NCF Nation: 2010 spring breakout

SEC breakout players for 2010

February, 11, 2010
This time a year ago, how many of us were up to speed on Darvin Adams at Auburn, Justin Houston at Georgia, Greg Childs at Arkansas or Mark Barron at Alabama?

All four had breakout seasons in 2009, guys who went from role players/solid players to All-SEC caliber players.

Who are those players going to be in 2010?

Let’s take a look:

1. Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus: Several in and around Alabama’s program think Dareus will be the next great defensive lineman for the Crimson Tide. He certainly made his presence felt in the BCS National Championship Game in January when he was named the game’s Defensive MVP after returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown and knocking Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game. Dareus only started in four games last season, but he still wound up with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Look for those numbers to soar in 2010, and look for him to emerge as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league.

2. Florida quarterback John Brantley: Following a legend is always difficult, but Brantley has the skills to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the SEC next season. No, he’s not going to make everybody forget about Tim Tebow, and he’s not going to be able to provide everything Tebow did for the Gators the last three seasons. But what Brantley can do is throw the football, and Florida will build its offense around Brantley’s strengths next season. The 6-3, 217-pound junior had a lot of work with the first-team offense last spring while Tebow was resting his shoulder and performed extremely well.

3. Vanderbilt safety Sean Richardson: Some might say that Richardson already introduced himself to the league last season with his 84 tackles, which led all SEC defensive backs during the regular season. But if you’re looking for prototypical safeties who can hit, cover and act as an enforcer back there in the secondary, the 6-2, 210-pound Richardson has a chance to really be special next season. Vanderbilt defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jamie Bryant has done an outstanding job when it comes to grooming quality defensive backs, but Richardson is the kind of punishing tackler that may be one of the best yet to come out of Vanderbilt.

4. Arkansas running back Ronnie Wingo Jr.: The Hogs have so many returning offensive weapons that it’s easy for some of those guys to get lost in the shuffle. Don’t look for that to happen with Wingo, who has everything Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino likes in a running back. The 6-3, 220-pound sophomore is fast, tough and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Wingo played in all 13 games last season as a true freshman and ranked fourth on the team in total yards (319) and carries (47). He averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Petrino is on record as saying that the Hogs need to get the ball in Wingo’s hands more and will look for ways to do that this coming season.

5. LSU receiver Rueben Randle: With Brandon LaFell gone, somebody at LSU has to step next season on offense and become that go-to player. The 6-3, 200-pound Randle has all the physical tools to be that player. He was the No. 1 receiver prospect in the nation when he signed with the Tigers and started in four games last season as a freshman. Randle sort of played in LaFell’s shadow, but still caught two touchdown passes and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. In a lot of ways, he was still getting re-acclimated to the position after playing quarterback as a high school senior. Look for Randle to blossom in 2010. The Tigers sure need him to.

Pac-10 spring breakout players

February, 11, 2010
Who will breakout and make a move toward stardom this season?

Most of these guys aren't "new," but they could make the next step up in their careers this spring.

Juron Criner, WR, Jr
: Criner (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is already a familiar name to Wildcats fans. Heck, he led the team with nine touchdown receptions in 2009. The reason he makes this list is this: It would be a surprise if he's not first-team All-Pac-10 at season's end.

Arizona State
Aaron Pflugrad, WR, Jr
: Hmm. Name seems familiar? Pflugrad is a transfer from Oregon, who left the Ducks after his father, Robin, was fired as receivers coach. He was expected to start for the Ducks in 2009, and he should be in the same position with the Sun Devils, who need help at receiver.

Ernest Owusu, DE, Jr
: Owusu looked like a budding star early last season when he recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss against Maryland, but that was about it for his production in 2009. Still, he combines good intelligence and speed with special power -- he's the Bears' strongest player -- and that could all come together as he fights to break into the starting lineup.

Diante Jackson, WR, RFr
: Many thought Jackson would offer immediate help to the Ducks' receiving corps as a true freshman, but, instead, he was a scout team star last year. The Ducks are looking for a dynamic, play-making presence at wideout and Jackson might be the guy.

Oregon State
The Unga brothers
: The Beavers lost Keaton Kristick to graduation and Keith Pankey may miss 2010 with an Achilles injury, so there are opportunities at linebacker. These twin brothers -- Kevin "Feti" Unga and Devin "Uani" Unga -- could fight their way into the mix.

Shayne Skov, LB, So
: Skov started seven games last year as a true freshman and ended up third on the Cardinal with 62 tackles. The early returns are Skov will be first-team All-Pac-10 before he's done.

Cory Harkey, TE, Jr
: With the departure of Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya, Harkey will finally get his chance to take center stage. He caught eight passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2009. His production will be many times that in 2010.

