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Who will be college football's breakout star in 2023?

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

We are now just hours from the start of Week 1 of the college football season - meaning that it's time to continue our preseason series.

We've already given you our playoff dark horses, most overrated teams and Heisman winners.

Tomorrow we'll give our playoff picks.

But first, it's time to talk breakout stars.

Who will be the biggest breakout star in college football this season? Aaron Torres and Torres Online college football writers Jake Faigus and Garrett Carr debate.

Garrett Carr: Kadyn Proctor, OT, Alabama

Most people want to highlight players who are going to have the ball in their hands. They love the SportsCenter highlights and the great numbers in the box scores. Not me. It’s about the big uglies in the trenches.

And one name you need to know heading into this season is Alabama’s true freshman offensive tackle, Kadyn Proctor. By the end of the season, he will be a superstar.

Reports suggest that the Iowa-native will begin the year as the starting left tackle for the Crimson Tide. He won’t be the first true freshman to start on the offensive line for Nick Saban at Alabama. Players like Jedrick Wills, Cam Robinson, and current right tackle JC Latham all started for the Crimson Tide early on. But, in my opinion, he’s the best to ever start up front for Saban as a true freshman and is one of the best NFL prospects in all of college football at just 18 years old.

Coming in at 6-foot-7-inches and 335lbs, he’s an absolute athletic freak. Offensive line prospects with that kind of size and his elite athleticism and movement skills don’t come around too often. Not only that, but Proctor plays angry. He is a powerful run blocker who gets to the second level with ease.

He has certainly impressed his teammates early.

And, that fits perfectly into what the Crimson Tide are likely to want to do on offense this year.

My guess is that Saban will decide to go with dual-threat Jalen Milroe as his starting quarterback, as reports out of Tuscaloosa are that he wants to get back to playing the type of “joyless murderball” that he built the dynasty one. Milroe is lacking as a passer, but he’s an elite runner, and will probably be the best running quarterback in the country this year. Combine that with a great offensive line returning, and I think the Crimson Tide run game will be one of the big stories of the year.

Because of this, people are going to start taking note of Proctor’s incredible talent to play the position. You will hear people talking about him being the top overall pick in the 2026 NFL Draft this year. Personally, I can’t wait to watch this guy beat up on the SEC with his insane combination of size, athleticism, and nastiness.

Jake Faigus: Joe Milton, QB, Tennessee

Joe Milton is set up to have a massive year this season for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Milton does have a lot to live up to, especially after last season. Still, Milton has shown flashes in Tennessee, headlined by his time last season replacing Hooker after he tore his ACL. Milton came into the South Carolina game after the game was already out of hand and he went 4-8 for 147 passing yards with one passing touchdown. He also was solid against Vanderbilt and didn’t need to be amazing. He went 11-21 with 147 passing yards with one passing touchdown and a 52.4 % completion percentage. He really impressed in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. He went 19-28, had 251 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and a 67.9% completion percentage.

Milton has some very good offensive options to utilize in the receiving corps, led by Bru McCoy, who had 667 yards and four touchdowns and Squirrel White who’s poised to break out after having 481 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season. Jabari Small and Jaylen wright are back in the backfield to take pressure off Milton and the offensive line brought in a few big transfers to help protect him.

The biggest key is that he now has had three off-seasons to learn the offense under Josh Heupel and get acclimated. The offense is predicated on the quarterback processing plays quickly and after all this time we should see Milton do that, especially down the field with how big of an arm he has. Everything is setting up well for Milton and he should be a breakout star for the Volunteers this year.

Aaron Torres - Travis Hunter, CB/WR, Colorado

So, I know that some would sit there and say "Torres, how can the former No. 1 overall recruit in the country, a household name, and maybe the greatest non-Caleb Williams transfer portal entry ever, possibly be a breakout star? Come on! Be better!!!"

Well, angry young internet reader, let me explain.

In my opinion, up until this point, Travis Hunter has mostly existed as a concept, a guy that virtual everyone who follows college football knows of, but don't know much about. Honest question: How many of you have ever actually seen Travis Hunter take a single snap in college football? I think it's safe to say more college football fans - diehard and otherwise - have seen the likes of third stringers at Alabama and Ohio State actually play, on the field on Saturdays, more than they've actually seen Hunter..

Well, that is set to change this year, as Hunter will be front and center early and often. Colorado's first two games - TCU at home, Nebraska on the road - are nationally televised in the "Big Noon Kick-Off" window on Fox and their Week 3 game against Colorado State will be a national, 10 p.m. ET kick-off on ESPN.

You'd have to assume Week 4 and Week 5 games against Oregon on the road and USC at home, will get plenty of airtime as well.

And when people actually watch Deion Sanders' team (rather than just talk about them), they'll see that Hunter is the most dynamic player in the sport, a two-way star that can shut down your best receiver, then come back on the next possession and take a short slant, break a tackle, and take it 60 yards to the house.

Put simply, even if Colorado doesn't have success, I suspect we'll be seeing one or two of Hunter's highlights every night on SportsCenter. And if they do? He could be one of the biggest stories in the sport.

Ultimately, let me put it a different way: How bad was the hyperbole on Zachariah Branch last Saturday, after one kickoff return TD and another score? The Reggie Bush comparisons were endless and exhausting.

Now image Hunter doing it on both sides of the ball, for a program that will be among the most discussed all season?

Hunter won't just be a household name (like he was at Jackson State), but a household face.

Which is why he'll be the breakout star of college football in 2023 this season.

To read up on dark horse playoff contenders - click here

To read up on our most overrated teams - click here

To see our Heisman picks - click here


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