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Big East Football's Breakout Players for 2012


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. 

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 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers – At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Coleman is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the nation. As a redshirt freshman last year, he caught 17 passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. Coleman was playing at a high level at the end of the season, catching six passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Connecticut and an 86-yard touchdown reception in the bowl win over Iowa State. The Scarlet Knights need more stability from their quarterbacks, but with Mohamed Sanu moving onto the NFL, Coleman could become Rutgers’ go-to target.

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Chris Coyer, QB, Temple – With running back Bernard Pierce leaving for the NFL, the Owls will probably ask more of Coyer in the air in 2012. He played in eight games last season (four starts) and finished with 562 yards and three scores on the ground. Coyer threw only 50 passes all of last year but threw six touchdowns and tossed zero interceptions. With Coyer’s rushing ability, the return of Matt Brown and the addition of Montel Harris, the Owls should have one of the Big East’s top rushing attacks. However, if Temple wants to make a push for a bowl game in its first year back in the Big East, Coyer needs to take his performance in four starts and expand that over a full season. 

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Hubie Graham, TE, Pittsburgh – New coach Paul Chryst is bringing a pro-style offense back to Pittsburgh, and Graham should be one of the biggest benefactors of the change in offensive styles. He caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three scores last year but should increase those totals in 2012. Chryst’s offenses at Wisconsin heavily involved the tight ends – Jacob Pedersen caught 30 passes and eight touchdowns last year – so expect Graham to be one of the team’s leading receivers once again in 2012. 

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Sterling Griffin, WR, South Florida – Griffin got off to a fast start last season, catching 40 passes through South Florida’s first seven games. During that stretch, he also nabbed two touchdown catches and posted 109 yards in the loss to Pittsburgh. Griffin’s progress was slowed after a broken foot suffered in the loss to Cincinnati, forcing him to miss the next four games. As long as the junior can stay healthy, he should be the No. 1 target for quarterback B.J. Daniels and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big East selection for 2012. 

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DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville – In some ways, Parker broke out last season. As a true freshman, he caught 18 passes for 291 yards and six touchdowns. His best performance came in the 24-17 loss to FIU, grabbing four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. With another offseason to work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Parker should push for the team lead in receptions. As evidenced by his touchdown total from 2011 (6), Parker is one of the Big East’s top threats in the redzone and should be Bridgewater’s go-to guy around the goal-line once again.

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Marcus Sales, WR, Syracuse – Sales was suspended for all of 2011 due to an off-the-field incident, but his return is huge for an offense that will rely on the pass to win in 2012. In 2010, Sales finished the year by catching at least five passes in each of the final four games, including 172 yards in the bowl win over Kansas State. Alec Lemon is entrenched as Syracuse’s go-to target, but Sales should help quarterback Ryan Nassib stretch the field and could push for All-Big East honors by the end of the year. 

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Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh – With Ray Graham recovering from a torn ACL, the Pittsburgh coaching staff won’t rush him back into a full workload. Sophomore Isaac Bennett had a solid spring and is expected to see his share of carries in 2012, but it will be difficult to keep Shell on the sidelines. He ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute early and often this season. Shell won’t beat out Graham for the No. 1 spot, but he should turn plenty of heads in his limited workload in 2012.

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Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville – The Cardinals finished 10th nationally against the run last season, and this unit could be even better in 2012. Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have accumulated depth and athletic ability, molding Louisville’s line into one of the best in the Big East. Smith has bounced around the field in his career, starting at quarterback and moving to linebacker in 2010. He moved to defensive end in 2011 and made five starts last season, recording 12 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Smith should be Louisville’s top pass rusher and will have an increased role in the defense in 2012. 

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Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati – Stewart certainly isn’t an unknown to fans in the Big East, but look for the senior to get some recognition on the national level in 2012. Derek Wolfe was one of the top defensive players in the Big East last season, and the Bearcats will lean on Stewart for the same type of production. He started all 13 games and recorded 44 stops, while also posting 11 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Losing Wolfe adds more pressure on the ends to produce, but Stewart is capable of pushing for the conference lead in sacks. 

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Chandler Whitmer, QB, Connecticut – All of the pieces are in place for the Huskies to push for the Big East title – except quarterback. Is Whitmer the answer under center? That’s the big question facing Connecticut in 2012. He started his career at Illinois but transferred after his redshirt freshman year to play one season at Butler Community College. Whitmer had a strong showing in the spring, completing 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards. The sophomore doesn’t have to throw for 3,000 yards, but has to give Connecticut’s more offense a threat through the air. Whitmer may have a few ups and downs due to his inexperience, but he should give the Huskies a much-needed boost in the passing game. 

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by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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