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August 15, 2005They are a special breed. These are the players who can change a game in an instant, sucking the life out of a road stadium or energizing the home crowd with a single play. They can hurt an opponent in so many ways that more than one opposing coach is forced to make preparations.
And college football might not ever have seen as many great utility players as it will this fall. Explosive specialists exist throughout the nation, but our list of the 10 best is headlined by four ACC and three Big Ten performers, as well as two players from the Pac-10. Even more impressive is that six of the 10 are underclassmen, including the top three.
The following are Rivals.com's Top 10 Utility Players for 2005. These guys will be game-changers on the field in 2005.
1. Reggie Bush (Southern Cal)
Bush is without question college football's most electrifying player, and trying to classify him in one position is nearly as difficult as trying to stop him on the field. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior was a Heisman finalist a year ago and will join teammate Matt Leinart as a favorite to win the award this season.
Equally dangerous as a runner, receiver or return man, Bush is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Last season, he racked up more than 2,300 all-purpose yards, averaged better than 10 yards each time he touched the ball and found the end zone 15 times. The Trojans are heavy favorites to repeat as national champions with so many offensive weapons, but Bush is the most dangerous.
2004 stats: 908 rushing yards (6.3 yards per carry), six touchdowns; 43 receptions, 509 receiving yards, seven touchdowns; 15.7-yard punt return average, two touchdowns; 25.6-yard kick return average.
2. Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio State)
While Bush is the nation's most explosive player, Ginn's not far behind. The 6-0, 175-pounder burst onto the college scene as freshman in 2004 for the Buckeyes, who originally planned to use him at cornerback. But those plans changed as soon as Ginn, Rivals.com's No. 2 player in the class of 2004, began to show what he could do with the ball in his hands.
Ginn was used primarily as a punt returner, where he emerged as the nation's best, early in the season, before gradually earning time as a receiver and even at running back. Look for Ohio State to involve him in the offense even more in 2005.
2004 stats: 113 rushing yards (8.7 yards per carry), two touchdowns; 25 receptions, 359 yards, two touchdowns; 25.6-yard punt return average, four touchdowns.
3. Devin Hester (Miami)
If you lined Bush, Ginn and Hester up for a race, there's no telling who would win. But you might be able to sell the event to rabid college football fans on pay-per-view. The 5-11, 186-pound Hester probably will play primarily on defense at corner, but every opposing special teams coach on the Hurricanes' schedule will face restless nights the week of the Miami game.
Hester returned four kicks for touchdowns last season, and it's likely that teams will try to kick away from him. But Hester, a junior, will get his chances, and when he gets loose in the open field, it's over.
2004 stats: 17.2-yard punt return average, three touchdowns; 25.9-yard kick return average, one touchdown; 40 rushing yards (8.0 yards per carry), one touchdown; 17 tackles, four interceptions.
4. Will Blackmon (Boston College)
Blackmon has excelled as a cornerback and a kick returner in his Eagles career, but this season he might be doing his damage as a receiver. The 6-0, 202-pound senior moved to wideout in the spring, and BC coaches are contemplating a full-time move to offense for Blackmon.
While he'll be successful on either offense or defense, Blackmon is a proven terror on special teams, where he returned a punt and a kick for a touchdown last season. ACC opponents will have their hands full trying to stop him this fall.
2004 stats: 27.2-yard kick return average, one touchdown; 11.3-yard punt return average, one touchdown; 46 tackles, three interceptions.
5. Ashlan Davis (Tulsa)
Davis would easily register as the least recognizable name on this list but only because he plays for a mid-major program. The 5-8, 179-pound senior established an NCAA record with five kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2004. Amazingly, opposing teams knew what he was capable of and still couldn't stop him.
If Davis, who doubles as a reliable wide receiver and also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, gets as many chances this fall as he did a year ago, there's no telling how many kicks he might take the distance.
2004 stats: 30.6-yard kick return average, five touchdowns; 30 receptions, 462 yards, one touchdown.
6. Michael Bumpus (Washington State)
The Cougars didn't have a lot to be excited about in 2004, but the freshman performance of Bumpus was a bright spot. The 5-11, 185-pounder was overshadowed in his conference by Bush, but he still did enough as a receiver and punt returner to earn Freshman All-America honors from Rivals.com.
With a year under his belt, look for Bumpus to take on an even greater role this fall and emerge as one of the nation's most dangerous players.
2004 stats: 35 receptions, 318 yards, one touchdown; 11.5-yard punt return average, two touchdowns.
7. Eddie Royal (Virginia Tech)
The Hokies were one of the nation's surprise teams in 2004, as they captured the ACC title in their first year in the conference. And Royal emerged as a true freshman as one of the surprise players on the team.
At 5-10 and 171 pounds, some questioned whether Royal was big enough to make a major impact. He answered all of those questions, however, by finishing as Virginia Tech's leading receiver and top return man.
2004 stats: 28 receptions, 470 yards, three touchdowns; 28.8-yard kick return average; 11.0-yard punt return average.
8. Skyler Green (LSU)
An ankle injury cost Green two games a year ago and greatly limited his effectiveness. But opposing coaches in the SEC know what the 5-10, 195-pound senior is capable of when healthy. As a sophomore in 2003, Green racked up 1,259 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns for the BCS national champions.
Expectations are high in Baton Rouge for the coming season, and Green will be one of the players who gives opposing teams trouble.
2004 stats: 24 receptions, 219 yards, three touchdowns; 9.7-yard punt return average, one touchdown; 22.6-yard kick return average.
9. Lance Bennett (Indiana)
We're talking Hoosiers now, but the subject isn't basketball or movies. It's been a series of lean years for the Indiana football program, but it has one of the nation's best return men in the diminutive Bennett.
The 5-6, 165-pound junior returned a punt and a kick for a touchdown a year ago, and he was among the nation's leaders in kickoff return average. Opposing Big Ten teams might expect to beat the Hoosiers, but they also know how dangerous Bennett is.
2004 stats: 30.0-yard kick return average, one touchdown; 10.9-yard punt return average, one touchdown.
10. Tramain Hall (N.C. State)
Hall does a little bit of everything for the Wolfpack, which will look to get him the ball more in 2005. The 5-10, 194-pound senior lines up at receiver some times and in the backfield at other times, and he's always a threat on kick returns.
If Jay Davis can have a consistent year under center for State, Hall will be the biggest beneficiary.
2004 stats: 28 receptions, 324 yards, three touchdowns; 81 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry); 6.5-yard punt return average.