T.J. McDonald, S, So
: First off, the son of former USC legend Tim McDonald is listed at 205 pounds. Really? He looks bigger -- in a good way. And he's a hitter. He had seven tackles as a backup to strong safety Will Harris last year, but he could play either free or strong.

Talia Crichton, DE, So
: Crichton was forced into action last year as a true freshman -- he started four games -- because the Huskies lacked depth on the defensive line. With the departure of both starting ends -- and the questionable status of Kalani Aldrich's knee -- Crichton is almost certain to ascend to a first-team spot. Here's a guess he's better prepared in 2010.

Washington State
Travis Long, DE, So
: Back in the Cougars' glory days -- folks, it wasn't really that long ago, either -- they always had ends who were disruptive. Long led the Cougars with 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks as a true freshman in 2009. Those numbers will more than double in 2010.

Five breakout players in the Big 12

February, 11, 2010
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.

Who will break out in the Big Ten?

February, 11, 2010
Perhaps the best part about spring practice is projecting the handful of players who will turn heads and raise expectations heading into the fall. Most of these players have provided hints of bigger things to come.

So who will become a breakout player in the Big Ten? Here are a few names to watch.

Penn State CB Stephon Morris: Morris made a name for himself in Penn State's nickel package as a true freshman. He recorded 30 tackles, had an interception, a sack and two passes defended. Look for him to improve and become a major factor in Penn State's secondary.

Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin: He is already the Big Ten's most dangerous kickoff returner and could become one of the league's top wide receivers this year. Martin led Michigan State last season in yards-per-reception (22.8) and yards-per-carry (12.2). Look for the Spartans to find more ways to get the ball to Martin, who is a legitimate big-play threat.

Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks certainly looked like Wisconsin's tight end of the future in the Champs Sports Bowl, where he recorded seven receptions for a career high 128 receiving yards in the win against Miami. Garrett Graham's graduation opens up the top spot for Kendricks, who could have a monster season in 2010 working alongside quarterback Scott Tolzien.

Minnesota S Kim Royston: Minnesota will lean heavily on its safeties in 2010, and Royston looks ready for the added responsibility. The Wisconsin transfer finished the 2009 season on a very strong note: He recorded a career high 15 tackles (14 solo) and forced a fumble. Royston and Kyle Theret could form the league's top safety tandem.

Iowa RB Jewel Hampton: He's baaaack. Younger teammates Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher filled in nicely for Hampton in 2009, but Hampton still has the best chance to become Iowa's featured back. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns in 2008 as Shonn Greene's backup and can be very effective if his knee gets back to 100 percent.

Illinois CB/WR Terry Hawthorne: One of the few bright spots for Illinois last season, Hawthorne recorded 30 tackles, intercepted a ball for a 44-yard touchdown and had six passes defended as a true freshman. He can play both cornerback and wide receiver for the Illini, who are desperate for playmakers on both sides of the ball. Hawthorne provided a spark for Illinois last year, but he could be a star in 2010.

Ohio State LB Brian Rolle: Cameron Heyward and Ross Homan will be the headliners for Ohio State's defense in 2010, but watch out for Rolle as well. Rolle already "broke out," in a sense, with 95 tackles (seven for loss) and an interception in 2009. But he could truly explode for the Buckeyes this coming fall.

Northwestern TE Drake Dunsmore: Anyone who saw Dunsmore run through several Auburn defenders for a 66-yard touchdown in the Outback Bowl recognizes his immense potential. The junior might be NU's top NFL prospect and offensive coordinator Mick McCall loves to get him involved. Dunsmore will be one of the top targets for new starting quarterback Dan Persa.
Spring is a time when some players take huge steps toward becoming breakout stars. An example of this last year was UConn's Marcus Easley. A walk-on who played without much fanfare his first three years, Easley had a great spring, earned a scholarship and blossomed into one of the best receivers in the Big East during his senior campaign.

Who might be this year's Easley? Here are a few possibilities to watch this spring:

