Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Big 12 is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014. Oklahoma has young talent ready to emerge at running back, including Keith Ford and Joe Mixon. In-state rival Oklahoma State has an emerging star in Jhajuan Seales at receiver, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley is a key cog in the defense in Morgantown.
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 2014 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 2014
B.J. Catalon, RB, TCU
After averaging only 20.9 points per game (conference-only matchups) in 2013, TCU’s offense was overhauled in the offseason. New co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham plan to increase the tempo and run more spread looks, which should help the Horned Frogs take a step forward on offense this year. There’s uncertainty at quarterback and receiver, but Meacham and Cumbie should be able to utilize Catalon more in 2014. The Texas native caught 11 passes and led TCU with 569 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season. Catalon’s 5.3 yards per carry was impressive, especially behind an offensive line that struggled to find consistency last year. Don’t expect Catalon to log 250 carries, but he should find plenty of touches on the ground and through the air this season.
Terrell Clinkscales, DT, Kansas State
Predicting what type of impact junior college recruits will have in a given season is never easy. For every success story, there are a handful of players who struggle to adapt to the transition. Kansas State has a strong track record of developing junior college recruits, and Clinkscales has a chance to push for a starting role in 2014. The Illinois native played in one season at Dodge City Community College and recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Clinkscales rated as the No. 10 junior college recruit by 247Sports. Even if Clinkscales doesn’t start, the 315-pound tackle will contribute as a key piece of K-State’s defensive line rotation.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Baylor’s receiving corps is one of the deepest in the nation, headlined by Antwan Goodley (18.9 yards per catch in 2013) and seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller. But with Tevin Reese departing, the Bears are looking for a new speed threat for quarterback Bryce Petty. Coleman impressed as a freshman in 2013, catching 35 passes for 527 yards. And in a good sign for Coleman’s development, the best game (seven receptions for 88 yards) of his 2013 campaign was the Fiesta Bowl. Expect the sophomore to become an even bigger target for Petty in 2014.
Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech
Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in Texas Tech’s receiving corps, and the answers for quarterback Davis Webb could come in the form of a few players. The Red Raiders may not have a dominant No. 1 option in 2014, but there’s still a lot of talent for Webb to target. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez combined to catch 114 passes last year and will play a bigger role in the offense in this year, while Davis is a name many in Lubbock expect to have a breakout year after catching 15 passes for 200 yards in 2013. He showed his explosiveness by catching a 38-yard pass against Arizona State and by returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma loses its top three statistical running backs from last season (Brennan Clay, Damian Williams and Roy Finch), but Bob Stoops’ team isn’t hurting for talent. Off-the-field issues have clouded touted freshman Joe Mixon’s status for now, but Ford is a five-star talent ready for an opportunity to star in the Oklahoma backfield. The Texas native played in 10 games last season and rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Ford never recorded more than seven carries in a game but rushed for 34 yards on six attempts against Texas and 15 yards on three carries against Alabama. With one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines leading the way, Ford should find plenty of running room for the Sooners in 2014.
Nick Harwell, WR, Kansas
Fans of MACtion will remember Harwell from his time at Miami, Ohio. The Texas native transferred to Lawrence after three seasons with the RedHawks and is poised to be the No. 1 target for quarterback Montell Cozart in 2014. Harwell caught 229 passes in three years in Oxford, including a monster 2011 season (97 catches, 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns). Asking Harwell to replicate those numbers with a young quarterback is unrealistic, but the senior is a much needed difference maker for a receiving corps that has struggled mightily under coach Charlie Weis.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill drew significant praise from coach Mike Gundy at Big 12 media days, and it’s clear the junior college recruit is going to play a major role in Oklahoma State’s offense this year. Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich plan to use Hill in an all-purpose role and indicated the junior will touch the ball 15-20 times each week. The Georgia native possesses elite speed and won the Big 12 indoor 200 meters title this year. Expect Gundy to get Hill involved in a variety of ways in 2014.
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
While Baylor’s offense grabbed most of the headlines for last year’s Big 12 championship, the defense quietly led the conference in fewest yards allowed per play (4.7) in 2013. This unit has to be remodeled in 2014, as only four starters return for coordinator Phil Bennett. The secondary must replace three starters, including standout safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson. Howard played in 13 games in a reserve role last season and recorded five tackles and one interception. Opposing offenses will test the revamped secondary early, but Howard (an imposing 6-foot-2 cornerback) should ensure there’s not a drastic drop in the secondary this season.
Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas
Depth in the receiving corps for Texas has dwindled recently, as Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders were suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. With Sanders (37 receptions) out of the picture, Johnson should have a bigger role in the offense. He caught 22 passes for 350 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and two scores last season. Johnson should benefit from the return of quarterback David Ash, along with a rushing attack that features standouts Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. Even if Johnson doesn’t catch 60 passes, his big-play ability will help Ash stretch the field in 2014.
