College Football's Top 15 Breakout Players for 2012

Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey should be one of the top breakout players in 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 by the end of season. 

College Football's Top 15 Breakout Players for 2012

Stephone Anthony, LB, ClemsonAnthony was a big-time recruit and didn’t disappoint for Clemson’s defense last season. As a true freshman, he played in all 13 games and recorded 32 tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Tigers suffered some key losses on the defensive line, which will force even more pressure on Anthony and the linebacking corps to stuff the run. The sophomore is having a solid fall camp and will start at middle linebacker in 2012. 

Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona – It’s a loaded year for running backs in the Pac-12, but Carey could finish near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing yards. Arizona returns all five starters on the offensive line, and new coach Rich Rodriguez is implementing his spread attack, which has produced big rushing totals at West Virginia and Michigan. Carey rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also catching 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores. With a full complement of carries (200 or more), look for Carey to easily surpass 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Blake Countess, CB, Michigan One of the biggest reasons for Michigan’s improvement on defense last season was the play of the secondary. The Wolverines allowed 261.9 passing yards per game in 2010 but gave up only 190.5 yards per contest in 2011. Countess was a key factor in the defense as a true freshman, starting the last six games and recording 44 tackles, one force fumble and six passes defended. With another offseason to learn under coordinator Greg Mattison, expect Countess to push for All-Big Ten honors and emerge as one of Michigan’s top defenders.

Trey DePriest/Adrian Hubbard/Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama – Rather than single out one of these three sophomores, we are highlighting the entire trio as breakout candidates. DePriest, Hubbard and Dickson will be part of Alabama’s rebuilding effort on defense, as the Crimson Tide must replace Donta Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris at linebacker. DePriest had the best statistical season last year, recording 25 tackles in 13 games. If Alabama’s defense wants to finish No. 1 in the nation once again, it needs a big year from this sophomore linebacking trio.

Steve Edmond, LB, Texas Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were one of the best linebacker duos in college football last season, so there’s no question they will be missed. However, Texas is never short on talent, and Edmond looks like a future star in the Big 12. He played in 12 games and recorded 16 stops last season, while also forcing one fumble. Edmond ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the 2011 signing class by most recruiting services and is slated to start at middle linebacker in 2012. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to help immediately against the run.

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa With injuries taking its toll on the running backs and the return of quarterback James Vandenberg, the Hawkeyes will likely lean more on the pass in 2012. Keenan Davis is set as the team’s No. 1 receiver, but Fiedorowicz is expected to be featured prominently under new coordinator Greg Davis. In his first two years in Des Moines, Fiedorowicz has 16 receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Considering the Hawkeyes plan to throw the ball more in 2012, it would not be a shock to see Fiedorowicz surpass 16 receptions after the first four games.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State - If college football fans weren’t familiar with Jernigan after his standout freshman season, it might be time to get acquainted. He quickly emerged as Florida State’s top defensive tackle, recording 30 stops and six tackles for a loss. Jernigan is already garnering plenty of attention this preseason, as he was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-ACC selection. With another offseason to work in the weight room and with coordinator Mark Stoops, look for Jernigan to build off his impressive debut season.  

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State Lunt has some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Big 12. Brandon Weeden led Oklahoma State to a Big 12 championship last season and threw for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns during his career in Stillwater. Lunt enrolled in time to participate in spring practice and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the No. 1 spot over J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. Asking Lunt to repeat Weeden’s success as a true freshman is nearly impossible, but Oklahoma State has a track record of developing good quarterbacks, and the offense can lean on running back Joseph Randle. Don’t expect Lunt to contend for All-American honors, but the Cowboys shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with the freshman at the controls.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon Even though Mariota has no game experience, he should keep Oregon’s offense among the nation’s best in 2012. The Hawaii native turned in a strong performance in the spring, finishing with 202 passing yards and 106 yards on the ground in the final scrimmage. Mariota held off Bryan Bennett once again in the fall and was named the team’s starter for the opener against Arkansas State. The Ducks have had a successful run of quarterbacks (Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas) and Mariota should continue that streak in 2012. 

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State It’s no secret Mike Leach wants to throw the ball, and the Cougars are perfectly equipped to become one of college football’s top passing teams. Quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson are two underrated players on a national level, while Marks has emerged as a solid No. 2 in fall practices. The true freshman is expected to join Marquess Wilson as a starter at one of the outside receiver spots. Even with Wilson expected to dominate the receptions, there should be plenty of passes coming in Marks’ direction. 

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri – Richardson’s path to Missouri took a slight detour, as he spent two years at the College of the Sequoias, before making his first appearance at Missouri last season. Richardson made a huge impact in his first year in Columbia, recording 37 stops, three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. A shoulder injury sidelined him in the spring but all signs point to a return to full strength in the fall. With another offseason under his belt, look for Richardson to pickup his performance even more in 2012.

Shaq Thompson, S, Washington – If Washington wants to have any shot at competing for the Pac-12 North title, the defense has to show major improvement from 2011. Although the Huskies probably aren’t ready to lean on their defense to win games, this unit should be much better in 2012. New coordinator Justin Wilcox is an improvement over Nick Holt, and Thompson’s arrival gives Washington a difference maker in the secondary. He ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to start from the opening snap.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame - With Aaron Lynch’s decision to transfer, Tuitt will have to take on a bigger role on the defensive line in 2012. As a freshman in 2011, Tuitt played in nine games and recorded 30 tackles and two sacks. He needed some time to transition from high school to college, but Tuitt was one of the defensive line’s top players at the end of the year, registering 26 of his 30 tackles over the final six games. The sophomore will is expected to start on the outside in 2012 and will be one of the team’s top pass-rush threats on the line. Notre Dame will miss Lynch, but Tuitt’s development could help the Irish own one of the nation’s top 10 defensive lines. 

George Uko, DT, USC – With the departures of Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris at tackle, the interior of the line is a big concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. Uko was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and was a key member of the line rotation in 2011. He recorded 18 tackles and two starts, while also earning 1.5 sacks. Uko is expected to step in the starting lineup and will be a key cog in USC’s rush defense in 2012.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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