Two-Minute Drill: FSU in ACC title game, Daytona 500 sold out:
The Seminoles need a win over Louisville to ensure a spot in the CFP; the Daytona 500 for 2024 has sold out; and high school football state semifinals.
College football’s regular season wrapped up on Saturday, a showcase of Football Bowl Subdivision conference championship contests. Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama landed the four coveted spots into the College Football Playoff, while undefeated Florida State made history as the first undefeated Power Five program left out in the cold.
More than two-dozen athletes from Volusia and Flagler counties suited up for Division I football programs this fall, and a handful produced some eye-popping stats — with at least one significantly boosting his stock for the 2024 NFL draft.
Listed in alphabetical order, here are 10 locals who shined during the 2023 campaign.
UCF football superlatives: Which players earned offensive, defensive MVP accolades?
Maverick Baranowski, Minnesota
Baranowski, a former football and volleyball standout at Spruce Creek, opened the season as a starter at linebacker for Minnesota. He made seven tackles and broke up a pass in a Thursday night Big 10 West win over Nebraska.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman recorded 52 tackles (23 solo), five TFLs, one sack, two QB hurries and two pass breakups in 10 games. Baranowski missed the Golden Gophers’ final two contests, against Ohio State and Wisconsin, due to a shoulder injury.
According to Pro Football Focus, Baranowski posted a 67.5 overall grade with similar marks in run defense (65.5) and pass coverage (66.0).
Marlon Bradley, Florida Atlantic
Impressing first-year Owls coach Tom Herman in spring camp, Bradley shined in seven starts before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a Oct. 21 home loss to UTSA.
Bradley, a Deltona High grad, registered two of his career-high three sacks against Illinois. The 6-foot-4, 240 pound redshirt senior had 23 tackles, and produced a stout 86.4 tackling grade, per PFF.
To date, Bradley has suited up for 29 games at FAU. He should have two years of eligibility remaining following his injury rehab.
Mello Dotson, Kansas
Kansas had one of the best secondaries in the Big 12 this fall, with Mainland grad Dotson blossoming in his junior season.
Dotson tied for 16th nationally with four interceptions, scoring touchdowns in consecutive games against Oklahoma and Iowa State. He made 44 tackles (35 solo), including an eight-tackle outing in November against Texas Tech.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder made leaps across the board per PFF’s advanced metrics, posting career-high grades in coverage (78.2) and run defense (80.3). He allowed an opposing NFL passer rating of 72.9 while targeted 64 times.
Jalyx Hunt, Houston Christian
Once a wide receiver at University High, and a safety at Cornell, Hunt stunningly transformed into the Southland Conference’s most feared pass rusher.
Hunt, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound outside linebacker, won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award after compiling 46 tackles, 6½ sacks, nine TFLs, one interception returned for a touchdown, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.
NFL scouts have taken notice, and Hunt accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January, the most prestigious college football all-star game in the nation. ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller described Hunt as “your small school sleeper to fall in love with.”
Ta’ron Keith, Bowling Green
Bowling Green shrewdly added Keith to its 2020 recruiting class in the summer of that year, and afforded him plenty of time to develop. This fall, as a junior, Keith has played a starring role in the Falcons’ first winning season in eight years.
In 37 career games for Bowling Green, Keith has accounted for 2,871 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs.
Keith graded positively across the board in rushing (85.9) and receiving (87.3) grades, per PFF.
Lorenzo Lingard, Akron
Named Gatorade Florida Player of the Year in 2017 and a U.S. Army All-American after his senior season at University, Lingard finally got his chance to shoulder a sizable workload at the Division I level after previous stints at Miami and Florida.
Lingard carried the ball 143 times for the Zips, turning it into 641 yards and four touchdowns behind an offensive line ranked 127th in run blocking, per PFF’s metrics. The 6-foot, 205-pound redshirt senior caught 38 balls for 368 yards and another pair of scores.
PFF comfortably graded Lingard as Akron’s top offensive player this season, producing a 72.6 overall mark in 576 snaps.
Jared Lloyd, Missouri State
A second-generation Division I linebacker — his father, Maurice, played at Connecticut — Lloyd grabbed a starting spot for Missouri State as a true sophomore. He made 67 tackles playing in the grueling Missouri Valley Conference, arguably the Football Championship Subdivision’s version of the SEC.
Lloyd, a Mainland grad, added 7½ TFLs and three QB hurries. He had two TFLs apiece against Kansas and Southern Illinois.
Lemondre Joe, who also plays for Missouri State after wrapping up his prep career at Mainland, contributed 17 tackles and an interception.
Nelson Paul, SMU
The two-time News-Journal Defensive Player of the Year stuck out all five of his college seasons at SMU and racked up 58 appearances to date. Paul, a product of Flagler Palm Coast, started all 13 of the Mustangs’ contests as a senior, most recently in their 26-14 win against Tulane in the American Athletic Conference championship.
Paul registered 1½ sacks in the AAC title game, finishing the season with 4½ to go along with 24 tackles and seven TFLs in 389 snaps. PFF issued Paul an 81.9 pass rush grade, generating 27 total pressures on opposing quarterbacks.
SMU finished No. 24 in the College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings, and will face Boston College in the Fenway Bowl on Dec. 28.
Dennis Shorter, South Dakota
South Dakota is one of eight remaining FCS teams with a shot at a national championship, thanks in no small part to junior safety Shorter.
The FPC grad had 10 tackles, three pass breakups and one TFL in Saturday’s second-round victory over No. 15 Sacramento State. For the season, Shorter has 84 tackles — good for second on the team — with six PBUs, one interception, two forced fumbles and a blocked field goal.
The DakotaDome should be rocking Saturday ahead of a quarterfinal showdown between South Dakota and nine-time FCS national champion North Dakota State. Earlier this season, Shorter earned MVC Defensive Player of the Week honors against the Bison with 13 tackles and a pick.
Noble Thomas, Oregon State
Thomas flipped his commitment to Oregon State from Iowa State in December 2021, just ahead of the early signing period. After making just two appearances as a true freshman, Thomas got a chance to start four times for a Beavers team entrenched in the AP Top 25 for most of the season.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound University grad tallied 15 tackles and three pass breakups. Targeted 15 times, Thomas allowed a 57.7% completion rate and one touchdown in 138 coverage snaps. Quarterbacks had an NFL passer rating of 80.9 against the redshirt freshman, who split reps between the boundary and the slot.
Oregon State enters an uncertain future with both the Pac-12’s impending implosion, and Jonathan Smith’s choice to accept the head coaching position at Michigan State. On the plus side, Beavers defensive coordinator Trent Bray was promoted to fill the vacancy, and the team will enter a two-year scheduling alliance with the Mountain West Conference in 2024.
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