There seems to be one star who comes out of nowhere every season to steal the spotlight in college football. In 2010, it was Cam Newton who led Auburn to a national championship. Two years later, the world met former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman. The end of the decade brought us Bryce Love and Baker Mayfield in 2017, Kyler Murray in 2018, and Joe Burrow a year later. DeVonta Smith completed a stellar career in a record season last year that culminated with the Heisman Trophy. Sure, it was a well-known commodity last off-season, but did you really think it would take home the Heisman Trophy? Put your hand down … no you didn’t.
So who will “that guy” be in 2021?
College football has many talented players to choose from, many of whom have had reasonable success early on in their careers. There’s no doubt that some of these players – as well as some names you may not yet know – could steal the spotlight. Our CBS Sports college football crew has broken down some of the under-the-radar players to keep an eye out for as you head into the fall.
While many of the storylines surrounding Oklahoma’s defensive improvement will trace back to Alex Grinch, I think our attention will be focused on the players on the field playing at championship level in 2021. With Grinch’s guidance, Ugwoegbu moved from a packed position to linebacker, and it’s there in the middle of the field that the 6-foot-4,251-pound junior will have a chance to be a breakout star. It doesn’t miss any duels in space and is long enough to be disruptive on the second level. After just three takeoffs in 2020, there are enough runways for him to become a household name.
Tom Fornelli: Texas A&M RB Devon Achane
Most college soccer fans outside of College Station in Texas had no idea who Devon Achane was by the end of the season. Hell, there were probably a few Aggies fans who didn’t know him that well, but his performance in A & M’s Orange Bowl win over North Carolina was a glimpse of what’s likely to come. Achane finished his freshman season 364 yards from just 43 runs, but 140 of those yards came from 12 runs in the Orange Bowl. That achievement earned Achane Orange Bowl MVP honors, and the former four-star prospect at legitimate track speed (his 20.69 200-yard time in high school was the fastest in the nation) will play a more prominent role in 2021. He could be one of the most exciting players in the SEC this season.
David Cobb: WR Khafre Brown from North Carolina
With star junior quarterback Sam Howell behind a veteran offensive line, you can bet the tar heels will want to throw the football this season. The only problem is that last season’s top 4 pass catchers left. That leaves a massive void, and Khafre Brown appears to be able to fill it.
Brown made 15 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns last season as a freshman while playing behind older brother Dyami Brown and standout colleague Dazz Newsome. This duo completed 109 receptions last season and Khafre will have a great opportunity to catch 60 or more passes in 2021 as he helps replace their production. The former four-star candidate went missing during spring training due to a lower body injury. Assuming he’s healthy for preseason training, he’s ready to become a breakout star at the ACC this season.
If not now when? Demetris Robertson moved from Cal to Georgia ahead of the 2018 season in hopes of living up to his five-star status in his home state. Instead, he was a non-factor. Robertson only had 12 catches for 110 yards in his first senior season in 2020, so it should come as no surprise that he took advantage of the NCAA waiver for a free year of eligibility. Starwide recipient George Pickens sustained a knee injury this off-season and Dominick Blaylock is still recovering from his second ACL injury. Simply put, the door is wide open to Robertson. Even if Pickens and Blaylock return this fall, it’s unlikely they’ll both start the season 100% off. A 6-foot, 194-pound runabout, Robertson has the advantage and versatility of becoming a force on the Bulldogs offensive. He’ll show it early and often in 2021.