College football is one of the most electric sports in the country, and the ability of its stars to make big-time plays in key situations is one of the primary attractions. Players like Reggie Bush, Johnny Manziel and Bo Jackson have laid the groundwork for today's most visible and dangerous players.
Today's crop of playmakers includes dual-threat quarterbacks, multi-dimensional wide receivers and monsters that live in the nightmares of opposing offensive lines. These players will not only have a big impact in the Heisman Trophy race, but could have a big say in what teams make the College Football Playoff.
Who are the biggest playmakers headed into the 2020 season? Let's break down the one can't-miss player at each position.
Justin Fields, Ohio State: Hot-shot quarterbacks need to play in systems that highlight their skills in a wide variety of ways. No system does it better, and no player has better skills, than Ohio State and Fields. The junior threw for 3,273 yards, rushed for 484 more and totaled 51 touchdowns. He went to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and led his team to the College Football Playoff in his first season as a starting quarterback. He did all of that despite heading to the bench with big leads multiple times during the 2019 season. Now that Fields is entrenched under center and coach Ryan Day has championship-experience, expect Fields to flirt with 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in 2020 -- provided he plays a full four quarters most of the time.
Travis Etienne, Clemson: There are several Heisman-caliber running backs heading into the season, but Clemson's star is the best of the bunch. Etienne had 1,614 rushing yards, 432 receiving yards and totaled 23 scores in an offense that was about as balanced as any in the sport. It'll be impossible for opposing defenses to keep their eyes off of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, so Etienne should have holes the size of the Grand Canyon to run through in an ACC that isn't exactly one of the most dangerous conferences in the world.
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU: This one is a no-brainer. All Chase did during LSU's magical 2019 title run was catch 84 passes for 1,780 yards, 20 touchdowns and win the Biletnikoff Award. It's true that LSU's offense will look drastically different without quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, wide receiver Justin Jefferson and stars along the offensive line. But Chase proved last season that he's fully capable of showing up big in pressure-packed spots.
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State: Superstar tight ends dot the 2020 college football landscape like Oreos in cookies and cream ice cream. Penn State's Freiermuth should emerge as the the best of the bunch. The 6-foot-5, 256-pound junior caught 43 passes for 507 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and was the second-leading receiver on the team. With Sean Clifford entrenched at quarterback and leading receiver K.J. Hamler off to the NFL, Freiermuth should see plenty of action in 2020.
Notre Dame: Offensive lines aren't exactly playmakers, they're play facilitators. With that said, let's give this award to a Notre Dame unit that is loaded with returning talent. Tackles Robert Hainsey, Liam Eichenberg and Josh Lugg, guards Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer and center Jarrett Patterson all return with significant experience off an injury-plagued unit both toward the end of last season (Hainsey and Kraemer) and at the start of the abbreviated spring practice (Banks). That offensive line helped the Fighting Irish win 11 games and average 6.3 yards per play a year ago. If they're going to get back to the College Football Playoff, it'll be up to the big guys up front to get the job done.
Quincy Roche, Miami (FL): Roche might not be a household name since he played three seasons at Temple, but he should become a superstar now that he's playing for Miami (FL). He had 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks for the Owls last season, and added 49 total tackles to his stellar stat line. He is considered a first-round prospect by multiple outlets and is the top defender in the 247Sports transfer rankings. He has already proven that he is a monster at the Group of Five level, and should be a force for a Hurricanes defense that could be one of the ACC's best.
Marvin Wilson, Florida State: It's more than a moderate surprise that Wilson isn't preparing for his first season in the NFL. Pro football's loss is first-year Florida State coach Mike Norvell's gain. Wilson, a 6-foot-5, 311-pound monster in the middle, who notched 44 tackles, had 8.5 for a loss and five sacks in just nine games before suffering a hand injury last year. If the Seminoles are going to contend for the ACC Atlantic title next season, Wilson is going to have to ball out.
Micah Parsons, Penn State: A consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2019, the Penn State superstar is the best and most versatile linebacker in the country. He tallied 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks on a loaded Nittany Lions defense. Parsons is a sure-fire first-round draft pick in 2021 as long as he stays healthy. As if that's not enough, coach James Franklin has even considered putting him on the return team in 2020. Now, that's more of a hypothetical than an actual plan. But the mere thought of it makes Parsons the epitome of a play-making linebacker.
Derek Stingley, LSU: The sophomore burst on the scene last season, leading LSU with six interceptions and establishing himself as the top lockdown corner in college football. What will he do for an encore? Teams already started to avoid his side of the field toward the end of LSU's 2019 championship run, and he should be just as dangerous in the more multiple Bo Pelini defense. Several of his running mates are gone off of the Tigers' defense, but Stingley should be able to handle the pressure just fine.
Trevon Moehrig, TCU: The Horned Frogs star had 62 tackles and four picks last season. He will be the centerpiece of a defense that is hoping to round back into the form that coach Gary Patterson established in Fort Worth long ago. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for that performance and was the highest-graded safety from Pro Football Focus last season.
Rondale Moore, Purdue: The superstar wide receiver/returner missed the final two months of last season with a hamstring injury, but he has proven to be one of the most electric players in the sport since establishing himself as a star in Game 1 of his true freshman campaign vs. Northwestern. Moore has done it all for the Boilermakers, making plays as a receiver, running back and kick returner in his first two seasons, earning consensus All-American honors as a freshman. Another year in coach Jeff Brohm's system should be terrifying to the rest of the Big Ten.