The last two weeks have been watch list season in college football, that dreaded time every offseason when long lists of "candidates" for the sport's awards are announced as supposedly important news. Of course, the lists don't actually mean much: They're laughably extensive in some cases, and they aren't actually lists of the players who will be considered for the awards. They're mostly just long lists of returning starters who people have heard of and make for easy news items before the preseason gets rolling.
In honor of watch list season, though, Sports on Earth has put together its own watch list: the All-Watchability Team. Due to the magic of cable television and online streaming services, just about every game every week can be legally viewed at this point, meaning it's a lot easier to consume all aspects of a college football season, from the defending national champions and all their stars, to a solitary Sun Belt standout that never had a chance to play on TV not too long ago. There are always ample options on a Saturday (or Friday, or Tuesday).
So in those times when your team isn't playing, or when there's not a marquee game being played, here are the individuals you should tune in to watch, purely for entertainment purposes. In some respects, entertaining players are also the best, but not necessarily so. This list is done to honor both the best and the boom-or-bust players, the ones who are most capable of making highlight-reel plays, impact blocks or game-changing turnovers that cause you to rewind your DVR for another 20 looks.
Quarterback: Chuckie Keeton, Utah State. Yes, the answer is actually Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. But you knew that already. Everyone is going to be watching Florida State's Winston, a Heisman winner with a massive arm and a knack for extending plays to make eye-popping throws, and Oregon's Mariota, the efficient point guard of the Ducks' fast-paced offense who averages more than seven yards per run on top of his NFL-caliber passing. They are undoubtedly the most watchable quarterbacks, and there's a good chance they'll be the two defining players of the season. Saying that, let's also give credit to Keeton, who essentially gets to be Mariota/Winston Light, only against worse defense -- a perfect recipe for jaw-dropping plays. In six games prior to tearing his ACL last year, Keeton completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,388 yards with 18 touchdowns and two picks, and he also ran for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The knee injury is a red flag, of course, but Keeton was cleared in late April. While casual fans don't often make a point of watching the Aggies, they open their season on Sunday, Aug. 31, in a nationally televised trip to Tennessee that provides a big stage for Keeton's return, which a chance to prove himself on the road against an SEC foe.
Running Back: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. Miami's Duke Johnson or maybe even Auburn's Corey Grant could qualify here, but the explosive runner slot on this list goes to Gordon, who has dazzled over the last two years as an outside threat in the Badgers' power offense. As a situational third wheel in the Wisconsin running game in 2012, Gordon averaged 10 yards per attempt on 62 carries. In a co-starting role next to James White last year, he was bumped all the way to 206 carries and managed 1,609 yards (7.8 per carry) and 12 touchdowns, starring in particular on jet sweeps but also thriving in a more traditional running back role. With long, gliding strides, Gordon is as smooth a runner as there is in college football, and when he gets a seam in the open field, he looks like he'd belong as a standout in the 400 meters.
Running Back: Derrick Henry, Alabama. Let's just ignore the small sample size, and assume that what we saw in the Sugar Bowl is a sign of things to come. There's no reason it can't be. Henry will have to split time with established star T.J. Yeldon, but that doesn't mean he can't emerge as a star at the same time: Both Yeldon and Eddie Lacy ran for over 1,100 yards in 2012. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Henry boasts an impossible combination of size and speed, a skill set that he showed off in a breakout game against Oklahoma in which he ran eight times for 100 yards and a touchdown and caught one pass for a 61-yard touchdown. Henry isn't totally unique, of course. You don't have to leave the SEC to find a good comparison: Georgia's Todd Gurley, the best all-around running back in the nation. But whereas we already know what Gurley can do -- and he's undoubtedly worth watching as much as possible -- the untapped potential of Henry makes him one of the most intriguing players heading into the 2014 season. It would be a tough vote between Gurley and Henry for player the average player would least like to have to tackle one-on-one. With his quick feet and the momentum he gets at full steam, he may never be tackled.
Wide Receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. Lockett probably isn't the household name that he should be. But even at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, he has become one of the biggest impact players in the nation, serving as a deep threat, a reliable possession receiver and a consistently good kick returner for a Wildcats team that should contend for the Big 12 title in 2014. Minus size, he has everything you want in a receiver with precise route-running, deep speed and the ability to run after the catch. There is no better pure receiver in the nation, and he's among the best return men too, making him a must-watch dynamic threat.
Wide Receiver: Devin Funchess, Michigan. No need for a Jimmy Graham debate: Funchess is now officially listed as a wide receiver on Michigan's roster. It's not that Funchess' role is actually changing much; even as a tight end he spent most of his time detached from the line, frequently uncoverable as a 6-foot-5, 230-pound target with great athleticism. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch last season and is in line for an expanded role with the departure of No. 1 receiver Jeremy Gallon. He's basically Michigan's version of Kelvin Benjamin, who starred for Florida State as a monstrous target on the outside last year.
