Year after year, a handful of college football players start the season as relative unknowns before ending the campaign as bona fide superstars.
It’s a bit too early in the year to definitively declare breakout-to-star status, but with the help of Pro Football Focus’ unique play-by-play grading system, we can identify the candidates who are on the path.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 breakout stars from the first month of the 2021 college football season to keep an eye on for the rest of the year.
QB Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
No one in college football — regardless of position — has played better this season than Maryland quarterback Tagovailoa. He has earned a PFF grade above 86.0 in each of his four starts this year, leading to an FBS-high 93.3 overall mark for the season.
Tagovailoa entered 2021 with only four starts to his name, all of which came in 2020’s shortened season after he transferred to Maryland from Alabama. Tagovailoa showed high-end flashes, but the decision-making was that of a typical first-year starter, with nine turnover-worthy plays in those four games. This year, Tagovailoa’s decision-making has been sharp — he has yet to produce a turnover-worthy play, which is something only two other Power 5 quarterbacks with 100 dropbacks can say. Some of this is thanks to a simplified Terps offense, but it’s clear Tagovailoa has grown immensely as a quarterback.
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