Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
With a ton of turnover at the quarterback position, the Big 12 is up for grabs this season. Oklahoma State is considered the preseason favorite, but Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU are certainly in the mix. The Wildcats won the Big 12 title last year and have plenty of reasons for optimism in 2013. But coach Bill Snyder’s team has a few holes to fill, including quarterback with the departure of Collin Klein. Backup Daniel Sams played well in limited action last year, but he is locked into a tight battle with junior college recruit Jake Waters for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Big 12 Breakout Players for 2013
Ernst Brun, TE, Iowa State
Brun was a pleasant surprise for Iowa State late last season, catching seven of his 26 passes over the final three games. In the bowl loss to Tulsa, Brun nabbed four receptions for 102 yards and one score. The Cyclones need more from their receiving corps in 2013, especially with quarterback Sam Richardson in his first full year as the starter. Brun tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches in 2012, and the former junior college recruit should be an even bigger part of the Iowa State offense this year.
Brandon Carter, WR, TCU
With Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson playing in the NFL, the Horned Frogs need a new go-to receiver. But quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin won’t have to look too far down the depth chart for a No. 1 target. Carter ranked second on the team in receiving yards (590) and touchdown catches (six) last season. The Texas native has been a big-play threat over the last two years, averaging 15.3 yards per catch in 2011 and 16.4 in '12. Assuming Pachall wins the starting job, TCU’s passing attack will be stretching the field more in 2013. And that's good news for Carter, who is clearly ready to blossom into an All-Big 12 player on the outside.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Coach Art Briles certainly knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. After all, Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011, and Nick Florence ranked second nationally in total offense last year. No pressure, Bryce Petty. The junior steps into the starting role after serving as an understudy over the last two years and hopes to continue Baylor’s recent run of successful passers. Petty has thrown only 14 passes in his career but has been impressive as the No. 1 quarterback this spring. There’s still plenty for the junior to prove in 2013, but considering Briles’ history of developing quarterbacks, the Bears have to feel good about Petty’s chances of emerging as a standout player this year.
Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State
With Jake Knott and A.J. Klein departing, Iowa State’s linebacking corps is under renovation. But the drop-off from 2012 to '13 shouldn’t be drastic, especially with the emergence of George last year. The Florida native recorded 11 stops against West Virginia and ranked second on the team with seven tackles against Kansas. George finished the season with 87 stops and is the new leader for Iowa State’s linebacking corps. Although Iowa State fans are familiar with George, look for the rest of the Big 12 to know about this senior by season’s end.
Peter Jinkens, LB, Texas
One of the most disappointing units on Texas’ defense last season was the linebacking corps. Jordan Hicks was injured and missed most of 2012, while the rest of the unit failed to live up to expectations. Jinkens was a bright spot late in the year, recording nine stops and one interception in the bowl victory over Oregon State. He finished the year with 29 stops in 13 contests and is poised to grab one of the starting spots in 2013. If Hicks can stay healthy and Jinkens builds on a promising freshman campaign, Texas should have a much-improved run defense.
Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
The Bears know what they have in senior receiver Tevin Reese, and Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are back after combining for 57 receptions last year. But the receiving corps could use another gamebreaker to help ease the loss of Terrance Williams. Could Rhodes be that player? The true freshman has been one of the stars of fall camp, catching four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown in the team’s second scrimmage. Rhodes was rated as the No. 4 receiver in the 2013 recruiting class by Athlon Sports, and all signs point to a big season from the true freshman.
Pete Robertson, LB, Texas Tech
One of the Red Raider quarterbacks (Michael Brewer or Davis Webb) could make this list, but there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding who will start for Texas Tech in the season opener. On the other side of the ball, the Red Raiders return seven starters from a unit that led the Big 12 in pass defense and ranked second in yards allowed. New co-coordinators Mike Smith and Matt Wallerstedt are implementing a 3-4 scheme, which will force a few changes in the personnel. Robertson was a defensive end last year but slides to the bandit position in 2013. The Texas native recorded 20 tackles and two sacks in 12 contests last season. With Robertson shifting to a rush outside linebacker position, Texas Tech is counting on the sophomore to be a key cog in the pass rush.
Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
It’s a bit of a cop out to list Sams and Waters here, but both players are capable of keeping Kansas State in the Big 12 title race. Sams is a dynamic athlete, recording 235 yards and eight rushing touchdowns on 32 attempts in 2012. He only threw eight passes last year but completed six throws for 55 yards. Waters comes to Kansas State after two years at Iowa Western Community College. The Iowa native had a huge 2012 season, earning NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honors after throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 scores. Although Waters isn’t as dynamic on the ground as Sams, the junior isn’t a statue in the pocket. There’s no question Collin Klein will be missed this year. However, the Wildcats’ offense shouldn't fall off much with Sams or Waters leading the way.
Cassius Sendish, CB, Kansas
Junior college prospects are very hit-or-miss. Regardless of the recruiting hype coming from the JUCO ranks, it will take some time to adjust to the talent on the FBS level. Sendish is expected to start at one of the cornerback spots for Kansas, and the secondary is a unit under pressure after finishing 114th nationally against the pass in 2012. The Maryland native ranked as the No. 59 junior college prospect in the 2013 signing class, after recording 29 tackles and 10 pass breakups at Arizona Western last year. Sendish represented Kansas at Big 12 Media Days, so the coaching staff already has confidence in his ability and expects him to be a key contributor to the pass defense.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Whether it’s Blake Bell or Trevor Knight replacing Landry Jones at quarterback, the Sooners will continue to have one of the Big 12’s top offenses in 2013. And both passers have plenty of weapons at their disposal, including Jalen Saunders, Trey Metoyer and rising star Sterling Shepard. Saunders, Justin Brown and Kenny Stills overshadowed Shepard’s play last year. However, as a true freshman, he caught 45 passes for 621 yards and three scores. Shepard did not have a touchdown reception over the final five games, but he caught at least three passes in each of the last six contests. Saunders is clearly Oklahoma’s No. 1 target. However, expect Shepard to be an even bigger factor in the Sooners’ attack this year.
Jeremy Smith, RB, Oklahoma State
It might be a little too obvious to list Smith in this article, but after playing behind Joseph Randle and Kendall Hunter, it’s his time to shine. In his first three years in Stillwater, Smith has rushed for 1,439 yards and 25 touchdowns. Smith’s best performance in his career came against Grambling in 2009, recording 160 yards and one score on 15 attempts. However, the Tulsa native has played well in Big 12 action, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Texas in 2011. With Randle playing in the NFL, this is Smith’s job to lose, and the senior should rank near the top of the Big 12 in rushing yards this year.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are gone, leaving a large void in West Virginia’s receiving corps. The Mountaineers aren’t short on options and talent, but coach Dana Holgorsen is still looking to solidify the starting group. White spent two years at Lackawanna College and was a big-play threat in the junior college ranks, recording 36 receptions for 535 yards and six scores in 2012. The Pennsylvania native made his presence known in the spring game, catching five passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. White seems locked into a starting role in one of West Virginia’s outside receiver spots, and the junior college product could have a huge year in the Holgorsen’s wide-open offense.
Others to Watch
Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma
The Sooners have a few voids to fill in the secondary. Byrd (a true freshman) is in the mix for a starting spot this fall.
Justin McCay, WR, Kansas
The Jayhawks desperately need McCay - a five-star prospect in 2010 - to live up to his recruiting hype in 2013.
Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
Addressing the pass defense is a top priority for coordinator Glenn Spencer. As a true freshman, Peterson played well in limited action last year, recording 20 tackles and two pass breakups.
Davion Pierson, DT, TCU
Pierson had a standout freshman year in 2012, recording 36 stops and 3.5 sacks. Look for even bigger and better things from the sophomore in 2013.
Blake Slaughter, LB, Kansas State
Redshirted in 2012 with Arthur Brown entrenched at linebacker and is due to claim a starting role this year.
Tyrone Swoopes, QB, Texas
If David Ash struggles, Swoopes may get the nod over Case McCoy.
Kenny Williams, RB, Texas Tech
Coach Kliff Kingsbury will always lean on the pass, but Williams is a big part of Texas Tech’s offense. He rushed for 824 yards and five scores on 143 attempts last year.
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