With Week 2 of the college football season in the books, here's a look at who's on the rise and who's in decline based on the weekend's action.
RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State: The Seminoles' star running back was unquestionably the best player on the field against South Florida on Saturday. Cook rushed for 266 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns in Florida State's 34-14 win. While the numbers are definitely eye-popping, it was the explosiveness and wiggle displayed by Cook on a handful of long runs that has NFL scouts already salivating about his potential. Cook's 74-yard touchdown run, in particular, showcased his exceptional stop-start quickness, vision and awareness. With a handful of splash plays confirming his status as one of the most electric runners in college football, Cook is squarely on the radar of scouts searching for the next superstar in the pipeline.
QB Cody Kessler, USC: It's funny how Kessler is rarely mentioned as a top quarterback prospect, yet he continues to post ridiculous numbers while guiding a pro-style offense in an ultra-efficient manner. The USC standout was brilliant again in the Trojans' 59-9 win over Idaho on Saturday. He completed 26-of-31 passes for 410 yards with three touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and ran his touchdown-to-interception mark to 66:12 for his career. Given Kessler's superb accuracy, ball placement, anticipation and management skills, the USC star could earn high marks in scouting reports despite lacking the big arm and physical dimensions that most scouts covet in a franchise quarterback.
LB Malik Jefferson, Texas: Whenever a five-star prospect receives the hype and adulation that Jefferson commanded during the lead-up to his college debut, scouts pay close attention to how well the player responds to being the alpha dog in a major program. Jefferson has already shown scouts that the fanfare was merited with his stellar play along the line for the Longhorns. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound playmaker was a Tazmanian devil against Rice, exhibiting speed, quickness, power and a non-stop motor on the way to notching nine tackles and four QB hurries. Jefferson scooped up a fumble and rumbled 26 yards for a touchdown that pushed the game out of reach, too. With the Longhorns desperately searching for a destructive defender to spearhead a turnaround, Jefferson's stellar play as a first-year starter suggests he could grow into a franchise player quickly as a collegian.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Scouts love to see young runners handle a heavy workload against a rugged defense because it reveals toughness, grit and competitiveness in the player. Thus, Fournette's 28-carry, 159-yard effort against Mississippi State checks all of the boxes on scouts' scorecards and confirms his status as a blue-chip prospect. From his ballerina-like balance and body control to his sudden acceleration and burst to his vision and cutback skills, Fournette exhibits all of the characteristics needed to be a great running back at any level. As more NFL teams return to a power-based rushing attack, running backs with hard-nosed running styles like Fournette will become valuable commodities on draft day.
S Kai Nacua, BYU: Whenever a defensive back records a hat trick, he deserves a mention on this list of standout playmakers. Thus, I'm carving out a note on Nacua after watching his three-interception performance in BYU's 35-24 upset win over Boise State. The ball-hawking safety snagged all tips and overthrows in his area, including a game-clinching pick six with the Broncos attempting to muster up a drive following BYU QB Tanner Mangum's improbable Hail Mary touchdown. Given the important role turnovers play in deciding the outcome of a game, Nacua's timely interceptions make him worthy of consideration as a star performer.
QB Everett Golson, Florida State: Despite leading the Seminoles to a win over USF, Golson's stock will take a hit in scouting circles due to his early game struggles with accuracy and ball placement. He missed too many throws to be considered an elite prospect. Golson must be spectacular with his accuracy and ball placement to overcome concerns about his size and frame. While evaluators will give him solid marks for his 5:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the fact that he couldn't deliver pinpoint passes or pick apart an overmatched South Florida secondary raises more concerns about his long-term potential as a quarterback prospect.
Head coach Bret Bielema, Arkansas: After taking Ohio State to task for its "soft" schedule last week, the loud-mouth coach watched his Razorbacks fall to a MAC team at home. Although Toledo is expected to contend for the league title, the fact that Bielema mocked the Buckeyes and failed to win a "gimme" game makes him (and the vaunted SEC) look silly due to his arrogance and shortcomings. If Bielema keeps prodding Big Ten opponents without taking care of business at his current job, he could find it hard to stave off the critics that feed on his failures.