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Published: June 29, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

15 for '15: Best players outside the Power 5 conferences

» Complete 15 for '15 series

CFB 24/7's "15 for '15" series rolls on with a look at the 15 best players outside the Power 5 conferences. While fans usually focus on the top leagues, there are many big-time players who play outside the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. Current NFL stars who are from non-Power 5 schools include Philadelphia Eagles LB/DE Connor Barwin (Cincinnati), Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), Green Bay Packers OG Josh Sitton (UCF), Detroit Lions S Glover Quin (New Mexico) and Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (Utah State).

Note: We are not including Notre Dame. While the Irish aren't in a Power 5 conference, they're a Power 5 team.

15 Photos Total

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> None; BYU is an independent<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Kaufisi started at defensive end as a sophomore and had four sacks and seven tackles for loss. He was moved to outside linebacker last season (to replace Detroit Lions second-round pick Kyle Van Noy) and struggled some with the transition, though he did lead BYU with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. He has 15.5 career sacks. He also has 12 pass breakups in the past two seasons and has returned an interception for a TD. He still is learning the nuances of the position, but his size, pass-rush ability and overall talent are enticing. 15

    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    15. Bronson Kaufusi, LB, BYU

    The particulars: 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, senior
    Conference: None; BYU is an independent
    The skinny: Kaufisi started at defensive end as a sophomore and had four sacks and seven tackles for loss. He was moved to outside linebacker last season (to replace Detroit Lions second-round pick Kyle Van Noy) and struggled some with the transition, though he did lead BYU with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. He has 15.5 career sacks. He also has 12 pass breakups in the past two seasons and has returned an interception for a TD. He still is learning the nuances of the position, but his size, pass-rush ability and overall talent are enticing.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-1, 185, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> American Athletic<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Jackson, a Houston native, signed with the Cougars in 2013 out of junior college; he played just one season of JC ball, though, giving him three seasons with Houston. He was a part-time starter in 2013, then became a full-time starter last season and turned in a strong campaign with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Jackson has "shutdown corner" potential, thanks to a nice size/speed combo and good ball skills. 14

    Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

    14. William Jackson, CB, Houston

    The particulars: 6-1, 185, senior
    Conference: American Athletic
    The skinny: Jackson, a Houston native, signed with the Cougars in 2013 out of junior college; he played just one season of JC ball, though, giving him three seasons with Houston. He was a part-time starter in 2013, then became a full-time starter last season and turned in a strong campaign with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Jackson has "shutdown corner" potential, thanks to a nice size/speed combo and good ball skills.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-3, 251, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mountain West<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Yarbrough is a two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection. While he is a 'tweener in terms of his NFL future, he will intrigue scouts because of his production and his full-speed-ahead motor. He had 63 tackles last season and has 152 in the past two seasons to go with 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. He runs well (he has been clocked in the 4.7s in the 40) and likely will move to linebacker at the next level. His pass-rush ability will be closely monitored in 2015. 13

    Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY Sports

    13. Eddie Yarbrough, DE, Wyoming

    The particulars: 6-3, 251, senior
    Conference: Mountain West
    The skinny: Yarbrough is a two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection. While he is a 'tweener in terms of his NFL future, he will intrigue scouts because of his production and his full-speed-ahead motor. He had 63 tackles last season and has 152 in the past two seasons to go with 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. He runs well (he has been clocked in the 4.7s in the 40) and likely will move to linebacker at the next level. His pass-rush ability will be closely monitored in 2015.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-1, 243, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Conference USA<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Johnson -- who is nicknamed "Rockhead" -- rushed for 1,767 yards and 17 TDs last season to help Marshall go 13-1. It was an especially impressive season considering he moved from tight end to tailback during summer camp last August; he was the third-string tailback when camp started but earned the starting job late in camp. Johnson -- who also has spent some time at linebacker for the Herd -- had 10 100-yard games, including a stretch of seven in a row; he had three games with at least 198 yards, including a school-record 272-yard performance in a rout of Florida Atlantic. He lacks top-end speed, but he can block and is a physical, punishing runner at home between the tackles. 12

