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Joe Boozell | | October 19, 2016

5 bright spots on struggling teams

  He lacks experience, but Sam Darnold is providing USC stability under center.

College football is a wonderful game, but by nature, it has its drawbacks.

As the season rolls along, fewer and fewer teams have a chance to compete for the national championship. On one hand, this is a great source of drama. For upper-echelon squads, every game counts; the difference between a win or loss can also be also the difference between competing in the College Football Playoff or not.

On the other hand, if your team already has multiple losses, it may seem as though they’re not worth watching. Not so. Virtually every team has at least one bright spot, and stellar performances from key players can help shape the future of a program. The games still matter, just in a different way.

With that in mind, here are some of the top performers on struggling teams this season.

RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas

The new Texas spread offense has been kind to Foreman, as he’s seeing gaping holes like this with regularity.

Foreman is putting up a monster season as a junior. His lowest rushing output to date is 131 yards, and he’s been a consistent piece on a Longhorn offense that’s much improved from last season. The Texas defense is another story, but the Horns are putting up points. Foreman is a major reason why.

A 250-pound wrecking ball with sneaky speed, Foreman has totaled 731 yards on the ground this season to go along with eight touchdowns. He ranks 13th in the nation in rushing, and the junior doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

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QB Sam Darnold, USC

Darnold was the primary inspiration for this piece. Since taking over as the USC starter on Sept. 23 against Utah, the freshman has been brilliant. On the season, he’s thrown for 1,334 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns and just two picks. The Trojans are 3-1 in games Darnold starts, and they could easily be 4-0 if not for a heartbreaking late loss to the Utes.

His last outing against Arizona was his best -- Darnold threw five touchdown passes and zero interceptions en route to a 48-14 win over Arizona. USC was 1-2 before Darnold took the reins, and now, it looks like it could be headed for eight or nine wins.

WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame

Notre Dame hasn’t had much to hang its hat on this year; its defense has struggled mightily, and DeShone Kizer is cooling off after a sizzling start.

A big question going into the season, however, was the wide receiver spot. With Will Fuller headed to the NFL, the Irish seemingly had very few options out wide. St. Brown has answered the bell in a big way.

A 6-4 long-strider with great quickness, St. Brown has proven to be a reliable deep threat for Notre Dame. He’s notched 31 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns thus far, and he’s developed a solid chemistry with Kizer. St. Brown is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception, which is mightily impressive. He’s putting together quite a season in South Bend.

DE Arden Key, LSU

Arden Key is not a name you want to see on the opposing scouting report. The sophomore from Atlanta has already racked up seven sacks this season, and the Tigers have only played six games.

So, yeah. Key could tally 15 sacks this season, and that doesn’t even quantify how valuable he’s been. The explosive edge rusher has also forced three fumbles this season, including this one:

LSU has outscored its past two opponents 87-17, and we’ll see if the Tigers have truly turned the corner once their level of competition amps up. Regardless, Key seems to be immune to LSU’s struggles; even when the Tigers lost to Wisconsin, he still had two sacks. Chad Kelly better hope he doesn’t get too acquainted with Key this Saturday.

WR James Washington, Oklahoma State

Here’s how you know you’re dealing with an elite deep threat: when Washington hauls in a touchdown bomb of 50 yards or more, you’re not even surprised.

It’s a regular occurrence for the boom-or-bust Washington, who gets behind a defense as well as anyone in college football. It only took the junior three catches to reach 91 yards against Texas, and against Pittsburgh and Iowa State, he went for 296 and 152 yards, respectively.

Washington has top-end speed, and he’s excellent at catching the ball at its highest point on deep throws. At 6-1, he doesn’t have ‘basketball size,’ but he’s certainly not small. The Cowboys haven’t been disappointing this season (they could easily be 5-1 if not for a tough late loss against Central Michigan) but it’s reasonable to say that Oklahoma State fans expected to be better than 4-2. If the Pokes hit their stride down the stretch, Washington will be the one leading the way.

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