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College Football players to watch in 2023: Part eight

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 eight features Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers, Texas wide receiver Johntay Cook, Memphis defensive lineman Jaylon Allen, Oregon State running back Damien Martinez and Notre Dame defensive tackle Rylie Mills.

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers

Rogers is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in college football. He has 33 starts under his belt as a Mississippi State Bulldog. Rogers was ninth in FBS last season in passing yards with 3,974. He also threw for 35 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in the air raid offense.

Photo via Mississippi State Athletics

The untimely and unfortunate passing of Mike Leach presents a unique set of circumstances for Rogers and the Bulldogs offense this season as they transition from the air raid into more of a pro style scheme. It is great for new head coach Zach Arnett to have an experienced quarterback like Rogers leading the offense.

Texas wide receiver Johntay Cook

Cook was one of the top wide receivers in the 2023 class. He chose to play for head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Texas Longhorns over Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon and many other schools. In total, he had over 40 offers.

Cook isn’t super big at 6-foot and 184 pounds, but he is versatile. He can be used in the slot or on the outside. He has great body control and is really good technically. While he might not get a whole lot of playing time this season, he will be one to watch as he matures alongside quarterback Arch Manning.

Memphis defensive end Jaylon Allen

In his previous five seasons at Memphis, Allen has seen his production increase from year to year. He was not a consistent starter until the 2022 season when he started all 13 games for the Tigers. He recorded 58 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and five sacks last season. He earned Honorable-Mention All-AAC honors.

Photo via Memphis Athletics

Allen is a force on the defensive line at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. Look for Allen to be one of the top defensive linemen at the group of five level this fall.

Oregon State running back Damien Martinez

Martinez broke onto the scene in Corvallis as a true freshman in 2022. He was the Beavers leading rusher with 982 yards on 161 carries. That was good for an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. Martinez found the end zone seven times on the ground as well.

Photo by Karl Maasdam

Despite being only a sophomore, Martinez is tough to bring down at 216 pounds. Martinez is also very shifty, and he can avoid tackles well. Part of Oregon State’s success last season was because of Martinez’s great year as a relatively unknown player.

Notre Dame defensive tackle Rylie Mills

Mills has steadily improved each season he’s been at Notre Dame. In the shortened 2020 season, he totaled seven tackles and two tackles for loss. In 2021, he had 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and three sacks in 13 games. Last season, he added 24 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Photo by Matt Freeman

While he hasn’t been a weekly starter for the Fighting Irish yet, he is expected to have an increased role this fall. At 6-foot-5 and 296 pounds, look for Mills to be a force at the defensive tackle position for head coach Marcus Freeman and the defense.

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