    John Amis/Associated Press

    12. Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall

    The particulars: 6-1, 243, senior
    Conference: Conference USA
    The skinny: Johnson -- who is nicknamed "Rockhead" -- rushed for 1,767 yards and 17 TDs last season to help Marshall go 13-1. It was an especially impressive season considering he moved from tight end to tailback during summer camp last August; he was the third-string tailback when camp started but earned the starting job late in camp. Johnson -- who also has spent some time at linebacker for the Herd -- had 10 100-yard games, including a stretch of seven in a row; he had three games with at least 198 yards, including a school-record 272-yard performance in a rout of Florida Atlantic. He lacks top-end speed, but he can block and is a physical, punishing runner at home between the tackles.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 5-11, 215, junior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mid-American<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Here's another non-big-name guy who could lead the nation in rushing. Hunt missed three games last season with an ankle injury but still rushed for 1,631 yards and 16 TDs in 10 games. He hit the 100-yard plateau in all 10 of his games, including outings of 265 and 271 yards late in the season. Hunt became the Rockets' starting tailback seven games into his true freshman season in 2013, and in his 16 games as a starter, he has rushed for 100 yards 15 times. He is both strong (he can bench 500 pounds) and fast (high 4.4s in the 40), and he was an almost-7-foot high-jumper in high school in Ohio. 11

    David Richard/Associated Press

    11. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

    The particulars: 5-11, 215, junior
    Conference: Mid-American
    The skinny: Here's another non-big-name guy who could lead the nation in rushing. Hunt missed three games last season with an ankle injury but still rushed for 1,631 yards and 16 TDs in 10 games. He hit the 100-yard plateau in all 10 of his games, including outings of 265 and 271 yards late in the season. Hunt became the Rockets' starting tailback seven games into his true freshman season in 2013, and in his 16 games as a starter, he has rushed for 100 yards 15 times. He is both strong (he can bench 500 pounds) and fast (high 4.4s in the 40), and he was an almost-7-foot high-jumper in high school in Ohio.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-1, 232, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> American Athletic<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Matakevich, who will be a four-year starter, is a tackle machine; he leads all current FBS players with 355 career stops (61 more than any other current player), and he would seem to have a legit chance to make 130 tackles this season. While he's not a pass rusher, he does a great job diagnosing plays and made a combined 22 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Matakevich has had 20 games with double-digit tackles in his 35-game career. 10

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    10. Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

    The particulars: 6-1, 232, senior
    Conference: American Athletic
    The skinny: Matakevich, who will be a four-year starter, is a tackle machine; he leads all current FBS players with 355 career stops (61 more than any other current player), and he would seem to have a legit chance to make 130 tackles this season. While he's not a pass rusher, he does a great job diagnosing plays and made a combined 22 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Matakevich has had 20 games with double-digit tackles in his 35-game career.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 5-10, 212, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Conference USA<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Dixon, who will be a four-year starter, leads all current FBS players with 3,410 rushing yards and 53 rushing TDs. He has an outside chance of finishing with the FBS career record for rushing touchdowns; he is 24 away from tying former Wisconsin star Montee Ball (77, from 2009-12). Dixon had 27 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman in 2012 and 22 last season as a junior. Dixon lacks elite speed, but he is a slasher of sorts who has good quickness and the ability to cut on a dime. He's not necessarily a power runner, but he does run hard and is tough to slow down. In his career, Dixon has scored a TD once every 11 carries. 9

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    9. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech

    The particulars: 5-10, 212, senior
    Conference: Conference USA
    The skinny: Dixon, who will be a four-year starter, leads all current FBS players with 3,410 rushing yards and 53 rushing TDs. He has an outside chance of finishing with the FBS career record for rushing touchdowns; he is 24 away from tying former Wisconsin star Montee Ball (77, from 2009-12). Dixon had 27 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman in 2012 and 22 last season as a junior. Dixon lacks elite speed, but he is a slasher of sorts who has good quickness and the ability to cut on a dime. He's not necessarily a power runner, but he does run hard and is tough to slow down. In his career, Dixon has scored a TD once every 11 carries.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-3, 205, junior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mid-American<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Davis has been a starter since stepping foot on campus as a true freshman in 2013. He has 145 catches for 2,349 yards and 21 touchdowns with the Broncos. His brother, Titus, finished his Central Michigan career last year with 204 career catches and 37 TD receptions (tied for 20th most in FBS history); while Titus was productive, Corey could blow past his numbers. He had at least one TD grab in 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Davis lacks top-end speed, but is physical and a precise route-runner; he does a nice job using his size to shield smaller defensive backs. 8

    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    8. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

