Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (redshirt junior): There wasn't a more underappreciated player in college football than Mariota in 2013. He quickly fell out of the Heisman race after Oregon's loss to Stanford, in which he played with a sprained knee. Mariota still put up staggering numbers for the season: 3,665 pass yards and 31 touchdowns against just four interceptions while completing 63.5 percent of his attempts, as well as 7.4 yards per rush with nine touchdowns. He led the nation in adjusted QBR (89.5) and surprised some by electing to return for his junior season.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (senior): He's already one of the more decorated quarterbacks in Ohio State history, but he wants to boost his game while leading the Buckeyes to their first outright Big Ten championship since the 2009 season. Miller could become the first three-time winner of the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football award, given to the Big Ten's MVP, and also can claim an unprecedented third offensive player of the year award. He has eclipsed 1,000 rush yards in each of the past two seasons and improved his accuracy by more than five percent in 2013. If he can take another step as a passer, he'll likely be in New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker (junior): His surname suits his game, as Striker made targeted attacks on opposing ball carriers. An incredibly gifted blitzer, he led Oklahoma in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (10.5), while ranking second on the squad with seven quarterback hurries. Striker ended his sophomore season with a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl, recording three sacks and a forced fumble that led to the game-clinching touchdown. He boasts superb speed and instincts and will trigger a Sooners defense that returns just about everyone in 2014.
And here are seven more sleepers to track ...
Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller (sophomore): Hardly a sleeper in ACC country, Fuller was named the league's defensive rookie of the year after recording a team-high six interceptions. He led the league in passes defended with 17 (six INTs, 11 pass breakups) and helped the Hokies finish eighth nationally in pass defense.
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory (junior): The junior-college transfer provided the instant impact Nebraska fans had hoped for and helped the Blackshirts take a step late in the season. Gregory led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks and ranked second in tackles for loss with 17. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and should be in the mix for national awards in 2014.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (sophomore): Freshman running backs simply don't look like Henry, who, at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, already might be the most physically imposing runner Nick Saban has had at Alabama. After a relatively quiet regular season (282 rush yards on 27 carries), Henry exploded in the Sugar Bowl with a 61-yard scoring reception and a 43-yard scoring run, and averaged 17.9 yards per touch.