Independents and Others: Breakthrough candidates of 2009

February, 27, 2009
2/27/09
11:11
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

As the nonautomatic qualifying schools begin to assert themselves nationally so do the players who are on those teams. Players such as MiQuale Lewis, DeAndre Brown and Brian Johnson made names for themselves nationally last year and now it's time for a new crop to emerge.

Who will be the next to breakthrough and get the nation to take notice? Several players have the ability to do so, and as spring football begins, here are a couple of names to watch as potential breakthrough players.

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

Clausen isn't an unknown name, but he has yet to live up to the hype that followed him out of high school. He showed flashes of greatness in games against teams such as Purdue and Hawaii, but he also threw costly interceptions that led to losses. This is the year Clausen pulls it all together, finds that consistency and brings the Irish back to a double-digit win season.

Koa Misi, DE, Utah

Misi had a great season last year, but was often overshadowed by fellow defensive end Paul Kruger. With Kruger gone early to the NFL and tackle Greg Newman lost to graduation, Misi will be the top player on the Utes' defensive line and should be able to improve on his stats from a season ago, which included four sacks and three forced fumbles.

Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston

Most remember Houston for the horrifying broken leg he suffered against Marshall last October, but before the injury ended his season, Edwards was well on his way to becoming one of the best wide receivers in the country. In eight games, Edwards had 46 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns. He was also a team leader in kickoff returns.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State

Last season was supposed to be a breakout campaign for Mathews, a sophomore, but injuries dampened those hopes and Mathews had just 113 carries for 606 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers are skewed a bit since Mathews had games of 163 and 166 yards, but those games show that Mathews has the talent to be one of the nation's best backs.

James Wright, RB, New Mexico

Wright saw some playing time last year -- 54 carries for 348 yards and two touchdowns -- but he spent most of the season stuck behind seniors Rodney Ferguson and Paul Baker. It was a good learning experience that will serve him well as he works with a new coaching staff that plans to balance the offense. Wright will be the feature back heading into the spring and has the tools to continue the great string of running backs who have come through the Lobos' program.

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