Luke Knott, LB, Iowa State
Knott was on his way to a breakout season in 2013 but a hip injury sidelined him for the final six contests. Through the first six games, Knott recorded 45 tackles, one forced fumble and two pass breakups. The Missouri native was one of the Cyclones’ most active defenders in Big 12 play, recording 11 stops against Texas and 10 against Texas Tech. Knott is expected to start at weakside linebacker, and the sophomore should be one of the leaders in a revamped Iowa State defensive front.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
It might be unrealistic to ask Lazard to make a huge impact as a freshman, but the Iowa native is simply too talented to sit on the bench. Lazard ranked as the No. 11 receiver in the 247Sports Composite and caught 105 passes and 34 touchdowns during his high school career. Lazard should give quarterback Grant Rohach another weapon in the passing game, as the Cyclones already have reliable options in tight end E.J. Bibbs and receiver Quenton Bundrage. If Lazard picks up the offense this fall, he will play a significant role in the passing game for Iowa State.
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor
Lache Seastrunk’s big-play ability will be missed in Waco, but Baylor’s backfield should still rank among the best in the Big 12 this season. Linwood played in 12 contests last year and finished second on the team with 881 yards and eight scores. The Texas native recorded four 100-yard efforts, including 182 yards in the 41-12 victory over Oklahoma. Linwood should handle the bulk of the carries in Baylor’s backfield, but redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson, sophomore Devin Chafin and true freshman Terence Williams will all factor in to the mix. Linwood is a projected first-team All-Big 12 back by Athlon Sports for 2014.
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Oakman is an imposing figure off the edge for Phil Bennett’s defense. The Pennsylvania native started his career at Penn State but transferred after a redshirt year. Oakman’s first game experience in college occurred last season, as he played in all 13 games, recorded 33 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Most of Oakman’s production came early in the year, including 3.5 tackles for a loss against Wofford and two against Iowa State. He only recorded 0.5 tackles for a loss over the final six games, but the experience gained by Oakman through his first extended playing time should be valuable in 2014. Expect the junior to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 this year.
Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
NFL first-round pick Justin Gilbert leaves big shoes to fill in the Oklahoma State secondary. Gilbert’s presence was a key reason why the Cowboys allowed only 11 passing scores in Big 12 games last year, and coordinator Glenn Spencer is counting on Peterson and Ashton Lampkin to raise their game in 2014. Peterson recorded 24 tackles (three for a loss), two interceptions and four pass breakups last year. The Oklahoma native received plenty of attention opposite of Gilbert, but he’s likely tasked with defending opposing team’s No. 1 receivers in 2014. Expect Peterson to challenge for all-conference honors. Another name to watch on Oklahoma State’s defense: Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
With Aaron Colvin departing, Oklahoma is counting on Sanchez to be the top cornerback on a defense that should be one of the nation’s best. Most Sooner fans are familiar with Sanchez after a standout freshman season, but the Texas native is poised to emerge as one of the Big 12’s top defensive backs. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Sanchez started all 13 games, recorded 46 tackles and intercepted two passes. With Colvin on the other side last year, it was no surprise Sanchez was frequently targeted. However, he responded by defending 15 passes. Opposing Big 12 quarterbacks will likely stay away from Sanchez this season.
Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State
There’s a significant amount of roster turnover for Oklahoma State in 2014. The Cowboys return only eight starters and lost 28 seniors from last season’s team. Despite the turnover, Mike Gundy’s team can still push for eight wins. For Oklahoma State to push for a spot among the top four teams in the Big 12, quarterback J.W. Walsh has to play with more consistency after an up-and-down stint in 2013. But Walsh should have plenty of help at the skill positions, as running back Desmond Roland rushed for 811 yards last year, and Seales is primed for a breakout year at receiver. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Seales grabbed 39 receptions for 571 yards and three scores. The Texas native is a physical presence on the outside but also has the speed to be a big-play threat for Walsh.
Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia
Remember him? Shell was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and rushed for 641 yards and four scores during his freshman season at Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania native transferred following the 2012 season and landed at West Virginia. After sitting out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules, Shell is poised to be one of the top playmakers for the Mountaineers. The sophomore will battle with Dreamius Smith, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie for carries, but Shell has the most upside and talent among the running backs in Morgantown. With quarterback Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery, West Virginia’s offense could feature the run more in 2014. If Shell picks up where he left off in 2012, he could push for All-Big 12 honors.
Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett will be missed, but there’s optimism in Fort Worth that TCU’s secondary is still the best in the Big 12. The safety spots are in good hands with Sam Carter and Chris Hackett, and cornerback Kevin White is a second-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports for 2014. Texada was a spring standout for the Horned Frogs after redshirting in 2013, and the Texas native should team with White to help the defense ease the loss of Verrett.
Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State
In the last seven years, no Kansas State freshman running back has rushed for more than 400 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? The Wildcats lack a clear replacement for John Hubert, with Demarcus Robinson, Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones considered the early favorites for the No. 1 job. Warmack is a name to remember this fall, as the true freshman could stake his claim for playing time. The Missouri native rushed for 2,223 yards and 29 touchdowns at Blue Springs High School in 2013 and ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
Worley has generated plenty of buzz this offseason in Morgantown. As a true freshman, the 6-foot-1 cornerback from Philadelphia played in 11 games in 2013 and recorded 45 tackles and broke up five passes. Considering the offensive firepower in the Big 12, having a shutdown corner with the size to matchup against big receivers is a valuable asset for any defense. And the Mountaineers’ defense may have to shoulder more of the load in 2014, as the offense – especially the quarterback spot – is a work in progress. With another year to develop, expect Worley to challenge for all-conference honors this year.