With spring practice underway for most college football teams, the countdown to the 2013 season has officially started. With preseason predictions right around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about which players might be the next breakout stars.
As with every college football season, a handful of players will emerge from being a virtual unknown in August to a household name in January. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is a perfect example from last year. He wasn't guaranteed to be the starter after spring practice but won the starting job and had one of the most prolific seasons by a quarterback in SEC history. Could there be another year by a quarterback that results in a Heisman? It's unlikely, but it can happen.
Looking for college football's next breakout star at quarterback? Look no further than Lubbock, Texas. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Michael Brewer is set to take control of new coach Kliff Kingsbury's high-powered offense. Considering what Kingsbury did with Manziel at Texas A&M, Brewer could have a monster statistical season in his first year as the starter.
College Football's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2013
1. Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech
With Kliff Kingsbury returning to Lubbock, the Red Raiders will be one of college football’s most intriguing teams in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012 at Texas A&M and helped to engineer a similar attack at Houston with record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Brewer is expected to become Texas Tech’s next prolific quarterback. As a backup to Doege in 2012, he threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 48 attempts. And the sophomore has been well-versed in spread offenses, playing under Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris when he was the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School. Even though the Red Raiders lose Doege and receiver Darrin Moore, Brewer’s emergence and Kingsbury’s offense should keep Texas Tech in the hunt to match last season’s win total (eight).
2. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are a slight favorite over South Carolina to represent the East in Atlanta, but winning a third consecutive division championship will rest on a revamped defense. Only three starters return for Todd Grantham’s defense in 2013, and each level of the unit suffered some heavy losses. Defensive lineman John Jenkins and three starters in the secondary won’t be easy to replace, but the linebacking corps was hit hardest by departures, as both Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones chose to enter the NFL Draft. Losing Ogletree and Jones certainly stings, but Georgia has to be excited about Jenkins and the promise he showed last season. In 14 games as a true freshman, he recorded 31 tackles and five sacks, while forcing one fumble. If Jenkins can maintain Georgia’s pass rush off of the edge, the defense may not be in as bad of shape as some may have believed this offseason.
Related Content: 2013 Georgia Bulldogs Spring Preview
3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Gardner is a familiar name to most in the Big Ten, but he is poised to be a household name by the end of 2013. In three seasons in Ann Arbor, Gardner has thrown for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also rushing for 175 yards and catching 17 passes for 268 yards. With Denard Robinson entrenched as the starter going into 2012, the Detroit native was slated to play receiver. However, Gardner shifted back to quarterback once Robinson suffered an elbow injury and started four out of the final five games under center. The junior had a strong showing in the last weeks of the season, throwing for 314 yards and recording six overall touchdowns in a 42-17 win over Iowa. Gardner completed 18 of 36 throws for 214 yards and three scores against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and never threw more than one interception during his five-game stint at quarterback. Michigan will miss Robinson’s playmaking ability, but Gardner is plenty capable of leading the Wolverines to a Legends Division title. With left tackle Taylor Lewan returning to Ann Arbor, along with the arrival of touted true freshman running back Derrick Green, there figures to be plenty of help for Gardner in his first full season as the starter.
Related Content: 2013 Michigan Wolverines Spring Preview
4. Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
If there’s one area that will keep coach Urban Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers awake at night – it’s the defense. The Buckeyes return only four starters on that side of the ball and must replace four key players from the defensive line. Thanks to Meyer’s relentless recruiting efforts, talent isn’t an issue with the new defensive linemen. Spence was one of the most sought-after defenders in last year’s class, ranking No. 4 in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. In 11 games as a true freshman, the Pennsylvania native recorded 12 tackles and one sack. As with any first-year starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Spence and fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington also will wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.
Related Content: 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Preview
5. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No matter what season it is, LSU always seems to have an All-SEC-caliber defensive lineman ready to step up to replace a departing senior or early entrant into the NFL. This year is no different, as Johnson is expected to ease the blow from losing Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson recorded 30 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. He also registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries. With LSU losing six key linemen from last season, it’s up to Johnson to keep the Tigers’ defensive line among the best in the SEC.
Related Content: 2013 LSU Tigers Spring Preview
6. Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh
With Ray Graham coming back from a torn ACL last season, the Panthers expected and needed a big contribution from Shell. And considering he ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2012 signing class, it was no surprise Shell was one of the Big East’s top freshmen last year. In 12 games, the Pennsylvania native recorded 641 yards and four scores, while catching nine passes for 103 yards. Shell’s best game came against Virginia Tech, posting 157 yards on 23 attempts. With Graham expiring his eligibility, the job is Shell’s to lose for 2013. The sophomore will be running behind an offensive line that returns three starters but loses All-Big East center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson. Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst molded some of the nation’s top rushing attacks at Wisconsin, and with Shell leading the way in 2013, look for the Panthers to feature a ground and pound approach.
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7. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
With the departure of three of the nation’s best blockers and a new coach, the line is a major area of focus for Nick Saban this spring. Considering the recruiting classes Saban has been able to reel in, there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into the starting lineup. However, the Crimson Tide has to get all five starters on the same page, along with developing depth in case of injury to one of the new linemen. Kelly is expected to replace Barrett Jones at center this year, and the Ohio native has big shoes to fill. Not only was Jones an excellent player, but he also played a key role in terms of leadership on the offensive side. Kelly was impressive in a backup role last year, as he recorded playing time in 10 games. There will be a drop off from Jones to Kelly. However, if Kelly’s performance last season was any indication, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line isn’t going to take too much of a step back in 2013.
Related Content: 2013 Alabama Spring Preview
8. Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
With the departure of ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, along with tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, there will be a lot of new faces on Florida State’s defensive line in 2013. The Seminoles have recruited well, so there is talent waiting in the wings. Edwards is the most likely candidate to emerge as a star in 2013, as he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 11 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman last year. With another offseason to work in the weight room and learn from new defensive coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri, Edwards is poised to have a breakout season and challenge for All-ACC honors.
Related Content: 2013 Florida State Seminoles Spring Preview
9. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Despite being a potential dynamic playmaker for California and posting an eye-popping 9.8 yards per carry, Bigelow was limited to just 44 rushing attempts and seven receptions last year. The Fresno native did play a key role on special teams, averaging 23 yards per kickoff return in 2012. With a new coaching staff taking over in Berkeley, along with C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele expiring their eligibility, Bigelow will get an opportunity to secure the No. 1 spot in the backfield this preseason. New coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin built an offense at Louisiana Tech that averaged 227.2 rushing yards and 51.5 points per game in 2012, and both coaches should better utilize Bigelow’s talents. The junior will likely miss spring practice due to knee surgery, but if he’s healthy this fall, Bigelow is due for a breakout season.
10. Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While it’s unfair to compare Bell to Tim Tebow, he is following a similar career path to the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow was used mostly as a running threat during his first year, which is the same role Bell has fulfilled for Oklahoma in the last two years. After spending the last two seasons as a change of pace player, Bell will make the transition to starting quarterback this spring. The junior has recorded 372 rushing yards and 24 scores on 104 career carries but has only thrown 20 passes. Bell isn’t guaranteed the starting job, as Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight will get a chance to push him for the No. 1 spot in the spring. If Bell shows he can move the offense through the air, his dual-threat ability would provide a different dimension for Oklahoma’s offense, which ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season with an average of 38.2 points a game.
Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma Sooners Spring Preview
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