Football being, in many ways, the ultimate team game can make it difficult for good players to shine when the players around them are … not so good.
Stars toiling on losing teams rarely get much recognition. They almost never win the big awards or get selected to the All-America teams. Time to give some love to those overlooked players whose teams did not reach the postseason last year and might have a hard time climbing back into it in 2018.
Marquise Copeland, DT, Cincinnati
The Bearcats are in the second year of a rebuild under coach Luke Fickell, who brought in the top-ranked recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference this year. Copeland was one of the few real keepers Fickell inherited and probably the team’s best player last year. The senior had 63 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017. Undersized at 6-foot-2 and 282 pounds, Copeland could develop into an NFL draft pick.
Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse
Dungey has been starting for the Orange since his freshman season. The problem is he has not been finishing the seasons healthy. When healthy, Dungey is a two-way threat with athleticism and size (6-4, 228) that could draw NFL attention. He enters 2018 as the only active quarterback in FBS with at least 6,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. The Orange have not been bowl-eligible since 2013. A full season for Dungey is a must for Syracuse to have any chance to get back, but just in case, best catch him in the regular season.
Joe Dineen, LB, Kansas
The fifth-year senior has played on teams that have won six games in four seasons. He also lost most of his 2016 season, when he was poised for a breakout as team captain, to hamstring injury. That big breakout came last season when Dineen led the nation in solo tackles per game (7.6) and set a school record with 25 tackles for loss. Yes, the Jayhawks’ defense spends a lot of time on the field and that inflates some stats. But Dineen had almost twice as many tackles as any other Kansas defender. Also, deserving of a shoutout on Kansas is defensive tackle Daniel Wise (16 tackles for loss and seven sacks), who is probably an even better pro prospect than Dineen.
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The Bears managed just one victory in 2017, but Mims was a problem for opponents. He caught 61 passes for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns. His three-touchdown performance against Oklahoma gave the Sooners a legitimate scare. Mims was by far Baylor’s best receiver last season, but this year the Bears hope the return of senior Chris Platt from injury and the addition of Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd, the running back-turned-receiver, gives them one of the best sets of pass-catchers in the Big 12.
Stanley Morgan Jr., WR, Nebraska
Cornhuskers fans are looking toward a hopeful future with new coach Scott Frost after going 4-8 last season under Mike Riley. There is much rebuilding to do, and Nebraska has a difficult schedule in 2018 with road games at Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. A major turnaround would take a minor miracle by Frost. Morgan, though, should be one of the best receivers in the Big Ten as a senior. He caught 61 passes for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Trey Smith, OT, Tennessee
Smith stepped into the Volunteers’ starting lineup last season as a freshman and played like a veteran. He started games at guard and tackle, and during an ugly year in Knoxville, Smith’s performance was a thing of beauty. The offseason provided a scare. He was treated for blood clots in his lungs. Cleared to play, Smith is a 6-foot-6, 320-pound building block for new coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Six more players to watch on teams that had losing records last season:
Trevon Brown, WR, East Carolina
Trevor Morris, LB, Rutgers
Steven Montez, QB, Colorado
Kyle Shurmur, QB, Vanderbilt
Lexington Thomas, RB, UNLV
Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion
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Football being, in many ways, the ultimate team game can make it difficult for good players to shine when the players around them are … not so good. Dineen has played on teams that have won six games in four seasons. He also lost most of his 2016 season, when he was poised for a breakout as team captain, to hamstring injury. That big breakout came last season when Dineen led the nation in solo tackles per game (7.6) and set a school record with 25 tackles for loss. (AP Photo/Cooper Neill, file)