Tight End: O.J. Howard, Alabama. Maybe it's still too early to jump on the Howard bandwagon after he caught only 14 passes as a true freshman, but he did take those limited opportunities for 269 yards and two touchdowns, headlined by his 52-yarder against LSU. Howard is a 6-foot-6, 240-pound wideout in a tight end's body, giving the Crimson Tide yet another ridiculously talented weapon around presumed new starting quarterback Jacob Coker. Howard is the type of big, modern tight end who can line up anywhere and create mismatches with his combination of size and speed, and with so much defensive attention on Amari Cooper and the Alabama running backs, Howard will undoubtedly see favorable matchups for highlight-reel plays.
Offensive Line: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon. It's natural to gravitate toward power football when praising offensive lines, and in the Pac-12 North, the attention goes to Oregon's skill players and Stanford's lines. But what about the Oregon offensive lineman who have to keep pace with the rest of the offense in the Ducks' up-tempo attack? Grasu has actually gotten plenty of accolades, and he deserves them, as the quarterback of the line that helps make all of Oregon's ground success possible. He returned for his senior season and very well could be the first center of the board in the 2015 draft, thanks to his excellent quickness that allows him to get to the second level and make blocks on the move for Oregon's speedy running backs.
Offensive Line: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M. Blocking for Johnny Manziel wasn't always easy. Obviously, it was great to have the best playmaker in the sport at quarterback, but he also held onto the ball a long time and improvised, meaning Aggies linemen had to do a lot of extra work and always be aware of where Manziel was with the ball. Fortunately, Kevin Sumlin apparently has an endless rotation of stars at his disposal, from Luke Joeckel to Jake Matthews and now to Ogbuehi, a senior who shifts from right to left tackle as a senior this fall. Ogbuehi was particularly suited for blocking for Manziel, as his balance, quick feet and strong hands allowed him to keep defenders in front of him and stay engaged.
Offensive Line: A.J. Cann, South Carolina. At 6-foot-4, 318 pounds, at left guard Cann somehow looks small compared to teammate 6-foot-8, 348-pound teammate Corey Robinson at left tackle. The duo is neck-and-neck with Florida State for the best left side in the country, with Cann a four-year starter who aggressively finishes blocks to pave the way for running back Mike Davis.
Offensive Line: Josue Matias, Florida State. Not quite as heralded as linemates Cameron Erving and Tre' Jackson, Matias could be every bit as good -- or better. A key cog in a Seminoles running game that saw its three leading running backs average 6.7 yards per carry combined, the 6-foot-6, 331 pound Matias is a big, mobile senior at left guard who has knack for exploding off the line and moving in the open field, which is no small feat for someone that big.
Offensive Line: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin. No team has a better reputation for recruiting and developing massive lineman, who almost without fail proceed to bulldoze the way for 1,000-yard rusher after 1,000-yard rusher. In fact, the Badgers had two 1,000-yard backs last year (Melvin Gordon, James White), and four members of that starting offensive line return, led by Havenstein anchoring the group at right tackle. At 6-foot-8, 327 pounds, the senior is the biggest lineman on an enormous line, and perhaps the most entertaining linemen in general are the big ones who spend most of their time aggressively looking for someone to shove to the ground. That's Havenstein, who gets plenty of opportunities when sealing the edge for Gordon or just steamrolling defenders up the middle for an offense that loves to run the ball. Havenstein may be from Maryland, but he was born to play tackle for Wisconsin.
Defensive End: Vic Beasley, Clemson. The nation's best pure pass rusher, Beasley was a revelation for coordinator Brent Venables' rapidly improving Clemson defense last year. His returning for his senior season provides a huge boost to the Tigers' 2014 chances, given that he had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss as a junior. Like former Texas A&M All-American Von Miller, Beasley is likely heading for an outside linebacker role in the NFL, at just 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. But that size issue isn't much of a problem at the college level: He's too relentless and quick off the edge for just about any college offensive tackle to handle, and his consistently disruptive play is a hassle for opposing quarterbacks and an asset that takes pressure off a still-growing secondary.
Defensive End: Randy Gregory, Nebraska. Defensive ends shouldn't be able to do this so easily:
Gregory is a hybrid pass rusher who doesn't need to line up in one spot with his hand on the ground. A juco transfer who broke out with 10 ½ sacks, he can be used in a variety of ways as a 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior thanks to his ridiculous explosiveness off the edge. He gets upfield and can also chase ball carriers down from behind with ease.