    The particulars: 6-3, 205, junior
    Conference: Mid-American
    The skinny: Davis has been a starter since stepping foot on campus as a true freshman in 2013. He has 145 catches for 2,349 yards and 21 touchdowns with the Broncos. His brother, Titus, finished his Central Michigan career last year with 204 career catches and 37 TD receptions (tied for 20th most in FBS history); while Titus was productive, Corey could blow past his numbers. He had at least one TD grab in 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Davis lacks top-end speed, but is physical and a precise route-runner; he does a nice job using his size to shield smaller defensive backs.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-4, 200, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mid-American<br>
The skinny:</b> Sharpe has good size, and while he lacks elite speed, he still is in the 4.5s in the 40. He was extremely productive last season for the Minutemen, whose passing attack was ramped up under new coach Mark Whipple (a former NFL assistant). Sharpe had 85 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven TDs; his totals in 2014 were greater than his first two seasons combined. While he can get deep, he is at his best on intermediate routes. Sharpe, who will be a four-year starter, knows how to use his big body to his advantage. He had three games with double-figure catches and four 100-yard outings in 2014<br>. 7

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    7. Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts

    The particulars: 6-4, 200, senior
    Conference: Mid-American
    The skinny: Sharpe has good size, and while he lacks elite speed, he still is in the 4.5s in the 40. He was extremely productive last season for the Minutemen, whose passing attack was ramped up under new coach Mark Whipple (a former NFL assistant). Sharpe had 85 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven TDs; his totals in 2014 were greater than his first two seasons combined. While he can get deep, he is at his best on intermediate routes. Sharpe, who will be a four-year starter, knows how to use his big body to his advantage. He had three games with double-figure catches and four 100-yard outings in 2014
    .

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-3, 216, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Conference USA<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> He should lead the nation in passing yards for the second year in a row. Doughty -- who received a sixth season of eligibility in December -- threw for 4,830 yards and 49 TDs last season; the yardage total was 16th-most in FBS single-season history and the TD total was sixth. Doughty redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, then suffered season-ending injuries in September in both 2011 and 2012. He started for the first time in 2013 and threw 14 TD passes and 14 interceptions for then-coach Bobby Petrino. He blossomed last season under first-year coach Jeff Brohm. Doughty had 10 300-yard games, including four 400-yard outings and two games with at least 569 yards. He had five five-TD games and nine with at least three TD passes. He also completed 67.9 percent of his 552 attempts. 6

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    6. Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky

    The particulars: 6-3, 216, senior
    Conference: Conference USA
    The skinny: He should lead the nation in passing yards for the second year in a row. Doughty -- who received a sixth season of eligibility in December -- threw for 4,830 yards and 49 TDs last season; the yardage total was 16th-most in FBS single-season history and the TD total was sixth. Doughty redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, then suffered season-ending injuries in September in both 2011 and 2012. He started for the first time in 2013 and threw 14 TD passes and 14 interceptions for then-coach Bobby Petrino. He blossomed last season under first-year coach Jeff Brohm. Doughty had 10 300-yard games, including four 400-yard outings and two games with at least 569 yards. He had five five-TD games and nine with at least three TD passes. He also completed 67.9 percent of his 552 attempts.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-2, 210, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mountain West<br>
The skinny:</b> Thompson, who will be a three-year starter, is both a ball hawk (seven picks last season, and 14 in his career) and good in run support (71 tackles in 2014, including five tackles for loss). His interception total in 2014 was tied for third in the nation. He flashed in the Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona with 10 tackles against the Wildcats' high-powered spread offense. Thompson has good size and could move to strong safety at the next level. 5

    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    5. Darian Thompson, FS, Boise State

    The particulars: 6-2, 210, senior
    Conference: Mountain West
    The skinny: Thompson, who will be a three-year starter, is both a ball hawk (seven picks last season, and 14 in his career) and good in run support (71 tackles in 2014, including five tackles for loss). His interception total in 2014 was tied for third in the nation. He flashed in the Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona with 10 tackles against the Wildcats' high-powered spread offense. Thompson has good size and could move to strong safety at the next level.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-2, 188, junior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> Mountain West<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> He had a huge season in 2014 -- 96 receptions for 1,750 yards and 17 TDs; the receptions and TD totals led the nation. He started as a true freshman in 2013 and has 164 receptions in his first two seasons. His numbers likely will drop a bit this season with the departure of QB Garrett Grayson, but new coach Mike Bobo certainly has to know what kind of talent Higgins possesses. Higgins doesn't have blazing speed, but he has proven to be a legit deep threat. He has good hands and runs good routes. 4

    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    4. Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State

