With fall camps set to begin around the country this week, here's a look at my ranking of the 25 college football programs with the most NFL-caliber talent heading into the 2015 season. I list the top talents to watch for each team in this breakdown, along with a player entering his first year with the program who is worthy of attention.
Here are the teams I have ranked 16-20. I'll unveil five teams, counting down to No. 1, each day this week.
Players to watch: DT DeForest Buckner, OT Tyler Johnstone, WR Bralon Addison, TE Christian French.
The outlook: It is easy to attribute the Ducks' success to a gimmicky scheme that befuddles opponents at every turn, but astute evaluators appreciate the surplus of NFL talent that is currently dotting the team's roster. Mark Helfrich and his staff have done a superb job of transforming a collection of unheralded recruits into solid NFL prospects. Buckner and Johnstone could be the next Ducks to become household names at the next level. Each is a big-bodied people-mover with intriguing athleticism and movement skills. With NFL scouts coveting size, strength and agility at a premium, the Ducks' big bodies will attract plenty of attention this fall.
Newcomer in the spotlight: QB Vernon Adams. Adams, a transfer from Eastern Washington, earned a reputation for being a dragon slayer at EWU after repeatedly putting up big numbers against Pac-12 competition in non-conference games. Despite his substandard dimensions, he is a talented passer with sneaky athleticism and movement skills. In an Oregon offense that puts the quarterback in prime position to make plays, Adams could shatter the single-season marks put up by his predecessor, Marcus Mariota.
17. Texas A&M
Players to watch: OT Germain Ifedi, RB Tra Carson, C Mike Matthews, QB Kyle Allen, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, DE Myles Garrett and WR Speedy Noil.
The outlook: The Aggies have established quite a reputation for producing top NFL offensive linemen, as evidenced by their string of three consecutive drafts with an O-lineman going in the first round (Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi). The streak could continue with scouts already touting Ifedi as one of the top prospects at the position. The nimble pass protector joins Mike Matthews to anchor a rock-solid offensive line in College Station. There is plenty of buzz about the Aggies' young players, including Allen, Seals-Jones and Garrett. With Kevin Sumlin continuing to add blue-chip talent to the roster, the Aggies' pipeline will remain loaded for the foreseeable future.
Newcomer in the spotlight: WR Christian Kirk. It is hard for a freshman receiver to make an immediate impact on the perimeter, but signs are already pointing to Kirk emerging as a difference maker for the Aggies. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound pass-catcher has already cracked the starting lineup; coaches can't stop raving about his spectacular ball skills and route-running ability. With the Aggies poised to throw it all over the field in a variety of four-receiver sets, Kirk could post big numbers as a first-year starter in 2015.
18. Penn State
Players to watch: QB Christian Hackenberg, DT Austin Johnson, DB Jordan Lucas, DT Anthony Zettel and TE Kyle Carter.
The outlook: For all of the attention Hackenberg has received, there are a number of evaluators pegging Johnson as the Nittany Lions' top prospect. The 325-pound nose tackle is the premier run stuffer in the country; defensive coordinators are drooling over his potential as a destructive force against the run. Hackenberg will still command a lot of attention as one of the top pocket passers in college football. If he can cut back on turnovers and show off the impressive arm talent that made him Bill O'Brien's choice as a franchise quarterback, he could intrigue plenty of NFL decision makers as a future star at the position.
Newcomer in the spotlight: OT Paris Palmer. It's uncommon for the Nittany Lions to dip into the JUCO ranks, but a huge need at left tackle prompted the team to take a flier on the 6-7, 280-pound pass protector. Although Palmer is an unfinished product, he was one of the best O-line prospects on the junior college circuit and is on track to end up as a starter for James Franklin's squad.
Players to watch: WR Jordan Payton, LB Myles Jack, DT Kenny Clark, CB Fabian Moreau and WR Devin Fuller.
The outlook: The Bruins have risen toward the top of the Pac-12 on the heels of strong recruiting classes that have yielded NFL-caliber talent. The trend should continue with Clark and Jack headlining a defense that could rank among the best in the conference. Payton is a sneaky possession receiver with strong hands and powerful running skills. He could emerge as the Bruins' main man in the passing game.
Newcomer in the spotlight: QB Josh Rosen. Jim Mora could hand over the reins to Rosen, a true freshman, to sustain the success of the Bruins' program. Rosen was viewed as the No. 1 quarterback on most recruiting lists; he exhibits all of the core traits (leadership, arm talent, accuracy and judgment) to blossom into a franchise quarterback down the road.
20. Arizona State
Players to watch: QB Mike Bercovici, CB Lloyd Carrington, RB D.J. Foster, C Nick Kelly, G Vi Teofilo, and G Christian Westerman.
The outlook: The Sun Devils have returned to prominence under Todd Graham, and the program is back to churning out quality NFL talent at the skill positions. Foster is a spectacular change-of-pace back with exceptional receiving skills. Although he is penciled in as a wide receiver for the Sun Devils, scouts are taking a long, hard look at the 5-10, 195-pound senior to see if he can fill a Shane Vereen-like role as a pro. Carrington is opening eyes as an intriguing cover corner with a versatile skill set. He could entice evaluators as a hybrid corner-safety at the next level.
Newcomer in the spotlight: QB Brady White. The Sun Devils have a few intriguing quarterback prospects in the stable, but White could work his way into the job in a few seasons. The slender playmaker is a natural, quick-rhythm passer with a knack for getting the ball into the hands of his receivers quickly on the perimeter. In a spread offense that is predicated on rhythm throws, White's lightning-fast delivery could help the Sun Devils' offense remain a juggernaut for the foreseeable future.