Defensive Tackle: Danny Shelton, Washington. If there were betting odds for best Twitter FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN candidate of 2014, Shelton might be the best guess. He fits the profile: He may be 6-foot-2, 332 pounds -- basically, classic nose guard frame -- but he's more than just a wide space filler in the middle of the Washington defense. He's an aggressive disruptor, causing havoc in the middle to free up playmakers like Hau'oli Kikaha and Cory Littleton off the edge. With a high motor and decent agility for a man of his size, just wait until he drops back in a zone blitz, picks off a quarterback and somehow finds some space and drags two players into the end zone.
Defensive Tackle: Michael Bennett, Ohio State. The Buckeyes defensive line is loaded across the board, with sophomore end Joey Bosa in particular emerging as an exciting playmaker to watch. Bennett is the veteran of the group, the lone senior starter and a 6-foot-2, 288-pound penetrator on the interior. Even with the talented pass rushers the Buckeyes boast off the edge, Bennett tied Noah Spence for the team lead with 7 ½ sacks and finished with 11 ½ tackles for loss. All four projected starters for Ohio State's line (also including Adolphus Washington) can play end, giving the Buckeyes a quick, agile defensive front that will be among the national sack leaders.
Linebacker: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, McKinney looks like he could play defensive end, outside linebacker or tight end, but he primarily quarterbacks the Mississippi State defense at middle linebacker. He can turn and run in coverage, he can rush the passer from the edge or as a blitzer up the middle and, most notably, he has fantastic closing speed that gives him sideline-to-sideline range the ability to make plays all over the field.
Linebacker: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Striker is the perfect fit for a very modern Oklahoma defense. Sometimes, the Sooners relatively new model backfires -- see the Texas debacle last October -- but in general, in the Big 12, their spread-centric defense is a logical move. Striker isn't a typical linebacker at 6-foot, 221 pounds, but he gives coordinator Mike Stoops flexibility: He's extremely quick for a pass rusher, and he can line up anywhere around the formation. Striker had 6 ½ sacks in his first year as a starter as a sophomore, and now big things are expected out of the versatile linebacker who looks more like a safety and produces like an All-America defensive end.
Linebacker: Myles Jack, UCLA. Nothing makes a defensive player more watchable than the fact that he can star on offense too, but Jack would probably be here even if it wasn't for his sudden star turn as a running back midway through his freshman season. Both the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year, Jack is an explosive hitter at linebacker who had 76 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two interceptions. Of course, nowhere did he showcase that explosiveness better than when pressed into duty on offense, where he ran the ball 38 times for 269 yards and seven touchdowns. Wherever he ends up, it's pretty clear that he'll be a must-watch player.
Cornerback: P.J. Williams, Florida State. A quick-twitch athlete who has a nose for the ball, Williams is destined to make some big plays as a star in the supremely talented Florida State secondary. He started 11 games as a sophomore, recording three interceptions and seven pass breakups, and while he's not necessarily strong, he flies to the ball and can hit hard when needed. He excels playing close to the line of scrimmage because of his quickness and willingness to fight through traffic, making him one of the more versatile and all-around talented defensive backs in the nation.
Cornerback: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. How can you not be intrigued? We have not seen Peppers play college football, of course. He's only just about to take part in his first practices. But there's also no way Brady Hoke is going to leave him on the sidelines. Peppers is an explosive athlete at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, one who excelled at running back in high school and could potentially play both ways in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are going to get him on the field in whatever way they can, and on defense that could mean in nickel situations as a defensive back who can line up just about anywhere. He has the size to succeed on blitzes and in press coverage, and the athleticism to roam the field as a safety if needed. Whatever his specific role may be, he appears destined to be a top playmaker.
Safety: Derron Smith, Fresno State. What does a viewer want most out of a safety? A ballhawk who makes plays on the ball. Despite Fresno State's issues on defense, nobody does that better than Smith, who had six interceptions in 2012, then followed it up with seven as a junior in 2013. He returned for his senior year as the clear veteran leader of the Bulldogs, and the centerpiece of the defense as a safety who not only makes a lot of plays in coverage, but also flies to the ball against the run and even had four sacks last year. No defensive player in college football has proven more as a defender all around the field than Smith..
Safety: Sam Carter, TCU. A dual-threat quarterback recruit, Carter has proven to be a perfect fit as the strong safety in Gary Patterson's always stingy 4-2-5 defense. Adept against the run, Carter is also an instinctive player in pass coverage, rarely out of position and finishing second in the Big 12 with five interceptions last year. As SB Nation's Ian Boyd explained, Carter plays a pivotal role in a hybrid TCU defense that has consistently been one of the nation's best over the last decade.
All-Purpose: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Switzer may find it impossible to duplicate what he did last year, but 2013 was more than enough to establish himself as one of college football's most entertaining playmakers. As a true freshman, he may have averaged a pedestrian 10.7 yards per catch as a receiver, but he broke out as the nation's best punt returner, returning five of his 24 attempts for touchdowns to average 20.9 yards per return.