- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Big 12 Conference provided a preview of a very promising 2010 season during the bowls, thanks in part to three of the players listed here. Their upside will be a big reason for the league's upswing. And two new arrivals to campus figure to have an immediate impact. Here’s a look at five Big 12 players who are primed to have a breakout season in 2010:
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas: The first recruit that Kansas head coach Turner Gill targeted after being hired in December enjoyed the Jayhawks’ interest so much that he switched his allegiance from Stanford to Kansas. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Bourbon rushed for 4,920 yards and 63 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Potosi High (Mo.). Last season, freshman Toben Opurum started off well (418 yards in five games) but injuries limited him to 136 yards in the last seven games. If Bourbon catches on quickly, he could team with the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Opurum to give Gill a sizable running tandem.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska: When Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr., went out of the Holiday Bowl with a knee injury, freshman Burkhead stepped into the lineup and made the 2010 Huskers offense a lot more interesting. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder rushed 17 times for 89 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska’s 33-0 rout of Arizona. Burkhead ran the Wildcat offense as if he had been born in it. Burkhead, who had 81 carries for 349 yards and three scores in 2009, bought himself time alongside Helu next fall instead of behind him.
Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: When Lane Kiffin left Tennessee last month, the Waco safety decided to stay home and sign with Baylor. The No. 15 player in the ESPNU 150 is sorely needed in a secondary that lost two starters, both of whom finished among the Bears’ top five tacklers. Dixon may be young but he has the size (6-foot-1, 195) and athleticism (also a kick returner) to help the Bears sooner rather than later.
Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas: The Longhorns quarterback hit the national stage eight months earlier than anyone planned. It took him only three quarters of the BCS National Championship Game to shake off the jitters and look worthy of someone named the 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Gilbert’s numbers in the fourth quarter against Alabama: 8-for-12, 82 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. The Longhorns will reap the benefit of his experience against the Crimson Tide.
Ronnell Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: The Sooners’ freshman linebacker made 16 tackles in the regular season. When he started the Sun Bowl, however, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Lewis provided a glimpse of his future. He lined up at defensive end and linebacker and made six tackles, sharing one behind the line. He also forced the normally sure-handed Heisman runner-up, Toby Gerhart, to fumble in the Sooners’ 31-27 defeat of Stanford.
The Big 12 Conference provided a preview of a very promising 2010 season during the bowls, thanks in part to three of the players listed here. Their upside will be a big reason for the league's upswing.