10. Penn State QB Trace McSorley
Central to Penn State’s surprising Big Ten championship ascension, Trace McSorley burst from relative obscurity last season. McSorley appeared in mop-up duty behind Christian Hackenberg in 2015, and given Hack’s struggles, there was no reason to foresee his understudy becoming a star.
All McSorley did in 2016 was throw for 28 touchdowns and rush for another seven. He saved some of his best stuff for Penn State’s most high-profile stages, throwing for eight touchdowns combined in the Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin, and the epic Rose Bowl loss to USC.
His dual-threat ability fits James Franklin’s offensive vision more than Hackenberg, who was a Bill O’Brien recruit. As Franklin’s vision for Penn State football really takes shape, and the Nittany Lions enter 2017 as reigning Big Ten champions with designs on a College Football Playoff spot, McSorley’s star is sure to shine this offseason.
9. Florida State QB Deondre Francois
Deondre Francois’ debut last season against Ole Miss was just spectacular enough to elicit some knee-jerk comparisons to Florida State’s last freshman quarterback. Francois didn’t quite match the otherworldly precedent Jameis Winston set as a BCS championship and Heisman Trophy winner in his first year, but the Seminole quarterback showed enough flashes of greatness to suggest he’ll make his own legacy in Tallahassee.
The win over Ole Miss set the bar high, as Francois passed for 410 yards and rushed for another 59. He was never quite as dual-prolific again — though he did hit up rival Florida for 63 rushing yards and a pair of combined touchdowns. Francois apparently thrives against the SEC, which bodes well for his high-stakes 2017 opener against mighty Alabama.
Should Francois lead the Seminoles to victory over the Crimson Tide in Week 1’s most anticipated contest, his Heisman stock will skyrocket to Jameis Winston levels.