As the midway point of college football season arrives, some of the sport’s biggest stars are beginning to separate themselves from the pack as true difference-makers on the national level. Stars can come from anywhere in college football, and they often capture our attention for a variety of reasons. A sport with 131 FBS teams produces a fun mix of characters, some of whom wind up as one-hit wonders and others who stay in the spotlight for the entirety of their careers.
The theme of Week 6 was breakout performances as players like TCU receiver Quentin Johnston and Wisconsin receiver Chimere Dike exploded onto the scene with massive performances in crucial games. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers also enjoyed a big week as he logged his first full game against a Power Five opponent in No. 22 Texas’ 49-0 win over rival Oklahoma.
College football may not be a star-driven enterprise, at least not compared to most of the country’s other high-profile sports. But the influence of players is rising in the so-called “player empowerment era” as loosened transfer restrictions and new name, image and likeness rules give athletes more power. So let’s give them their due and jump into this week’s Star Power Index to see who is shining brightest.
The College Football Star Power Index isn’t a Heisman Trophy watch list or a ranking of NIL earnings potential, nor is it an NFL mock draft. There are plenty of places to find those. This is a rundown of players who are maximizing their platform — be it for quality performance or other reasons — to stand out as the biggest names in the sport, whether that be just for a moment or for an entire career.
College Football Star Power Index
Quinn Ewers, Texas quarterback
The hype surrounding Ewers is spinning out of control after he completed 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in Texas’ 49-0 beatdown of rival Oklahoma last week. Would the Longhorns be 6-0, in the driver’s seat of the Big 12 and on the right path toward the College Football Playoff if he’d never injured his shoulder against Alabama? These are the hypotheticals surrounding Texas right now, and it’s a bit presumptuous. Any quarterback on the Texas roster could have led the Longhorns to a blowout win over that lifeless Oklahoma team, and the only other full game Ewers has played this season was against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 1.
Too much of the collective anointing presently bestowed on Ewers centers on his two quarters of great play against Alabama prior to the injury. Well, the Crimson Tide almost lost at home as 24-point favorites to an Aggies team playing with backup quarterback Haynes King last week. The point here is that Ewers has played 10 quarters of college football, and while he has clearly demonstrated elite talent in that span, it would be nice to see him deliver in the fourth quarter of a close game before preemptively awarding him the 2023 Heisman Trophy.
He should have that chance a few times over the next six weeks as the Longhorns play six consecutive Big 12 games, including four against teams currently ranked in the top 20 of the AP Top 25 poll. If Ewers can deliver over a larger sample size, then he’ll deserve all the adulation he’s receiving. For now, he belongs in the Star Power Index merely for how he’s managed to seize the sport’s spotlight while playing fewer than half of the offensive snaps for a 4-2 team ranked No. 22 nationally.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State quarterback
It’s time for C.J. Stroud to be acknowledged here. The Buckeyes’ rather mundane 6-0 start against overmatched foes has made overlooking Stroud easier than it should be. Through half of the season he’s on pace to throw for roughly 3,500 yards and 48 touchdowns. He is completing 70.6% of his passes, leads the nation in passing efficiency by a significant margin and guided his team to an absolutely dominant start. In a 49-20 win at Michigan State last week, Stroud completed 21 of 26 passes for 361 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Anytime you throw more touchdowns than incompletions on the road against a conference foe, you probably had a good game.
Quentin Johnston, TCU
Johnston’s big game was a long time coming after a relatively quiet start to his season, but TCU’s 6-foot-4 target picked the perfect moment for a breakout game. He racked up 206 yards and a touchdown on 14 catches in the Horned Frogs’ 38-31 win at Kansas. In other words, Johnston accounted for 60.9% of quarterback Max Duggan’s completions and for 66.9% of his passing yards. The Jayhawks had no answer for Johnston, who produced several plays worthy of inclusion on his NFL Draft reel. Johnston ranks No. 46 in the CBS Sports 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, and it was easy to see why against Kansas.
Xavier Thomas, Clemson EDGE rusher
The scary thing about Clemson’s defense is that it hasn’t been at 100% this year. Regardless, it has performed at an elite level against opponents not named Wake Forest. Xavier Thomas made his season debut in the Tigers’ 31-3 win at Wake Forest on Saturday and earned ACC Defense Lineman of the Week honors in just six snaps. In those six snaps, Thomas picked up two sacks and forced a fumble as the Tigers suffocated the Eagles in the second half. Thomas underwent preseason surgery for a foot injury, and now that he’s back, he looks capable of taking Clemson’s defense to an even higher level.
Chimere Dike, Wisconsin receiver
Wisconsin’s offense sprang to life in Jim Leonhard’s first game as interim coach as the Badgers smoked Northwestern 42-7. No one benefitted more than Chimere Dike, who set career highs with 10 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Putting up those numbers for Wisconsin — or any Big Ten West team — in a single game is the equivalent of an Ohio State receiver catching 25 passes for 380 yards and six touchdowns. Dike’s explosion offered Badgers fans a glimpse of legitimate offensive execution, and he could become a name to know in the division title race. With 15 catches over Wisconsin’s last two games, he’s emerged as quarterback Graham Mertz’s top target and is in line for another big game this week against Michigan State’s inept pass defense.
Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh running back
Anytime you break a record belonging to Tony Dorsett while also joining the company of LaDanian Tomlinson and Ricky Williams, you’ve had a good day. Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda ran for 320 yards and six touchdowns on 36 carries in the Panthers’ 45-29 win over Virginia Tech, breaking Dorsett’s single-game program rushing record. He also joined Tomlinson and Williams as the only Power Five running backs in the past 25 years to surpass 300 yards while scoring six rushing touchdowns in a single game, per ESPN Stats & Info. After the performance, Abanikanda is first nationally in rushing touchdowns with 12 and second in rushing yards with 830.