    The particulars: 6-2, 188, junior
    Conference: Mountain West
    The skinny: He had a huge season in 2014 -- 96 receptions for 1,750 yards and 17 TDs; the receptions and TD totals led the nation. He started as a true freshman in 2013 and has 164 receptions in his first two seasons. His numbers likely will drop a bit this season with the departure of QB Garrett Grayson, but new coach Mike Bobo certainly has to know what kind of talent Higgins possesses. Higgins doesn't have blazing speed, but he has proven to be a legit deep threat. He has good hands and runs good routes.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-2, 232, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> None; BYU is an independent<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Hill was 10th nationally in total offense in 2013, then was on his way to an even better season last fall before he suffered a broken leg in the fifth game. Assuming he's healthy, he will put up huge numbers for the Cougars. Hill has good speed and is a physical runner who'd just as soon run over a defender as run around him. And while he's not a highly polished passer, that aspect of his game showed improvement before he was hurt last season; he completed at least 61 percent of his passes in four of his five games last season after doing that just five times in 13 games in 2013. 3

    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    3. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

    The particulars: 6-2, 232, senior
    Conference: None; BYU is an independent
    The skinny: Hill was 10th nationally in total offense in 2013, then was on his way to an even better season last fall before he suffered a broken leg in the fifth game. Assuming he's healthy, he will put up huge numbers for the Cougars. Hill has good speed and is a physical runner who'd just as soon run over a defender as run around him. And while he's not a highly polished passer, that aspect of his game showed improvement before he was hurt last season; he completed at least 61 percent of his passes in four of his five games last season after doing that just five times in 13 games in 2013.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 5-11, 195, senior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> American Athletic<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Reynolds has no NFL potential, but he will go down as one of the best players in Navy history. He does a superb job running the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. He has rushed for 64 career touchdowns, the most of any active player and the most by a quarterback in FBS history. He looks primed to break the FBS career record for rushing TDs (77 by Wisconsin's Montee Ball, 2009-12). He already holds the FBS record for three-TD games, with 12 (he did it twice as a freshman, seven times as a sophomore and three times as a junior last season). In addition, Reynolds has a shot at the FBS career record for rushing yards by a quarterback; he is at 3,186 and the record is 4,480 by West Virginia's Pat White (2005-08). Reynolds also has thrown 23 TD passes against just seven picks. 2

    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

    The particulars: 5-11, 195, senior
    Conference: American Athletic
    The skinny: Reynolds has no NFL potential, but he will go down as one of the best players in Navy history. He does a superb job running the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. He has rushed for 64 career touchdowns, the most of any active player and the most by a quarterback in FBS history. He looks primed to break the FBS career record for rushing TDs (77 by Wisconsin's Montee Ball, 2009-12). He already holds the FBS record for three-TD games, with 12 (he did it twice as a freshman, seven times as a sophomore and three times as a junior last season). In addition, Reynolds has a shot at the FBS career record for rushing yards by a quarterback; he is at 3,186 and the record is 4,480 by West Virginia's Pat White (2005-08). Reynolds also has thrown 23 TD passes against just seven picks.

  • <b>The particulars:</b> 6-4, 208, junior<br>
<b>Conference:</b> American Athletic<br>
<b>The skinny:</b> Kiel was the nation's consensus top-ranked quarterback and a top-30 player overall in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., which is about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, originally committed to LSU before changing his mind and signing with Notre Dame. He left Notre Dame after his true freshman season and transferred to Cincinnati; he sat out the 2013 season, then started to live up to the hype last season, throwing for 3,154 yards and 31 TDs. He needs to increase his completion percentage (it was 59.7 last year) and lower his interceptions total (he tossed 13), but he has all the tools to be a big-timer, including a strong arm. Cincinnati has a deep group of receivers, and those receivers should be living large this fall with Kiel throwing the ball. 1

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    1. Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati

    The particulars: 6-4, 208, junior
    Conference: American Athletic
    The skinny: Kiel was the nation's consensus top-ranked quarterback and a top-30 player overall in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., which is about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, originally committed to LSU before changing his mind and signing with Notre Dame. He left Notre Dame after his true freshman season and transferred to Cincinnati; he sat out the 2013 season, then started to live up to the hype last season, throwing for 3,154 yards and 31 TDs. He needs to increase his completion percentage (it was 59.7 last year) and lower his interceptions total (he tossed 13), but he has all the tools to be a big-timer, including a strong arm. Cincinnati has a deep group of receivers, and those receivers should be living large this fall with Kiel throwing the ball.