perine). And once there, the two powerful backs (Chubb is 5-foot-10, 228; Perine is 5-foot-11, 243) both thrived … sending fans to their guidebooks for answers to questions like, “Wait, who is this guy?”

Granted, playing for Oklahoma means Perine didn’t stay unknown for long. He definitely isn’t an unknown after setting a new FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas last November. But did you know that the Sooners freshman led the Big 12 (and ranked eighth nationally) with 1,713 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns?

And did you know that he can bench press a car?

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Now you know. And oh, by the way, don’t bother showing this list to him, OK?

“I don’t listen to what the media has to say,” Perine said recently when asked about his name surfacing in Heisman talk. “When people tell me stuff like that and I see it on Twitter, I just tune it out. I know some people in my family, they are going to be excited about it, but I have to tell them that I don’t look at that stuff, so you can be happy about it, but don’t show me, because I don’t care.”

If You Like: UVA’s Quin Blanding
You Might Also Like: LSU’s Jamal Adams

Like Blanding, Adams was a highly rated prospect who made an immediate difference at the college level. He didn’t match his Cavaliers counterpart’s numbers (123 tackles, first among freshmen and 21st nationally), but Adams produced solid statistical totals of his own despite starting just two games at safety, amassing 66 tackles (five for loss), five passes defended, and one sack.

He also produced highlights like this one, against Florida in October: 

The freshman followed up that flop with a tweet crediting LeBron James with inspiring him, and when he landed on SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10,” he reveled in it:

But before you decide that Adams is just here for comedic value, consider this: Former Tigers star Tyrann Mathieu, who knows a thing or two about playing safety, said in 2014 that Adams “will be the best safety in college ball next year.”

Hey, if it’s good enough for the Honey Badger …

If You Like: LSU’s Leonard Fournette
You Might Also Like: Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin

What’s that? You say the only thing connecting Fournette to Franklin is that their highlight reels are both set to Kid Ink’s “Hell & Back”?

How wrong you are. In his first season at Western Michigan, the 6-foot, 220-pound Franklin pounded out 1,551 yards and a staggering 25 TDs — including three scores in six (six!) different games.2

Franklin’s workhorse effort and workmanlike attitude played a big role in the Broncos’ turnaround, from 1-11 in 2013 to 8-5 and bowl eligibility in 2014.

If You Like: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett
You Might Also Like: Ole Miss’s Marquis Haynes

The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder quickly displayed an ability to penetrate the pocket and run down passers, piling up an Ole Miss freshman record 7.5 sacks in 2014, good for a whopping 72 sack yards. The yardage mark tied him for no. 14 nationally, and made him no. 2 in the SEC behind only Missouri’s Shane Ray, an eventual first-round draft pick.

The big man also managed three forced fumbles in the Rebels’ breakout season.

And that, Rebels defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said, was without really understanding the position. So while we’re all excited to see what Garrett can do in Year 2, Haynes showed that the Aggies star isn’t the only SEC West defensive end with the potential to cause regular nightmares among opposing quarterbacks.

marquis-haynes-ole-miss-triMichael Chang/Getty Images

If You Like: Tennessee’s Derek Barnett
You Might Also Like: Rutgers’s Kemoko Turay

Where do you start with Turay? There’s the 7.5 sacks3 that only Garrett and Barnett bettered among freshmen.

There’s the long reach and tremendous ups that led the redshirt sophomore to three blocked field goals, and Turay’s reaction when he was shown this photo of his blocked field goal against Penn State: “It’s shocking,” Turay said. “It looks nice, too. I’m going to print that one out.”

There’s the sweet ‘do the Rutgers star rocks. There’s the D-lineman’s compelling backstory. And then there’s the nickname, “Kemoko Dragon.”

Patriots fans are already irrationally excited for Bill Belichick to inevitably add the Dragon to his haul of Rutgers alums in Foxborough.

If You Like: USC’s Adoree’ Jackson
You Might Also Like: Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander

The redshirt sophomore corner doesn’t have gaudy numbers and doesn’t add the all-around versatility of Jackson, but the former five-star recruit certainly has swagger.

“In my opinion it’s not even close,” Alexander told reporters this week. “I think every guy that talks about Mackensie knows I’m the best corner in college. … My numbers, you look at everybody else’s numbers. I don’t care who they are and what league they play in. If you can play, you can play.”

Extreme self-confidence: Check. Disregard for numbers: Check. Referring to oneself in the third person: Check.

Forget for a second whether those grandiose claims are true4 and just enjoy the refreshing honesty. After all, what else do we expect these guys to say?

Jack McCluskey (@jack_mccluskey) is a copy editor at Grantland and a contributor to

Filed Under: 2015 College Football Preview, College Football Preview, College Football, J.T. Barrett, Anu Solomon, Ohio State Buckeyes, Arizona Wildcats, Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine, Georgia Bulldogs, Oklahoma Sooners, Quin Blanding, Jamal Adams, Virginia Cavaliers, LSU Tigers, Leonard Fournette, Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan Broncos, Myles Garrett, Marquis Haynes, Texas A&M Aggies, Ole Miss Rebels, Derek Barnett, Kemoko Turay, Tennessee Volunteers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Adoree' Jackson, Mackensie Alexander, USC Trojans, Clemson Tigers, 2015 College Football Playoff, 2015 Heisman Trophy, Football, NCAA, NCAAF, Jack McCluskey