  • Mike Shanahan, WR, Pittsburgh: Shanahan came on strong at the end of his redshirt freshman season, culminating with five big catches for 83 yards in the Meineke Car Care Bowl win. With Dorin Dickerson and Oderick Turner gone, the sure-handed, 6-foot-5 Shanahan should emerge as the No. 2 option in Pittsburgh's passing game behind Jonathan Baldwin.
  • Ryan Clarke, RB, West Virginia: Clarke, who is 6 feet tall and weights 230 pounds, gave the Mountaineers the big body they were looking for at fullback last year. But he can also run, as he showed by rumbling for 60 yards on five carries against Cincinnati and scoring eight touchdowns on the season. He could play an even bigger role this season, though touches may be hard to come by with Noel Devine back for his senior year.
  • Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers: Beauharnais made an impact as a true freshman, recording five sacks -- including two in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Coaches love the 6-2, 230-pounder's athleticism, and he should slide right into a starting role for 2010.
  • Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida: An ankle injury limited Giddins to just three games as a freshman. South Florida is seeking a medical redshirt for him. Giddins was the highest-rated recruit in the Big East a year ago, and with Jason Pierre-Paul's and George Selvie's departure, there is an opportunity for him to live up to the billing.
  • Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut: It's been a while since UConn had a top-flight tight end, but Griffin may be that guy. As a freshman, he came on late to make 23 catches for 272 yards and he is an imposing target at 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 240 pounds. The Huskies may look to him more as their passing game develops.
  • Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse: Like all Orange receivers not named Mike Williams, Lemon struggled with drops early in the year. But he responded late in his freshman campaign and ended the season with nine receptions for 140 yards and a score against UConn. Syracuse needs playmakers in the passing game and would love to see Lemon continue to make strides this spring.

Five breakout players in the ACC

February, 11, 2010
A new season usually means new stars will emerge, breakout players if you will. Consider these players athletes who have already shown a hint of something good, but aren’t quite household names yet. Of course it’s possible a Jeff Luc or Lamarcus Joyner could be the next great player at Florida State in 2010, but in the grand scheme of college football, they’re still unproven. Here’s a look at five players in the conference who have already proved to be on the verge of a breakout season:

Steve Greer, linebacker, Virginia -- Greer led Virginia and all ACC freshmen in tackles with 92, earning All-ACC honorable mention honors. He also ranked No. 5 among the nation's freshmen in tackles, including a career-high 14 tackles at Miami.

Anthony Allen, B-back, Georgia Tech -- Allen will be moving from the A-back to B-back position this spring to fill the void left by Jonathan Dwyer. Allen finished 2009 third on the team in rushing behind Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt with 618 yards and six touchdowns.

Damien Berry, running back, Miami -- The former safety who had spent the majority of his time on special teams made a name for himself in his first game as a running back last year with 162 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against FAMU on Oct. 10. He finished with a team-high eight touchdowns and was second on the team in rushing with 616 yards. With Javarris James gone and Graig Cooper recovering from a knee injury, it’s Berry’s time to shine.

Andre Ellington, running back, Clemson -- He had a 7.2 yards per carry average as C.J. Spiller’s backup (68 carries for 491 yards) and four touchdowns. Ellington also proved to be a capable receiver with 11 catches for 55 yards. He had five runs of over 20 yards and 13 runs longer than 10 yards. He was second to Spiller in rushing.

Jarmon Fortson, wide receiver, Florida State -- Fortson ended 2009 with a play to remember in the Gator Bowl: an acrobatic, one-handed, 29-yard catch in the third quarter. Fortson finished third on the team last year with 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns.
As we head into spring football, it’s time to start speculating about which players will jump up and surprise this season.

Some of the players I mentioned last year were Florida Atlantic running back Alfred Morris and Memphis receiver Marcus Rucker. Morris led the Owls in rushing with 1,392 yards and Rucker had just 241 receiving yards for the Tigers.

It’s not an exact science, but it is fun to start looking ahead and speculating which players could have a breakout season in 2010.

Here are my top five breakout hopefuls:

1. Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah: After watching Wynn play the final third of the season last year, it’s hard not to expect him to be pretty darn good in 2010. Wynn had a rough stretch of opponents to start his collegiate career, but that will only make him better in 2010, especially against a tough nonconference schedule that includes Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.

2. Lampford Mark, RB, Nevada: Mark sat behind Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua most of last season, but with Taua on the fence because of academics, Mark can come through this spring as the team’s top rusher. He rushed for at least 69 yards in three games this season, including 90 yards against SMU in the Sherton Hawaii Bowl when both Taua and Lippincott were out.

3. Zac Dysert, QB, Miami-Ohio: Dysert had a good freshman season last year, passing for 2,614 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, but he also threw 16 interceptions. With a year in this offense, a little more familiarity with the coaching staff and a better supporting cast, Dysert could be the quarterback to watch in the MAC this year.

4. Jamie Hampton, QB, Troy: Hampton missed part of the 2008 season and all of last year while recovering from knee surgery, but before the injury he was on his way to being one of the best quarterbacks for the Trojans in quite some time. Because of his skill and experience, the Trojans shouldn’t have to worry about a dropoff after losing former starter Levi Brown.

5. Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State: Rouse was hidden behind Ryan Mathews and Lonyae Miller, but he still managed to rush for 479 yards and four touchdowns as the third stringer. As the Bulldogs top returning running back in 2010, Rouse should be one of the best rushers in the conference.