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Friday, February 27, 2009
Five Big East breakthrough candidates


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

At this time last year, few people were talking about Donald Brown, Connor Barwin, Will Beatty or Tony Pike. Each emerged out of the shadows to become a star in the Big East.

Who will be the next batch of players to post have breakthrough seasons? Unlike the top newcomers, which we explored on Thursday, this list is about players who have already seen some time on the field but may be about to make you sit up and take notice. This is a tough exercise to do before seeing players in the spring, but here are five early possibilities:

Cory Grissom, DT, South Florida: He appeared in only one game in 2008 before being shelved by an ankle injury, for which he gained a medical redshirt. Bulls coaches love him and think he has the most talent of any of their young interior linemen. Look for him to fight for a starting spot on what could be the league's best defensive line in '09.

Dominique Battle, CB, Cincinnati: Battle was named the Bearcats' newcomer of the year after playing in every game as a freshman, but he was overshadowed by Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith. With both those guys off to the NFL Draft, Battle should step right in as a starting corner. Cincinnati has shown it knows how to develop ball-hawking defensive backs, and the athletic Battle fits that mode to a tee.

Julian Miller, DL, West Virginia: Miller was the Mountaineers' scout team defensive player of the year during his redshirt season, then played all 13 games last year as a backup, recording 3.5 sacks. He should challenge Larry Ford for the starting job at defensive end. On a defense that returns most of its starters from a year ago, Miller could be the biggest depth-chart mover.

Andre Dixon/Jordan Todman, RB, UConn: Donald Brown cast a long shadow by leading the nation in rushing in 2008, so one or both of these guys might emerge in his absence. Dixon led the team in rushing two years ago and was second team All-Big East, but he vanished as a junior. Todman made a strong freshman debut and has the burst to excel in many roles in the Huskies' new no-huddle offense.

T.J. Porter, WR, Pittsburgh: Porter backed up Derek Kinder at flanker last season but still finished third on the team in catches, yards and yards per catch. The graduation of Kinder and Oderick Turner opens up plenty of playing time for the Florida-bred speedster. And with defenses no doubt gearing up to double team Jonathan Baldwin, Porter could be in line for a big senior season.