College football roundtable: X factors in each Power 5 conference

In the ACC, freshman Dexter Lawrence could help Clemson forget all about losing three defensive-line starters. Miller Safrit/ESPN

We'll spend the next few months trying to predict what will happen in college football -- but there are always unknowns that are impossible to project, especially when it comes to players who have the potential to become major difference-makers.

Today, we look at the biggest X factors in the Power 5 in 2016:


Five-star recruit Levonta Taylor of Florida State was the highest-ranked ACC commitment at No. 5 in the ESPN 300, but fix your attention one spot lower on those rankings. Right below Taylor is defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who enrolled at Clemson in time for spring practice. With Clemson losing three defensive-line starters and Christian Wilkins able to slide to end occasionally, Lawrence can become a fixture in the Tigers' rotation. On the first play of his first Clemson scrimmage, the 6-foot-5, 340-pound Lawrence intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards. He had a sack in each of the spring scrimmages, too. With a head start learning the defensive system and the Tigers in need of depth, Lawrence, already listed as a co-backup, can play a pivotal role in returning Clemson to the national championship game. -- Jared Shanker

Big 12

Quarterback Shane Buechele might not lead Texas to a Big 12 title as a true freshman, but he could save his head coach's job. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the former ESPN 300 recruit from Arlington, Texas, will become the Longhorns' opening-day starter against Notre Dame after the show he put on this spring. He's not the biggest kid (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) but he is the best passer on the team, and that seemed obvious after just a few practices. The QB that Charlie Strong likes to call a "gym rat" is an ideal fit for new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense because he can make quick decisions and make all the throws. In a year in which Strong acknowledges he's on the hot seat, having a talented rookie QB who inspires hope and excitement among the fan base is a valuable asset. -- Max Olson

Big Ten

Ohio State, as you might have heard, lost an enormous amount of talent to the NFL draft. The Buckeyes were hit hard at the offensive skill positions and spent much of the spring trying to locate new playmakers. Torrance Gibson remains one of the most intriguing talents on the roster. Gibson was ESPN Recruiting's No. 16 overall player in the Class of 2015 after wowing as a high school quarterback. Ohio State moved him to receiver during his redshirt campaign and now will look for ways to unleash the 6-foot-4 athlete. He understandably lacks polish as a receiver, but he has a rare combination of explosiveness and size. If all goes well, he could become a newer, taller version of former Ohio State quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller. -- Brian Bennett


Last season, UCLA had a solid group of wide receivers and a green quarterback, true freshman Josh Rosen. This season, Rosen will have a year of experience under his belt but will be without four of his top five receivers, including Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte, who led the team with 10 touchdown receptions. The Bruins think they might have found the answer in Ishmael Adams, a defensive back-turned receiver, in the spring. The Bruins return their entire secondary from last season -- a group that led the Pac-12 in pass defense -- so they have some wiggle room to make a move like this, and head coach Jim Mora said Adams was the obvious choice. Already a dynamic return man, Adams has great hands and brought back an interceptions 96 yards for a touchdown last season. UCLA's hope is that the rejiggered pro-style offense will suit Rosen and play to Adams' skills. -- Kevin Gemmell


When identifying the biggest X factor in the SEC, you could simply say "Georgia" and be done with it. With a new coaching staff, a deep well of talent and a relatively easy road in the East, the Bulldogs have a chance to shake up the conference. But to be more specific, there are two X factors to consider: Jacob Eason and Nick Chubb. We'll start with Chubb. Before Leonard Fournette came along and Chubb went down with a knee injury against Tennessee, Chubb was the best back in the league. If he can get anywhere close to 100 percent, he and fellow running back Sony Michel could form the most dynamic backfield in college football. If they do, Eason's role could get interesting. Georgia fans speak of Eason as a savior, a program-changing quarterback. He has a huge arm and a clear moxie about him. But he's a true freshman and true freshmen don't win championships. (See: Josh Rosen, Aaron Murray, etc.) If Eason can buck that historical trend and Chubb is healthy, the Bulldogs could have an offense capable of carrying them to Atlanta. -- Alex Scarborough