College football's breakout players for 2018

Matich keeping his eye on Georgia's Swift in 2018 (1:00)

Trevor Matich explains why Georgia running back D'Andre Swift is his college football breakout player for the 2018 season. (1:00)

Before the 2017 season kicked off, Stanford's Bryce Love was known as Christian McCaffrey's backup.

Jake Fromm was Georgia's other young quarterback, the pace car for Jacob Eason. You had to look down Wisconsin's running back depth chart to find freshman Jonathan Taylor, and Auburn's Jeff Holland was an anonymous reserve, not a pass-rushing monster.

All four players and many others like them emerged this season, and a new batch of breakout stars will arrive in 2018. We tried to avoid players in full-time starting roles this past season, and identify those who showed glimpses of bigger things to come. While it's easy to peg breakout candidates at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, there are a few other spots represented here, as well.

Keep an eye on these 20 names as you look ahead to next season.

USC RB Stephen Carr: As USC waits on several NFL draft decisions, it knows Carr will be back, most likely as the team's lead back to succeed Ronald Jones II. Although Carr's production slowed after a big start to the season, he finished with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average while adding 17 receptions. USC will rely more on its run game if quarterback Sam Darnold turns pro, and the offensive line shouldn't be nearly as shaky. It all sets up well for Carr to become a star.

Auburn DE Nick Coe: The Tigers defensive line caused all kinds of problems this season, and Coe looks like a force for years to come. After redshirting in 2016, he became Auburn's top reserve lineman this season, recording 29 tackles and two sacks. Although the Tigers return most of their front, Coe could emerge as an All-SEC player in 2018.

Stanford QB K.J. Costello: Even with Bryce Love running wild and the offensive line returning to form, the Cardinal needed a spike in production at quarterback. Costello delivered down the stretch, especially in a four-touchdown masterpiece against Notre Dame. Expect the 6-foot-5, 217-pound quarterback to improve his accuracy after a full offseason as Stanford's starter.

Wisconsin WR Danny Davis III: Get used to the Badgers throwing the ball more often to complement their traditional run game. Davis is one of several young receivers to watch, as he boasts speed and good hands. He averaged more than 16 yards per catch and had 18 of his 26 catches in Wisconsin's final five games, including three touchdowns in the Capital One Orange Bowl win over Miami.

Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg: The former four-star recruit steps into a critical role as All-American Mike McGlinchey departs for the NFL. If Tommy Kraemer remains at right tackle, where he started every game, and Robert Hainsey also stay on the right side, Eichenberg will protect the quarterback's blind side -- whether that player is Brandon Wimbush or Phil Jurkovec.

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins: Record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett will be missed after an unforgettable Buckeyes and Big Ten career, but Haskins might have a higher ceiling because of his superior physical gifts. He showed a strong arm and accuracy in limited work, especially against Michigan after Barrett was hurt. Although Haskins must beat out Joe Burrow and Tate Martell for the job, he enters the winter with confidence.

Clemson WR Tee Higgins: There won't be a deeper receiving corps in college football than Clemson's in 2018, but Higgins should be one of group's leaders. The staff loves his skill set and his big-play ability showed as a freshman, as he led Clemson in yards per catch with his biggest performances late in the season. Higgins is just getting started.

Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy: Wide receiver development will be critical for Alabama, which had only one consistent threat (Calvin Ridley) this season. Jeudy has Tide fans excited, though, as he boasts similar big-play ability to Ridley and will only improve with another offseason in the weight room. Along with Henry Ruggs III and Devonta Smith, Jeudy leads an exciting group of young wideouts.

Florida State DE Joshua Kaindoh: The Seminoles' next defensive coordinator inherits a ton of young talent, and Kaindoh is primed for big things. He had 6.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks and a team-high six quarterback hurries, to go along with a forced fumble. As Josh Sweat departs, Kaindoh could be Florida State's top pass rusher.

Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah: Denzel Ward's NFL departure clears the way for Okudah to show his talent in a featured cover role. Limited mostly to special teams as a freshman, Okudah had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery for the season. ESPN's No. 1 cornerback and No. 7 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class has a big offseason, and a big future, ahead of him.

Alabama LB Dylan Moses: A foot injury during bowl practice knocked Moses out of Monday's semifinal, but his future looks bright. After injuries ravaged Alabama's linebackers, Moses started the final two regular-season games and recorded 30 tackles for the season, including 5.5 for loss, while adding an interception and a forced fumble. He can play both inside and outside and should be key in 2018.

Washington CB Byron Murphy: Murphy would have been a 2017 breakout player if he had stayed healthy all year. Limited to six games because of a foot injury, Murphy still made his presence known with a team-leading three interceptions to go along with seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and three tackles for loss (one sack). He should continue to develop under co-coordinator Jimmy Lake.

Oklahoma CBs Tre Norwood and Tre Brown: Several young defensive backs showed flashes as Oklahoma's defense emerged from its October funk, and the two Tres led the way. Norwood showed good hands in coverage, while Brown is a strong tackler who delivers big hits. As Oklahoma loses several veterans in the secondary, both players will have even bigger roles.

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett: The Panthers ended a frustrating season on an encouraging note with an upset of Miami fueled by Pickett, who attacked with his arm and legs, piling up 253 yards and three touchdowns. Pickett ended up passing for 435 yards in his final two games at Miami and Virginia Tech. Although he must hold off junior college transfer Ricky Town this offseason, he looks like Pitt's quarterback of the future.

West Virginia DE Ezekiel Rose: We know West Virginia will chuck it around and score points in 2018, but its defense could be the difference in the Big 12/CFP race. Rose, coming out of "Last Chance U" at East Mississippi, emerged this past season as a force on the edge. He led WVU with five sacks despite a mostly reserve role, and he added an interception and a forced fumble.

Penn State RB Miles Sanders: "Save me some records," record-setting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley told Sanders after the team's Fiesta Bowl win. Although Barkley will go down as one of Penn State's all-time greats, Sanders is a capable successor. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in limited work this season but could shine behind an improving offensive line.

Michigan DT Aubrey Solomon: As a freshman, Solomon worked to claim a starting job down the stretch on a loaded defensive line and showed why he'll become a foundational piece for 2018 and beyond. He was noticeable against Wisconsin with four tackles (one for loss) and will take on an even bigger role as Maurice Hurst Jr. departs for the NFL.

Oklahoma State WR Dillon Stoner: He nearly didn't qualify as a 2018 breakout player because he was so productive as a redshirt freshman, recording 44 receptions for 576 yards and four touchdowns. But the NFL departures of Biletnikoff Award winner James Washington and Marcell Ateman clear the way for Stoner, Tyron Johnson and others to take on more important roles in 2018.

Georgia RB D'Andre Swift: Don't feel sorry for Georgia about losing dynamic tandem Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Swift displayed explosive ability as the Bulldogs' third back this fall, averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and looks ready to flourish as Georgia's featured back. He'll run behind a Bulldogs offensive line that improve this season and returns mostly intact.

Miami WR Jeff Thomas: The Hurricanes' quarterback competition will be a huge offseason story line, but whoever emerges should target Thomas more in 2018. The speedy Thomas averaged 20.4 yards per reception in limited work as a freshman and caught two touchdowns. As Miami loses top receiver Braxton Berrios and top tight end Christopher Herndon, Thomas' role should increase in a big way.