Image credit: Ohio State QB Justin Fields (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
A year ago, Kyler Murray took college football by storm, giving the fall a tinge of baseball. While this season didn’t feature an MLB first-round pick winning the Heisman Trophy, the presence of players such as running back Jerrion Ealy and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee at Mississippi and tight end Cole Kmet at Notre Dame provided baseball fans with some players to keep an eye on.
The same will be true during the College Football Playoff, which begins Saturday with No. 1 Louisiana State taking on No. 4 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. ET and No. 2 Ohio State facing No. 3 Clemson at 8 p.m.
For baseball fans tuning into those games, Baseball America has identified the best baseball players on every playoff team – some of whom will also be suiting up this spring for their school’s baseball team.
No. 1 Louisiana State
Maurice Hampton, DB
Hampton this fall ranked No. 1 on the list of college football’s best baseball players. The freshman ranked No. 35 on the 2019 BA 500 and was the highest-ranked position player in the 2019 class to make it to campus. Part of the reason he made it to Baton Rouge was his football commitment and he was able to help the Tigers win the SEC and earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
While Hampton was rated as a four-star recruit on the football field by 247 Sports, LSU’s depth at safety limited his impact early this fall. But he made progress throughout the season and after mostly playing on special teams for the first few months, he earned his first career start late in November against Arkansas. He made six tackles in that game and garnered SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Overall this season, he has nine tackles and one pass breakup in 10 games and has given LSU another option in the defensive backfield.
Hampton is expected to also make a big impact on the diamond as an outfielder. He’s an elite athlete and will be one of the toolsiest players in the country. But first he’ll try to help LSU win its first national championship in football since 2007.
No. 2 Ohio State
Justin Fields, QB
Fields has the talent to be a two-sport player for the Buckeyes, but he’s solely focused on playing quarterback. In his first year at Ohio State after transferring from Georgia, he led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title, the No. 2 seed in the playoff and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Fields has thrown for 2,953 yards and 40 touchdowns, while adding 471 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Fields, who ranked No. 7 on the list of college football’s best baseball players, previously has shown off some flashy tools on the diamond as a shortstop. He played at PG National in 2017 impressed with his athleticism, speed and quick hands in the batter’s box. He’s always been more of a football player than a baseball player, but this week he credited his baseball background for making him a better quarterback.
Fields also mentioned not having closed the door on playing baseball in the future, but after his breakout season in Columbus, his future is assuredly on the football field. He’s likely to be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL draft.
No. 3 Clemson
Tanner Muse, DB
Coming out of high school, Muse was expected to give playing both baseball and football a chance. While that never materialized at Clemson, he likely could have continued playing outfield if he had committed to it over football. His premium speed and athleticism played well, and he had solid power potential in his 6-foot-2 frame.
Instead, Muse went on to become an All-American safety for the Tigers. The redshirt senior this season recorded 65 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. He’s also contributed to two national championship teams (2016 and 2018) and will try to close his college career with a third.
In addition to Muse, Clemson punter Will Spiers is the son of former big leaguer (and Clemson punter) Bill Spiers. While his father played on the left side of the infield for 13 years in the major leagues, Will was more of a pitcher in high school and helped his team win a state title in South Carolina’s Class AA.
No. 4 Oklahoma
Nick Basquine, WR
Kyler Murray last year broke out in his lone season as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback and won the Heisman Trophy six months after the Athletics made him the ninth overall pick as an outfielder in the MLB draft. Cade Horton, a quarterback/shortstop/righthander, is signed to play both sports at Oklahoma next school year and, as a baseball player, is the 30th-ranked player in the high school class.
This year Oklahoma football doesn’t have a star baseball player on the roster. Basquine, however, has a solid background with the sport. He played center field on the 2013 Norman North High team that was the state runner-up in Oklahoma’s Class 6A division. On the football field, Basquine, a redshirt senior, has this season caught 18 passes this season for 272 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a touchdown on a trick play and says his baseball background is part of the reason he is called on to throw in trick plays.