School Soccer 2021 Preview: The Gamers to Examine Out
College football is a high-revenue industry. The best players are rarely more than a year away from leaving the NFL, and the success of college programs depends on how well they fill the pipeline behind their stars. In the run-up to the 2021 season – which starts at the end of August – it is worth thinking about the players who will fill these roles in 2021. Some will be first-time starters, others have already established themselves as rising stars and will be using them as a launch pad for something even bigger in 2021.
Meet 10 of them. Representing teams from across the country, these players stand out in prime positions and will have a huge impact on the 2021 season.
DJ Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Great plays by DJ Uiagalelei to top off a 13-game, 60-meter ride, the real newbie is already 22-for-32 with 306 yards and 2 TD. https://t.co/4oPfU17yyj
Uiagalelei and Young were both five-star recruits in the 2020 class, but they sat behind Star QBs in their first few seasons. Uiagalelei had a couple of chances to start while Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence was out after contracting COVID-19, and he showed a lot of skill – even while almost losing to Boston College and then actually losing to Notre Dame in overtime.
Young was limited to cleaning up at the end of Bama’s blowout victories. With Lawrence and Alabama starter Mac Jones both in the NFL, Uiagalelei and Young will be primarily responsible for maintaining the two biggest programs in the sport today.
John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
This will be Metchie’s third year in Alabama. He barely saw the field in 2019 because Tide had four receivers in front of them (they have all since become NFL first-round draft picks). He had more playing time in 2020 but was still only number 3 wideouts behind two of those NFL first rounds.
All the boys are gone before him this year, and it’s up to Metchie to be the latest in an ever-growing line of unstoppable Alabama recipients. Expect him to be great. The only question is how great. Since Bama is reloading more than normal this year, whether Metchie is elite or ultra-elite will have a huge impact on the fortunes of the tide.
Jaivon Heiligh, WR, Carolina Coast
QB Grayson McCall gets most of the attention for the Chanticleers, who stunned everyone with an unbeaten regular season in 2020. McCall is critical indeed, but let’s focus for a moment on Heiligh, whose one-on-one big play ability had a big impact on the rest of the offensive’s success last year. Heiligh was a first-team All Sun Belt player in 2020. This year he should be considered an All-American contestant and, if he plays as well as he does (998 yards and 10 touchdowns), a key to winning the Coastal Sunbelt again.
Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia
Salyer is the anchor of Georgia’s offensive line. The Dawgs have seemingly endless talent across the board, but they occasionally struggled to find the right combination of players to fill the five spots, leading to mishaps. (A notable example was a loss to Florida last year.)
The easiest way to ensure that the Dawgs line will last is to have the safest star of that line, Salyer, play like a star. If he’s dominant at the point of attack and pass protection, it will make life a lot easier for the rest of the Dawgs – especially quarterback JT Daniels, whose main concern will be staying healthy.
Jermayne Lole, DT, State of Arizona
The Sun Devils have a chance to win the Pac-12. If they’re going to do it, Lole has to lead the way in the middle of their line of defense. He was one of ASU’s top players during a surprisingly strong 2019 season and dominated during a shortened four-game season in 2020.
Lole is the kind of midline presence that’s gotten a bit rare in the Pac-12, a league that lacks talent in the trenches like the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten. Last year he had four sacks in four games – quite an achievement for a player stuck in the middle of the line. If he builds on these advances, Herm Edwards’ program will be much better for it.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
Thibodeaux fits in kind of strangely into a discussion about breakout players, arguing that he broke out before he even set foot on Oregon’s campus in 2019. He was the No. 1 consensus of recruits in the country, and everyone expects him to be a contender for the No. 1 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft as well.
But despite his stellar recruiting pedigree and strong performance in a 2020 season cut short by a pandemic, Thibodeaux seems to have a lot to show for before turning pro next year. Oregon is the Pac-12’s best hope of ending a conference-wide college football playoff drought that has lasted since 2016. If the Ducks make a playoff run this year, Thibodeaux will be an important part of their success.
Myjai Sanders, DE, Cincinnati
Studied #Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders and wow, he got some lightning bolts. I was blown away by a four-game sequence. During the first game, he presses down the tackle, comes under the train protection and does the TFL. Impressive. https://t.co/ZTmwQDUAqD
The Bearcats were the best team in the Group of Five conferences in 2020 (the bottom half of FBS if you just catch up) and they almost beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The driving factor behind UC’s dominance has been its defense, and no one will be a bigger part of that defense than Sanders, who racked up eight sacks and a whopping 31 QB rushes last year.
JoJo Domann, LB, Nebraska
The Huskers probably won’t be very good this year, but Domann is an excellent hybrid linebacker who can also play as a slot cornerback or box safety, covering receivers or chasing running backs and tight ends around. If, and it’s a big if, the Huskers bounce back a little this year and bring back some of the legacy college football programs, Domann will be a key asset.
Bralen Trahan, S, Louisiana
The Ragin ‘Cajuns were one of the better teams in the country last year, and they have plenty of talent coming back for 2021. You lead FBS’s 130 teams with a return rate of 96 percent in the ESPN Returning Production metric, which tracks how many yards, tackles, touchdowns and other statistical sums remain in a team’s roster from the previous year.
The Cajuns will also keep their head coach, Billy Napier, who was widely expected to leave for another job. With four interceptions and seven passes last year, Trahan returns as one of the top secondary players in college football. If UL’s defensive backs are as good as they were last year, the Cajuns could upset Texas in Week 1 and make another run for a Sun Belt title.
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