College Football players to watch in 2023: Part one
In this new weekly series, I will highlight some of the top players to watch ahead of the 2023 College Football season, which is set to begin on August 26. We will go from the SEC to the MAC and everywhere in between. Part one features Florida State running back Trey Benson, Akron linebacker Bubba Arslanian, Minnesota running back Sean Tyler, Fresno State linebacker Levelle Bailey, Oregon offensive tackle Ajani Cornelius, Texas A&M cornerback Tony Grimes, Baylor offensive guard Clark Barrington, LSU linebacker Harold Perkins.
Florida State running back Trey Benson
Benson transferred from Oregon to FSU before the 2022 season. He didn't see a lot of playing time in Eugene, but he has since broken through the glass ceiling in Tallahassee. Benson led the Seminoles in rushing yards in the 2022 season with 990 after collecting a mere 22 rushing yards during his two seasons with Oregon.
Photo by Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Benson is a physical back. He doesn't have blazing speed, but Benson can break tackles. He is also very quiet and efficient with his footwork. Benson won't take any unnecessary steps, which makes him deceptively agile. Benson will be the go-to running back for one of the ACC's top teams this season.
Akron linebacker Bubba Arslanian
Bubba Arslanian has been a mainstay on the Akron defense for a while now. He is entering his seventh season as an Akron Zip. Arslanian is the leader of the defense. While undersized at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, he has been a consistent playmaker during a time of despair within the program. Arslanian has played for three different head coaches while at Akron.
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Arslanian can also line up at multiple different positions and is a tackling machine. He’s had two 100-plus tackle seasons (2019 and 2022) in his Akron career. In 2022, Arslanian was fifth in the nation with 11 total tackles per game. Arslanian’s best trait is his rush defense. Look for him to tear up opposing MAC offenses this fall.
Minnesota running back Sean Tyler
Tyler comes over from Western Michigan, where he had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a Bronco. Although he is the smallest back on the Golden Gophers roster at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Tyler has incredible vision and great speed.
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Minnesota has had its fair share of successful running backs, the latest being Mohamed Ibrahim. Tyler is expected to step into Ibrahim's shoes this season. While it will be hard to uphold the standard Ibrahim maintained, Tyler is certainly a capable back that can be a breakout player in the Big Ten this season.
Fresno State linebacker Levelle Bailey
Bailey is the defensive leader of the reigning Mountain West Conference champions. He led Fresno State in tackles last season with 88. Bailey even had 10 tackles against Oregon State and UConn. The 6-foot-2 Bailey has great closing speed. He can also drop back into coverage as he had seven passes defended in 2022.
Photo by Jackson Moore/247Sports
Bailey has been a significant contributor for the Bulldogs in all four seasons he's been there. He has been a constant for Fresno State. The Bulldogs look to go back-to-back in the Mountain West this fall, and Bailey will play a big role on the Fresno State defense.
Oregon offensive tackle Ajani Cornelius
It’s safe to say Cornelius slipped through the cracks out of high school. He received one FBS offer and chose to play his college football at FCS Rhode Island. Cornelius was a standout performer as he started every game in the 2021 and 2022 season for the Rams. He transferred to Oregon this offseason.
Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Athletics
Cornelius stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 315 pounds. He was one of the highest rated transfer portal players in this cycle and for good reason. Cornelius is versatile. He can play both guard and tackle. He will be one of the top run blockers in the country with his quick first step and explosive drive. If he gets to the second level, watch out.
Texas A&M cornerback Tony Grimes
Grimes comes to Texas A&M after spending three seasons with North Carolina. He will immediately challenge for a starting spot at the cornerback position. In 2021, Grimes led the Tar Heels in passes defended. He was the biggest bright spot on a secondary that gave up an abysmal 271 passing yards per game.
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Conversely, Texas A&M had an elite pass defense last season as the Aggies allowed 156.2 passing yards per game (first in FBS). Grimes is a lockdown corner with a great tackling ability. He is set to be one of the top defensive backs taken in the 2024 NFL Draft, if he decides to go that route.
Baylor offensive guard Clark Barrington
Barrington earned the starting left guard role at BYU in 2020 and has been a mainstay on a solid offensive line ever since. He started 40 games out of the 46 he’s appeared in. The 6-foot-6 Barrington transferred to new Big 12 conference foe Baylor earlier this offseason.
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He is an excellent pass blocker and has a future in playing professional football. Expect Barrington to be on many preseason watch lists for various awards. He will be a key player on the offensive line this season for the Bears.
LSU linebacker Harold Perkins
Perkins was one of the top linebackers in the SEC last season. He totaled 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2022. What's scary is that he was a true freshman last year. Perkins will play college football for at least two more seasons.
Photo via LSU Athletics
Perkins is an elite pass rusher with great speed. He can chase down anybody on the field with his speed. Perkins will be the key player to watch on this LSU defense. If he stays healthy, keep an eye on LSU to challenge for a playoff spot.