After the Cincinnati Bearcats made history last year by becoming the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff, teams from smaller conferences know they have a chance to take down the giants of the sport. Here are the offensive and defensive spotlights from PFF's College Football Preview Magazine for each G5 team.
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Editor's note: This analysis focuses on non-quarterbacks.
Offensive Spotlight Player: OT BLAKE FREELAND
Freeland was one of 2021's best pass protectors. The 6-foot-8, 305-pound tackle didn’t allow a multi-pressure game en route to a 91.6 pass-blocking grade — not too shabby from a three-star recruit who was 50 points lighter and didn’t even play offensive line in high school. He was an all-state selection in basketball and track-and-field in high school, as well, and that athleticism shows up on the field. Between Freeland, Oregon transfer Kingsley Suamataia and brothers Clark and Campbell Barrington, BYU has one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Defensive Spotlight Player: CB KALEB HAYES
Hayes was one of the most productive corners in college football last year with 11 total pass breakups in 13 games thanks to his ability to defend the vertical route tree. His transitions are smooth, and he almost didn’t get beat a single time last year for a downfield shot. Hayes was targeted over 20 yards downfield 18 times in 2021 and allowed just one to be caught while forcing seven incompletions, which formed the third-lowest catch rate allowed on deep targets in the FBS (5.6%).