It’s almost that time of year again folks – get ready to sharpen your No. 2 pencils and break out those calculators to tabulate each week’s statistical gridiron anomalies. Before we embark on another season of bringing you the best numerical performances from each week, lets take a look at the top statistical returners from last year. Peep these performances and keep an eye out for more delightful digits from these players as the 2018 season unfolds.
Bryce Love, Stanford
Can’t have a stat column without the speedy, stalwart running back from Stanford, Bryce Love. Facts. The senior from North Carolina eschewed the NFL Draft, surprising many with his return to the Farm – except those that know him best. With this return, Love brings several impressive performances as well: rushing yards per game (162.9), rushing yards (2,118) and all-purpose yards (2,151 and 165.46 per game). Stanford head coach David Shaw has said he will utilize Love more in the passing game as well this year, bolstering the Cardinal’s offense along with Love’s Heisman resume.
Fun fact: Only four players have gone from runner-up one year to winner the next – Herschel Walker (1982), O.J. Simpson (1968), Glenn Davis (1946) and Tom Harmon (1940).
Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
The senior quarterback and 2017 Sun Belt Player of the Year was recently named to the watch list for the Johnny Unitas Award and the Walter Camp Award. Which is no surprise to Red Wolves fans – Hansen enters the season ranked second in school history in passing touchdowns, while also fourth in completions, passing yards and total offense. He averaged 334.7 passing yards per game last year, 365.8 yards of total offense per game, 25.42 completions per game and was responsible for 22.3 points per game last season. The Oklahoman started every game at quarterback last year and set school and conference records for passing touchdowns with 37 and total offense with 4,389 yards. Hansen will most definitely help lead Arkansas State to its third conference title in the Blake Anderson era.
Tony Pollard, Memphis
Super fast and extremely dynamic, capable of dominating the return game and aiding the Tigers as a receiving as well, Pollard led the nation in kick-off returns last yar, averaging 40 yards per game. He also tied for most kick-off touchdowns in the nation (4) with Louisiana-Monroe’s Marcus Green. Pollard finished last season with 36 catches for 536 yards and 30 carries for 230 yards – that’s an average of 17 yards every time he touched a football. He also scored once every 11.6 touches, so there’s that. It is going to be fun watching opposing teams attempt to stop Pollard. #RunTonyRun
Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
The junior All-American defensive end didn’t begin his journey at Northern Illinois as most stand out players do – he came to NIU as a running back, was transitioned to linebacker after laying a monster hit on a safety during fall camp and ended up as one of the best defensive ends in college football. The redshirt junior is the nation’s returning leader in sacks (14) and tackles for a loss (29.5). The Huskies face an insane non-conference slate brought on by budget cuts – they face Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU. Sutton will need to continue his defensive end dominance if Rod Carey’s squad wants to survive.
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
So as not to incur the wrath of Lane Kiffin, I won’t go on and on about how good Devin “Motor” Singletary is, or proclaim he is the best player in the Conference USA, or even project him as a dark horse Heisman.
Instead, I will stick to the facts – Singletary is the reining C-USA MVP after running for 1,920 yards and an FBS-best 32 rushing touchdowns last year. He led the nation in scoring with 198 points, averaging 14.1 points per game and in total touchdowns with 33. His 32 scores were the third-most in Division 1 history and set a new conference record. He has even been voted the C-USA preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
It will be fun watching Singletary run through opposing defenses this season, as some believe he could eventually emerge as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. For more betting insight on the NFL, check out the 2018 NFL Picks from Jon Price.
McKenzie Milton, UCF
If you missed the Knights undefeated 2017 season led by the uber-talented Milton at quarterback, then you were living under a pretty sizable rock. The self-proclaimed “National Champions” moniker was kind of hard to miss. Milton, the 2017 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, finished in the top five nationally in several categories including total offense (357.7 yards per game), touchdown passes (37), pass efficiency (179.3) and yards per attempt (10.22). I have to admit though that I cringed a bit when I saw the Knights new Heisman campaign for Milton, featuring the hashtag #HIsman and a hang loose emoji, both nods to his Hawaiian roots. The Knights less –than-daunting schedule coupled with the inevitable snags that come with transition to a new head coach might make the Heisman an unrealistic goal. Plus there is the Group of Five stigma – no player from a non-Power Five program has won the Heisman since BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.